Why Write About Nora Helmer?

Photo of the door of an historic apartment in Oslo, like the one Nora Helmer slammed at the end of Ibsen play A Doll's House.

The front door of Wessel gate 15, an historic apartment building in Oslo, like the one the Helmers might have lived in.

I wrote Searching for Nora because I couldn’t stop wondering what Nora Helmer – heroine of Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House – might have done after slamming the door on her family and bourgeois life. Would she set up house-keeping in a garret and send for her children? Flee to Denmark to become a bohemian and pose for painters? Or walk to the harbor and buy a ticket to America?

It’s hard to say what Nora would have done, partly because Ibsen gives us no clear answers. She’s one of the iconic women of literature, and yet she only steps into her full power at the very end of Ibsen’s play. For a few short minutes, she casts off her simpering ways and faces her husband as an equal for the first time. It’s riveting drama, and propels Nora out of her home.

To modern theater audiences, this bold act feels like liberation. But I sensed Ibsen was saying something more nuanced.

When I looked into the historical realities, it became clear that leaving her marriage in 1879 (the year the play premiered) would have been nearly suicidal for someone like Nora. She has no property, no money, no right to see her children or even to be allowed in their company. Nothing.

All she has is her finishing-school education, her charm and her will.

But what a will!

I had to write the story to see what she would do.

Wendy Swallow, Aug. 15, 2019

About Wendy Swallow

Wendy Swallow writes about women’s challenges, now and in the tender past. She is the author of Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce and The Triumph of Love over Experience: A Memoir of Remarriage. Swallow became fascinated with Henrik Ibsen’s iconic character Nora Helmer after she left her first husband. Searching for Nora is her first historical novel.

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