What was Hedda's life like before she met Tesman?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler, the title character is quite complex.  Although the play begins just after Hedda and Tesman come back from their honeymoon, we can gather bits and pieces of what her life must have been like before she married.

We find out from the aunts that as the daughter of a general, she was accustomed to living in luxury.  One of Miss Tesman's most vivid memories is of Hedda riding on horseback with her father, wearing a "long black habit--with feathers in her hat."  We learn later that she still has her father's pistols, and she knows how to use them--a skill she possessed before she married.  We learn from Thea Elvstead that Hedda was quite cruel when they were schoolmates: Hedda used to pull her hair.

And we can pick up quite a bit of information from Eilert.  We know that they had an intense relationship, that she threatened to shoot him when he left her.  We also know that she broke off the relationship when it started to become more than just a friendship. Eilert calls her a coward, and she admits that she has always been afraid of scandal.

So, even though Hedda is smart, beautiful, and can ride horses and shoot guns, her life as the General's daughter was most likely one of privilege and convention.  She would not have rebelled openly against her father, just as she does not rebel openly against her husband.  Subtle cruelty to others is the way she copes with her need to dominate and and control.