Literary Time Travel: A Dollís House

††††††††Henrik Ibsenís A Dollís House seems to be directly influenced by its social and historical context. The main conflict of the story, which by modern standards is fairly common, was nearly unheard of in 1879, when the play was originally written. This is why I feel it is important to keep historical references in mind not only when studying literature, but when adapting it to film as well.

††††††††The story is about a family broken apart when wife and mother Nora gets caught up in a lie and ends up being blackmailed by an employee of her husband, Torvald. Throughout the play, the excitement revolves around whether she can keep this from her husband, who treats her more as a toy or doll than a wife. In the end, when the secret finally does come out, Torvald becomes furious with Nora, and we see a change in him, as does Nora. At this moment, she realizes she is not in love with him and, further, does not even know who he is. In 1879, theatergoers were astonished, shocked to find out that Nora decides to leave her husband. In the final scene, Nora does just that and walks away from both her children and Torvald. One can imagine the kind of uproar this caused.

††††††††The play was released during the Victorian age, a time of conservatism and hidden truths. There had been no real womenís movement that had liberated women from their traditional marital role. Women were to be looked at and not heard. This is in line with what we find in A Dollís House. Nora fits the model of a beautiful woman existing only to love and adore her husband. We can almost see her fluttering about without a care in the world. We also find, just like women at the time, a wife acting in secret to help her family. Many women at the time found themselves acting in secret so as to avoid suspicion from a spouse or others. But the real shock for theatergoers was watching this woman stand up for herself and walk out. She does not know herself and becomes unsure of the one rock in her life, her husband. This story, as one can imagine, stirred up quite a lot of scandal in its day.

††††††††This brings us to the problem of adapting the play to film. The audience must understand the socio-historical context of the film; otherwise, it is just another story about a husband and wife breaking up.

††††††††In Patrick Garlandís A Dollís House, filmed in 1973, we see different clues as to the historical context of the story. Costuming, as well as depth of character realized in the actorsí performances, helps us to see the true nature of the ending. Noraís friend Christine (Anna Massey) is there to remind not only Nora but also the audience of a womanís place in society. And the combination of Nora (Claire Bloom) and Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) demonstrates the true relationship between a man and a woman during this time. The costuming obviously gives us our first clue as to what time period the story takes place in.

††††††††Even the camera work helps illustrate the depth of the drama. This is seen in the final scene wherein Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) is standing alone after his wife has left. The camera slowly backs away from Hopkins as the lights dim, almost as if we can see his life drifting away from him. He has left reality and now faces a new one. This is not the way Torvaldís last appearance is described in the play and appears to be a tool used by the director to protect the historical relevance of the story.

Kristin Meschler

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