A Doll's House

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AT: Nora A: Henrik Ibsen Pf: 1879, Copenhagen Pb: 1879 Tr: 1880 G: Drama in 3 acts; Norwegian prose S: Middle-class home in Norway, Christmas, 1870s. C: 4m, 4f, 3 childrenAt first sight the marriage of Torvald Helmer and Nora seems happy: he has just been appointed manager of his bank, and the seemingly light-headed Nora, indulged by him, buys little luxuries for Christmas. When an old friend Christine Linde visits her, Nora reveals that none of this would have been possible, had she not found the money to pay for a year abroad when Helmer was very ill. Unfortunately, in order to borrow the money off a disreputable individual, Krogstad, she forged her father's signature. She has been paying back the loan, but Krogstad now demands more. Helmer intends to dismiss him from the bank, and Krogstad threatens to expose Nora's forgery if she cannot persuade Helmer to keep him. All her efforts to save Krogstad are in vain, and when she considers confessing all to an old family friend Dr Rank, he reveals that he is dying and is in love with Nora. While Nora prepares for a fancy-dress party, Krogstad's letter arrives and sits menacingly in the letter box in the hall. Nora resolves to confess her crime to Helmer, hoping that he will protect her. Her wild dancing at the party excites Helmer, but the mood changes when Helmer finds Dr Rank's card announcing his impending death, together with Krogstad's threatening letter. Furious at Nora's dishonesty, Helmer considers only how he can avoid any scandal and declares Nora unfit to be a wife and mother. Thanks to Christine's influence, Krogstad relents and returns Nora's forgery. Helmer is relieved and imagines that the marriage can continue as before. But Nora, her eyes opened by his selfishness, insists on the first serious talk that they have had in eight years of marriage. Even after seeing her children, she resolves to leave Helmer in order to become an independent woman, with the vague hope that they can one day have a marriage of equals.

AT: Nora A: Henrik Ibsen Pf: 1879, Copenhagen Pb: 1879 Tr: 1880 G: Drama in 3 acts; Norwegian prose S: Middle-class home in Norway, Christmas, 1870s. C: 4m, 4f, 3 children

This is the best known of Ibsen's plays and an excellent example of the way in which he exploited the domestic setting and tight plotting of the well-made play of the French theatre in order to debate important social issues. The ‘doll's house’ in which Nora finds herself trapped was a powerful proto-feminist image and was so disturbing for audiences of the day that Henry Arthur Jones and Henry Herman wrote a widely performed version, Breaking the Butterfly (1884), which ends happily with the heroine staying after seeing her children. Despite his obvious sympathy for the wife treated like a doll, Ibsen also portrays Nora's selfishness, complacency, and secretiveness, so that the conflict between wife and husband is far more subtle than good versus evil.


Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Henrik Ibsen (1828—1906) Norwegian dramatist

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