Hedda Gabler, published in 1890, was first performed in Munich, Germany, on January 31, 1891, and over the next several weeks was staged in a variety of European cities, including Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Christiania (Oslo). Its premier performance in English occurred in London, on April 20 of the same year, in a translation by Edmund Gosse and William Archer (a translation that has continued to be employed throughout the twentieth century).
Many scholars link the play with what Ibsen described as the happiest event in his life, his brief liaison with Emilie Bardach, an eighteen-year-old Viennese girl whom he met in the small Alpine town of Gossensass in September of 1889. It is an ironic association, for in the months after the sixty-two-year old playwright stopped corresponding with Emilie, he wrote Hedda Gabler, which Herman Weigand termed the ''coldest, most impersonal of Ibsen's plays’’ in The Modern Ibsen: A Reconsideration. It is almost as though the normally reserved and distant Ibsen had to exorcize his emotional attachment to Emilie by struggling to become yet more detached and objective in his art.
In its printed version, even before production, Hedda Gabler received the worst reviews of any of Ibsen's mature plays. Its earliest stagings fared little better. Conservative critics, predominately males, condemned the work as immoral, just as they had condemned many of Ibsen's earlier social-problem plays. It survived the critical deluge, however, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the dramatist's ardent admirers, many of whom—including playwright George Bernard Shaw—belonged to the new intelligentsia shaped by the revolutionary thinking of such philosophers and scientists as Karl Marx and Charles Darwin.
Hedda Gabler's reputation steadily rose in the twentieth century, engaging the interest of many important actresses who found in Hedda one of the most intriguing and challenging female roles in modern drama. They helped earn the play the eminence it now enjoys as one of Ibsen's premier works and a landmark of realist drama.