Commentary by Henrik Ibsen

Authored by Olivia Mansfield 

In his notes on A Doll’s House, Ibsen said…

“A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society, which is an exclusively male society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a male point of view.”

Ibsen, Henrik. Ed. James Walter McFarlane. Henrik Ibsen: A Critical Anthology. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970. 90. Print.

However, in a speech to the Norwegian Women’s Rights League, Ibsen said. . .

“Whatever I have written has been without any conscious thought of making propaganda…

I thank you for the toast but I must disclaim the honor of having consciously worked for the women’s rights movement. I am not even quite clear as to what this women’s right’s movement really is…”

“True enough it is desirable to solve the woman problem, along with the others; but that has been the whole purpose. My task has been the description of humanity,” therefore making it clear that he was not writing this play as propaganda for the women’s rights movement.

Ibsen, Henrik, and Evert Sprinchorn. “Speech at the Festival of Women’s Rights League.” Letters and Speeches. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964. 337. Print.


Henrik Ibsen Commentary

Henrik Ibsen frequently commented and critiqued his plays in letters to managers and editors of theaters that were producing this plays. In February of 1880, Ibsen composed a letter to the manager of a theater in Germany regarding the adaptation at the end of the play. Ibsen wrote, “This change I myself, in the letter to my translator, stigmatise as “barbaric violence” done to the play. Those who make use of the altered scene do so entirely against my wish. But I trust that it will not be used at very many German theaters (Letters 326).” He closed the letter by saying, “When my works are threatened, I prefer, taught by experience, to commit the act of violence myself, instead of leaving them to be treated and “adapted” by less careful and less skillful hands (327).” In many of these letters, Ibsen encouraged directors to reconsider the ending, and he informed them that he was encouraged to rewrite the ending by his translator, but he did not favor the adaptation (327).

Ibsen seemed to like the controversy that his play created. In a letter to Valfrid Vasenius on the 30th of March in 1880, Ibsen said “From the newspapers I see that at Helsingfors, as elsewhere, A Doll’s House is giving rise to a violent dispute. Your interpretation of the play, as far as I have yet seen it, has my entire approval, and I feel certain that the future will show that we are right (330). Ibsen knew that A Doll’s House was creating lots of controversy but it was opening up a new conversation, which was exciting for him. There are many letters in which Ibsen expresses his curiosity and excitement about the future for A Doll’s House (Letters).

In defense of the feminist critiques of A Doll’s House, Ibsen is very famously quoted at a banquet for the Norwegian’s Women’s Right’s League (Templeton 28):

I thank you for the toast, but must disclaim the honor of having consciously worked for the women’s rights movement…True enough, it is desirable to solve the woman problem, along with all the others; but that has not been the whole purpose. My task has been the description of humanity (Letters 337).

Ibsen was very particular about his stage directions and certain aspects of his plays. This is a brief anecdote from his Boswell, Paulsen (Hollander 28-29):

When “A Doll’s House” was produced for the first time in Munich, Ibsen was present at almost all rehearsals . . . On the whole, the play was well presented — especially excellent was Frau Ramlo, the impersonator of Nora — and after the performance Ibsen thanked all actors warmly. One was tempted to believe that in Ibsen’s eyes it had been a model representation. But later on, in Ibsen’s hone, when I spoke about the performance, which I for my part strongly praised, Ibsen made not a few objections. His objections were, not only that some of the actors had only imperfectly understood their parts, but he was also displeased with the color of the wall paper in the living room, — it did not furnish the right stimmung he had desired, — and he even introduced subtleties such as that Nora did not have the right sort of hands.

Ibsen wrote hundreds of letters to theaters regarding the future of his plays, but he was producing plays at such a fast rate that his letters jump from one subject to the next. The themes of marriage, sexuality and the role of women were very prevalent in his plays and poems, and Ibsen is still critiqued today about his feminist writings.

Works Cited

Ibsen, Henrik. Letters of Henrik Ibsen. Trans. J. Nilsen Laurvik. New York: Fox, Duffield and, 1905. Print.

Ibsen, Henrik, and Lee Milton Hollander. Speeches and New Letters [of] Henrik Ibsen. RG Badger, 1910.

Templeton, Joan. “The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen.”Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1989): 28-40.