Doll's House (Review)

Labels: Great Works


A Doll's House
Henrik Ibsen, 1879
80 pp. (varies)

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May 2008

Talk about theatrics—or drama queens—Nora Helmer is the real thing, bless her heart.

Nora's door slam at the end of Ibsen's play became the "slam heard around the world"—affronting Victorian values and igniting suffragette hopes everywhere. It signaled a revolution in the Western World, which led eventually to the female vote and later to workplace equality. (Okay, we could debate that last point.)

All is happiness in Nora's coddled existence—doting husband, comfortable living, beautiful children. But we soon learn the only thing standing between Nora's "encoddlement" and disaster is a blackmail letter—which eventually makes its way into Torvald's hands. When it's revealed that Nora had once secretly borrowed money and forged her father's signature, poor Torvald is outraged: Nora has ruined his life, his reputation, his happiness. His furor is unforgiving, despite two extenuating facts:

  1. Nora borrowed the money to pay for Torvald's medical treatments.
  2. She has quietly, over the years, repaid the entire loan.

The veil has slipped from Nora's eyes—her husband is revealed as a first-class chump and her life an imprisonment that has stultified her growth and freedom. Happiness lies elsewhere, so out the door she goes. SLAM. BANG. Curtain down. It's one of drama's most stunning endings, even today it still shocks...even when you know it's coming.

Don't be put off by the fact that is a play rather than novel. Switching genres is goooood for us. I can imagine great discussions surrounding the implications of that slammed door—and Nora's bid for freedom and happiness.

Also, you might check out the 4 film versions, though I'm not familiar (yet) with any of them— 1992 (TV) with Juliet Stevenson; 1973 with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins; another in 1973 with Jane Fonda; 1959 (TV) with Julie Harris and Christopher Plummer.

The Simon & Schuster Touchstone edition (cover image above) contains discussion questions.

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