Hedda Gabler has married George Tessman, a scholar in the history of civilization. After a six-month-long honeymoon and research trip, the couple has returned home in order to settle into a comfortable middle-class existence. Tessman is counting on obtaining a professorship at the University.
It soon becomes apparent that Hedda is bored with everything in her life: her husband, his pretty bourgeois relatives, and the fact that she is pregnant. Her only amusement is practicing with two pistols inherited from her father, General Gabler. Judge Brack, the family lawyer, offers sophisticated company, but Hedda, who is mortified at the slightest hint of scandal, fears his intentions.
Then an old friend, Thea Elvsted, calls on her. Thea has left her husband in order to look after their former tutor, Eilert Lovberg, with whom she is in love. Lovberg, a gifted scholar in the same field as Tessman, has generally been given up as lost to drink, but has now been rehabilitated, has published one book, and has written another, which promises to be a masterpiece. Hedda, who several years earlier had loved Lovberg but refused to have an erotic relationship with him, now finds it amusing to undo his rehabilitation. She taunts him into getting drunk, destroys the manuscript of his new book, and gives him one of her pistols in order that he may commit suicide. After Lovberg’s death, however, Hedda is linked to the suicide by Judge Brack, who attempts to blackmail her into taking him as her lover. Hedda now finds her situation utterly intolerable and uses her remaining pistol to shoot herself in the temple.
Holtan, Orley I. Mythic Patterns in Ibsen’s Last Plays. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970. An extended discussion of the mythic content in Ibsen’s last seven plays, Holtan’s book offers an interesting treatment of Hedda as an example of the archetype of the destructive female.
Meyer, Michael. Ibsen: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. A standard biography of Ibsen, it contains a good discussion of both the play itself and its place in Ibsen’s oeuvre. Meyer stresses the complexity of the title character and suggests that Hedda may be a disguised self-portrait of the author.
Meyerson, Caroline W. “Thematic Symbols in Hedda Gabler.” Scandinavian Studies 22, no. 4 (November, 1950); 151-160. Reprinted in Ibsen: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Rolf Fjelde. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. In this influential article, Meyerson explores the significance of such symbols as Hedda’s pistols and Thea’s hair, as well as the procreative imagery in regarding Lovberg’s manuscript as a child.
Sandstroem, Yvonne. “Problems of Identity in Hedda Gabler.” Scandinavian Studies 51, no. 4 (Autumn, 1979): 368-374. An article that presents an interesting close reading of a central aspect of the play, namely, Ibsen’s use of such titles as “general” and “doctor” as a tool for characterization and as a means of illuminating the reasons behind Hedda’s suicide.
Weigand, Herman J. The Modern Ibsen: A Reconsideration. New York: Holt, 1925. An excellent introduction to Ibsen’s later plays, this volume contains an insightful analysis of Hedda Gabler, with appropriate attention devoted to the title character, her husband George Tessman, and the other characters.