By Kim Solow
Jules asked me to go over a book of reviews on Henrik Ibsen’s works to find quotes for our interactive wall in the Link. I found it really fascinating how many people really did not like A Doll’s House and the message it presented about gender roles within society, but also how truly scared they were about the implications this play could have on their marriages and wives.
Many Europeans found the ending scandalous and inconceivable. One notice from June 1889 in the Daily News read, “…but stranger still is the change that comes over her character and her conduct in the end in deserting her home, her husband, and above all her children, simply because she finds that her husband is angry with her, and inclined to take a selfish view of the dilemma when the exposure comes.” (103, Henrik Ibsen: The Critical Heritage) This was a common critique of the play, as the audience felt that Nora’s decision to leave was ridiculous and only disproved Ibsen’s message, by showing how women are fickle and do things on a whim, rather than thinking things through like their male counterparts. They also saw Nora as a monster and unnatural woman who indulged in –god forbid– her self, rather than considering her family’s needs.
The critics also felt that this behavior set a dangerous example for women of the time by teaching that, “marriage must be wholly cancelled, and all the relations it has brought with it must be broken through, if ever the ground is to be cleared for anything better in the future…[and] every imperfect relation should be eradicated in order to make way for a better.” (112, Henrik Ibsen: The Critical Heritage) The theatrical reviews posed the question whether Ibsen was trying to tell their wives that they could do better by leaving everything they know, in search of some truth that they have been hidden from. People viewed his play to be a direct attack on the custom of marriage and family life. Even the Earl of Jersey, Governor of Australia and his wife refused to see A Doll’s House. According to the Era, his wife wrote a letter stating, “she had heard too much about Ibsen’s play to wish to see one of it, and that she did not think that any actress who would appear in them could be considered a lady.” (7)
Ibsen’s work was looked down upon for some of the reasons we admire it today – it was revolutionary and spoke the truth that no one wanted to hear.