Compare the relationship between Torvald and Nora in A Dolls House with that of Angel and Tess in Tess of the Durbervilles

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Compare the relationship between Torvald and Nora in A Doll’s House with that of Angel and Tess in Tess of the D’urbervilles

Both Henrik Ibsen and Thomas Hardy were groundbreaking authors in the Victorian era, portraying female protagonists as becoming materially and emotionally independent from their male partners. Their depictions of the breakdown of a marriage in their respective works were controversial at the time of publication, but highlight the hypocrisy of the patriarchal Victorian society. The key relationships in each work are fraught with tension, dealing with the men’s rejection of their wives and their insistence that societal pressure is more important than love. Both men fall short of their wives’ idealistic hopes by rejecting them after their ‘crimes’ are revealed: although Torvald’s “salvation” and attempted reconciliation are played out on a much smaller timescale than Angel’s eventual return to his wife, both authors depict the women as morally and emotionally superior to their insincere husbands.

A key feature of both relationships is idealism. From the very first scene where Nora “pops the bag of macaroons in her pocket and wipes her mouth”, the secrecy and illusion which keep the Helmers’ marriage alive is apparent. The macaroons, a running motif throughout the play, symbolise Nora’s childishness and her small acts of rebellion against Torvald’s paternal role in their marriage. Many symbols of this idealistic façade appear in A Doll’s House, including Nora’s Italian fancy dress costume which she takes off at the end to represent the ending of the charade. The couple focus so much on decorating the Christmas tree, on the children’s presents and on the show Nora will give at the party, that it is clear that all of these occupations are simply distractions from the emptiness and falseness of their relationship. Additionally, as most effectively portrayed in the title of the play itself, Nora describes their home as “a playroom” and herself as a “doll-wife”¸ sending the key message of the play that Torvald and Nora have been conditioned by society to act the way they do: neither of them really believes their roles which they have undertaken. The forced lightness and frivolity of their interactions shows their lack of seriousness in their marriage, something which Nora herself points out during the “first time” they have “a serious talk together”. In Tess of the D’urbervilles, Hardy uses religious imagery to highlight the idealistic bubble in which Angel and Tess are living during their courtship. To emphasise just how absorbed in their romance they are, Hardy describes their “feeling of isolation, as if they were Adam and Eve” which impresses itself on Angel particularly, as he soon starts to mould his view of Tess to fit their “luminous” surroundings. He begins to see her as a “divinity who could confer bliss”¸”a visionary essence of a woman” rather than a simple milkmaid, hence his inability to understand her impurity later on.

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The husbands’ lack of knowledge about their wives’ true natures is also displayed through their use of nicknames. Torvald constantly calls Nora names originating from the lexical field of nature, such as “songbird” and “squirrel”, connoting lightness, gaiety and frivolity. The essential attribute of his nicknames are that their only worth is to give pleasure to others and to brighten up their surroundings, completely downplaying any type of serious and important role Nora may have held in the household. Similarly, Angel’s nicknames for Tess, including “Artemis” and “Demeter”, stem from the semantic field of classical literature. Not only does this ...

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