today I want to talk to you about 3 classic books we all know: A Doll’s House by Ibsen, The Prince by Machiavelli, and Hamlet by Shakespeare. These aren’t proper reviews though. For that, you’ll have to read what more learned scholars than me have written about them. Instead, I’ll talk about the impressions and considerations I was left with once I finished reading the books. Let’s get started:
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
Fully understanding a classic book is still no guarantee that you’re gonna like it. For me, that was the case with A Doll’s House by Ibsen. It tells the story of Nora, an upper-middle class woman happily (or so it seems at first) married to Torvald, who has just got a promotion. She is empty-headed and silly because she has never been encouraged to think and be her own person, and was happy to be only the docile daughter and wife his father and husband expected her to be. In the course of the play, she comes to realise that she’s only the shadow of what she could be, that her marriage is a sham and her husband treats her like a child and will never be able to understand her. In the end, she chooses to put herself first and leaves her husband. This really shocked the audiences of the time, who considered it an attack on the sanctity of marriage, but what shocked me was the easiness with which Nora leaves her children too. At the time, a woman who left her husband gave up every right to see her children again. I cannot conceive how a mother could do that. Sure, she probably knows they will be well-cared for, but I can’t help but wonder if there was another way for Nora to become her own person, without having to abandon her children. Maybe she could have taken up a hobby, study, write books and try to publish them using a man’s name, (maybe if she had done one of these things her husband would have started seeing her as a person rather than as a child too), or just live a separate life from her husband while still being married to him, which is what a lot of married couples did anyway. She could also have tried to save their marriage and try to better the situation of women in society from the inside instead than just leaving, which may help her, but what about all the other women facing the same situation, and of her children who will grow up with the values she refused and have a very low opinion of their mother? I understand that that way the book wouldn’t be as shocking, that Ibsen’s ending is much more effective at portraying the hypocrisy of the upper classes and the awful situation women found themselves in at the time, being considered only the property of men and good only to be wives and mothers. But still, I don’t like it. I just think that her decision of abandoning her children and her responsibilities was really selfish, especially because it came just after her big secret (forging her father’s signature, a serious crime) was discovered and Torvald failed to help her in the way she wanted him to. It was a decision made more out of humiliation than anything else, and it was very rash and irresponsible. And let’s face it. She just isn’t capable to fend for herself. I expect she ended up either in another doll’s house, or just dead under some bridge. So, yes, I understand the themes and message of the novel, and the importance it had on society, but I can’t help but feel that Nora is a very irritating character who, instead than facing responsibilities for her actions and finally start to behave like an adult, chose the easy way out.
Available at: Amazon.com
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
First of all, if you wanna read this book, get a modern translation. My edition is written in the original, old Italian and it was quite hard to follow at times, which is why I hated it the first time I read it, which was in high school. I reread it recently, and although the language is still quite complicated, I appreciated it a lot more. Machiavelli was a diplomat, humanist and writer that lived in Florence during the Renaissance. He wrote the Prince as a little guidebook for an aspiring prince. In it he discusses matters of states, and mainly how to gain power and how to keep it. A lot of his ideas are still relevant today, while others are terrifying and controversial. But it is also true that Machiavelli lived at a time of political instability, during which wars and coups were very frequent occurrences. What he aspired at the time was stability, even if that meant adopting ruthless means to achieve it. Machiavelli discusses realpolitik and his advice is very, if not always right and fair, pragmatic because, like he says in the book, “how we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to its preservation”. Also, he supports his political advice by relating history episodes relevant to the matter in question. This makes the prince not just a political guide, but also a course on ancient, Medieval and Renaissance history. Although the book is very short, it is also chock full of information, so take your time to read it and fully absorb and understand all the different concepts discussed in it. Overall, a very insightful book that will make you think about politics and power.
Available at: amazon.com
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
What can I say about Hamlet that hasn’t already been said? We all know the story. Hamlet discovers that his father, the King of Denmark, was murdered by his brother, who then married his widow. He goes crazy and a lot of people die (ok, it’s more complicated then this, but if you wanna know more you’ll have to read the book or watch the play; that is, if you haven’t already). Hamlet is a very good story because it deals with very powerful themes, such as love, death, life, anger, madness, passion, politics, revenge and happiness, that every human being, doesn’t matter in what century they are born in, will always be able to relate to. It’s a bold and dark play, written in an excellent style. I love Shakespeare’s quick wit and subtle ironies, although they aren’t always easy to understand for modern readers, which is why you should get an annotated edition. Overall, one of Shakespeare’s best works and a masterpiece.
Available at: amazon.com
Have you read these books? If so, what do you think of them?