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and The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, Ibsen
A Doll House' is no more about women's rights than Richardn is about the divine right of kings, Shakespeare's or Ghosts about syphilis. ... Its theme is the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she is and to strive to become that person.
feminism, or, as it was called in his day, "the woman question." His rescuers customarily cite a statementthe dramatistmade on 26 May 1898 at a seventieth-birthdaybanquet given in his honor by the Norwegian Women's Rights League: I thankyou forthe toast,butmustdisclaim honorof the having consciously worked for the women's rights moveTrue enough, it is desirable to solve the ment... woman problem, along with all the others; but that has not been the whole purpose. My task has been the (Ibsen, Letters 337) description of humanity.
IBSEN HAS BEEN resoundingly saved from
Ibsen's champions like to take this disavowal as a precise reference to his purpose in writing A Doll House twenty yearsearlier,his "originalintention," according to Maurice Valency (151). Ibsen's biographer Michael Meyerurges all reviewersof Doll House revivals to learn Ibsen's speech by heart (774), and James McFarlane,editor of The Oxford Ibsen, includes it in his explanatory material on A Doll House, under "Some Pronouncements of the Author," as though Ibsen had been speaking of the play (456). Whatever propaganda feminists may have made of A Doll House, Ibsen, it is argued, never meant to write a play about the highly topical subject of women's rights; Nora's conflict represents something other than, or something more than, woman's. In an article commemorating the half century of Ibsen's death, R. M. Adams explains, "A Doll House representsa woman imbued with the idea of becoming a person, but it proposes nothing categorical about women becoming people; in fact, its realtheme has nothing to do with the sexes" (416). Overtwenty yearslater,after feminism had resurfaced as an international movement, Einar Haugen, the doyen of American Scandinavian studies, insisted that "Ibsen's Nora is not just a woman arguing for female liberation; she is much 28
more. She embodies the comedy as well as the tragedy of modern life" (vii). In the Modern LanA guage Association'sApproaches to Teaching Doll House, the editor speaks disparagingly of "reductionist views of [A Doll House] as a feminist drama." Summarizinga "major theme" in the volume as "the need for a broad view of the play and a condemnation of a static approach," she warns that discussions of the play's "connectionwith feminism" have value only if they are monitored, "properly channeled and kept firmly linked to Ibsen's text" (Shafer, Introduction 32). Removing the woman question from A Doll House is presented as part of a corrective effort to free Ibsen from his erroneousreputationas a writer of thesis plays, a wrongheaded notion usually blamed on Shaw, who, it is claimed, mistakenlysaw Ibsen as the nineteenthcentury'sgreatesticonoclast and offered that misreading to the public...