What would happen to a woman in nineteenth-century Norway if she left her husband like Nora did in A Doll's House?
What would have been the punishment for forging a signature—I know Ibsen's friend Laura Kieler was divorced and institutionalized: was this the norm?
Life in 19th century Norway is key to this question, as while Nora has been simultaneously praised and condemned for her individuality and decision-making prowess in A Doll’s House, the reality of Norway is much different. Women could not enter into any legal agreement or have control of their own money. Government jobs were not an option at this time, and heavy industrial jobs as well, with textile mills being largely reserved for this. This is similar to the situation in the United States, in which such mills dominated New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts following that area’s decline in the whaling industry in the mid-19th century. The case of Laura Kieler is not quite the same, as the key point was that she was committed due to the stress of the similar situation she put herself in, rather than a matter of course penalty for her crime. Ultimately, Nora’s children would have been taken away from her legally only if Trovold wanted a divorce, and based on his characteristics in the story, it is unlikely he would resort to that. There is always the possibility that he would act uncharacteristically (like the alternate German ending) but that is more speculation than anything.
Concerning forgery; unfortunately, there is a lack of specificity in this time frame when it comes to 19th century forgery, so we can extrapolate based on the current penal code and cross reference it with the political attitudes towards women in 19th century Norway, which should give us a valid answer, and a step for future research if warranted. Much as with any crime, there were matters of degree and type to punishment for forgery:
“shall be liable to fines or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, but not exceeding four years if the document in question is a Norwegian or foreign official document.” (http://www.un.org/Depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/NOR_penal_code.pdf)
Modification of sentencing existed for individual protection against false or unlawful charges, demonstrating a conscientious belief in circumstance defining a crime, rather than a blanket approach:
"If the document has been used with the intent of obtaining evidence for a lawful claim or for protection against an unlawful claim, fines or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year may be imposed.” (Ibid)
The most apparent use of forgery for this question is its use in committing a related crime, which carries a penalty of up to 5 years, indicating that intent is an important part of the law in Norway. Based on this, it is unlikely that Nora’s forging of her father’s signature to get the loan from Krogstad would be considered a related crime, though perhaps Krogstad’s usury and attempt to blackmail would if he was accused of a related crime. Once again, intent is the key understanding of the Norwegian code of laws concerning forgery. To this end, Nora would face no criminal penalties but if sought by Torvold following the play’s conclusion, she would have been returned to his care and that of her children, depending if she choose to stay in Norway or move to another country. This key action also would affect the outcome, as extradition between two sovereign states was always inexact before the Modern European Union; it is therefore likely that Nora would take steps based on what we know of her in the play to avoid being found, especially as her ultimate decision was not made lightly.