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HEDDA GABLER, A PARODY OF A DOLLS

HOUSE?
Mitsuya Mori

(1)
A great many papers and books have been written about A Dolls
House and Hedda Gabler since they were published or staged late in
the 19th century. This year, 2006, 100 years after Ibsens death, the
National Theatre in Oslo planned and managed a huge Ibsen
festival. It may be only a coincidence, but many productions of A
Dolls House and Hedda Gabler were shown at the festival, either
Norwegian productions or foreign ones. As is well known, Ibsen said
that each of his works should be regarded as a part of a grand cycle
(Preface to the Norwegian edition of his Samlede Vrker), but he later
stated in an interview with the newspaper Verdens Gang (December
12, 1899) that the series started with A Dolls House. And he also
replied to Count Prozor, a French translator, that Prozor was right
in assuming that The Master Builder was a starting point for his new
dramaturgy at a late stage of his career1. From these statements of
Ibsens we could conclude that a smaller cycle of plays, which are
called nutidsdrama in Norwegian, began with A Dolls House and
ended with Hedda Gabler. The first and the last play of this cycle
stand in clear contrast to each other. Anyone can see that Nora and
Hedda are characters of opposite types; the one goes out of the
house slamming the door at the end, and the other never goes out
but ends up by shooting herself in the cage-like house. It would be
more appealing to the public if the cycle presented a transformation
from a woman shooting herself in despair to a woman freeing
herself from the old morals with a hope for the future. But Ibsen
wrote the plays in the reverse order, which suggests that the social
or family situation for women was in reality getting worse and
worse in the modern male-centric society. It is particularly hopeless
# 2006 TAYLOR & FRANCIS

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DOI 10.1080/15021860601075799

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in Heddas case because she is aware of the situation and yet able to
do nothing but shoot herself. In contrast, Nora has not been aware
of the real situation of women, but comes to see it during the course
of the play and free herself from it. This kind of comparison of two
of Ibsens most distinguished heroines is not rare in Ibsen criticism.
Indeed Halvdan Koht wrote in the introduction to Hedda Gabler in
Volume 11 of Ibsens Samlede vrker Hundrearsutgave:
Readers almost had an impression that Ibsen wanted to make fools
of them with the closing lines of the play: But, good God
Almightypeople dont do such things!2 This reminded them of the
fact that many of them had used the same words about Noras last act in
A Dolls House. They felt insulted because it seemed apparent that Ibsen
deliberately wanted to make something even more unreal. There are in
Hedda Gabler things that seem to make the play a parody of A Dolls
Housesuch as Heddas lie that she destroyed the manuscript in order
to help her husband, or the peculiar form of comradeship between a
man and a woman who have parted; both Heddas behaviour and
whole character were so different from those of ordinary people that
everything in the play seemed illogical and incomprehensible.3

Koht used the word parody to indicate the peculiar relationship


between Nora and Hedda, but obviously did not mean it seriously.
However, if we look at the contrasting characteristics of both heroines
more closely, Hedda does appear to be a sort of parody of Nora. Not
only that, but the relationship between the two plays themselves
could be called parody-like. This point of view has not been fully
explored so far. Neither Else Hsts epoch-making monograph, Hedda
Gabler (1958), nor more recent books and articles on the play, pay
attention to this particular relationship between the two plays. (I
remember that I have read a Norwegian newspaper article which
pointed out this relationship briefly. It was in the mid 1960s, but
unfortunately I do not remember which newspaper or what date.)
(2)
Ibsen had written numerous notes before starting in earnest to
write the play Hedda Gabler, and completed a play of four acts, titled
only Hedda, on October 7, 1890. There is no doubt about Ibsens
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Hedda Gabler, A Parody of A Dolls House?


being conscious of writing a draft at this stage, because some names
of characters are changed already in the first act, and there are some
situations in the earlier and the later parts of this version which
contradict each other. Ibsen started writing the final version almost
immediately after the completion of the draft, and finished it in a
little more than one month. As usual, he elaborated details in the
final version. In the draft we do not find, for example, the word
wine-leaves nor the name Diana; neither the symbolic
meaning of the pistol nor Heddas pregnancy is clearly suggested
from the beginning; Tesman is a more serious man and Brack does
not enjoy a delicate conversation with Hedda. We see that the
implication of Heddas being rather General Gabler`s daughter than
Tesman`s wife is an afterthought, for the name Gabler is written
later in addition to Hedda on the title page. Despite many
differences in details, however, few changes are made to the basic
story or the dramatic composition between the draft and the final
manuscript. The relationship between the characters and their
behaviors are the same, even though some names of characters are
not. This implies that the theme of the play is unchanged
throughout Ibsens work on it. Ibsen intended from the outset to
write a play based on the married life of Hedda and Tesman.
Indeed Ibsens nutidsdramas are mostly about married life,
viewed from various perspectives. But A Dolls House is the first play
in which he closely examines the relationship between a husband
and a wife. From this play on, with the single exception of The Wild
Duck, Ibsen always deals with the so-called nuclear family.
However, A Dolls House is primarily focused on the relationship
of Helmer and Nora, though they have three children already. It is
in Ghosts that Ibsen presents the problem of the parent-child
relationship for the first time with a clear intention. This theme
continues until The Lady from the Sea. It seems that Ibsen became
interested in the husband-wife relationship again in Hedda Gabler,
although the parent-child relationship has not totally vanished: it is
emphasized without words that Hedda is a daughter of General
Gabler and that she has a baby inside her body. Therefore it is only
natural to see some similarities between A Dolls House and Hedda
Gabler. But if we look at the list of the dramatic characters of both
plays, we find the surprising fact that the characters in Hedda Gabler
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show amazing correspondences to those in A Dolls House. The
correspondences, however, are mostly in reversed ways.
(3)
Let us put the character names of both plays side by side as
corresponding to each other.

A Dolls House
Nora
Torvald Helmer
Nils Krogstad
Mrs. Linde
Dr. Rank
Anne Marie
Helene, a maid

Hedda Gabler
Hedda
Jrgen Tesman
Eilert Lvborg
Mrs. Elvsted
Judge Brack
Juliane Tesman
Berte, a maid

Torvald and Nora have been married for eight years and Hedda
and Jrgen Tesman have just returned from their honeymoon trip.
But Helmer is going to be appointed a bank director soon, and
Tesman is, or thinks he is, going to get a professorship at the
university soon. Helmer feels that the presence of his old school friend
Krogstad at the same bank is a sort of threat to his position of director,
and Tesman feels that his old university friend Lvborg is a definite
threat to his appointment to a chair. Both Helmer and Krogstad are
lawyers, and both Tesman and Lvborg are scholars of cultural
history. But Helmer is a higher-ranking lawyer than Krogstad, and
Tesman obviously has less scholarly ability than Lvborg.
Nora has a hidden relationship with Krogstad, and so does Hedda
with Lvborg. But Nora is worried about Krogstads action against
Helmer, while Hedda is not at all concerned about Lvborgs reaction
to Tesman. Nevertheless Nora tries to get Krogstads letter away in
order to save her married life, and Hedda burns Lvborgs manuscript
in order, so she says, to save Tesmans scholarly life.
On the surface Helmer rules his wife, but in fact he lets Nora
decide practically everything in the house : Now I want to tell you
how `Ive been thinking we might arrange things, Torvald. As soon
as Christmas is over.4 Hedda, on the surface, dominates her
husband, but in fact cannot decide anything in the house. The whole
house has been arranged against Heddas wishes. Nora thinks at the
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beginning that she loves her husband, but comes to realize that she in
fact does not. She takes off her costume, which Helmer likes and
which she now detests. Hedda does not love her husband at all from
the beginning but has to pretend to love him because of what she did
with Lvborgs manuscript. She picks up Tesmans mannered
wordings, which she holds only in contempt. Nora goes out of the
house, and Hedda kills herself confined in the house. Nevertheless,
they are the only characters in the plays who clearly feel, or come to
feel, the oppression of the male-centric society.
Mrs. Linde is an old school friend of Noras, and Mrs. Elvsted of
Heddas. Mrs. Linde is a few years older than Nora, and Mrs.
Elvsted is a few years younger than Hedda. Mrs. Linde was, and is,
taking care of Nora, while Mrs. Elvsted was, and is, afraid of Hedda.
Mrs. Linde lost her husband and comes to town to ask for Noras
help. Mrs. Elvsted abandoned her husband and comes to town to
ask for Tesmans help. Mrs. Linde gets to know what Krogstad is
doing to Nora and tries to stop him. However, she wishes to start
the former relationship with him again. Mrs. Elvsted gets to know
what Lvborg is doing in the town because of Hedda, and tries to
stop him. However, she is forced to break off her relation with him.
Mrs. Linde thinks she is dong a good thing for Nora, but in fact her
persuasion of Krogstad not to get the letter back is the indirect
cause of the final catastrophe and so of Noras decision to leave
home. Mrs. Elvsted does not think she is doing any harm to Hedda,
but in fact her coming to this house is the indirect cause of the rest
of the course of the play and so of Heddas final suicidal act. In any
case the similar characteristic of Mrs. Linde and Mrs. Elvsted lies in
the fact that they willingly adjust themselves to their male partners,
accepting the male-centric society, having no doubts about it.
The main action of the play begins with Krogstads appearance in
A Dolls House and with Lvborgs in Hedda Gabler. Krogstad once
suffered from a bad reputation for unlawful acts, but is now back
on the right track and ambitious to gain control over Helmer and
over the whole bank. Lvborg was once notorious for moral
degeneracy, but is now back on his feet and wishes to be thought
highly of. While Krogstad achieves reunion with Mrs. Linde and so
has a happy family life, Lvborg breaks down the close tie with
Mrs. Elvsted and so suffers a tragi-comic ending. Krogstad has big
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scenes with Nora, and his letter makes her play the most dramatic
scene in the play, dancing the tarantella. Lvborg also has big
scenes with Hedda, and his manuscript makes her play the most
fearful scene in the play, burning the manuscript.
Dr. Rank and Judge Brack hold similar roles in their respective
plays. Dr. Rank is Helmers close friend but secretly in love with
Nora. Judge Brack is Tesmans friend but half openly wishes to
seduce Hedda. Both Nora and Hedda refuse them, though. Dr.
Rank plays an innocent love scene with Nora in the second act, and
the scene stands apart from the course of the main plot. Judge
Brack plays a delicately dangerous love scene with Hedda in the
second act, and the scene also stands isolated in the plot. Dr. Rank
is physically depraved, though with a good heart, and Judge Brack
is morally depraved, though with good health. Both regret that
they cannot leave any clear mark on the heroines, though their
wishes are of opposite types. Dr. Rank is indifferent to Mrs. Linde,
and so is Judge Brack to Mrs. Elvsted.
The relationships between five main characters of the two play
can accordingly be shown in the following diagrams, with lines
showing clear relations between them:

Thus, both plays consist of three triangular relationships, in all of


which the heroines occupy the central positions.
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In addition to the main characters, Anne-Marie in A Dolls House
also corresponds to her counterpart in Hedda Gabler, Juliane
Tesman. Anne-Marie has been a mother-like person to Nora, and
so is Juliane Tesman to Jrgen. Anne-Marie is a nurse to Noras
children in the present, and Juliane Tesman wishes to nurse
Tesmans child in the future. Noras three small children appear only
briefly and lose their mother at the end of the play. Heddas child
does not appear yet but is inside her and loses its mother together
with its own life. There is a maid in both plays. They are ordinary
maids, though Helene in A Dolls House seems young and Berte in
Hedda Gabler rather old. They show few aspects in which they can be
seen to correspond to each other, but if we may be allowed to split
hairs, Helmer gives Helene a letter to bring to Krogstad, and Berte
brings in a letter to Jrgen from Juliane Tesman.
The plots of the plays are not the same of course, but that of A
Dolls House develops as the IOU Nora wrote in the past is revealed
to us, and that of Hedda Gabler develops as Heddas relationship
with Lvborg in the past is revealed to us. Krogstad unconsciously
pushes Nora towards the idea of committing suicide to save
Helmers reputation. Lvborg is pushed by Hedda towards
performing a beautiful death for himself to satisfy her desire for
domination. But Nora does not kill herself but goes out of the
house. Hedda does not get a beautiful death from Lvborg but
shoots herself in the inner room. Krogstads second letter plays an
important role in Noras final decision, and so does General
Gablers second pistol in Heddas final decision.
(4)
These correspondences, though mostly reversed, between the
characters and plots of A Dolls House and Hedda Gabler are too
complete to be called mere coincidence. We are almost tempted to
say that Ibsen consciously wrote Hedda Gabler as a parody of A
Dolls House. But as far I know, there is no external evidence to
show that Ibsen had A Dolls House in mind when he was writing
Hedda Gabler. It is not even clear whether or not Ibsen ever had a
chance to think of A Dolls House during the period of writing
Hedda Gabler. In 1890 when Ibsen was occupied with working on
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Hedda Gabler, A Dolls House was being performed in Amsterdam in
a record-breaking success. Ibsen sent a telegram of congratulations
to the theatre director on the occasion of the 50th or 100th
performance. We know this, because a draft letter of congratulations in German is written on the back of the sheet on which the
first character list of Hedda Gabler is noted down. But in this list the
name of Brack is missing, so that we cannot say Ibsen wrote the list
with the characters of A Dolls House in mind.
However, we find in the draft version of Hedda Gabler the
following dialogue between Tesman and Hedda:
Tesman. Well Hedda now you and I will have to talk seriously to
each other.
Hedda. Not now, Tesman. I swear I havent time.
Tesman. Not time!
Hedda. No. I have to go in and dress for dinner.
[She goes towards the door to the left.]5

This dialogue seems to me to strongly suggest that Ibsen was


thinking of the following lines which Nora and Helmer exchange
before the scene of their serious talk in the third act:
Helmer. What are you doing in the spare room?
Nora. Taking off this fancy dress.6

(5)
Although no evidence of Ibsens conscious working is left to us, the
fact of close correspondences between the characters and plots in A
Dolls House and Hedda Gabler remains. Does this fact do more than
merely satisfy our curiosity? It seems to me that it not only reinforces
the recent tendency to see more comic aspects in Hedda Gabler (Jens
Kruse called the play a black comedy as early as in 1970)7, but also
makes us realize that Ibsen had always enjoyed crazy ideas, as he
mentioned in connection with the new dramaturgy of The Wild
Duck.8 This must be hidden underneath the play. In the draft of A
Dolls House Ibsen made Nora sing Anitras song from Peer Gynt in the
last scene of the second act, but he replaced it with the tarantella
dance in the final version. In Hedda Gabler, too, it seems that Ibsen
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may have tried to hide his secret enjoyment. But the point is how this
crazy idea affects our interpretation of Hedda Gabler.
It would need another paper to analyze Hedda Gabler from the
perspective of its parody-like tie with A Dolls House. The purpose of
the present paper is just to point out the correspondences between
the characters and plots of the two plays. But I would at least like to
emphasize two aspects of Hedda Gabler. One is that we should not
focus so much on Heddas character as on her relationship with
other characters. Indeed this is the attitude of many stage directors
toward Hedda Gabler today. But if we look at this aspect from the
viewpoint of the parody-like relationship of the play with A Dolls
House, we realize that the main theme of the play is not the
relationship between man and woman but that between husband
and wife. The comradeship between Hedda and Lvborg or
between Mrs. Elvsted and Lvborg is a concept which contrasts
with the marriage relationship, that is to say, an altered form of
marriage. In this sense Hedda Gabler is a topical comment on the
present position of marriage in Western, or Westernized, countries.
And that brings with it another aspect that needs to be emphasized,
which is that Hedda Gabler is a play of womens issues.
There is no doubt that A Dolls House raised womens issues in a
positive way, even though Ibsen denied at the banquet of the
Norwegian League for Women`s Rights (May 26, 1898) that he had
such an idea in mind. Ghosts is considered as the inevitable
consequence of A Dolls House as Ibsen said, and The Lady from the Sea
is sometimes called the reconciliation version of A Dolls House.
Therefore, as Ibsens typical plays on womens issues, these three
plays are often regarded as a sort of trilogy about womens freedom.
On the other hand, Hedda Gabler was accused even by the critics at the
time of being enigmatic, illogical, or incomprehensible.9 But
Heddas situation is a real issue for women today, because this is in
fact an invisible trap into which most women have fallen without
being aware of it. Women today are not aware of it because they think
they are enjoying their freedom to do whatever they like, even to
control mens fates. But this freedom is that of Mrs. Linde or Mrs.
Elvsted, an illusion of freedom given by men. The male-centric society
is money-centric in A Dolls House. The opening scene of A Dolls House
is full of the word money (penger in Norwegian sounds strong) or
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money-related words. It is clearly shown here that Noras thoughts
are closely bound up with money. She says, Earning money. it is
almost like being a man. That is the trap for her, and she comes to
realize it at the end of the play. In Hedda Gabler, too, the underlying
obsession with money in Tesman and Hedda is clearly shown in the
beginning. But here the male-centric society is also sex-centric.
Womens sexuality is trapped in mens. This implication began with
Rosmersholm and developed in The Lady from the Sea. But only in Hedda
Gabler does the question come to be clearly shown. This is Ibsens
insightful prediction for the 20th century. From money to sex: in this
sense Hedda Gabler could be called a true parody of A Dolls House.
1 Letter to Moritz Prozor, March 6, 1900.
2 Oxford Ibsen, Vol. VII, p. 268.
3 Halvdan Koht, Innledning, Henrik Ibsen, Samlede vrker Hundrearsutgave, Bind
11, s. 261-2. The translation is mine.
Leserne fikk nsten inntrykk av at Ibsen vilde gjre narr av dem med sluttings
replikken i stykket, Men gud sig forbarme, sligt noget gr man da ikke! Den
minte dem om at altfor mange av dem hadde sagt det samme om Noras siste
handling i Et dukkehjem. Og den virket pa dem som han, for det sa da
grangivelig ut som Ibsen med vilje nu hadde villet lage noget enda mer
uvirkelig. Det fans ting i Hedda Gabler som nsten syntes a ga ut pa a
parodiere Et dukkehjem...saledes som Heddas lgn om at hun hadde begatt
forbrydelsen med manuskriptet for a hjelpe sin mann, eller den eiendommelige
form for kameratskap mellom mann og hvinne som her blev skildret. Bade
hennes enkelte handlinger og hele skikkelsen kom sa pa tverke med tilvante
forestillinger, sa altsammen blev urimelig og uforstaelig.
4 Oxford Ibsen, Vol. V, p. 206.
5 Oxford Ibsen, Vol. VII, p. 291.
6 Oxford Ibsen, Vol. V, p.278.
7 Jens Kruse, The Function of Humour in the Later Plays of Ibsen,
Contemporary Approaches to Ibsen, Oslo, 1971.
8 Letter to Georg Brandes, June 12, 1883.
9 Koht, op.cit., s. 261.
Mitsuya Mori Obtained his BA in Aesthetics from Tokyo University, MA in Theatre
Arts from University of California, Los Angeles, and Ph.D (Thesis: Ibsens Realism)
from Meiji University, Tokyo. The President of the Japanese Society for Theatre
Research 19962006 and a member of Norwegian Academy of Science since 1997.
Published books (in Japanese) are, among others, Scandinavian Theatre (1980), Ibsens
Realism (1984), Comparative Theatre (1994), Ibsens fin de sie`cle (1995).
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