#MeToo in 1870s Norway

Heather Nowlin
5 min readJun 18, 2020

Ibsen was the father of modern drama; his most famous character was the mother of the modern woman

The original production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, performed at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1879.

Henrik Ibsen was a 19th-century Norwegian playwright. His most famous works include Peer Gynt, An Enemy of the People, and A Doll’s House (among many others). A Doll’s House was first performed in 1879, and it single-handedly ushered in modernism in Western dramatic literature — not only because of its feminist subject matter, but because it was the first play ever written in natural dialogue, as opposed to metered verse.

In Norway in 1879, it was practically unheard of for a couple to divorce. Even more unlikely was that a woman who was not physically abused, who was financially well-off, and who had three small children would leave her husband and her family. But Nora Helmer, the main character in Henrik Ibsen’s legendary work A Doll’s House, did just that. She decided she wanted to know what it was like to be human — “or at least to try “— and that required an independence and self-sufficiency she was unable to achieve as the simpering wife to a condescending husband that she had always been.

On Nora’s Leaving

When Nora Helmer realized at the end of A Doll’s House “the miracle” she had dreamed of (her husband stepping up to save her reputation upon the exposure of a crime she had committed) did not happen, she had an awakening. In that moment, she grew up — progressed, matured, developed mentally — more than she perhaps had her entire life. She had an epiphany, a life-changing realization that her whole existence up to that point was a facade, an act, a play marriage in a play house with children and herself for playthings.

So she decided to do what no woman of good repute would ever dare dream of doing at that time and in that place: she decided to leave.

Seemingly, the biggest stumbling block for audiences and actors, both in the 19th century and even still today, is about Nora leaving her children. Audiences had already heard from Nora’s friend Christine Linde, who felt “not even a feeling of loss or sorrow” upon the death of her husband (line 199), so the idea that two consenting adults could be mismatched in the marriage contract was already presented to us. And, even more damning, we had seen how Nora interacted with Torvald: theirs was a delicate…

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Heather Nowlin

Favorite topics: politics, mental health, travel, business/the office, humans, dogs, empathy, pop culture, movies, books, TV, plays, theatre.