Katrya Louise Layton
The naturalism movement in the theatre was characterised by putting the ordinary middle class on stage and making drama out of their lives. It was a reaction against the stylised productions of the time that merely entertained the audience. Some say that the movement began with Zola's Therese Raqui. It was furthered first by A Doll's House and then Miss Julie. Ibsen's play was an important breakthrough in naturalistic drama. Its story line is naturalistic as Nora and Torvald Helmer's seemingly ordinary family life is shown under crisis. These are not kings and queens of the past but a bank manager and his wife. Strindberg was very interested in being involved in creating a naturalism movement in theatre. His characters' dialogue in Miss Julie is considered to be very naturalistic in its jumping from topic to topic, as real conversations do. Strindberg also wanted realistic sets without the messy entrances and exits by characters that he felt detracted from the play. However these plays are not just works of naturalism they also show attitudes to another emerging and controversial movement, women's liberation. A Doll's House is positive about women being strong and independent, whereas Miss Julie denies that they can be. Strindberg did write his play as criticism of Ibsen's, which makes them ideal to compare two sides of a conflict.
The naturalism movement was about bringing the theatre to its audience. The movement has also been called 'kitchen sink' drama. The plays are about ordinary people in situations the audience can relate to. Nora and Torvald are seemingly a very ordinary middle class couple with three children, living in the 1870s. Torvald is the breadwinner and Nora his little 'Song Bird'. The largely middle class audience could instantly identify with them and therefore understand the message.<1> The play provoked debate, some critics felt in represented the end of society others that it was a call for emancipation . It provoked debate about real life rather than providing entertainment and escapism from it. This was the theatre of thought. By February 1878 there were five different productions of the play being performed in Berlin. They came from three different translations.<2>
August Strindberg was, like Ibsen, a great supporter of the Naturalism Movement. He wanted a theatre that was 'modernised to meet the demands of the age so that it may once again take its rightful place as a medium of education.'<3> He believed that psychological development was more important than the fancy sets and special effects favoured by the contemporary fashion in theatre.<4> Strindberg felt that Miss Julie was an important step in creating a truly naturalistic drama. In particular he was proud of the way that his characters' dialogue wanders, avoiding constructed attempts to provoke a clever remark.<5> Although Miss Julie is not about ordinary middle class people in situations the audience can identify with, Strindberg also wanted his actors to act naturally. He wanted them to turn their back on the audience when it was realistic for them to do so, although he felt he had little hope of ever seeing it happen. He wanted the stage to be a room with one wall removed to allow the audience to look in, with the actors moving and saying their lines as the scene required, rather than keeping their faces to the front at all times in an unnatural way.<6> This was very much what Ibsen was trying to achieve with A Doll's House. Miss Julie was written in response to Ibsen's famous play but it had difficulty being performed and published because of its frank discussion of sex. Strindberg's first attempt to have the play performed had to be halted when the play was banned by the censors. The original version of the play was considered too risque to be fully published until 1984.<7>
A Doll's House is a feminist play about a woman liberating herself from a marriage that, from her point of view, has been a lie. It inspired debate about whether Nora should have left, one actress playing the part refused to play a woman leaving her children because she could not.<8> Ibsen wrote an alternative ending for this and other conservative productions, although he was not happy to do so. He described the change as 'a barbaric outrage against the play'.<9> Ibsen did not think of himself as a supporter of the women's movement. He expressed this when invited to speak at a ceremonial dinner, given in his honour, by the Northern Association for the Women's Cause, saying that women were best when active as mothers and wives 'perpetuators and educators of the human race'. This however did not mean that they should be uneducated or subordinate to men, to educate one needs knowledge.<10> Despite his lack of apparent real interest in the women's liberation movement he did sign a petition in support of the Norwegian equivalent of the Married Women's Property Act and he strongly supported the right of women to have equal voting rights in the Scandinavian Club in Rome.<11>
A Doll's House shows two very different middle class women, Nora and Christine. Without her old friend, Nora would never have been able to leave her husband. She showed her that women could support themselves without a man. This is very important, Nora has experienced work before but not life without a man to control her. Christine is a woman she went to school with and with whom Nora can feel empathy for, this is not a working class woman with whom she has no connection but someone like her.<12> Christine also feels that there is something wrong in Nora and Torvald's relationship. She wants him to find out about the loan to resolve the relationship, and if the play had been a modern romantic comedy film it would have all worked out for the best. However, it is not. Nora's illusions about her husband are shattered, he does not love her enough to understand that she forged the document to save his life. He is only concerned that she committed a crime and about the possible scandal's effect on him. This leads to Nora feeling that Torvald is attempting to encourage 'The slow waterlogged sinking of her will into his'.<13>
Strindberg's play Miss Julie is aimed at destroying Ibsen's liberated heroine Nora. Miss Julie blames her unusual upbringing for her actions, in particular her mother's attempts at challenging gender roles, which came into conflict with her more conservative father's views. Both parents left an impression on Miss Julie's young mind:
But it was he who brought me up to despise my own sex, made me half woman and half man.<16>
In relation to these two plays the background of the playwrights could be seen as important. Ibsen was Norwegian and at that time Norway was a subject state of Sweden. Nora could be seen as a symbol of Norway who realises that she is oppressed by her colonial master - Torvald and breaks away to become independent. Strindberg, in contrast, was Swedish and Miss Julie's tragedy could be a symbol of what might happen if the traditional rulers, men or Sweden, are challenged. Certainly these plays were written at a time of heightened romantic nationalism and this may have been a thought in the back of the writers minds. While the women's liberation movement seems to have been the most important ideology in their minds, their feelings of nationalism may have influenced which side of the conflict they identified with.
Today, Miss Julie appears dated and confusing, women are liberated and it does not leave their children permanently scarred. However, I feel that A Doll's House is still relevant because some women still need liberating from unequal and stifling relationships. Perhaps, because of its controversial subject matter,<23> there have only been two film versions of Miss Julie, in 1950 and 1972, compared to eight of A Doll's House which, although controversial, was not banned. A Doll's House was first made into a film in 1917, then again in 1918 and 1922, three versions in 1973, another in 1989 and most recently in 1991. Both of the latter were for TV rather than the cinema.<24> This shows the enduring popularity of a story and themes that producers and their financial backers feel are still valuable to their audiences and, therefore, will attract ratings.
2 Griffiths (1991), p 32.
3 Myers (1987), p 210.
4 Ibid, p 2ll.
5 Miss Julie, preface p 27.
6 Ibid, p 32.
7 Myers (198~), p 198.
8 Downs (19~2), p 118.
9 Grifliths (1991), p 32.
10 Downs (19~2), p 140.
11 So much that he was nearly involved in a duel with a naval captain. Ibid, p 141.
12 Downs (1972), p 113.
13 Virginia Woolf cited Ibsen the Norwegian, p 82.
14 Ibsen (1906), p 147.
15 Strindberg (1964), p 61.
16 Ibid, p 75.
17 Interestingly this 'confused' woman brought up as a man appears in another of Strindberg's plays Queen Kristina - loosely based on a real historical figure. The Queen is brought up a man, but because she is a woman and therefore has a woman's 'Weaknesses' cannot take on a man's responsibility.
18 Myers (1987), p 208.
20 A Madman' s Defence was written as an attack on Siri and was particularly vicious in its language about women.
21 Strindberg was also a painter and novelist as well as playwright.
22 Downs (1972), p 140.
23 Ironic considering its ideology is in fact more conservative.
24 http://us.imdb.conl/cache/person-exact/127 102 and http://us. inidb.coin/cache/person-exact/f13 245.
Bramwell, Murray (1996), Drama First Stages Lecture on Naturalism,
Downs, Brian W. (19~2), A Study of Six Ibsen Plays, Octagon Books, New York.
Griffiths, Tony (1991), Scandinavia, Wakefield Press.
Ibsen, Henrik (1906), 'A Dolls House', Collected Works of Henrik Ibsen, William Heinemann.
Myers, Michael (1987), Strindberg, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Strindberg, Agust (1964), Miss Julie, translated Michael Myer.