David's Reviews > A Doll's House

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Mar 12, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

First things first. Nora, the protagonist of Ibsen's A Doll's House, is a twit. There's no getting around it. We may choose to assign blame for her twittishness to her husband, her milieu, or her era, but this will never adequately mitigate her essential twit nature to that reader or spectator of the play who must endure her self-identification as her husband's 'squirrel' or her childlike idiocy. I myself couldn't stop wondering if Nora is an actual twit (i.e., a twit absolutely, regardless of her context) or relative twit (i.e., a woman who seems a twit to us now as a result of the changes in custom, gender roles, and society itself). And I haven't of course ruled out a combination of the two.

Then my mind became even more scrupulous. Was my judgment that Nora is a twit itself a condition of my entitled position in a (still) phallocentric society? I'm not kidding. I actually thought this. This is what a culture of loudly warring intellectual discourses does to a man. Am I guilty because I think Nora is twit?

Well, I abandoned that idea. Now I am convinced that she really is a twit, but now I ascribe some of her twittishness to the artificiality of drama itself, especially at the end of the nineteenth century. I think I've temporarily settled on this opinion. But ask me tomorrow, and who knows?

Since I've spent so much time convicting Nora of being a twit, it might seem surprising that I've given this play four stars. But really—there are plenty of fine stories to be told about twits and their ostensible transformations into non-twits. We shouldn't discriminate against twits. Don't they have hopes, dreams, sorrows, disappointments like the rest of us?

A Doll's House is the story of a silly, naive Norwegian wife named Nora who is being blackmailed by an unsavory bank clerk; apparently, she forged a document some time before, but the backstory is too contorted and contrived to bother with here. (I'm more than a little annoyed that Ibsen couldn't come up with a more elegant MacGuffin—one that's not entirely reliant upon Nora's [guileless or stupid, as you see it] admission of wrongdoing to her blackmailer.) Nora works overtime to keep her husband Torvald from finding out about her transgression. (Here, a cultural difference comes into play: given the circumstances, it's difficult for a modern audience to imagine that Torvald would be outraged at her confession.) Eventually, he does find out though and rips Nora a proverbial new one. This leads up to a famous and infamous confrontation between husband and wife punctuated by Nora's door slam heard 'round the world.

It's a fascinating and prescient play, no doubt, but it's also more than a little creaky—at least in translation. The conclusion, I think, retains much of its provocation today, well over a hundred years later. It is very difficult to watch or read the play and not react to Nora. She will always be subject to moral condemnation, but she's intriguing—even in her twittishness—because she isn't entirely right or wrong... She's just human. In an often infuriating way.
62 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read A Doll's House.
Sign In »

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Manny I'm afraid Norwegian always sounds creaky in translation. It's some kind of immutable linguistic law. Fully in agreement though about the back-story and the squirrels.

David Manny wrote: "I'm afraid Norwegian always sounds creaky in translation. It's some kind of immutable linguistic law. Fully in agreement though about the back-story and the squirrels."

Well, that's good to know. I always wonder about translations.

Ibsen's mutton chops scare me, by the way.

Manny There are many interesting references to Ibsen in the Jan Kjærstad trilogy. I particularly liked the bit when his beloved but rather eccentric teacher turns up for the Norwegian literature lesson covered in medals and decorations.

"You can't understand Ibsen without knowing about his ambition and his insane hunger for public recognition," the teacher explains to the bemused class.

David I forgot to mention this.

One thing that always amuses me about 19th century literature is how trips to the south of Europe (Italy, the French Riviera, and so on) are prescribed to cure people of serious, sometimes life-threatening illnesses. In A Doll's House, Torvald was on death's door but took a vacation to Italy and *PRESTO* he's all healthy again. I didn't realize geographic treatments were so effective.

Manny You have to remember that this was before they invented double glazing.

David I refuse to believe we were ever so barbaric.

Eldonfoil TH*E Whatever Champion Well done, Mr. David! I'm of the persuasion that believes Nora is an actual twit; after all, she is crafted by the hands of a man (Ibsen) who can smell a herring or two across wind and sea. And I always agree with Manny, Norwegian creaks in a lovely, gobbledygook sort of way that is personally numinous.

David Thanks, Timmy.

This twit talk reminded me of one of my least favorite exchanges from A Doll's House.

Torvald: Nora, darling, you're dancing as if your life depended on it!

Nora: So it does.

This level of dramatic irony is straight out of a bad sitcom.

Manny I remember reading these plays in English as a teenager and then being surprised how much better they were when I later read them in the original. I know it sounds hard to believe, but he actually has an excellent ear for dialogue. I don't know why this language-pair is so hard to do right.

message 10: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal I feel guilty if I have problems with a translated work. There's always something I'm missing. The translation comes between the work and me and becomes a distraction.

I enjoyed Ibsen's plays when I was younger (those vague memories probably have more to do with the excitement of being exposed to a luminary of the canon, tho'), but I re-read The Master Builder a few years ago and it didn't do much for me.

However, Ibsen, the man, has a special place in my heart. Wandering around disheveled with a chest-full of medals and telling people how stupid they were? Awesome.

message 11: by Kim (last edited Mar 21, 2012 12:03PM) (new)

Kim All this Ibsen talk made me go lowbrow. I substituted 'twat' for 'twit' and this review was even more enjoyable.

 /twɪt/ Show Spelled [twit] Show IPA ,verb, twit·ted, twit·ting, noun


an act of twitting.

a derisive reproach; taunt; gibe.


1. vulgar. A woman's genitals.
2. vulgar. A person regarded as stupid or obnoxious.

Maddie Grace I could not get through this review die to the overuse of the word "twit." Please either expand your vocabulary or at least learn some synonyms of the word twit. Thank you.

David Thanks for letting me know, Maddie! I write all my reviews with you in mind.

Please either fuck off or stop being a twit. Thank you.

Maddie Grace Thanks so much! ;)

Maddie Grace And didn't mean to offend, I was just letting you know. I'm sorry if it came across differently'

Trudy Having just read your review, I believe your synopsis was spot on but disagree with the reasons Nora is a twit... often reviews and feedback on Goodreads are condescending and written by people with their head up their arse but yours was a breath of fresh air, thank you.

David Sarkies Great review. Sadly I still think that there are a lot of husbands that would react the way Torvald did when he discovered the truth (Nora didn't actually confess).
I loved the 'door slam heard around the world'. So true.

message 18: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike At first I too thought Nora was a twit but then I realized that she never really had a choice in her actions. She was forced to scheme in order to fix the situation as it unfolded.

back to top