Hedda Gabler Tessman
Hedda Gabler Tessman, the daughter of General Gabler. She is the exciting but unenthusiastic bride of George Tessman, who holds a scholarship for research into the history of civilization. Back from a six-month wedding trip during which George studied civilization, Hedda is dangerously bored. She keeps as her prize possession her father’s pistols, with which she plays on occasion. She also plays with people: with George’s Aunt Julia, whose new bonnet Hedda pretends to think belongs to the servant; with George, who has bought her a villa that she pretended to want and who now must buy her a piano because her old one does not suit her new home; with an old school acquaintance, Thea Elvsted, who has rescued Hedda’s talented former lover, Eilert Lovberg, from drink; with Eilert Lovberg, whom she cannot bear to see rescued by Mrs. Elvsted; and with Judge Brack, who outmaneuvers her and pushes her over the brink of endurance to her death. Hedda is a complete egocentric, caring for no one and careless of life for herself and for others. Badly spoiled, she seems to find her only pleasure in making others miserable. She finds Eilert Lovberg more amusing than anyone else, even though she had dismissed him when she was free. When she realizes that he has destroyed his career, she gives him a pistol and tells him to use it—beautifully. When the pistol discharges accidentally and injures him fatally in the boudoir of Mademoiselle Diana, and when Judge Brack convinces her that he knows where Eilert got the pistol, Hedda takes its mate, goes to her room, and shoots herself in the temple, but not before she has seen Mrs. Elvsted quietly gain a hold on George Tessman.
George Tessman, Hedda’s husband, a sincere, plodding young man dazzled by his bride but devoted to his work. When Hedda burns Eilert’s manuscript, which George has found, she tells George that she did so to keep Eilert from surpassing him, but in reality she burned it because Eilert wrote it with Mrs. Elvsted and they call it their “child.” George’s surprised horror at her deed turns to warm delight when he thinks that Hedda loves him enough to destroy the manuscript for his sake. When Mrs. Elvsted says that she has notes for the manuscript, George says that he is just the man to work on someone else’s manuscript and that they can put the book together again. Sincerely delighted that he can help restore the lost valuable book, he plans to work evenings with Mrs. Elvsted, to the disgust of Hedda, who in cold, calm rage and despair shoots herself.
Eilert Lovberg, a former suitor of Hedda who has written a book in the same field as Tessman’s. He could easily win the appointment that Tessman expects, but he decides not to compete with him. Since Hedda broke up their association, after it threatened to become serious, he has been living with the family of Sheriff Elvsted, teaching the Elvsted children and writing another book. His manuscript completed, he comes to town. In his writing and in his reform from his old wild ways, he has been inspired by Mrs. Elvsted. Eilert shows the effects of hard living. As soon as Hedda has an opportunity, she reasserts her control over him, destroying his confidence in Mrs. Elvsted and persuading him to resume his drinking. Hedda says that he will return “with vine leaves in his hair—flushed and fearless.” Instead, he returns defeated, having lost his manuscript. He tells Thea Elvsted that all is over between them, because he has destroyed the manuscript, but he has merely lost it and is ashamed to tell her so. After leaving Judge Brack’s party, he had gone to the rooms of Mademoiselle Diana, a redheaded entertainer whom he had known in his riotous days. There, missing his manuscript, he had accused Diana and her friends of robbing him. When the police appeared, he struck a constable and was carried off to the police station. Released the next day, he goes in despair to Mademoiselle Diana’s rooms to look for his lost manuscript. The gun discharges there, killing him. Wanting the manuscript desperately because he claimed it contained his “true self” and dealt with the future, he had planned to deliver lectures on it after Tessman’s appointment had gone through.
Judge Brack, a friend of the family, a sly man whom Tessman trusts. Hedda agrees to the apparently harmless arrangement to keep her entertained. After Eilert Lovberg’s death, Judge Brack tells Hedda that he knows the true story, but there is no danger if he says nothing. When Hedda protests that she will now be his slave, a thought which she cannot bear, he replies that he will not abuse the advantage he now holds. He is incredulous when he hears that Hedda has killed herself.
Thea Elvsted, the wife of Sheriff Elvsted, a sweet-faced woman with blonde hair, born to inspire men, although, unfortunately, not her husband. She rescues Eilert, works with him, preserves his notes, seeks to preserve him, and after his death and Hedda’s will no doubt inspire Tessman. When Eilert comes to town, Mrs. Elvsted, who is in love with him, follows him because she is afraid that he will relapse into his old ways. Because she and Hedda had known each other in school, she comes to see Hedda. Mrs. Elvsted had been afraid of her when they were girls because Hedda sometimes pulled her hair and threatened to burn it off. She confides to Hedda the story of her love for Eilert and thus helps to bring about his death and Hedda’s.
Miss Juliana Tessman
Miss Juliana Tessman (Aunt Julia), Tessman’s aunt, who is eternally hoping for an offspring for Hedda and George. Her constant, veiled remarks about sewing and the use for the two empty rooms are lost on George and ignored by Hedda. Aunt Julia had reared George with her sister, Rina, who is now dying. She serves in the play to remind George of his past and to irritate Hedda. She is a sweet, good woman who loves her nephew and wants to help the helpless.