Henrik Ibsen.

The collected works of Henrik Ibsen : with introductions by William Archer and C. H. Herford (Volume 10) online

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Copyright Edition. Complete in 11 Volumes.

Crown 8vo, price 4s. each.


Vol. I. Lady Inger, The Feast at Solhoug, Love's


Vol. II. The Vikings, The Pretenders
Vol. HI* Brand
Vol. IV. Peer Gynt
Vol. V. Emperor and Galilean (2 parts)
Vol VI The Leapue of Youth, Pillars of Society
VoL VII. A Doll's House, Ghosts
Vol. VIII. An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck
VoL IX. Rosmersbolm, The Lady from the Sea
Vol. X. Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder
Vol, XL Little Eyolf, John Gabriel Borkman,
When We Dead Awaken










Copyright 1907 by William Heinemann



" HEDDA GABLER " . . . . 1

Translated by EDMUND GOSSE and WILLIAM


Translated by EDMUND GOSSE and WILLIAM



FROM Munich, on June 29, 1890, Ibsen wrote to the
Swedish poet, Count Carl Snoilsky : " Our intention
has all along been to spend the summer in the Tyrol
again. But circumstances are against our doing so.
I am at present engaged upon a new dramatic work,
which for several reasons has made very slow progress,
and I do not leave Munich until I can take with me
the completed first draft. There is little or no pros-
pect of my being able to complete it in July." Ibsen
did not leave Munich at all that season. On October
30 he wrote : " At present I am utterly engrossed in
a new play. Not one leisure hour have I had for
several months." Three weeks later (November 20)
he wrote to his French translator, Count Prozor :
" My new play is finished ; the manuscript went off to
Copenhagen the day before yesterday. ... It pro-
duces a curious feeling of emptiness to be thus sud-
denly separated from a work which has occupied one's
time and thoughts for several months, to the exclusion
of all else. But it is a good thing, too, to have done
with it. The constant intercourse with the fictitious
personages was beginning to make me quite nervous."


To the same correspondent he wrote on December 4 :
" The title of the play is Hedda Gabler. My intention
in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda, as a
personality, is to be regarded rather as her father's
daughter than as her husband's wife. It was not my
desire to deal in this play with so-called problems.
What I principally wanted to do was to depict
human beings, human emotions, and human destinies,
upon a groundwork of certain of the social conditions
and principles of the present day."

So far we read the history of the play in the official
" Correspondence." * Some interesting glimpses into
the poet's moods during the period between the com-
pletion of The Lady from the Sea and the publication
of Hedda Gabler are to be found in the series of letters
to Fraulein Emilie Bardach, of Vienna, published by
Dr. George Brandes. a This young lady Ibsen met at
Gossensass in the Tyrol in the autumn of 1889. The
record of their brief friendship belongs to the history
of The Master Builder rather than to that of Hedda
Gabler , but the allusions to his work in his letters to her
during the winter of 1889 demand some examination.

So early as October 7, 1889, he writes to her : "A
new poem begins to dawn in me. I will execute it this
winter, and try to transfer to it the bright atmosphere
of the summer. But I feel that it will end in sadness
such is my nature." Was this "dawning" poem
Hedda Gabler f Or was it rather The Master Builder
that was germinating in his mind ? Who shall say ?
The latter hypothesis seems the more probable, for
it is hard to believe that, at any stage in the incubation
of Hedda Gabler, he can have conceived it as even
beginning in a key of gaiety. A week later, however,

1 Letters 214, 216, 217, 219.

' In the Ibsen volume of Die Literatur (Berlin).


he appears to have made up his mind that the time
had not come for the poetic utilisation of his recent
experiences. He writes on October 15 : " Here I sit
as usual at my writing-table. Now I would fain
work, but am unable to. My fancy, indeed, is very
active. But it always wanders away. It wanders
where it has no business to wander during working
hours. I cannot repress my summer memories nor
do I wish to. I live through my experiences again
and again and yet again. To transmute it all into a
poem, I find, in the meantime, impossible." Clearly,
then, he felt that his imagination ought to have been
engaged on some theme having no relation to his
summer experiences the theme, no doubt, of Hedda
Gabler. In his next letter, dated October 29, he
writes : " Do not be troubled because I cannot, in the
meantime, create (dichten). In reality I am for ever
creating, or, at any rate, dreaming of something which,
when in the fulness of time it ripens, will reveal itself
as a creation (Dichtung)." On November 19 he says :
" I am very busily occupied with preparations for
my new poem. I sit almost the whole day at my
writing-table. Go out only in the evening for a little
while." The five following letters contain no allusion
to the play ; but on September 18, 1890, he wrote :
" My wife and son are at present at Riva, on the Lake
of Garda, and will probably remain there until the
middle of October, or even longer. Thus I am quite
alone here, and cannot get away. The new play on
which I am at present engaged will probably not be
ready until November, though I sit at my writing-
table daily, and almost the whole day long."

Here ends the history of Hedda Gabler, so far as the
poet's letters carry us. Its hard clear outlines, and
perhaps somewhat bleak atmosphere, seem to have


resulted from a sort of reaction against the sentimental
" dreamery " begotten of his Gossensass experiences.
He sought refuge in the chill materialism of Hedda
from the ardent transcendentalism of Hilda, whom he
already heard knocking at the door. He was not yet
in the mood to deal with her on the plane of poetry. 1
Hedda Gabler was published in Copenhagen on
December 16, 1890. This was the first of Ibsen's
plays to be translated from proof-sheets and pub-
lished in England and America almost simultaneously
with its first appearance in Scandinavia. The
earliest theatrical performance took place at the
Residenz Theater, Munich, on the last day of January
1891, in the presence of the poet, Frau Conrad-Ramlo
playing the title-part. The Lessing Theater, Berlin,
followed suit on February 10. Not till February 25
was the play seen in Copenhagen, with Fru Hennings
as Hedda. On the following night it was given for
the first time in Christiania, the Norwegian Hedda
being Froken Constance Bruun. It was this pro-
duction which the poet saw when he visited the
Christiania Theater for the first time after his return
to Norway, August 28, 1891. It would take pages
to give even the baldest list of the productions and
revivals of Hedda Gabler in Scandinavia and Germany,
where it has always ranked among Ibsen's most
popular works. The admirable production of the play
by Miss Elizabeth Robins and Miss Marion Lea, at
the Vaudeville Theatre, London, April 20, 1891, may be
counted the second great step towards the popularisa-

1 Dr. Julius Elias (Neue deutsche Rundschau, December 1906,
p. 1462) makes the curious assertion that the character of Thea
Elvsted was in part borrowed from this " Gossensasser
Hildetypus." It is hard to see how even Ibsen's ingenuity
could distil from the same flower two such different essences as
Thea and Hilda.


tion of Ibsen in England, the first being the Charring-
ton-Achurch production of A Doll's House in 1889.
Miss Robins afterwards repeated her fine performance
of Hedda many times, in London, in the English
provinces, and in New York. The character has also
been acted in London by Eleonora Duse, and as I
write (March 5, 1907) by Mrs. Patrick Campbell, at the
Court Theatre. In America, Hedda has frequently
been acted by Mrs. Fiske, Miss Nance O'Neill and
other actresses quite recently by a Russian actress,
Madame Alia Nazimova, who (playing in English)
has made a great success both in this part and
in Nora. The first French Hedda Gabler was Mile.
Marthe Brandes, who played the part at the Vaude-
ville Theatre, Paris, on December 17, 1891, the per-
formance being introduced by a lecture by M. Jules
Lemaitre. In Holland, in Italy, in Russia, the play has
been acted times without number. In short (as might
easily have been foretold) it has rivalled A Doll's
House in world-wide popularity.

It has been suggested, 1 I think without sufficient
ground, that Ibsen deliberately conceived Hedda
Gabler as an " international " play, and that the scene
is really the " west end " of any great European city.
To me it seems quite clear that Ibsen had Christiania
in mind, and the Christiania of a somewhat earlier
period than the 'nineties. The electric cars,telephones,
and other conspicuous factors in the life of a modern
capital are notably absent from the play. There is no
electric light in Secretary Talk's villa. It is still the
habit for ladies to return on foot from evening parties,
with gallant swains escorting them. This " subur-
banism," which so distressed the London critics of

1 See article by Herman Bang in Neite deutsche Rundscha-u,
December 1906, p. 1495.


1891, was characteristic of the Christiania Ibsen
himself had known in the 'sixties the Christiania of
Love's Comedy rather than of the greatly extended
and modernised city of the end of the century. More-
over, Lovborg's allusions to the fiord, and the suggested
picture of Sheriff Elvsted, his family and his avocations,
are all distinctively Norwegian. The truth seems to
be very simple the environment and the subsidiary
personages are all thoroughly national, but Hedda
herself is an " international " type, a product of civil-
isation by no means peculiar to Norway.

We cannot point to any individual model or models
who " sat to " Ibsen for the character of Hedda. 1 The
late Grant Allen declared that Hedda was " nothing
more nor less than the girl we take down to dinner in
London nineteen times out of twenty " ; in which case
Ibsen must have suffered from a superfluity of models,
rather than from any difficulty in finding one. But
the fact is that in this, as in all other instances, the
word " model" must be taken in a very different sense
from that in which it is commonly used in painting.
Ibsen undoubtedly used models for this trait and that,
but never for a whole figure. If his characters can be
called portraits at all, they are composite portraits.
Even when it seems pretty clear that the initial
impulse towards the creation of a particular character
came from some individual, the original figure is
entirely transmuted in the process of harmonisation
with the dramatic scheme. We need not, there-

1 Dr. Brahm (Neue deutsche Rundschau, December 1906,
p. 1422) says that, after the first performance of Hedda Gabler
in Berlin, Ibsen confided to him that the character had been
suggested by a German lady whom he met in Munich, and who
did not shoot, but poisoned herself. Nothing more seems to
be known of this lady. See, too, an article by Julius Elias in
the same magazine, p. 1460.


fore, look for a definite prototype of Hedda ; but
Dr. Brandes shows that two of that lady's exploits
were probably suggested by the anecdotic history of
the day.

Ibsen had no doubt heard how the wife of a well-
known Norwegian composer, in a fit of raging jealousy
excited by her husband's prolonged absence from
home, burnt the manuscript of a symphony which he
had just finished. The circumstances under which
Hedda burns Lovborg's manuscript are, of course,
entirely different and infinitely more dramatic ; but
here we have merely another instance of the dramati-
sation or " poetisation " of the raw material of life.
Again, a still more painful incident probably came to
his knowledge about the same time. A beautiful and
very intellectual woman was married to a well-known
man who had been addicted to drink, but had entirely
conquered the vice. One day a mad whim seized her
to put his self-mastery and her power over him to the
test. As it happened to be his birthday, she rolled
into his study a small keg of brandy, and then with-
drew. She returned some time afterwards to find
that he had broached the keg, and lay insensible on
the floor. In this anecdote we cannot but recognise
the germ, not only of Hedda's temptation of Lovborg,
but of a large part of her character.

"Thus," says Dr. Brandes, " out of small and scat-
tered traits of reality Ibsen fashioned his close-knit
and profoundly thought-out works of art."

For the character of Eilert Lovborg, again, Ibsen
seems unquestionably to have borrowed several traits
from a definite original. A young Danish man of
letters, whom Dr. Brandes calls Holm, was an
enthusiastic admirer of Ibsen, and came to be
on very friendly terms with him. One day Ibsen


was astonished to receive, in Munich, a parcel
addressed from Berlin by this young man, containing,
without a word of explanation, a packet of his (Ibsen's)
letters, and a photograph which he had presented to
Holm. Ibsen brooded and brooded over the incident,
and at last came to the conclusion that the young man
had intended to return her letters and photograph to
a young lady to whom he was known to be attached,
and had in a fit of aberration mixed up the two objects
of his worship. Some time after, Holm appeared at
Ibsen's rooms. He talked quite rationally, but pro-
fessed to have no knowledge whatever of the letter-
incident, though he admitted the truth of Ibsen's
conjecture that the " belle dame sans merci " had de-
manded the return of her letters and portrait. Ibsen
was determined to get at the root of the mystery ; and
a little inquiry into his young friend's habits revealed
the fact that he broke his fast on a bottle of port wine,
consumed a bottle of Rhine wine at lunch, of Bur-
gundy at dinner, and finished off the evening with one
or two more bottles of port. Then he heard, too, how,
in the course of a night's carouse, Holm had lost the
manuscript of a book ; and in these traits he saw the
outline of the figure of Eilert Lovborg.

Some time elapsed, and again Ibsen received a
postal packet from Holm. This one contained his
will, in which Ibsen figured as his residuary legatee.
But many other legatees were mentioned in the in-
strument all of them ladies, such as Fraulein Alma
Rothbart, of Bremen, and Fraulein Elise Kraushaar,
of Berlin. The bequests to these meritorious spin-
sters were so generous that their sum considerably
exceeded the amount of the testator's property. Ibsen
gently but firmly declined the proffered inheritance ;
but Holm's will no doubt suggested to him the figure


of that red-haired " Mademoiselle Diana " who is
heard of but not seen in Hedda Gabler, and enabled
him to add some further traits to the portraiture of
Lovborg. When the play appeared, Holm recognised
himself with glee in the character of the bibulous man
of letters, and thereafter adopted " Eilert Lovborg "
as his pseudonym. I do not, therefore, see why Dr.
Brandes should suppress his real name ; but I willingly
imitate him in erring on the side of discretion. The
poor fellow died several years ago.

Some critics have been greatly troubled as to the
precise meaning of Hedda's fantastic vision of Lov-
borg " with vine-leaves in his hair." Surely this is a
very obvious image or symbol of the beautiful, the
ideal, aspect of bacchic elation and revelry. Antique
art, or I am much mistaken, shows us many figures of
Dionysus himself and his followers with vine-leaves
entwined in their hair. To Ibsen's mind, at any rate,
the image had long been familiar. In Peer Gynt
(Act iv. sc. 8), when Peer, having carried off Anitra,
finds himself in a particularly festive mood, he cries :
" Were there vine-leaves around, I would garland my
brow." Again, in Emperor and Galilean (Pt. II. Act i.)
where Julian, in the procession of Dionysus, imper-
sonates the god himself, it is directed that he shall
wear a wreath of vine-leaves. Professor Dietrichson
relates that among the young artists whose society
Ibsen frequented during his first years in Rome, it was
customary, at their little festivals, for the revellers to
deck themselves in this fashion. But the image is so
obvious that there is no need to trace it to any per-
sonal experience. The attempt to place Hedda's vine-
leaves among Ibsen's obscurities is an example of the
firm resolution not to understand which animated the
criticism of the 'nineties.


Dr. Brandes has dealt very severely with the
character of Eilert Lovborg, alleging that we cannot
believe in the genius attributed to him. But where
is he described as a genius ? The poet represents him
as a very able student of sociology ; but that is a quite
different thing from attributing to him such genius as
must necessarily shine forth in every word he utters.
Dr. Brandes, indeed, declines to believe even in his
ability as a sociologist, on the ground that it is idle to
write about the social development of the future.
" To our prosaic minds," he says, " it may seem as if
the most sensible utterance on the subject is that of
the fool of the play : ' The future ! Good heavens,
we know nothing of the future.' " The best retort to
this criticism is that which Eilert himself makes :
" There's a thing or two to be said about it all the
same." The intelligent forecasting of the future (as
Mr. H. G. Wells has shown) is not only clearly dis-
tinguishable from fantastic Utopianism, but is indis-
pensable to any large statesmanship or enlightened
social activity. With very real and very great respect
for Dr. Brandes, I cannot think that he has been
fortunate in his treatment of Lovborg's character. It
has been represented as an absurdity that he should
think of reading extracts from his new book to a man
like Tesman, whom he despises. But though Tesman
is a ninny, he is, as Hedda says, a " specialist " he is
a competent, plodding student of his subject. Lovborg
may quite naturally wish to see how his new method, or
his excursion into a new field, strikes the average
scholar of the Tesman type. He is, in fact, " trying it
on the dog " neither an unreasonable nor an unusual
proceeding. There is, no doubt, a certain improba-
bility in the way in which Lovborg is represented as
carrying his manuscript around, and especially in Mrs,


Elvsted's production of his rough draft from her
pocket ; but these are mechanical trifles, on which
only a niggling criticism would dream of laying stress.
Of all Ibsen's works, Hedda Gabler is the most
detached, the most objective a character- study pure
and simple. It is impossible or so it seems to me
to extract any sort of general idea from it. One can-
not even call it a satire, unless one is prepared to
apply that term to the record of a " case " in a work
on criminology. Reverting to Dumas's dictum that a
play should contain "a painting, a judgment, an
ideal," we may say that Hedda Gabler fulfils only the
first of these requirements. The poet does not even
pass judgment on his heroine : he simply paints her
full-length portrait with scientific impassivity. But
what a portrait ! How searching in insight, how
brilliant in colouring, how rich in detail ! Grant
Allen's remark, above quoted, was, of course, a
whimsical exaggeration : the Hedda type is not so
common as all that, else the world would quickly come
to an end. But particular traits and tendencies of
the Hedda type are very common in modern life, and
not only among women. Hyperasthesia lies at the
root of her tragedy. With a keenly critical, relent-
lessly solvent intelligence, she combines a morbid
shrinking from all the gross and prosaic detail of the
sensual life. She has nothing to take her out of her-
self not a single intellectual interest or moral en-
thusiasm. She cherishes, in a languid way, a petty
social ambition ; and even that she finds obstructed
and baffled. At the same time she learns that another
woman has had the courage to love and venture all,
where she, in her cowardice, only hankered and re-
frained. Her malign egoism rises up uncontrolled,
and calls to its aid her quick and subtle intellect,
x b


She ruins the other woman's happiness, but in doing
so incurs a danger from which her sense of personal
dignity revolts. Life has no such charm for her that
she cares to purchase it at the cost of squalid humilia-
tion and self -contempt. The good and the bad in her
alike impel her to have done with it all ; and a pistol-
shot ends what is surely one of the most poignant
character-tragedies in literature. Ibsen's brain never
worked at higher pressure than in the conception and
adjustment of those " crowded hours " in which Hedda,
tangled in the web of Will and Circumstance, struggles
on till she is too weary to struggle any more.

It may not be superfluous to note that the " a " in
" Gabler " should be sounded long and full, like the
" a " in " garden " not like the " a " in " gable " or in



WITH The Master Builder or Master Builder Solness,
as the title runs in the original we enter upon the
final stage in Ibsen's career. " You are essentially
right," the poet wrote to Count Prozor in March 1900,
"when you say that the series which closes with the
Epilogue (When We Dead Awaken) began with Master
Builder Solness"

" Ibsen," says Dr. Brahm, " wrote in Christiania all
the four works which he thus seems to bracket to-
gether Solness, Eyolf, BorJcman, and When We Dead
Awaken. He returned to Norway in July 1891, for
a stay of indefinite length ; but the restless wanderer
over Europe was destined to leave his home no more.
. . . He had not returned, however, to throw himself,
as of old, into the battle of the passing day. Polemics
are entirely absent from the poetry of his old age.
He leaves the State and Society at peace. He who
had departed as the creator of Falk [in Love's Comedy\
now, on his return, gazes, not satirically, but rather in
a lyric mood, into the secret places of human nature
and the wonders of his own soul."

Dr. Brahm, however, seems to be mistaken in think-


ing that Ibsen returned to Norway with no definite
intention of settling down. Dr. Julius Elias (an
excellent authority) reports that shortly before Ibsen
left Munich in 1891, he remarked one day, " I must
get back to the North ! " " Is that a sudden im-
pulse ? " asked Elias. " Oh no," was the reply ; " I
want to be a good head of a household and have my
affairs in order. To that end I must consolidate my
property, lay it down in good securities, and get it
under control and that one can best do where one has
rights of citizenship." Some critics will no doubt be
shocked to find the poet whom they have written down
an " anarchist " confessing such bourgeois motives.

After his return to Norway, Ibsen's correspondence
became very scant, and we have no letters dating from
the period when he was at work on The Master Builder.
On the other hand, we possess a curious lyrical prelude
to the play, which he put on paper on March 16, 1892.
It is said to have been his habit, before setting to
work on a play, to " crystallise in a poem the mood
which then possessed him " ; but the following is the
only one of these keynote-poems which has been pub-
lished. I give it in the original language, with a
literal translation :


De sad der, de to, i saa lunt et bus
ved host og i vinterdage,
Saa brsendte huset. Alt ligger i grus.
De to faar i asken rage.

For nede i den er et smykke gemt,
et smykke, som aldrig kan braende.
Og leder de trofast, haender del nemt
at det tunics af ham eller hende.

Men finder de end, de brandlidte to,
det dyre, ildfaste smykke,
aldrig hun finder sin brsendte tro,
ban aldrig sin brrendte lykke.

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