*Christiana. Now called Oslo, the capital of city of Norway, located on the country’s southeastern coast, and the largest and most important city in Norway.
Tesman Villa. House coveted by Hedda Gabler, located in a fashionable section of Christiana, when it belonged to the prime minister’s widow. She casually remarked to George Tesman that she would marry the man who bought it for her. Tesman and his aunts go into debt to purchase and furnish the property, and the feckless pedant finds himself husband to the beautiful, imperious daughter of an aristocratic general. George and Hedda honeymoon in Italy, and Henrik Ibsen begins his play the morning after their return to Norway, as the newlyweds wake up for the first time in their elegant new home.
The plot of Hedda Gabler unfolds as a succession of visitors—Auntie Juju, Mrs. Elvsted, Judge Brack, and Eilert Loevborg—enter and exit the drawing room. Thea Elvsted and Eilert Loevborg both arrive from the rural north, where Thea is wife to a magistrate and Eilert serves as tutor to his children. The sophisticated salon that Hedda Gabler presides over in Christiana is a stark contrast to the provincial world that Thea, abandoning her husband, has fled.
A fateful interlude at a brothel, involving Tesman, Brack, and Loevborg, occurs offstage, before each returns to the drawing room. Hedda’s father’s pistols are seen onstage early in the proceedings, and they serve as accessories to the drama’s deadly finale. A table in the room elicits an early indication of Hedda’s superciliousness, when she disdains the kitschy hat that Auntie Juju leaves on it.
A portrait of the late General Gabler hangs in the room, and his august image serves throughout the proceedings as a kind of verdict on Tesman’s social pretensions in presuming to marry his haughty daughter and obtain a professorship. The room also contains a piano that, as a demonstration of her regal extravagance, Hedda insists not on replacing but on supplementing with a grander model. An orphan reared by his two unmarried aunts, George is accustomed to more modest accommodations than what Judge Brack, who provided the loan that made the acquisition possible, calls Tesman’s “palatial” home. George insists that his financial risks were necessary, that he could not have expected the exquisite Hedda Gabler to live like an ordinary housewife. The play’s setting is a continuing reminder of Tesman’s folly and of the mismatch between an academic drudge of limited means and a lady of privilege in an upwardly mobile era when birth counts for less than effort.
Of all the other characters in the play, Brack is the only one who belongs to the same social class as Hedda, an aristocracy that has become superannuated by the ascendancy of the middle class. Brack and Hedda meet as equals in the drawing room, but they are acutely aware that their world is vanishing, displaced by upstarts who are not at home in Hedda’s fancy villa. The house thus serves as both a focal point for the play’s action and a thematic metaphor. Like the cherry orchard in Anton Chekhov’s play of that name, Tesman’s villa is a locus of nostalgia, symbolizing the passing of a privileged way of life.
When Ibsen returned to his native Norway in 1891, he journeyed to a land that to a great degree was isolated from the revolutionary movements affecting both society and culture in the more cosmopolitan centers of Europe. That isolation was partly the result of inaccessibility. Modern communication and transportation were still in their infancy, awaiting the second major stage of the industrial revolution. The post and telegraph were the only real means of exchanging information over long distances, for the telephone was not yet in general use and wireless or radio communications were still the yet-to-be-realized dreams of Guglielmo Marconi and other inventors and engineers.
But Norway was also isolated in other ways. The dominant religion,...
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