Nora Reimagined

Generations of writers, dramatists, directors, filmmakers, photographers and artists have interpreted Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House  – staging  or reframing the play or imagining its sequel. Along the way, many famous actresses have played Nora on stage and in film, and many famous actors have portrayed Torvald.

Below you’ll find a partial list of sequels to A Doll’s House, and at right a list of filmed versions of Nora’s story.

Everyone, it seems, has a different idea about what happens to Nora after she slams the door at the end of Ibsen’s play.

– Wendy Swallow

A Sampling of Sequels

To Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

The chronological list of sequels below is compiled from A Doll’s House: Plays in Production, by Egil Tornqvist, with several additions from other sources. Some of the sequels are plays, others are short novels, stories or articles. One even tells the story of what happens to Nora through fashion photography. This list is not intended to be complete.

1890:  “The Doll’s House and After,” by Walter Besant, an article published in England in the English Illustrated Magazine 7.

Nora becomes a novelist of questionable repute, returns to find Torvald Helmer and Nora’s older son Ivar alcoholics, and Bob, the younger son, a forager. Nora’s daughter Emma drowns herself after her lover, one of the sons of Krogstad, is blocked from marrying Emma. At the end, Nora watches Emma’s funeral bier go by and responds hard-heartedly. Mrs. Linde tells Nora that Nora will never forget the scene and will someday understand the destruction she willingly brought on her family.

1890:  Nora’s Return, by Ednah D. Cheney, a short story in the form of a diary, published in the United States. (Written in response to Besant’s article described above.)

Nora spends many years doing charitable works, then returns home to nurse Torvald after a cholera epidemic. He, in time, comes to understand the error of his ways and to appreciate Nora’s resemblance to Michelangelo’s “Pieta” and Joan of Arc. As a consequence, the miracle of miracles Nora wanted – an equal marriage – finally occurs and the Helmers are united again. Nora’s leaving is vindicated.

1891:  A Doll’s House Repaired, by Eleanor Marx and Israel Zangwill, an article published in the English progressive cultural paper Time, March 1891.

A satirical rewrite of the third act of Ibsen’s play by Zangwill and Marx, daughter of Karl Marx. Nora returns in contrition and agrees to Torvald’s proposal to live together but not in a married state. In the end Torvald slams the bedroom door on Nora.

1903:  Nora or Above Our Strength, by Marie Itzerott, a three-act play  published in Germany, 1903.

1907:  La Maison d’Argile (The House of Clay), by Emile Fabre. A French play. You can download a March 1907 review printed in The New York Times.

1924:  Out of a Doll’s House, a play published in Japan by Japanese scholar, ultranationalist propagandist and Buddhist preacher Tanaka Chigaku.

This play is set in Italy several years after Nora has left home. After seeking spiritual enlightenment in a convent, she travels to Paris to join an aviator school and train as a pilot. She hears that an Italian company is planning to promote world peace with a series of flights to East Asia. She applies for a job only to discover that Krogstad and her friend Kristine run the company, with Torvald Helmer as their employee. Reunited with her husband, who is filled with remorse over his past conduct, her marriage is saved through the miracle of their mutual desire for world peace and harmony. (Source: Women’s Intercultural Performance, by Julie Holledge and Joanne Tompkins.)

1969:  Where Did Nora Go? A folk comedy in three acts written by Danish playwright Ernst Bruun Olsen (published in German, translation by Udo Birckholz).

1970:  A Doll’s House, 1970/Slam the Door Gently, by Clare Booth Luce, a one-act play published in the United States.

Nora lives a comfortable middle-class life in suburban New York. The birth-control pill saves her from motherhood, her education saves her from ignorance.

1979:  What Happened After Nora Had Left Her Husband or the Pillars of Society, by Elfriede Jelinek (an Austrian, self-identified feminist writer and winner  in 2004 of the Nobel Prize for Literature.) A play, in German, which premiered in Graz, Austria in 1979.

Nora goes to work as a factory worker, freeing herself from her bourgeois role as wife and mother. Later she returns to a second doll’s existence at the side of a capitalist magnate. (Author Jelinek won the Nobel Prize for her “musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that, with extraordinary linguistic zeal, reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés and their subjugating power,” according to the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel for literature.)

1981:  Helmer or A Doll’s House:  Variations on a Theme by Henrik Ibsen, by Esther Vilar, an Argentine-German writer. Published in German, the 92-page book includes an essay on feminism by Vilar.

Nora returns, only this time it is she who treats Torvald as the doll.

1982:  Nora Helmer, by Tormod Skagestd, a play published in Norway.

Nora comes back the next day, she and Torvald continue in the house together but separated (at Nora’s insistence). Torvald tries to win her back by spoiling her with presents. To finance these, he steals from the bank. Krogstad, now manager of the bank, discovers Torvald’s crime and gets the upper-hand over the Helmers again.

2006:  The Wapping Project “Falling – A Part Nora,” London: An installation of photographs using Nora as a vehicle for telling fashion stories by photographer Thomas Zanon-Larcher.

The series was shot in Oslo, Norway. As described by curators of the Wapping project: “Our Nora, we concluded, would escape her world immediately after a performance and so we set the first scene in the green room of the National Theatre, Oslo and then asked, what would a 21st-century Nora go on to do. The photographs disclose the story, and (model) Felicity Gilbert inhabits and performs the role with an intelligence and intensity that comes through Zanon-Larcher’s images to talk directly to the viewer. Of course, the choice of Nora in respect of how women are portrayed and represented within fashion was deliberate; our story – flight, by choice alone, into an unknowable future – enabled us to show British clothes in a way which acknowledges the acuity of the women who buy them; it obviously raises questions about their representation as contemporary ‘dolls’” and affirms as an aside a fresh, filmic way to tell fashion stories.”

2017:  A Doll’s House, Part 2, by Lucas Hnath. This three-act play premiered in Costa Mesa, California, in April 2017, and later played on Broadway with Laurie Metcalf in the role of Nora. The play is now being staged in regional theaters across the U.S.

Fifteen years after Nora leaves her family, she returns to get Torvald to finalize their divorce. She has become a successful feminist writer, with a full life of affairs and adventures. During that time, however, she’s had no contact with her family. Torvald, Nora’s nursemaid Anne-Marie, and her daughter Emma all find Nora’s return deeply unsettling, touching off recriminations from all sides.

A Doll’s House, On Film

1922: A now lost silent film, A Doll’s House, starring Alla Nazimova as Nora.

1923: A German silent film, Nora, directed by Berthold Viertel. Nora was played by Olga Chekhova (born Olga Knipper), the niece and namesake of playwright Anton Chekhov’s wife.

1943: An Argentine film, Casa de Muñecas, starring Delia Garcés in a modernized version of the story.

1973: A Doll’s House, directed by Joseph Losey, starring Jane Fonda, David Warner and Trevor Howard.

1973: A Doll’s House, a British production directed by Patrick Garland with Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Richardson (see movie poster above).

1993: Dariush Mehrjui’s film Sara, set in Iran with a protagonist named Sara played by Niki Karimi.

2012: The Young Vic theatre in London released a nine-minute film called Nora with Hattie Morahan portraying an imagined, modern-day Nora struggling to juggle her job and life at home with a husband and two young children. That same year Morahan played Nora in a Young Vic stage production of A Doll’s House. She also played the role when the Young Vic production was staged in Brooklyn, NY, in 2014.

“I left late one frigid night. Torvald, too stunned to stop me, stood gaping in the parlor as I clattered down the apartment stairs and slammed the big front door. I wanted to shake the gossips from their beds, to send them to the window to glimpse the unthinkable: Nora Helmer, walking away in her traveling coat, with a satchel!
“I did it to leave Torvald in a stew of scandalous talk because it was what he feared most, more than he feared losing me.”
~ From Searching for Nora: After the Doll’s House

Reviewers Praise Searching for Nora

“So much more than a sequel, Searching for Nora is a masterful tale that spans generations, continents, and the intertwined lives of two remarkable women. Lyrically told and meticulously researched, this unforgettable saga transports you from the fjords of Norway to the wide open plains of the American west. I couldn’t put it down.”

Joanne Lipman, author of That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together, No. 1 bestseller at The Washington Post

“Few narratives in Western literature have inspired more “what happened next?” speculations than Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, with its famous “door slam heard ’round the world.” Nora’s risky (and theatrically unprecedented) act of self-emancipation challenged paradigms of both dramatic and social structure, leaving us to wonder, with a deliberate absence of guidance or foreshadowing, about the next “act” in the play of her life. Wendy Swallow has done the hard work of imagining in four dimensions – across time and space, from Norway to America, and into the first quarter of the 20th century – how the echoes of that door slam might reverberate in the lives of several families, and in the intellectual and social currents of two continents. Her book is steeped in the Ibsen tradition of meticulous observation, careful design, and rich implication. Part family drama, part evocation of early feminism (both also notable Ibsen specialties), the work takes us on a satisfying and altogether believable journey of discovery as Nora’s story comes full circle across the generations.”

Rick Davis, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and Professor of Theater at George Mason University, co-founder of the American Ibsen Theater in Pittsburgh, and co-translator (with Brian Johnston) of five Ibsen plays

“For those who wondered what happened to Ibsen’s Nora Helmer after she slams the door on her marriage, comes this compelling and engaging novel. A fascinating social history of turn-of-the-century women in Norway and the American Midwest. Beautifully written, with characters that resonate long after you turn the last page.”

Beth Brophy, author of My Ex-Best Friend and Reunion

“Exquisitely crafted and brilliantly delivered. Wendy Swallow has brought us a passionate and cautionary tell that speaks to the life choices we all make – and how those decisions ripple through the generations, affecting us and those closest to us, in ways we never could have imagined. Searching for Nora forces two important questions – are the lives we’re living in alignment with our core values, and if not, what are we willing to do about it?”

Steve Piacente, author of Bella, Bootlicker, Pretender, and Your New Fighting Stance: Good Enough Isn’t… and You Know It

Exploring ‘All About Nora Helmer’

Return to the main page of All About Nora Helmer. Or choose one of the other features of All About Nora Helmer: The Play; Ibsen, Nora’s Creator; Nora’s World, In Her Day; or My Search for Nora.

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