After I read Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, and watched Patrick Garland's 1973 cinematic adaptation (starring Anthony Hopkins and Claire Bloom), one thing came to mind about Torvald Helmer: what a jerk! Nora reminds me very much of Catherine Sloper from Henry James 1880 novel, Washington Square, and its 1949 film version, The Heiress. Works like these make me extremely glad that, as a female, I was not born in an era of such oppression.
Nora (Claire Bloom), like Catherine (Olivia de Havilland), is stuck in a very difficult position. She is completely dominated by a prominent male figure in her life. In Nora's particular case, it is her husband. However, Torvald treats her more like a child than a grown-up intelligent woman. He gives her ridiculous pet names, such as his little skylark or his little squirrel; and he seems to find it impossible that she could wish to engage in or understand serious intellectual conversation. Torvald has the same viewpoint that Dr. Sloper has about his daughter, Catherine. Dr. Sloper feels that his daughter could not possibly understand truly intellectual conversation and that she probably could not possibly exist without him.
Nora would rather die than to disappoint her husband. Just after they were married, he became very ill; and doctors told Nora that he would not survive the harsh Norwegian winter. Therefore, rather than see him die, she took it upon herself to find a way to get Torvald south for the winter. Eight long years she has kept her debt a secret from Torvald, all the while knowing he would be terribly distraught if he found out about a debt that she had incurred, while forging her dead father's name, eight years earlier to save his life. She loves him so much she never wants him to think ill of her. Catherine Sloper has the same regard for her father as Nora does for Torvald. She would do anything in the world for her father's affection. Unfortunately, both Dr. Sloper and Torvald are nothing more than big babies who have to have their own way and are concerned with only what will happen to them. Why would anyone want to waste her affections on two pitiful excuses for men such as these?
Unfortunately both Nora and Catherine have to learn the truth the hard way about the men that they love. When Torvald discovers that Nora has an extreme debt and that she had forged her father's name, even though she had done it to save his life, he goes ballistic. He says that she is an unfit mother, hypocrite, and a liar. He never once worries about what she has gone through for him, only what she has potentially done to him. Catherine learns of her father's true nature when he bluntly tells her that he thinks no one would want to marry her for anything more than her money, which has to be devastating coming from her own father.
Both A Doll's House and The Heiress stay fairly true to the original works of Ibsen and James. Anthony Hopkins does a beautiful job of portraying the nasty Torvald Helmer. Ralph Richardson is just a tad bit toned down from the original Dr. Sloper we all love to hate in Washington Square. However, both do a wonderful job as the not-so-obvious antagonist, who rears his ugly head only when he does not get his way.
Fortunately both Nora and Catherine learn what self assertion really is and that they do not have to have these men in their lives. Three cheers for Nora and Catherine because they realized at last what it means to be in control of one's own self and not have daddy do it for them.