HEDDA GABLER, a love story.
by Susana Cook
This play unfolds many layers of tension and conflicting worlds. Every moment seems to be charged with meaning, even if it’s not fully clear at times what the meaning is. Ibsen puts together people from different classes and levels of intelligence; showing us differing relationships to love and passion; and the thin line between genius and mediocrity. There’s a strong contrast between Hedda and Ejlert and the rest of the characters. We know that something very essential sets them apart from the rest. Hedda and Ejlert are complex, multidimensional, and dangerous. The rest of the characters are like flat paper figures compared to them—they appear as a frame that shed light on the two main characters. I see Hedda Gabler as a love story, some kind of Romeo and Juliet, between Hedda and Ejlert Lovborg. Hedda and Ejlert try to fit in but they are essentially different from the rest of the characters. They are deeper, they struggle, and at the end the two heroes are dead.
Hedda names the play, the spotlight is on her—this character intrigues us before she comes onstage. Before she appears Miss. Tessman talks about her to Berte, commenting how special she was, and the aura that she had around her: “Do you remember how we used to see her galloping by? How smart she looked in her riding clothes! (345). She also reminds her nephew Tesman how lucky he was by marrying her— Hedda is a trophy wife, “And to think that you should have been the one to carry off Hedda Gabler—the fascinating Hedda Gabbler—who was always surrounded by so many admirers” (347) . We also hear intriguing comments about Ejlert Lovborg before he appears, there’s a feeling of danger around him “Eljert Lovborg is in town, says Mrs. Elvsted, I am afraid he’ll get into trouble” (357). But then, when Hedda comes, (the description that Ibsen gives of Hedda is not spectacular), we see that she is not a femme fatale, but she is somehow powerful and irresistible. There’s a depth to her character and a feeling of danger, “I am afraid of you Hedda” (396) says Mrs. Elvsted to her.
The love between Hedda and Eljert surfaces in small zips from the past “I sometimes feel a shadow between Lovborg and me – a woman’s shadow. Someone he’s never been able to forget… He said that when they parted she threatened to shoot him” (364) says Mrs. Elvsted to Hedda, who is very excited to know that she was not forgotten.
Hedda and Tesman are from a different social class, and that’s an apparent source of tension and disconnect. But Eljert and Hedda are from a different social class as well, but they seem to be connected for a different reason. Judge Brack seems to be the only one who notices that something is going on between them and he points out the innocence of Hedda’s husband, “Jorgen Tesman is certainly a naïve creature” (404) he says. Ibsen shows us some kind of hierarchy of intelligence or genius. Ejlert and Hedda are definitely the geniuses in the play. Tesman is an intelligent man, a researcher, but he doesn’t seem to notice much of what happens around him. Judge Brack can see and perceive their genius, but he is not one of them. Hedda is attracted to extreme expressions of beauty and passion. Her connection with Eljert involves death as a supreme act of courage. We learn that in the past she threatened to kill him. To her husband’s surprise Hedda finds beautiful when she hears that Eljert killed himself with the gun she gave him, “At last, a deed worth doing! There’s a beauty in this. He had the courage to do—the one right thing.” (421). And then she kills herself.
The two heroes die, leaving behind what will never come fully to life: Eljert’s manuscript and Hedda’s baby.
Ibsen, Henrik. Hedda Gabler. 6 Plays by Henrik Ibsen. New York: The Modern Library, 1957.