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Explore the Ways in Which Ibsen Presents Romantic Relationships in the Play “a Doll’s House, ” and How This Affects Your Understanding of the Play. Compare the Ways in Which Romantic Relationships Are Presented by Wilde

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Explore the ways in which Ibsen presents romantic relationships in the play “A Doll’s House,” and how this affects your understanding of the play. Compare the ways in which romantic relationships are presented by Wilde in the novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and by Ibsen in the play “A Doll’s House,” in light of the opinion that “all Victorian romantic relationships were superficial.”
There are strong arguments that suggest that all Victorian romantic relationships were superficial in numerous ways, as presented by Ibsen in the play “A Doll’s House,” and Wilde in the novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” In Ibsen’s play, all relationships are tainted by the theme of superficiality via the stereotypical roles of the sexes and appearances. In Wilde’s novel, superficiality is similarly portrayed through appearances and art, however more through physical aesthetics, rather than social appearances.
A strong example of this idea is the marriage between Nora and Torvald in “A Doll’s House.” A major theme that runs throughout the play, is the idea of performance in marriage. Both Nora and Torvald put on a facade, to present themselves as an ideal husband/wife. One example is Torvald’s shallow role as a stereotypical male following the revelation of Nora’s secret; that she withdrew a loan from Krogstad in order to pay for a trip to heal Torvald’s illness. At the initial exposé he exclaims “you have ruined all my future,” establishing himself as the dominant man, as this expression is grand and exaggerated, suggesting that from this point onwards, he has no hope for a good career or family; aspects that took priority for a Victorian male. However once he finds out that Krogstad withdraws his threat to reveal Nora’s secret and he can burn the contract, he capriciously reverts to a forgiving husband, as he begs “you must not think any more about the hard things I said.” This shows that their relationship is superficial, as they are merely playing out the parts they think they should. However, despite his fickle nature the imperative “must,” still reminds the audience of his dominance. It is also relevant that Torvald calls Nora a “Capri maiden,” and that he chooses her to dance the tarantella – this was a wildly passionate and perhaps provocative dance, which would be a superficial spectacle for Torvald to enjoy. Nora later admits “I have existed merely to perform for you,” which would be expected of every Victorian woman in the upper to middle class. However a deeper interpretation would reveal that this dance shows Nora’s personal disregard in her marriage, as she exercises her passion alone, displayed as she practises initially by herself. When practising with Torvald, her dancing becomes increasingly “wild,” and out of time, which shows that as while her husband is present, she becomes increasingly frustrated with the stereotype that is placed on her to be a perfect woman who cares for home and family; her “most sacred duties.”
A similar attitude of appearances in marriage is conveyed in the novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” In the novel, Lord Henry states that “women are a decorative sex.” This is strongly depicted through the physical appearance of Lord Henry’s wife, who is said to be “looking like a bird of paradise,” which suggests her appearance is very bright and dynamic. She is described as manic and “untidy,” suggesting she is somewhat neglected, and perhaps the “picturesque,” looks she aims for are to gain attention from her husband, as Henry bluntly states in the same chapter “no woman is a genius,” thus she cannot reach her husband through any mean other than looks, rather than intellectual conversation. This neglect is portrayed similarly through her long monologue amidst dialogue with Dorian Gray. In this monologue can be found many questions, such as the repetition of “Mr. Gray?,” showing her search for conversation, and that she has no chance to discuss her own ideas, which also relates to Henry’s view that women are not intellectual beings. This highlights superficiality, as appearance is the only way in which Lady Wotton can communicate with Lord Henry.
Alternatively, others may say that not all Victorian romantic relationships were superficial. One case is the relationship between Mrs. Linde and Nils Krogstad in the play “A Doll’s House.” This play revolves around love in its different forms. Superficial love is displayed through through the Helmers’ marriage as previously explained. Unrequited love is shown through Dr.Rank’s pure love for Nora as he overtly states “you can command me, body and soul,” which shows his complete submission to his adoration for Nora, as he even sacrifices his commanding position as a man. Also, maternal love through Nora’s love for her children, as she uses terms of encouragement towards them at the start of the play, such as “that’s splendid!” From these aspects, the audience would naturally expect true to love be displayed in a non-superficial relationship. This could be achieved through Christine and Nils’ relationship, as true love is achieved through forgiveness. Despite Krogstad being left a “shipwrecked man clinging to a bit of wreckage,” after Mrs. Linde left him to be with someone else in the past, they overcome this and are elated that they can be together again, shown through Krogstad’s line “I have never had such an amazing piece of good fortune in my life!” The exclamation used shows his utmost happiness, and is succeeded by his exit. It is noticeable that this happens in the final act, which represents revelation and seeing what is true, and that this is the last time we see Krogstad, as it adds the element of a clear true love, since no more hardship in the relationship is discussed. This relationship could add less of a blow to the shocking ending to the play which was widely rejected by the Victorians, who saw Nora’s stand for her own independence as outrageous, even leading to Ibsen temporarily rewriting the ending to his play in response to these reactions.
Alternatively, it could be argued that this relationship between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad is instead superficial. In some respects, Christine’s helping hand can be identified as true love through her support, however it is only as she herself is “wrecked,” by the death of her husband that this hand is extended. Moreover, she entirely states that she wants “someone and something to work for,” implying that her main reason for her reunification with Krogstad is for some validation as a woman; to fulfil her “sacred duties” with someone else, as she has lost her husband. This could also bring in an element of deceit into the relationship, as her ulterior motive is masked by kindness, relating to the theme of appearance versus reality. It is also of note that Krogstad is unsure about re-entering this relationship, shown through his persistent use of question marks, as he enquires at the initiation of Mrs. Linde’s discussion with doubts such as “what do you mean by that?” Ibsen could have used this to make the audience also doubt Mrs. Linde’s true intentions, as on stage the tone of constant doubt would make Krogstad seem a little less dominant than a typical man, which would strike an unusual chord with a Victorian audience.
A similar idea of appearance versus reality can prove that the relationship between Sybil Vane and Dorian Gray in Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is entirely superficial. However the theme of appearance is used in an alternative way; this time it is the man, Dorian, who instead misinterprets his lady’s appearance, rather than the woman purposely putting on an illusion, as shown by Mrs. Linde’s potential deceit in “A Doll’s House.” Since Sybil is an actress, whenever she is on the stage she plays a character. The reader is reminded of “her genius” as an actress as stated by Dorian, and her pulchritude shown through references to her aesthetically as flower like, for example “petal like lips,” inferring that her beauty and talent could mislead someone. It is on stage that Dorian falls in love with her, so, if there was true love between the couple, then the test of seeing Sybil perform badly in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in chapter 7 would not affect Dorian, as he would love her unconditionally. Instead, there is a dramatic separation between the couple which is caused by Sybil’s performance (which the narrator describes as “simply bad art” through Dorians thoughts) which strongly suggests that Dorian does not fall in love with Sybil, but rather the characters she plays. In the process of Sybil’s aesthetic appeal not being reflected in her art, she clarifies to the reader that her engagement with Dorian is entirely superficial, and is based solely on the art which Dorian admires. The third person narrator commenting on Dorian’s thoughts even further exemplifies his true feelings as it gives us an almost direct insight into his mind. While some may say that perhaps Sybil’s love was pure, which makes the relationship superficial in only one dimension, it is arguable that Sybil too has been misled, illustrated by her nickname for Dorian “Prince Charming” which is another sample of unrealistic appearances in art and love.
In conclusion, I believe that all romantic relationships which are shown in the play “A Doll’s House,” and the novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” are superficial, and none of them demonstrate pure and true love – the main reason for this superficiality is the concept of appearances and how they can make marriage seem like an obligation, or a totally unrealistic concept. This is highlighted primarily through the stereotypical gender roles roles in “A Doll’s House,” and through aesthetics and art in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

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