"Hedda Gabler"

Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen

I'm not usually a reader of plays but I've been hearing about this one forever so, with no opportunity to see it performed, I thought the book would be the best way to find out what it was all about. It's very short, four acts in seventy-two pages, but I wouldn't have wanted it to be any longer. Maybe I'm not artsy enough or something but I didn't find anything very exciting or meaningful in the story.

The entire play takes place in the drawing room of George and Hedda (Gabler) Tesman, who have just returned from a long honeymoon. Hedda comes from a wealthier lifestyle than George can provide and she is bored with him, the house and her new life. An old school friend, Mrs. Elvsted comes to talk to her about another mutual friend, Eilert Lovborg (the author is Norwegian if you're wondering about the names) who may be reverting to his previous self-destructive ways. Hedda and Eilert have history. There are three more characters, Judge Brack an old friend of the Tesman's, George's aunt Julia (who raised him) and Berta, the Tesman's servant.

Lovborg has been successful as an author and, with Mrs. Elvsted's assistance, has completed the manuscript for his next book. Tesman and Lovberg, old friends, are competing for a position at the university. Judge Brack would like a more - ahem - intimate relationship with Hedda. Hedda doesn't like anybody, manipulates everyone to her own ends, and more than anything wants her old life back, which is why the title uses her maiden name; in her heart of hearts she will always be Hedda Gabler. Aunt Julia tries to make friends with Hedda but Hedda isn't interested. Berta is the beloved family servant that George grew up with but Hedda isn't impressed with her either. The manuscript ends up destroyed and two of the characters end up shot, but I'll let you discover the details for yourself. Or you can just look it up at Spark's Notes online and skip the book.   

If I ever have the chance I'd like to see this play performed; I think I'd get a lot more out of it than from the book. I can imagine it well acted, with subtlety, or at least as much subtlety as you can have in a live production, but I can also imagine it tediously melodramatic. There are as many ways to interpret it as there are actors and directors. As a book, it was just ok for me.     


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