Ibsen Saskatchewan is a real place. Or it was a real place, a village with an elevator alongside the railway track, located at the curve in the road between Yellow Grass and Lang. Now only the curve in the road marks the passing of a place that had a name.
Dollybird is set mostly in the small, fictional, community of Ibsen. What can I say? I liked the name, and its non-entity status meant there was no chance people might think I was excavating their lives for my story purposes. And maybe, just maybe, in the back of my brain somewhere, I had a recollection of that other Ibsen, Henrik Ibsen, the 19th Century playwright, director and poet whose work A Doll’s House, (1881) had the distinction of being the most performed play in the early 20th century. And it continues to be produced all over the world. But who am I kidding. While his name might have crossed over there at the back of my skull somewhere, his work did not.
A Doll’s House created quite a stir in its day because it closely examines the intricacies of a marriage gone bad, and the unravelling of a family. Nora Helmer frees herself from the traditional thinking of the time, accusing her husband and father of treating her like a doll, to be admired and played with but not taken seriously. Eventually Nora leaves her husband and children to assert her freedom and independence. A scandalous premise for theatre of the time.
Moira Burns creates her own stir in the tiny fictional community of Ibsen, showing up alone and pregnant, claiming herself capable as a physician, becoming a Dollybird. In one passage of the novel, Moira wonders about the origins of the term used to describe her employment, a word used elsewhere to describe a woman of ill-repute. “It must have been coined by a man; they want a dolly, perfect and beautiful, without a blemish or a past….Something to toy with and then discard, soemthing that doesn’t demand anything from them.”
Oh divine coincidence! I put Moira in a non-existent town with a famous name, left her there to work out her angst over assigned roles and the societal expectations of women. Dolls and Dollybirds. Fine bourgeois European homes and sod huts. Nora and Moira. Renaissance women. Could it get any better?
Well yes, actually. I was recently driving round the curve in the road where Ibsen used to be. There’s no sign, just the curve. But a little further down the road there is a sign. One marking another disappeared town. The sign reads Henrik. So I’m driving and it slowly dawns on me that the man who named these towns, and it’s known they were often named alphabetically, admired the work of Henrik Ibsen. Maybe the man was Norwegian, maybe a theatre buff, a wannabe playwright perhaps. But this railway man named one town Henrik, and the next Ibsen. And that makes the story even better and the coincidences, well, you can draw your own conclusions.