Hedda Gabler (unabridged)

Audio Sample

Henrik Ibsen

Hedda Gabler

Directed by John Tydeman

Performed by Juliet Stevenson, Michael Maloney, Philip Voss, Emma Fielding, Robert Glenister, Brenda Kaye & Melinda Walker


Hedda Gabler, a deceased General’s daughter, marries dull George Tesman and foresees a life of middleclass tedium stretching ahead when they return from a honeymoon they could not afford to a house they cannot afford. Increasingly, she is drawn into the clutches of her admirer, Judge Brack, who seeks to establish a menage a trois. Then a former flame arrives in the brilliant but dissolute Eilert Lovborg to rival her husband for an academic post. After a drunken orgy, the manuscript of Lovborg’s treatise falls into her hands and she destroys it. Discovery traps her, her romantic ideas are shattered, and there seems only one way out of the net – the pistols of her father, the General.

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  • Running Time: 2 h 12 m

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    Digital ISBN:978-962-954-683-0
    Cat. no.:NA226512
    Download size:32 MB
    Produced by:Nicolas Soames
    Directed by:John Tydeman
    Edited by:Mike Etherden
    Translated by:Edmund Gosse and William Archer
    Released:April 2002
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Melinda Walker

Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award

Juliet Stevenson inhabits the title Femme Fatale with such conviction that even a lesser supporting cast would have to rise to the occasion. But the cast here is first-rate as is the insightful and resonant direction by John Tydeman, retired head of BBC Radio Drama. Not only has he made this intense stage play perfectly intelligible for audio, but he delivers the most engrossing Hedda this reviewer has encountered in any medium. The intelligent, spirited and self-absorbed Hedda has a dull but devoted husband, an ardent ex-lover and a lecherous old judge hanging around her. Her manipulations, instigated largely to spark her uninspiring existence, result in a tragically untragic shooting and her own virtual enslavement. Ibsen’s masterful, flawlessly constructed character study, though written to reflect rural Norway of the 1880s, seems vividly contemporary. Here are characters we either know or hope never to meet – far more fascinating and real than any of the Carringtons or Ewings.

Y.R., AudioFile

Booklet Notes

From Munich on November 20, 1890 Ibsen wrote to his French translator, Count Prozor: ‘My new play is finished; the manuscript went off to Copenhagen the day before yesterday… It produces a curious feeling of emptiness to be thus suddenly separated from a work which has occupied one’s time and thoughts for several months, to the exclusion of all else. But it is a good thing, too, to have done with it. The constant intercourse with the fictitious personages was beginning to make me quite nervous.’ To the same correspondent he wrote on December 4: ‘The title of the play is Hedda Gabler. My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda, as a personality, is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than as her husband’s wife. It was not my desire to deal in this play with so- called problems. What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions, and human destinies, upon a groundwork of certain of the social conditions and principles of the present day.’

If his characters can be called portraits at all, they are composite portraits

Hedda Gabler was published in Copenhagen on December 16, 1890. This was the first of Ibsen’s plays to be translated from proof sheets and published in England and America almost simultaneously with its first appearance in Scandinavia. The earliest theatrical performance took place at the Residenz Theater, Munich, on the last day of January 1891. Not until February 26 was the play given for the first time in Norway, where it has always ranked among Ibsen’s most popular works. The production of the play at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, April 20, 1891, may rank as the second great step towards the popularisation of Ibsen in England, the first being the production of A Doll’s House in 1889, which play it has subsequently come to rival in worldwide popularity. It has been suggested that Ibsen deliberately conceived Hedda Gabler as an ‘international’ play, and that the scene is really the ‘west end’ of any European city. To me it seems quite clear that Ibsen had Christiania (later called Oslo) in mind, and the Christiania of a somewhat earlier period than the ’nineties. The electric cars, telephones and other conspicuous factors in the life of a modern capital are notably absent from the play. There is no electric light in Secretary Falk’s villa. It is still the habit for ladies to return on foot from evening parties, with gallant swains escorting them. This ‘suburbanism’, which so distressed the London critics of 1891, was characteristic of the Christiania Ibsen himself had known in the ’sixties rather than of the greatly extended and modernised city of the end of the century. Moreover Lovborg’s allusions to the fiord, and the suggested picture of Sheriff Elvsted, his family and his avocations, are all distinctively Norwegian. The truth seems to be very simple – the environment and the subsidiary personages are all thoroughly national, but Hedda herself is an ‘international’ type, a product of civilisation by no means peculiar to Norway.

We cannot point to any individual model or models who ‘sat to’ Ibsen for the character of Hedda. But the fact is that in this, as in all other instances, the word ‘model’ must be taken in a very different sense from that in which it is commonly used in painting. Ibsen undoubtedly used models for this trait and that, but never for a whole figure. If his characters can be called portraits at all, they are composite portraits. Even when it seems pretty clear that the initial impulse towards the creation of a particular character came from some individual, the original figure is entirely transmuted in the process of harmonisation with the dramatic scheme. We need not, therefore, look for a definite prototype of Hedda; but two of that lady’s exploits were probably suggested by the anecdotic history of the day.

Ibsen had no doubt heard how the wife of a well-known Norwegian composer, in a fit of raging jealousy excited by her husband’s prolonged absence from home, burnt the manuscript of a symphony which he had just finished.

Again, a still more painful incident probably came to his knowledge about the same time. A beautiful and very intellectual woman was married to a well-known man who had been addicted to drink, but had entirely conquered the vice. One day a mad whim seized her to put his self-mastery and her power over him to the test. As it happened to be his birthday, she rolled into his study a small keg of brandy, and then withdrew. She returned some time afterwards to find that he had broached the keg, and lay insensible on the floor. In these two anecdotes we cannot but recognise the germ, not only of Hedda’s temptation of Lovborg, and the burning of his manuscript, but of a large part of her character.

Out of small and scattered pieces of reality Ibsen fashioned his close-knit and profoundly thought-out works of art.

Of all Ibsen’s works, Hedda Gabler is the most detached, the most objective – a character study pure and simple. It is impossible – or so it seems to me – to extract any sort of general idea from it. One cannot even call it a satire, unless one is prepared to apply that term to the record of a ‘case’ in a work of criminology. Reverting to Dumas’s dictum that a play should contain ‘a painting, a judgment, an ideal’, we may say that Hedda Gabler fulfils only the first of these requirements. The poet does not even pass judgment on his heroine: he simply paints her full-length portrait with scientific impassivity. But what a portrait! How searching in insight, how brilliant in colouring, how rich in detail! (Grant Allen’s remark, above quoted, was, of course, a whimsical exaggeration); the Hedda type is, mercifully, not so common as all that, else the world would quickly come to an end! But particular traits and tendencies of the Hedda type are very common in modern life, and not only among women. Hyperaesthesia lies at the root of her tragedy. With a keenly critical, relentlessly solvent intelligence, she combines a morbid shrinking from all the gross and prosaic detail of the sensual life. She has nothing to take her out of herself – not a single intellectual interest or moral enthusiasm. She cherishes, in a languid way, a petty social ambition; and even that she finds obstructed and baffled. At the same time she learns that another woman has had the courage to love and venture all, where she, in her cowardice, only hankered and refrained. Her malign egoism rises up uncontrolled, and calls to its aid her quick and subtle intellect. She ruins the other woman’s happiness, but in doing so incurs a danger from which her sense of personal dignity revolts. Life has no such charm for her that she cares to purchase it at the cost of squalid humiliation and self-contempt. The good and the bad in her alike impel her to have done with it all; and a pistol-shot ends what is surely one of the most poignant character-tragedies in literature. Ibsen’s brain never worked at higher pressure than in the conception and adjustment of those ‘crowded hours’ in which Hedda, tangled in the web of Will and Circumstance, struggles on until she is too weary to struggle any more.

From the introduction by William Archer

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