Sunday, October 21, 2018

How old are Nora and Torvald?

How old are Nora and Torvald Helmer, the central characters in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House? Ibsen doesn’t say. We know that they’ve been married for eight years and have three children, the oldest of whom (Ivar) has to be around seven. Torvald once refers to Nora as “young”. But other than that, we get absolutely no clues about their ages from Ibsen, who of course is the only person who could tell us.

But we’re not going to let that stop us from trying to figure it out anyway, are we? Of course not! I have developed a pretty good theory which suggests rather specific ages for them, to within a year or so. I propose that in A Doll’s House, Nora is 29 and Torvald is 37.

This is based on three things:

1. The ages of the original actors who played the parts in the world premiere on December 21, 1879 in Copenhagen. Betty Hennings was 29, and Emil Poulsen was 37.

2. The ages of Laura Kieler and her husband Victor. Laura Kieler was an acquaintance of Ibsen’s, and the real-life inspiration for Nora. Just before Ibsen wrote the play, Laura had actually done many of the actions Ibsen ascribes to Nora, and Victor’s involvement also corresponds to Torvald’s up to a point. (The fascinating story of Laura’s life, and her complicated relationship with Ibsen, should be a play unto itself.) But to the point: In 1879, Laura was 30 and Victor was 36, within a year either way of Hennings' and Poulsen's ages.

3. If Nora and Torvald are 29 and 37, and have been married for 8 years, then they were 21 and 29 when they were wed. When Ibsen married his wife Suzannah (in 1858), she was 22 and he was 30. So eight years into their marriage, they were 30 and 38, again just a year away from Hennings' and Poulsen's ages.

Flashing forward to Lucas Hnath’s play A Doll’s House, Part 2, which takes place 15 years after “Part 1”, Nora would be 44, and Torvald 52.

Of course, every production of either play must determine the characters’ ages for itself. But the very close alignment of the three points I raise above seems to suggest that this is more-or-less the age range that Ibsen had in mind.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Lemuel Gulliver: a timeline

As I prepare to play Lemuel Gulliver in Wishing Chair Productions' Gulliver's Travels, I have searched online in vain for a timeline of Gulliver's (admittedly fictional) life. Finding nothing, I have created one myself. I was aided greatly here by Isaac Asimov's terrific The Annotated Gulliver's Travels.

Where possible, dates are in year/month/date format, followed parenthetically with Gulliver's age that year. As a point of reference, it may be interesting to note that Jonathan Swift was born in 1667 and died in 1745.

Here is my timeline:

1661 — born in Nottinghamshire
1675 (14) — goes to Cambridge
1678 (17) — leaves Cambridge, apprentices with surgeon Bates
1682 (21) — goes to study medicine in Leyden
1685 (24) — sets sail as surgeon on The Swallow
1688 (27) — returns, settles in London, opens medical practice, marries Mary Burton (who is probably no older than 17)
1690 (29) — his practice fails, sets sail to the East and West Indies
1696 (35) — returns to England, tries to renew practice
1699/5/4 (38) — sets sail on The Antelope; by this time has fathered Johnny and Betty
1699/11/5 — The Antelope is shipwrecked; Gulliver arrives in Lilliput
1701/9/24 (40) — sails away from Blefuscu
1702/4/13 (41) — arrives back in England
1702/6/20 — sets sail on The Adventure
1703/3 (42) — leaves the Cape of Good-hope
1703/6/16 — Brobdingnag is spotted
1705 (44) — eagle carries Gulliver from Brobdingnag
1706/6/3 (45) — arrives back in England
1706/8/5 — sets sail on The Hopewell
1707/4/11 (46) — arrives at Fort St. George
1708/2/16 (47) — leaves Laputa for Balnibarbi
1708/4/21 — sails to Luggnagg
1709/5/6 (48) — leaves King of Luggnagg
1709/5/27 — arrives in Japan
1709/6/9 — arrives in Nangasac
1710/4/20 (49) — arrives back in England (Gulliver writes he’s been gone 5 years and 6 months, but this is wrong); soon after arrival conceives third child
1710/9/7 — sets sail as Captain of The Adventurer
1711/5/9 (50) — is abandoned on Houyhnhnms Land
1715/2/15 (54) — leaves Houyhnhnms Land
1715/11/5 — arrives in Lisbon with Captain Pedro de Mendez
1715/11/24 — leaves Lisbon
1715/12/5 — arrives back in England; youngest child is now 5 years old (assuming it was born); Johnny and Betty are between 16-27
1719 (58) — poses for frontispiece engraving
1720-21 (59-60) — writes Gulliver’s Travels; Betty is now married with children
1723 (62) — moves back to Nottinghamshire
1726/10/28 (65) — publishes Gulliver’s Travels
1727/4/2 (66) — writes letter to cousin Sympson