Coming Soon to Listen to Genius:
A selection from
THE DOLL'S HOUSE
Narrated by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer
downloadable mp3 file coming soon
Nora: It is not so very late. Sit down here, Torvald. You and I have much to say to one another. [She sits down at one side of the table.]
Helmer: Nora—what is this?—this cold, set face?
Nora: Sit down. It will take some time; I have a lot to talk over with you.
Helmer: You alarm me, Nora!—and I don't understand you.
Nora: No, that is just it. You don't understand me, and I have never understood you either—before tonight. No, you mustn't interrupt me. You must simply listen to what I say. Torvald, this is a settling of accounts.
Helmer: What do you mean by that?
Nora [after a short silence]. Isn't there one thing that strikes you as strange in our sitting here like this?
Helmer: What is that?
Nora: We have been married now eight years. Does it not occur to you that this is the first time we two, you and I, husband and wife, have had a serious conversation?
Helmer: What do you mean by serious?
Nora: In all these eight years—longer than that—from the very beginning of our acquaintance, we have never exchanged a word on any serious subject.
Helmer: Was it likely that I would be continually and forever telling you about worries that you could not help me to bear?
Nora: I am not speaking about business matters. I say that we have never sat down in earnest together to try and get at the bottom of anything.
Helmer: But, dearest Nora, would it have been any good to you?
Nora: That is just it; you have never understood me. I have been greatly wronged, Torvald—first by papa and then by you.
Helmer: What! By us two—by us two, who have loved you better than anyone else in the world?
Nora [shaking her head]. You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me.
Helmer: Nora, what do I hear you saying?
Nora: It is perfectly true, Torvald. When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you—
Helmer: What sort of an expression is that to use about our marriage?
Nora [undisturbed]. I mean that I was simply transferred from papa's hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as your else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which—I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it, it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman—just from hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.
Helmer: How unreasonable and how ungrateful you are, Nora! Have you not been happy here?
Nora: No, I have never been happy. I thought I was, but it has never really been so.
Helmer: Not—not happy!
Nora: No, only merry. And you have always been so kind to me. But our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa's doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald.
Helmer: There is some truth in what you say—exaggerated and strained as your view of it is. But for the future it shall be different. Playtime shall be over, and lesson-time shall begin.
Nora: Whose lessons? Mine, or the children's?
Helmer: Both yours and the children's, my darling
Nora: Alas, Torvald, you are not the man to educate me into being a proper wife for you.
Helmer: And you can say that!
Nora: And I—how am I fitted to bring up the children?
Nora: Didn't you say so yourself a little while ago—that you dare not trust me to bring them up?
Helmer: In a moment of anger! Why do you pay any heed to that?
Nora: Indeed, you were perfectly right. I am not fit for the task. There is another task I must undertake first. I must try and educate myself—you are not the man to help me in that. I must do that for myself. And that is why I am going to leave you now.
Helmer [springing up]. What do you say?
Nora: I must stand quite alone, if I am to understand myself and everything about me. It is for that reason that I cannot remain with you any longer.
Helmer: Nora, Nora!
Nora: I am going away from here now, at once. I am sure Christine will take me in for the night—
Helmer: You are out of your mind! I won't allow it! I forbid you!
Nora: It is no use forbidding me anything any longer. I will take with me what belongs to myself. I will take nothing from you, either now or later.
Helmer: What sort of madness is this!
Nora: Tomorrow I shall go home—I mean, to my old home. It will be easiest for me to find something to do there.
Helmer: You blind, foolish woman!
Nora: I must try and get some sense, Torvald.
Helmer: To desert your home, your husband and your children! And you don't consider what people will say!
Nora: I cannot consider that at all. I only know that it is necessary for me.
Helmer: It's shocking. This is how you would neglect your most sacred duties.
Nora: What do you consider my most sacred duties?
Helmer: Do I need to tell you that? Are they not your duties to your husband and your children?
Nora: I have other duties just as sacred.
Helmer: That you have not. What duties could those be?
Nora: Duties to myself.
Helmer: Before all else, you are a wife and a mother.
Nora: I don't believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are—or, at all events, that I must try and become one. I know quite well, Torvald, that most people would think you right, and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I can no longer content myself with what most people say, or with what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.
Helmer: Can you not understand your place in your own home? Have you not a reliable guide in such matters as that?—have you no religion?
Nora: I am afraid, Torvald, I do not exactly know what religion is.
Helmer: What are you saying?
Nora: I know nothing but what the clergyman said, when I went to be confirmed. He told us that religion was this, and that, and the other. When I am away from all this, and am alone, I will look into that matter too. I will see if what the clergyman said is true, or at all events if it is true for me.
Helmer: This is unheard of in a girl of your age! But if religion cannot lead you aright, let me try and awaken your conscience. I suppose you have some moral sense? Or—answer me—am I to think you have none?
Nora: I assure you, Torvald, that is not an easy question to answer. I really don't know. The thing perplexes me altogether. I only know that you and I look at it in quite a different light. I am learning, too, that the law is quite another thing from what I supposed; but I find it impossible to convince myself that the law is right. According to it a woman has no right to spare her old dying father, or to save her husband's life. I can't believe that.
Helmer: You talk like a child. You don't understand the conditions of the world in which you live.
Nora: No, I don't. But now I am going to try. I am going to see if I can make out who is right, the world or I.
Helmer: You are ill, Nora; you are delirious; I almost think you are out of your mind.
Nora: I have never felt my mind so clear and certain as tonight.
Helmer: And is it with a clear and certain mind that you forsake your husband and your children?
Nora: Yes, it is.
Helmer: Then there is only one possible explanation.
Nora: What is that?
Helmer: You do not love me anymore.
Nora: No, that is just it.
Helmer: Nora!—and you can say that?
Nora: It gives me great pain, Torvald, for you have always been so kind to me, but I cannot help it. I do not love you any more.
Helmer [regaining his composure]. Is that a clear and certain conviction too?
Nora: Yes, absolutely clear and certain. That is the reason why I will not stay here any longer.
Helmer: And can you tell me what I have done to forfeit your love?
Nora: Yes, indeed I can. It was tonight, when the wonderful thing did not happen; then I saw you were not the man I had thought you were.
Helmer: Explain yourself better. I don't understand you.
Nora: I have waited so patiently for eight years; for, goodness knows, I knew very well that wonderful things don't happen every day. Then this horrible misfortune came upon me; and then I felt quite certain that the wonderful thing was going to happen at last. When Krogstad's letter was lying out there, never for a moment did I imagine that you would consent to accept this man's conditions. I was so absolutely certain that you would say to him: Publish the thing to the whole world. And when that was done—
Helmer: Yes, what then?—when I had exposed my wife to shame and disgrace?
Nora: When that was done, I was so absolutely certain, you would come forward and take everything upon yourself, and say: I am the guilty one.
Nora: You mean that I would never have accepted such a sacrifice on your part? No, of course not. But what would my assurances have been worth against yours? That was the wonderful thing which I hoped for and feared; and it was to prevent that, that I wanted to kill myself.
Helmer: I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora—bear sorrow and want for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honour for the one he loves.
Nora: It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done.
Helmer: Oh, you think and talk like a heedless child.
Nora: Maybe. But you neither think nor talk like the man I could bind myself to. As soon as your fear was over—and it was not fear for what threatened me, but for what might happen to you—when the whole thing was past, as far as you were concerned it was exactly as if nothing at all had happened. Exactly as before, I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would in future treat with doubly gentle care, because it was so brittle and fragile. [Getting up.] Torvald—it was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne him three children—. Oh, I can't bear to think of it! I could tear myself into little bits!
Helmer [sadly]. I see, I see. An abyss has opened between us—there is no denying it. But, Nora, would it not be possible to fill it up?
Nora: As I am now, I am no wife for you.
Helmer: I have it in me to become a different man.
Nora: Perhaps—if your doll is taken away from you.
Helmer: But to part!—to part from you! No, no, Nora, I can't understand that idea.
Nora [going out to the right]. That makes it all the more certain that it must be done. [She comes back with her cloak and hat and a small bag which she puts on a chair by the table.]
Helmer: Nora, Nora, not now! Wait until tomorrow.
Nora [putting on her cloak]. I cannot spend the night in a strange man's room.
Helmer: But can't we live here like brother and sister—?
Nora [putting on her hat]. You know very well that would not last long. [Puts the shawl round her.] Goodbye, Torvald. I won't see the little ones. I know they are in better hands than mine. As I am now, I can be of no use to them.
Helmer: But some day, Nora—some day?
Nora: How can I tell? I have no idea what is going to become of me.
Helmer: But you are my wife, whatever becomes of you.
Nora: Listen, Torvald. I have heard that when a wife deserts her husband's house, as I am doing now, he is legally freed from all obligations towards her. In any case, I set you free from all your obligations. You are not to feel yourself bound in the slightest way, any more than I shall. There must be perfect freedom on both sides. See, here is your ring back. Give me mine.
Helmer: That too?
Nora: That too.
Helmer: Here it is.
Nora: That's right. Now it is all over. I have put the keys here. The maids know all about everything in the house—better than I do. Tomorrow, after I have left her, Christine will come here and pack up my own things that I brought with me from home. I will have them sent after me.
Helmer: All over! All over!—Nora, shall you never think of me again?
Nora: I know I shall often think of you, the children, and this house.
Helmer: May I write to you, Nora?
Nora: No—never. You must not do that.
Helmer: But at least let me send you—
Helmer: Let me help you if you are in want.
Nora: No. I can receive nothing from a stranger.
Helmer: Nora—can I never be anything more than a stranger to you?
Nora: Ah, Torvald, the most wonderful thing of all would have to happen.
Helmer: Tell me what that would be!
Nora: Both you and I would have to be so changed that—. Oh, Torvald, I don't believe any longer in wonderful things happening.
Helmer: But I will believe in it. Tell me! So changed that—?
Nora: That our life together would be a real wedlock. Goodbye.
Helmer: Nora! Nora! [Looks round, and rises.] Empty. She is gone. [A hope flashes across his mind.] The most wonderful thing of all—?
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