Henrik Ibsen.

The works of Henrik Ibsen, with introductions (and translations) by William Archer (Volume 5) online

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Oopyright, 1911, 1912, by Charles Scribner's Sons






Translated by Edmdnd Gosse and William Archer



Translated by Edmund Gosse and William Archer






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 prospect 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
produces 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 person-
ages was beginning to make me quite nervous." To the
same correspondent he wrote on December 4: "The
title of the play is Hedda Gahler. My intention in giving

* Copyright, 1907, by Charles Scribner's Sons.



it this name was to indicate that Iledda, 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 completion
of The Lady from the Sea and the publication of Hedda
Gahler are to be found in the series of letters to Friiulein
Emilie Bardach, of Vienna, published by Dr. George
Brandes.' 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 Gahler, but the al-
lusions 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 sum-
mer. But I feel that it will end in sadness — such is my
nature." Was this "dawning" poem Hedda Gahler ?
Or was it rather The Master Builder that was germi-
nating in his mind ? Who shall say ? The latter hypoth-
esis seems the more probable, for it is hard to believe
that at any stage in the incubation of Hedda Gahler he
can have conceived it as even beginning in a key of gaiety.

» Letters 214, 216, 217, 219.

* In the Ibsen volume of Die Ldteratur (Berlin).



A week later, however, 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 suppress 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 Oc-
tober 29, he writes: "Do not be troubled because I can-
not, in the meantime, create (dicJiten). 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 (Dichtiaig)." 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 per-
haj)S 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 trans-
cendantalism 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.^

The Literary Remains contain some interesting jot-
tings in preparation for Hedda Gabler, as well as pretty
full drafts of several scenes in the play. The first note
runs thus: —

The pale, seemingly cold beauty. Great demands
upon life and upon the joy of life.

He, who has now at last conquered her, is insignificant
in person, but an honorable and gifted, liberal-minded
man of science.

Then come brief scraps of hastily-scribbled dialogue;
and then:

N. B.!

Brack had always thought that Hedda's short engage-
ment to Tesman would be broken off.

Hedda talks of how she felt herself set aside, step by
step, when her father had fallen out of favour, retired
[from the army] and died leaving ni3 property. — She then
felt, and felt bitterly, as if it had been for his sake that

' 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.


she had been feted.— And slie was already between 25
and 26. On the point of going downhill unmarried.

She thinks that Tesman in reality feels only a vain
exultation at having won her. His care for her 's like
that which one expends upon a fine riding-horse, or a
valuable sporting dog. — She does not, however, feel in-
dignant at this. She regards it simply as a fact.

Hedda says to Brack that she does not think one can
call Tesman ridiculous. But in reality she does find
him so. And later she also finds him pitiful.

Tesman. Could you not call me by my Christian
name ?

Hedda. No, indeed, I can't — unless you had a differ-
ent name from the one they have given you.

Tesman takes possession of Lovborg's manuscript, in
order that it may not be lost. It is Hedda who after-
wards, as if by a passing remark, intended to test him,
suggests to him the idea of keeping it.

Then he reads it. A new train of thought is set up
within him. But the situation becomes more tense.
Hedda awakens his jealousy.


In the third act there comes one piece of news after an-
other as to Lovborg's exploits during the night. At last
he himself arrives, in quiet despair. " Where is the man-
uscript ? " " Did I not leave it behind me here .'' " He
knows that he did not. And, in any case, what use
would the manuscript be to him now! He to write of
"the ethics of the future"! He, who has just got out of
the police cells!

Hedda's despair lies in the idea that there are surely
so many possibilities of happiness in the world, but that


she cannot discover them. It is the lack of an object in
life that tortures her.

When Hedda tempts T. to lead E. L. to ruin, it is to
test T.'s character.

It is in Hedda's neighbourhood that the irresistible
craving for dissipation always comes over E. L.

Tesman cannot understand that E. L. should be wil-
ling to build his future on wrong done to another.

Amid these jottings, too, we find a scrap of dialogue
between Hedda and Brack, in which she says: "Remem-
ber that I am an old man's child — -and more than that,
the child of a man who had lived his life. Perhaps that
has left its mark on me." Brack replies: "I really be-
lieve you have begun to brood over problems"; and she
rejoins: " What depths may one not fall to when one has
gone and got married.?"

From the more detailed drafts it would appear that,
in the poet's original conception, Tesman was to be much
more of an active intermediary between Hedda and Lov-
borff than he became in the end. It was Tesman who,
at her instigation, was to lure Lovborg to Brack's orgie;
and it was apparently Tesman who was actually to make
away with or misappropriate Lovborg's manuscript.
Both Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted were to have known much"
more of the former "comradeship" between Lovborg
and Hedda than they do in the finished play. There is
no hint of any "Mademoiselle Diana" in the draft; when
Hedda asks Mrs. Elvsted who the woman is whom Lov-
borg cannot forget, she replies point-blank, "It is your-
self, Hedda." Mrs. Elvsted 's luxuriant hair, Hedda's
jealousy of it, and threat to "burn it off her head," are


afterthoughts; so is the famous conception of Lovborg
"with the vine-leaves in his hair." A curious touch,
which I am at a loss to explain, occurs in the stage-direc-
tion for Hedda's burning of Lovborg's manuscript, [t
runs thus: — "She goes to the writing-table, takes out the
manuscript, seats herself in the arm-chair beside the stove;
opens the packet, sorts out the white leaves from the blue,
puts the white back in the cover again, and keeps the blue
in her lap." Then she opens the stove door and gradu-
ally burns the blue leaves, with words very much like those
of the final text. What the white leaves can have been I
do not know; they must have belonged to some phase in
the working-out of the play which has otherwise disap-

Heclda Gahlcr was published in Copenhagen on De-
cember 16, 1890. This was the first of Ibsen's plays to
be translated from proof-sheets and published in Eng-
land and America almost simultaneously with its first ap-
pearance in Scandinavia. The earliest theatrical per-
formance 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 follo^ving night
it was given for the first time in Christiania, the Nor-
wegian Hedda being Froken Constance Bruun. It was
this production 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 lias
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 rank as the second great
step towards the popularisation of Ibsen in England, the
first being the Charrington-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 char-
acter has also been acted in London by Eleonora Duse, and
by Mrs. Patrick Campbell. In America Hedda has been
acted with great success by Mrs. Fiske and by Madame
Nazimova; in Australia, by Miss Nance O'Neill. The
first French Hedda Gabler was Mile. Marthe Brandes,
who played the part at the Vaudeville Theatre, Paris, on
December 17, 1891, the performance being introduced by
a lecture by M. Jules Lemaitrc. 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 DoWs House in world-wide popularity.

It has been suggested,^ I think without sufficient
ground, that Ibsen deliberately conceived Hedda Gahler
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^somewhat earlier period than the 'nine-
ties The electric cars, telephones, and other conspicu-

* See article l^y Herman Bang in Neue deutsche Rundschau,
December 1906, p. 1495.


ous facto. ' "u the life of a modern capital are notably ab-
sent from the play. There is no electric light in Secre-
tary Fall ' - ^ ilia. It is still the habit for ladies to return
on foot f in evening parties, with gallant swains escort-
ing them This "suburbanism" which so distressed the
London ntits of 1891, was c haracteri stic of the Christi-
ania Ibsi v himself had known in the 'sixties — the Clms-
diania of r^ov e's Covud ij — rather than of the greatly ex-
tended 8 id modernised city of the end of the century.
Moreovc, Lovborg's allusions to the fiord, and the sug-
gested picture of Sheriff Elvsted, his family and his avo-
cations, are all distinctivelv NorweQ-ian, The truth seems
to be very simple— the environment and the subsidiary
persona^ es are all thoroughly national, but Hedda hei
self is ai "international" type, a product of civilisation
by no n: eans peculiar to Norway. .

We cannot point to any individual model or models
who " sat to " Ibsen for the character of Hedda. ^ The late
Grant i**^'" declared that Hedda was "nothing more nor
less than the ffirl we take down to dinner in London nine-
teen tinu-s out of twenty"; in which case Ibsen must have
suffered from a superfluity of models, rather than from
any lifRculty in finding one. But the fact is that in this,
, \n 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

• 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.


/^his trait and that, but never for a whole figure. If his
characters can be called portraits at all, they are com-
posite 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, therefore, look
for a definite prototype of Hedda; but Dr. Braides 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 v/ell-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 fin-
ished. 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 dramatisation or "poetisation"
of the raw material of life. Again, a still more painful
incident probably came to his knowledge about the same
time. A l)eautiful and very intellectual woman was mar-
ried 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 hira to the test. As it happened to be his birthday,
she rolled into his study a small keg of brandy, and then
withdrew. 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. Brandcs, "out of small and scattered
traits of reality Ibsen fashioned his close-knit and pro-
foundly 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, contain-
ing, without a word of explanation, a packet of his (Ib-
sen's) letters, and a photograph which ^lie had presented
to Holm. Ibsen brooded and brooded over the incident,
and at last came to the conclusion that the voung 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 professed to have no knowl-
edge whatever of the letter-incident, though he admitted
the truth of Ibsen's conjecture that the "belle dame sans
merci" had demanded the return of her letters and por-
trait. . Ibsen was determined to get at the root of the mys-
tery; 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
Burgundy 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 out-
line of the figure of Eilert Lovborg.


Some time elapsed, and again Ihscn received a postal
packet from Holm. This one contained his will, in which
Ibsen figured as his residuary legatee. But many other
les-atees were mentioned in the instrument — all of them
ladies, such as Friiulein Alma Roth!)art, of Bremen, and
Friiulein Elise Kraushaar, of Berlin. The bequests to
these meritorious spinsters 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 exring on the
side of discretion. The poor fellow died several years

Some critics have been greatly troubled as to the pre-
cise meaning of Hedda's fantastic vision of Lovborg "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 fa-
miliar. 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 1) where Julian, in the procession of Dionysus, im-
personates 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 fre-
quented 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 personal experience. The at-
tempt to place Hedda's vine-leaves among Ibsen's ob-
scurities is an example of the firm resolution not to under-
stand 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 stu-
dent 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, de-
clines to believe even in his ability as a sociologist, on
the ground that it is idle to write about the social devel-
opment of the future. "To our prosaic minds," he says,
" it may seem as if the most sensible utterance on the sub-
ject is that of the fool of the play : ' The future ! Good
heavens, we know nothing of the future.' " The best re-
tort 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 distinguishable from
fantastic Utopianism, but is indispensable 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 abstracts from his new book
to a man Hke Tesman, whom he despises. But though
Tesman is a ninny, he is, as Hedda says, a "speciahst"
— he is a competent, plodding student of his subject. Lov-
borg 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 pro-
ceeding. There is a certain improbability 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 de-
tached, the most objective — a character-study pure and
simple. It is impossible — or so it seems to me — to ex-
tract any sort of general idea from it. One cannot even
call it a satire, unless one is prepared to apply, that term to
the record of a "case" in a work on criminology. Re-
verting to Dumas's dictum that a play should contain "a
painting, a judgment, an ideal," we may say that Hedda
Gabler fulfils only th£^ first of tEese" requirements. The
poet does not even pass judgment on his heroine: he
simply paints her full-length por trait with scientific im-
passivity. But what -a^ortraJt ! How searching in in-
sight, 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 com-
mon as all that, else the world would quickly come to an

Online LibraryHenrik IbsenThe works of Henrik Ibsen, with introductions (and translations) by William Archer (Volume 5) → online text (page 1 of 44)