A Classic’s Club Book Review
Author: Henrik Ibsen
Genre : Realistic Problem Play
Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin
Year of Publication: 21st December 1879
Number of Pages: 101
My Rating: 5 out of 5
I picked a Doll’s House as the next book to read for my Classics Club ’50 books in 5 years challenge’ because my son is reading it for school and I thought it would be cool to discuss it with him and share ideas on the themes.
This exceptional read is a three-act play written by Henrik Ibsen, who was a leading Norwegian playwright. It features Nora Helmer and her relationship with her husband, Torvald. The play takes place just before Christmas.
Nora is overjoyed because her husband has been appointed Manager of the local bank. He is to start at the beginning of the coming year. The family has been experiencing financial problems and Nora is looking forward to having more money than she can spend.
Torvald believes his wife wastes money, calling her extravagant and a spendthrift who cannot save, even as she says that she really does save all that she can. His opinion of her is also evident in the way that he addresses her, calling her ‘a little squirrel’, ‘a little lark’, ‘a little skylark’ and ‘a little featherhead’. Ugh! When he says something that seems to upset her, he gives her money to cheer her up.
Unknown to Torvald, Nora is not as helpless as he thinks, as she reveals to her old school friend, Mrs. Linde. She has had to work hard as well to support the family. Soon after their marriage, Torvald had overworked himself and fallen ill. The doctors had recommended that he travel south. The trip had to be taken, even though the couple did not have money to finance it.
As far as Torvald knew, Nora borrowed some money from her father to pay for the trip. But Nora’s father had also been ailing at the time and she did not want to bother him. So she did the unthinkable and borrowed money from an unsavory man known as Nils Krogstad, without telling anybody else about it.
Since then, Nora has saved what she can and worked long hours on whatever job she can get in order to repay the loan and the interest charged. When Mr. Krogstad realizes that Torvald is planning to fire him from his position at the bank because of a fraud that he committed, he attempts to blackmail Nora. He threatens to reveal that she borrowed money from him (and committed a fraud in the process) if she does not get her husband to retain him in his position. Nora is distressed by this as she knows Torvald detests loans and any impropriety.
This play is a very insightful look into the way that women were regarded in society at the time. Torvald thinks his wife is a feather head and constantly refers to her as ‘little’. It is clear that he has all the authority in the home and does not regard his wife as an equal.
Eventually, Nora realizes that her husband does not really love her, as he even refuses to do a favor for her. He implies that he would do anything for her, but when she faces condemnation, he turns on her and blames her for ruining him. All he cares about is himself.
As appearances mean a lot to him, he is happy to keep her in his house but proclaims that she must not have any contact with her children, lest she infects them with her immorality.
She also realizes that she does not love him anymore. She feels that she has been treated like a doll, first by her father, then by her husband. Her opinion does not matter. Torvald does not understand her and he has no respect for her. She decides to do the unthinkable and put herself first, for once, and look after her own interests.
I found this play very thought – provoking. The characters were so well developed that I felt like I knew them and what drove them, within such a short period. Their obsession with societal expectations was evident as they place this above all else. I thought it was fascinating how they believed that a parent’s immorality or indiscretions would inevitably lead to the ruin of the children. And how Nora was astonished by the realization that altruistic intentions could not forgive a crime!
The play shows us how damaging secrets can be. It also demonstrates how unreasonable it is to expect that others will always be grateful for what you do for them, especially when you cut some corners in the process. I found it hilarious that Torvald was quick to forgive his wife after he realized that no harm was to come to him and how he attempted to make her forget what he had said before when he thought he was going to be ruined.
The only thing that puzzled me was how a mother can walk out on her children, especially when they had such a good relationship and the kids kept on insisting on spending more time with her. In as much as I understand the need to put herself first, this seems a bit extreme to me!
It therefore does not surprise me that Ibsen was made to write an alternate ending to this play (which he called ‘a barbaric act of violence’) for a staging in Germany where Nora eventually decides to stay, as audiences of the time could also not fathom such an ending.
All in all, A Doll’s House was an interesting take on life and marriage in particular in the 19th century and I give it 5 out of 5 stars! I also greatly enjoyed hearing my son’s take on the themes in the play, so that’s an added bonus.
This play was first performed at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 21, 1879.
Since then, it has been performed numerous times and adapted for TV, radio and cinema. I didn’t really enjoy watching the adaptations. I think this is because an adaptation of a play follows the script very closely, so I just felt like I was re-reading the play again!
If you love plays or classical literature, I recommend that you check this one out!