Henrik Ibsen and Realism

Henrik Ibsen and Realism
A Doll House
A Doll’s House
Author background
 Born in 1828, in Norway (at the time part of Sweden)
 Son of well-to-do merchant whose business failed
when Henrik was young
Father died not long thereafter
When Henrik was 19 , the household servant bore his
illegitimate child
Longed to go to university but failed Greek (heance
no admission)
Early plays and writings were romantic
Began developing more realistic plays in 1860’s
(even though audience preferred lighter works)
Published plays first, then staged them
A Doll House or A Doll’s House
 Norwegian does not distinguish whether “doll” should be
possessive, so it is translated both ways (significant interpretive
Play was hugely controversial but also very popular when it
opened in Copenhagen in 1879 (mostly because of its ending)
Based on a real story (details after you finish reading)
Very tight structure—every word counts—in some ways a direct
line to outcome as in the Greek plays
Secondary characters (Krogstad and Mrs. Linde) are important
foils to the main characters (Torvald and Nora Helmer)
Realist especially in its implied social commentary—Ibsen very
sympathetic to rights of women and individual rights in general
(we will get to characteristics of realism in class)
Themes-motifs to consider
 Male-female relationships in 19th century, especially
as related to marriage—and connected images
(birds, small animals, household items
Secrecy-evasion-avoidance of the truth
Male moral code vs female moral code (ethics)
Costumes; pretending or playing
Nature of bravery
Love vs friendship
Instructions for reading Act One
 Watch for clues to the social standing of Nora and
Torvald and the nature of the relationship between
 This is the exposition of the play—be attuned to the
conflict being set up
 Choose a couple of the themes or motifs—or find
another one you notice—and list 3 or 4 passages that
would be good to discuss in class.
 For two of those passages, pose a question raised by
the passage or its context