Places: Hedda Gabler

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1890 (English translation, 1891)

First produced: 1891

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Christiana

*Christiana. Hedda GablerNow called Oslo, the capital of city of Norway, located on the country’s southeastern coast, and the largest and most important city in Norway.

Tesman Villa

Tesman Villa. House coveted by Hedda Gabler, located in a fashionable section of Christiana, when it belonged to the prime minister’s widow. She casually remarked to George Tesman that she would marry the man who bought it for her. Tesman and his aunts go into debt to purchase and furnish the property, and the feckless pedant finds himself husband to the beautiful, imperious daughter of an aristocratic general. George and Hedda honeymoon in Italy, and Henrik Ibsen begins his play the morning after their return to Norway, as the newlyweds wake up for the first time in their elegant new home.

The plot of Hedda Gabler unfolds as a succession of visitors–Auntie Juju, Mrs. Elvsted, Judge Brack, and Eilert Loevborg–enter and exit the drawing room. Thea Elvsted and Eilert Loevborg both arrive from the rural north, where Thea is wife to a magistrate and Eilert serves as tutor to his children. The sophisticated salon that Hedda Gabler presides over in Christiana is a stark contrast to the provincial world that Thea, abandoning her husband, has fled.

A fateful interlude at a brothel, involving Tesman, Brack, and Loevborg, occurs offstage, before each returns to the drawing room. Hedda’s father’s pistols are seen onstage early in the proceedings, and they serve as accessories to the drama’s deadly finale. A table in the room elicits an early indication of Hedda’s superciliousness, when she disdains the kitschy hat that Auntie Juju leaves on it.

A portrait of the late General Gabler hangs in the room, and his august image serves throughout the proceedings as a kind of verdict on Tesman’s social pretensions in presuming to marry his haughty daughter and obtain a professorship. The room also contains a piano that, as a demonstration of her regal extravagance, Hedda insists not on replacing but on supplementing with a grander model. An orphan reared by his two unmarried aunts, George is accustomed to more modest accommodations than what Judge Brack, who provided the loan that made the acquisition possible, calls Tesman’s “palatial” home. George insists that his financial risks were necessary, that he could not have expected the exquisite Hedda Gabler to live like an ordinary housewife. The play’s setting is a continuing reminder of Tesman’s folly and of the mismatch between an academic drudge of limited means and a lady of privilege in an upwardly mobile era when birth counts for less than effort.

Of all the other characters in the play, Brack is the only one who belongs to the same social class as Hedda, an aristocracy that has become superannuated by the ascendancy of the middle class. Brack and Hedda meet as equals in the drawing room, but they are acutely aware that their world is vanishing, displaced by upstarts who are not at home in Hedda’s fancy villa. The house thus serves as both a focal point for the play’s action and a thematic metaphor. Like the cherry orchard in Anton Chekhov’s play of that name, Tesman’s villa is a locus of nostalgia, symbolizing the passing of a privileged way of life.

BibliographyHoltan, Orley I. Mythic Patterns in Ibsen’s Last Plays. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970. An extended discussion of the mythic content in Ibsen’s last seven plays, Holtan’s book offers an interesting treatment of Hedda as an example of the archetype of the destructive female.Meyer, Michael. Ibsen: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. A standard biography of Ibsen, it contains a good discussion of both the play itself and its place in Ibsen’s oeuvre. Meyer stresses the complexity of the title character and suggests that Hedda may be a disguised self-portrait of the author.Meyerson, Caroline W. “Thematic Symbols in Hedda Gabler.” Scandinavian Studies 22, no. 4 (November, 1950); 151-160. Reprinted in Ibsen: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Rolf Fjelde. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. In this influential article, Meyerson explores the significance of such symbols as Hedda’s pistols and Thea’s hair, as well as the procreative imagery in regarding Lovberg’s manuscript as a child.Sandstroem, Yvonne. “Problems of Identity in Hedda Gabler.” Scandinavian Studies 51, no. 4 (Autumn, 1979): 368-374. An article that presents an interesting close reading of a central aspect of the play, namely, Ibsen’s use of such titles as “general” and “doctor” as a tool for characterization and as a means of illuminating the reasons behind Hedda’s suicide.Weigand, Herman J. The Modern Ibsen: A Reconsideration. New York: Holt, 1925. An excellent introduction to Ibsen’s later plays, this volume contains an insightful analysis of Hedda Gabler, with appropriate attention devoted to the title character, her husband George Tessman, and the other characters.
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