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A Dolls House på Novelty Theatre anmeldt i The Times i London 8. juni 1889 (No. 32,720).


The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, whose dramatic theories have attracted much attention both in his own country and Germany, was introduced to the English public at the Novelty Theatre last night through one of his most characteristic plays, A Dolls House, translated for the occasion by Mr. William Archer. Ibsen holds that the true function of the stage is not so much to amuse as to instruct, and this view he has carried out by casting into a dramatic form certain philosophical theses concerning the education and the rights of women, heredity, and other subjects that may be classed under the comprehensive term of social science. In A Dolls House he seeks to illustrate the pernicious effects of denying young wives their due share of responsibility and interest in worldly affairs. He is against the hothouse system of education. Like Wordsworth, he would have woman

«A creature not too bright or good
«For human natures daily food.»
The wife, according to the new northern philosophy, should be the companion, the helpmate, and the trusted counsellor of her husband. Most Englishmen will be of opinion that these are foregone conclusions. The Norwegian moralist appears, however, to be very much in earnest about them, and he has contrived to attract a following of ardent admirers, who applaud him to the echo as he sets about the solemn task which Frenchmen would describe as «staving in an open door.»

Praiseworthy as Ibsens conclusions may be as to the position of woman in society, there will certainly be two opinions in this country as to his manner of enforcing them, at all events in the play now under consideration. The «dolls house» is the home of the well-to-do banker, Torwald Helmer, and the «doll» is his young wife Nora, whom he pets and pampers and generally treats like a spoilt child. Nora is the mother of three children, but so little does she know of the world and «business» that, in order to procure some money for a holiday trip, she has, without her husbands knowledge, forged her fathers name to a bill, believing it to be a perfectly innocent transaction. By that means she has placed herself in the power of a blackmailer, one Krogstad, who extorts from her, as the price of his silence, the promise that she will use her influence with her husband to secure him a subordinate position in the bank. There is no suggestion of a nefarious motive on Krogstads part in this matter, such as a robbery of the strong box. That is a vulgar device of the ordinary dramatist to which Ibsen would disdain to stoop. The man has been «in trouble» for forgery himself, and his object is merely to retrieve his position. Nora, who has so innocently broken the law, is shrewd enough to perceive that she had better comply with Krogstads demand, and she does so; but her husband, who has never been in the habit of discussing business with his wife, treats her supplication as a piece of childish caprice and refuses to listen to it. Krogstad is as good as his word. His demand having been rejected, as he believes through Noras disinclination to press it, he writes a letter to Helmer denouncing her crime, and the dread of detection while the missive is lying in the locked letter-box in full view of the house inspires Ibsens heroine to the strangest measures, including the dancing of the tarantella until she drops from sheer exhaustion, her object being to gain time while a friend of hers, a Mrs. Linden, an old flame of Krogstads, persuades the latter to withdraw his communication. The offer of Mrs. Lindens hand, which in the circumstances is somewhat abrupt, mollifies the quondam forger to the desired extent; but meanwhile Nora becomes indifferent to the disclosure of her past misdeeds, and calmly allows the letter about which so much fuss has been made to pass into her husbands hands.

Here we come to the application of the Ibsen philosophy which will probably strike the commonplace mind as not a little eccentric. Nora, after brooding for a little over the idea of suicide, has made up her mind to leave her husband, her children, and her home, and to go out into the world alone in order to study at her leisure and without the distraction of domestic affairs the problem of womans mission. The husband rages and storms at the folly which threatens to involve him in social ruin. Nora listens unmoved. Then comes a letter from Krogstad, written at Mrs. Lindens instigation, surrendering the incriminating document, and begging Helmers forgiveness. The husband, now relieved from his anxiety, is jubilant, but to his demonstrations of tenderness Nora is as deaf as she was to his upbraidings a moment before. For the first time in her life she proposes to talk seriously, and what she has to say is briefly this: That she and her husband have been living in a fools paradise, that they have never really known each other, that from a doll she is now transformed into a human being, and that her unalterable determination in these circumstances is to quit his roof for ever. Helmers pleas for reconciliation and amendment are all in vain. She puts on her cloak, gives some instructions as to the luggage that is to be sent after her, and leaves him wringing his hands in despair as the curtain falls. Whether she will ever return is a question upon which the spectator is free to form his own opinion.

By Ibsens admirers this story is declared to inculcate a great moral lesson. The performance on the face of it, we are bound to say, proves nothing except that the heroine is an extremely petulant, headstrong, and impracticable young person, whose actions, whether in the frivolous or the serious vein, are not to be reconciled with ordinary experience or the dictates of common sense. It may be contended, of course, that her waywardness is due to the fact that her husband has not been in the habit, vulgarly speaking, of «talking shop» with her on his return from business in the evening; but this is a theory which, with all deference to the Norwegian philosopher and his adherents, we must regard as «not proven.» There is some reference to the law of heredity in the play, for Noras father, it appears, was «not irreproachable.» If this is the ground to be taken up by those who regard A Dolls House as the exposition of a new code of social ethics, how are we to explain the sudden revirement in the heroines character? The Ethiopian does not change his skin or the leopard his spots at a moments notice. The time covered by the action is two days, and within that period the heroines character undergoes a complete transformation, «from gay to grave, from lively to severe.» But the evolutionary process effected in the moral nature of the individual man or woman under the influence of circumstances is slow; it is the work, indeed, of generations. Philosophically, therefore, Ibsens thesis, if we have correctly grasped it, hardly holds water. The dramatic qualities of the story we have not discussed; nor, perhaps, does Ibsen himself set much store upon them. We need only remark in this connexion that the proverb Tous les genres sont bons hors le genre ennuyeux appears in these latter days to stand in some need of revision. By the new school of theorists the genre ennuyeux, it would appear, is assigned a place of distinction; for A Dolls House, with its long philosophical disquisitions, and its almost total lack of dramatic action, is certainly not an enlivening spectacle. The play receives every justice at the hands of the actors. Miss Janet Achurch realizes to the full the authors strange conception of Nora Helmer, while the parts of the husband and Krogstad are ably embodied by Mr. Herbert Waring and Mr. Royce Carleton. Mr. Charles Charrington, under whose management the play has been produced, takes an incidental and somewhat enigmatical character called Dr. Rank, who, after complaining of some mysterious and, it would seem, unmentionable malady, retires from amidst the other dramatis personæ to die. A strong contingent of Ibsens admirers were in the theatre last night, and at the close of the performance were unstinted in their applause.

Publisert 2. apr. 2018 13:55 - Sist endret 2. apr. 2018 13:56