Ibsen's A Doll's House: Background information when reading The Woman Upstairs

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The Woman Upstairs

by Claire Messud

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2014, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Ibsen's A Doll's House

Print Review

Henrik Ibsen It was the door slam that reverberated around the world. In 1879, Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, published the famous play A Doll's House. The play, in three acts, revolves around Nora Elman, who balances a delicate secret while trying to save her marriage. Eventually the secret is revealed as is the nastiness of her husband. Sick of the constraints set forth in a traditional marriage – a doll's house construct – Nora decides she must leave to find, and eventually become, the person she truly is. This door slam that marks her departure might have been literal, but it has been held as metaphor for a woman breaking free from the structure of traditional marriage. Since the play criticizes the social construct of marriage, it was considered quite scandalous when it first premiered. Because it was Nora, a married woman, who shut the door on a stifling life and decided to find herself, the play was interpreted as a win for women's rights in the late nineteenth century.

Gillian AndersonHowever, alternative interpretations have hinted that the essence of the play is about a person (man or woman) finding his or her true path. Ibsen himself said that while some of the play was modeled after the life of a close woman friend, he did not explicitly mean for the play to carry a women's rights message but rather one for all humanity.

Since its premiere in 1879, A Doll's House has been adapted for the theater, movies and television many times proving its timeless message.

Gina Abolins In The Woman Upstairs, Nora Eldridge, too, tries to find a path for herself but eventually fails. In a way one can argue that A Doll's House will forever be relevant – both when seen through the prism of women's rights (which many still view the play as propagating) and as a treatise on the necessity of following one's dreams. Even as late as October 2012, a coherent argument was made for "Nora's" relevance in the contemporary world.

Photograph of Gillian Anderson by Tristram Kenton

Photograph of Gina Abolins courtesy of The Independent

Article by Poornima Apte

This article was originally published in May 2013, and has been updated for the February 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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