From One Hand Clapping, December 23, 2003:
Last night I read the first few pages of Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House. It seemed only right, as I had read earlier on the Internet that the play was first performed on December 22 in 1879. And then this morning, I read that on December 23, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh cut off part of his ear, and that when he wrote to his brother about it later, he ascribed it to “an artist’s fit.” Henrik Ibsen had curly hair and enormous sideburns. I mention this because, if he were seen now on a street somewhere, people would think he was dressed up for a play, or that he was making a public appearance to promote a PBS production of Masterpiece Theater. And speaking of PBS, I am pretty sure I remember seeing a production of A Doll’s House around ten or twelve years ago. But the details are sketchy. It was Christmas in Denmark and very cold outside, but it was even colder inside, despite a warm setting that included the prominent presence of a stove. The main characters were a husband who didn’t understand his wife, and a wife who was just learning to understand herself. And of course the husband didn’t understand himself, either. If he had, he might have realized that his wife was a real person, and not a “twittering lark” or “little squirrel” incapable of adult reason and behavior. While this might sound dull to a modern audience trained to slobber in front of exploding movie screens, it should be mentioned that A Doll’s House caused quite an uproar back in 1879. How could a woman act independently of a man, or do without altogether? Poor Mr. Ibsen was publicly roasted for being an agent of evil — and also heralded as a perceptive genius. Meanwhile, Vincent Van Gogh was listening to the voices in his head, and no one was arguing about him at all. And yet now, we cannot imagine our world without him. Such is the power of art, and the power of those who create it, so often, if not always, at their own expense.