A Doll's House

A Doll’s House
I: Historical and Social
II: Life of Ibsen
III: A Doll’s House
By Henrik Ibsen
Historical and Social Context
• A Doll’s House was published in Norway on December
4th, 1879.
The first stage production was in Copenhagen on
December 21st, 1879.
• The play caused an immediate sensation, sparked
debate and controversy, and brought Ibsen
international fame.
• Performing the play was considered a revolutionary
action, a daring defiance of cultural norms of
Victorian Europe (1837-1901).
Historical and Social Context
• “Bourgeois Respectability”
Ideals: Financial
Success, upward social
mobility, freedom from
financial debt and moral
guilt, and a stable,
secure family organized
along traditional
patriarchal lines.
Woman in
formal gown,
c. 1879 –
Catalog 1879
Historical and Social Context
Patriarchal ideals
were supported and
reinforced by a social
structure in which women
had little overt political or
economic power. They
were economically,
socially, and
psychologically dependent
upon men and especially
dependent upon the
institutions of marriage and
Picture: Mother and Two Children by
Mary Cassatt
Historical and Social Context
Social Responsibility
Motherhood within marriage was
considered a woman’s highest possible
achievement. It was a social
responsibility, a duty to the state, and
thus, a full-time job. Mothering was no
longer something that came naturally,
but was something that had to be
learned. High infant mortality rates,
particularly in urban areas, were
unilaterally blamed on mothers.
Working class mothers were labeled
neglectful, when in truth they struggled
with both child care and feeding a
A Victorian mother,
pushing a pram
Historical and Social Context
The Ideal Woman
'... her ardent and unceasing flow of
spirits, extreme activity and diligence,
her punctuality, uprightness and
remarkable frugality, combined with a
firm reliance on God ... carried her
through the severest times of pressure,
both with credit and respectability ...'
(The General Baptist Repository and
Missionary Observer, 1840).
Victorian husband and wife
Historical and Social Context
At Home
•The home was considered a haven from the outside world.
•The middle class home contained concrete expressions
of domesticity in the form of servants, homely décor,
comfortable furnishings, home entertainment, and
•Women’s fashion reflected their homes’ interior
furnishing, further cementing them in their role as wife,
mother, and domestic manager.
Historical and Social Context
Household Management
Numerous publications
were written to instruct
women on how to be good
wives and household
'She [the housewife] is the architect of home,
and it depends on her skill, her foresight, her
soft arranging touches whether it shall be the
"lodestar to all hearts", or whether it shall be a
house from which husband and children are
glad to escape either to the street, the theatre,
or the tavern.' (The Christian Miscellany and
Family Visitor, 1890).
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of
Household Management
(1861), remained a bestseller
for over 50 years.
Historical and Social Context
Household Management
•Middle class households could generally afford only
one servant. Servants were a status symbol and not
intended to relieve the stress of house management.
•Many household chores still fell to the lady of the
•Household duties included fetching and boiling
water, washing and ironing clothes, scrubbing
floors, and sewing and mending clothes and
Historical and Social Context
•It was illegal to marry a deceased wife's sister.
•Marriage was encouraged to be with someone
of the same class.
•A man had to prove that he could give his
future wife a life in the manner to which she
was accustomed.
•A woman had to have a dowry.
•A family could set up a trust to protect a
woman's inheritance.
•Marriage was considered a business
Victorian bride and groom, 1895
Historical and Social Context
•An unmarried woman could inherit
money and property after age 21, but
upon marriage control of her money
went to her husband.
•A woman could not have a will for
her personal possessions.
•A man could will his wife's
possessions to his
illegitimate children.
•Few marriages started with
Victorian Wedding Party (date
Historical and Social Context
Widowhood and Mourning
“A heartless wife who, instead of being grieved at
the death of her husband, is rejoiced at it, should be
taught that society will not respect her unless she
pays to the memory of the man whose name she
bears that "homage which vice pays to virtue," a
commendable respect to the usages of society in
the matter of mourning and of retirement from the
world,” (Harper’s Bazaar, April 17, 1886).
“As for periods of mourning, we are told that a
widow's mourning should last eighteen months,
although in England it is somewhat lightened in
twelve,” (Harper’s Bazaar, April 17, 1886).
Typical mourning dress
(Harper’s Bazaar, April 17,
Life of Ibsen
Henrik Johan Ibsen
•Born May 20, 1828 in Skien, Norway
•Died May 23, 1906 of complications
resulting from a series of strokes
•Poet, playwright, and essayist.
•Sometimes wrote under the
pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme.
•Considered the pioneer of modern drama
because he broke away from the romantic
tradition of 19th Century Theatre with
realistic portrayals of individuals.
Life of Ibsen
•Changed theatrical tradition from
exaggerated suspense and mistaken
identity to a scenario that closely
resembles everyday life.
•Used realistic dialogue, commonplace
events, and symbolism to explore the
elusiveness of self-knowledge and the
restrictive nature of traditional morality.
•His characters are strong individuals
who come in conflict with the
oppressive social mores of 19th century
Norwegian society.
“I prefer to ask; ‘tis not my task to
Life of Ibsen
Three Phases of Ibsen’s
•Phase One: Early dramas written in
verse and modeled after romantic
historical tragedy and Norse sagas.
•Phase Two: Prose dramas concerned
with social realism. A Doll’s House
was written during this phase.
•Phase Three: Dealt with the conflict
between art and life, where he shifted his
focus from the individual in society to the
individual alone and isolated.
A Doll’s House
•Et Dukkehjem (A Doll’s House, 1879) is
considered a masterpiece of realist
•The plot concerns the collapse of a
middle class marriage.
•Sparked debates about women’s
rights and divorce.
•Considered innovative and daring
because of its focus on psychological
tension instead of external action.
•Created a new acting style that required emotion
be conveyed through small, controlled gestures,
shifts in action, and pauses.
•Groundbreaking in that it caused drama to be
viewed as social commentary and not merely
Det Kongelige Teater in
Copenhagen where the
play was first performed in
December of 1879.
A Doll’s House
Critics and Ibsen
•Critics considered him to be amoral
and accused him of encouraging amoral
behavior and portraying unwomanly
•Was accused of being iconoclastic in
that they thought that he sought to
overthrow traditional ideas and
•Widely criticized for the character of Nora
for her decision to abandon her children.
Critics felt that no real woman would ever
make that choice.
•Critics and viewers alike hated the fact
that Ibsen offers no real solution to Nora’s
A Doll’s House
Cast of Characters
Betty Hemmings as Nora Helmer
Emil Poulsen as Torvald Helmer
A Doll’s House
Cast of Characters
Agnes N. Dehn as Mrs. Linde
Sophus Peterson as Nils Krogstad
A Doll’s House
Cast of Characters
Peter W. Jerndoff as Dr. Rank
Louise Phister as Anne Marie with children
A Doll’s House
•Appearances vs. Reality
•Identity and Search for
•Growth and Identity