My fascination with Nora Helmer was born of my own experience leaving a husband. When I first separated from the father of my two children, I thought it would be like Nora’s last moments in Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House – I would step up as a mature woman, speak my truth, then pick up my bag and walk out the door. A dramatic moment, and then the play would be over. The conflict that had so warped our marriage would be done, and everything afterwards would be a piece of cake.
Of course, that was hopelessly naive. It was only after I stood on the other side of the door – outside, in the cold darkness of divorce – that the real drama started. We never get to see Nora’s “new” life in Ibsen’s play, but I sat in my drab apartment imagining it – her sparse resources, the pain of missing her children, the need to rely on judgmental family for help and shelter. Nora would be haunted, as well, by the humiliation of being cast out of her social class and by the dangers of being a woman alone in that day and society.
My new life, more than 100 years later, was far easier, even if my apartment was depressing. But many of the tensions were the same. My decision pushed us all – me, my ex-husband, and our boys – out of our secure middle-class life into frightening terrain, where the odds were stacked against us. We were dogged by too little money, friends who didn’t understand, and family that were worried or worse.
To keep myself sane, I started to write, and out of that work grew a memoir, Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce. The book traced the arc of my divorce and the effort my ex-husband and I made to build a new relationship as co-parents rather than spouses, so we could stabilize our kids. Just after Breaking Apart was published, I remarried, to a kind man with two sons of his own, which presented a whole new adventure. In time, I wrote about the challenge of merging two sets of brothers into something vaguely resembling a family. That became a second memoir, The Triumph of Love over Experience: A Memoir of Remarriage.
Even though Nora Helmer faced a very different world, my experience with divorce and remarriage deeply informed my vision for Nora. I wanted her to come to terms with leaving her children; to struggle to understand a stepchild; to discover that love with a different man could be like being reborn. I wanted her to grow into a better woman, because I was finding that that was what it took.
– Wendy Swallow
by Wendy Swallow (Hyperion/Theia, 2001)
Writing in a style that is both piercingly honest and profoundly moving, Wendy Swallow traces the arc of her marriage to a complex man ten years her senior. She looks into her own heart and at her childhood and young adulthood to understand the relationship and its breakdown. She recounts her struggle to balance a burgeoning career with the demands of motherhood. And she writes of the divorce as it unfolded: the hopeful fantasies she conjured while still in her marriage, and the harsh realities she faced when she and her husband finally separated. Featured on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the CBS Early Show, and in national magazines, Swallow’s gripping memoir illuminates – with heartbreaking candor – the stresses of divorce. Her journey, and the triumphant reconstruction of her life later, offer encouragement and inspiration to anyone struggling in an unhappy marriage.
Learn and read more on our Breaking Apart page.
by Wendy Swallow (Hyperion, 2004)
After surviving divorce, Wendy Swallow had given up on love for good. A series of bad dates simply confirmed it – she did not need a man. She could be happy on her own. Then, when she wasn’t looking, Charlie appeared. In a humorous, reflective voice, Swallow shares with us her honest, emotional journey as she traces the pitfalls and triumphs of remarriage. Featured on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show and in national magazines, Swallow’s remarriage memoir examines the current research and everyday expectations of remarrying couples.
Learn and read more on our Triumph of Love page.