Why is Henrik Ibsen's play titled Hedda Gabler instead of Hedda Tesman?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Henrik Ibsen's 1890 play Hedda Gabler was initially met with bad reviews and little public interest, but it has since become a classic drama and is compared favorably to Hamlet, among others.

The title of the play is odd at first. Although Gabler is Hedda's maiden name, she is married to Jørgen Tesman, and so her married name -- and that by which everyone knows her -- is Hedda Tesman. The choice to name the play after her original name and not her married name is explained by Ibsen here:

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 her husband's wife.
(Ibsen, 1890 letter to Moritz Prozor, dlibrary.acu.edu.au)

There are, of course, other interpretations, but Ibsen's explanation is solid: Hedda is not a person entirely wedded to Tesman; in fact, her connection to him is less than her connection to her father, and in fact to herself. She is an individual, not an extension, and her actions are not those of a happily-married, ordinary person, but a very complex and possibly unstable individual who sees herself as a driving force in the lives of the people around her. She has a uniquely self-assured knowledge that she is entirely capable of affecting events without needing permission from the husband whose name she carries.

In fact, it can be said that she is a stronger character than all the others, as she acts for her own self-interest instead of tempering her desires; only the realization that she has accidentally given someone else leverage over her is enough to break her will.


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