Many of you have probably guessed that even before I was interested in money I was very interested in literature; and the classics at that. Some of them are hopelessly out of fashion; about a year ago I left a comment on a blog mentioning Flaubert and it turned out that the author – a very intelligent but rather young person – had never heard of him but from what I said he thought he is ‘a clever dude’.
Well, Flaubert was a clever dude albeit a very pretentious one (he always insisted he found writing hard and edited a lot but George Sand outed him as a diva); Tolstoy was another clever dude (and also a morally repugnant human being according to even very generous standards). Why am I telling you about them?
Because, I have long been unable to decide which female character I find most annoying: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina or one of Ibsen’s female leads.
While I am still undecided – and all these are really great candidates for TMP award for most annoying character – we recently saw A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Which reminded me why I find Ibsen’s female leads annoying and led to a discussion with John, who could not understand: he was rather content with accepting that Nora is a victim and hence cannot be annoying. But let’s take this a bit slower.
For my readers who have not read or seen A Doll’s House, let me recap the story.
A Doll’s House: the story
It is Christmas and Nora, a middle class Swedish young woman, has been shopping: presents for her three children and her husband. Getting back home, she meets her husband (Torvald) and they start chatting about:
- his promotion;
- the plenty of money this is going to bring;
- and that they still need to be careful.
What Ibsen puts out immediately is that these people have:
- different attitude to money: he is completely averse to any borrowing and she is not;
- relationship where he is in a paternal position and she is not even the child, she is a play thing;
- money is a major issue between them and he sees her as a wasteful child prone to whims.
Where the reader/spectator is supposed to get suspicious is that when asked what does she want as a Christmas present, Nora wants cash.
Why, becomes apparent a bit later. When visited by an old friend, Nora is desperate to be taken seriously and shares that she borrowed a lot of money to take her family to the South (remember, the action is in Sweden): she was told that her beloved husband will die is she fails to do so. Only problem is, that to borrow she would have needed her husband with her (or a signature of a responsible man) and he didn’t know about it.
She had asked someone else to help her!
So trouble begins; the guy who helped Nora borrow is known to have forged signatures. This is in the past but Nora’s husband decides that he will sack him. As can be expected the guy is not having it and goes to see Nora. During their conversation we learn that she has forged the signature of her dead father on the promissory note; which is obviously a crime.
The rest of the play is about the tricks and humiliation Nora goes through to keep her husband from opening the letter box and learning about this. But he does and reacts as the self-centred, controlling man that he is.
Well, this was finally the crisis that Nora needed; she saw through him (after almost a decade of marriage, no less) and left him; he was heartbroken. Oh, and she left her children.
Nora: why I find her very annoying
I find Nora incredibly annoying because she:
- was playing her husband’s game;
- allowed him to treat her like his play thing: victimisation always has two sides;
- didn’t have the courage to tell him about the loan she took (to save him);
- cheated to get the loan because it was easier than facing Torvald;
- I think, she thought that if she doesn’t play the empty-headed beauty, her husband won’t love her (which is dumb because this is not love anyway);
- spent her life in fear;
- thought only inside the box society had build around her (getting money from a rich man) rather than trying to break out of the box.
There is more but you get the picture. And yes, there was a lot of Northern European drama, psychological angst and suffering.
Annoying but still a masterpiece that makes one think and examines control through the relationship of the main characters with money, morals, love and silliness.
What is the take away?
For me, the take away is simple:
Never be a victim; have the courage to discuss difficult matters with your partner and don’t wait till there is a crisis.
Have you been in a situation when a partner has tried to control you through money?