A Doll's House

A Doll's House Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen was born into a wealthy family in Skien, Norway. His father, a merchant, was successful early on in life, but when Ibsen was seven his father's business suffered a great financial loss. This caused Ibsen’s father to become jaded and an alcoholic; he took out his troubles on his children and wife, who Ibsen’s sister described as loving and self-sacrificing. Ibsen began writing plays at the age of fifteen; he did not pass the entrance exams to university, but decided he would rather focus on writing anyway. He was at first a very unsuccessful playwright, and he and his wife Suzannah Thoresen were extremely poor. In 1864 he left Thoresen and their five-year-old son, Sigurd (who grew up to become the Prime Minister of Norway, and moved to Sorrento, Italy. He later moved to Dresden, Germany (where he wrote A Doll’s House), not returning to Norway until 1891. After his initial unsuccessful years, Ibsen became more popular as a writer, although his plays were considered to be very scandalous. He died in Oslo in 1906, after suffering several strokes. He is now one of the world’s most famous playwrights, and his work is performed more often than that of any other playwright except Shakespeare. He is often considered to be “the father of realism” in drama, and is also thought of as a pioneer of Modernism.
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Historical Context of A Doll's House

The 1870s were dominated by strict Victorian social codes and laws that severely restricted the rights of all women, and married women in particular. Governments throughout Europe used the Napoleonic Code, which prevented women from engaging in financial transactions. Many women who conducted their own business or earned their own wages chose not to marry because the laws regarding what married women could do when it came to finances were so limiting. By the beginning of the 20th century, things were beginning to change as the female suffrage movement swept over Europe and the world and women were awarded rights such as the right to own property and the right to vote. However, for most people in the late 1870s, such eventualities were not yet even a distant dream.

Other Books Related to A Doll's House

Another significant playwright working in the realist tradition was the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, whose plays also provide a critical examination of family, society, and morality. The Swedish playwright August Strindberg was influenced by Ibsen; Strindberg’s plays are in the naturalist style, a theatrical movement that grew out of and responded to realism.
Key Facts about A Doll's House
  • Full Title: A Doll’s House (Norwegian: Ett dukkehjem)
  • When Written: 1879
  • Where Written: Dresden, Germany
  • When Published: Published and first performed in December 1879
  • Literary Period: Realism; modernism
  • Genre: Realist modern prose drama
  • Setting: A town or city in Norway
  • Climax: When Torvald discovers the letter from Krogstad revealing Nora’s secret
  • Antagonist: At first Krogstad, then Torvald

Extra Credit for A Doll's House

A True Story: A Doll’s House is based on the life of Ibsen’s family friend Laura Kieler, whose actions inspired the story of Nora’s secret debt. In reality, however, Kieler did not forge a signature, and when her husband, Victor, discovered her secret, he divorced her and forced her to be committed to an insane asylum. Ibsen, appalled by Kieler’s committal, wrote A Doll’s House in part as a way of defending her. After two years in the asylum Kieler returned to live with her husband and children and became a famous author in Denmark.

Scandalous: When it was first performed and for many years afterwards, A Doll’s House caused quite the scandal for its criticism of 19th-century marriage customs and portrayal of a woman abandoning her family in order to gain a sense of self. Pressured by several theatres and even the actress who was supposed to play Nora in a German production of the play, Ibsen wrote an alternative ending, in which Nora, upon seeing her children, changes her mind and stays with Torvald. He later regretted doing this, calling the adapted ending “a barbaric outrage.”