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A Doll's House: A New Version by Frank McGuinness (Faber Plays) Paperback – February 27, 1997
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“A triumphant Doll's House . . . thrilling.” ―John Lahr, The New Yorker
“A wonderfully loose-limbed adaptation.” ―The New York Times
“Superb . . . This is a play very much for today. Frank McGuinness's sprightly and spirited new version secures its place as a truly contemporary masterpiece.” ―Mail on Sunday (London)
From the Back Cover
Ibsen's classic play was greeted with shock on its first production in 1879, with both its style and subject matter being seen as radical and subversive.
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Henrik Ibsen was the leading Norwegian playwright of the 19th century. This play was first produced in 1879. It is still one of the most popular, and performed plays in the world today. Certainly tame by today's "shock" standards, purportedly it did shock many in the audience when it was first produced, due to its scathing portrait of the staid bourgeois views of the role of women in society and marriage. In brief, not just subordinate, but rather a mere appendage to their father's, at first, beliefs and actions, which would later prepare them for the same role serving their husband. Scandinavia was, and often remains, in the forefront in terms of progressive social ideas and legislation. As one of my Swedish friends would quip: "Sweden is a moral superpower."
The two principal characters are Torvald Helmer and his wife, Nora. There are several supporting characters, including Dr. Rank, a family doctor who is ill, Mrs. Linde an old school friend of Nora's, and Nils Krogstad, a bank employee, who is also much else. Money, and the lack thereof, is the catalyst for much of the action. Just when Torvald's promotion to bank manager seems to resolve the money issue, the "sins of the past" revisit the Helmer's with a vengence.
Ibsen's portrait of Torvald is one of a man who is insufferably pompous, with very fixed ideas on propriety, and his wife's role as a helpless, not to bright, child. This is no marriage of "soul mates," as the expression has it, for marriages of more recent vintage. Torvald views Nora as a "doll," hence the title. He is also utterly selfish, viewing events only from his perspective, and not how they might have impacted his wife. The audience plays the part of the ancient Greek chorus, realizing how much Nora has actually done for Torvald, without his knowledge. I still remember this portrait from my high school read, and the vow not to turn out the same way.
A few decades after this play was first produced, Virginia Woolf wrote her famous A Room of One's Own which had very similar themes. Ibsen though was the first, and the play's denouement, with Nora proclaiming to Torvald that she "needs a life of her own" and must determine who she really is, continues to resonate, almost a century and a half later. The play remains a 5-star read.
In spite of all that has changed in the world, Ibsen brilliantly evokes the humanity, the search, that is timeless.
Beautiful, painful play.
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Great price on the Dover edition, too.