Who is the proper occupant of the nursery? The obvious answer is the child, and not an archive, a seductive troll-princess, or poor fosterlings. Nevertheless, characters in Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, and Little Eyolf intend to host these improper occupants in their children’s rooms. Dr. Gunn calls these dramas ‘the empty nursery plays’ because they all describe rooms intended for offspring, as well as characters’ plans for refilling that space. One might expect nurseries to provide an ideal setting for a realist playwright to dramatize contemporary problems. Rather than mattering to Ibsen in terms of naturalist detail or explicit social critique, however, they are reserved for the maintenance of characters’ fears and expectations concerning the future. Empty Nurseries, Queer Occupants intervenes in scholarly debates in child studies by arguing that the empty bourgeois nursery is a better symbol for innocence than the child. Here, ‘emptiness’ refers to the common construction of the child as blank and latent. In Ibsen, the child is also doomed or deceased, and thus essentially absent, but nurseries persist as spaces of memorialization and potential alike. Nurseries also gesture toward the domains of childhood and women’s labor, from birth to domestic service. ‘Bourgeois nursery’ points to the classed construction of innocence and to the more materialist aspects of this book, which inform our understanding of domesticity and family in the West and uncover a set of reproductive connotations broader than ‘the innocent child’ can convey.
Table of Contents
Prologue: A Nursery at the Museum
Introduction: Ibsen’s Empty Nurseries
Chapter One: Endless Aunts, Endless Books: The Future According to Hedda Gabler
Chapter Two: Age is Just a Number: Strange Calculations in The Master Builder
Chapter Three: A Dead Child Cannot Look Back: Lost Boys in Little Eyolf
Chapter Four: Unfaithful Authenticity: Going Backstage in the Bourgeois Home
Olivia Noble Gunn is Assistant Professor and Sverre Arestad Endowed Chair of Norwegian Studies at UW, Seattle. She completed her PhD in comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine in 2012. Gunn has been a fellow of the Society of Scholars at the Simpson Center for the Humanities and received a Royalty Research Fund grant to support archival research in Norway. She has published research on adaptations of Ibsen and on constructions of the family, class, gender, and racialization in Norwegian literature and film. Her teaching interests range from the modern novel to representations of sexuality in the Nordic countries. Gunn currently serves on the MLA Executive Committee for the Forum CLCS Nordic and as the President of the Ibsen Society of America.