of an Aesthetic Realism class:
"Ethics As Possibility," page
"Lovborg," he said, is "a somewhat learned
[writer]...given to impressive theory, and also given to drink and flattering
women." Hedda asks Thea how her friendship with Lovborg came to be.
TE. Oh, it grew
up gradually, I gained a sort of influence over him.
Commented Mr. Siegel, "The sense of a woman's
vanity and the sense of how to build it up was in Lovborg." And he added,
"A subtitle of this play [could be] 'The Need for Compliments.' Contrasting
the ethics of Thea and Hedda, Mr. Siegel explained, "Hedda Gabler wants
to be praised truly if at all. Mrs. Elvsted wants to hear the praise
first and the truth later, if at all. This is the first big division
of ethics--As soon as there is a disproportion between yourself and the
universe, there is the tendency to lie....I don't think Mrs. Elvsted loved
the truth as much as [Hedda Gabler]....If we loved the truth 40 percent
as much as ourselves, we'd be doing pretty well."
TE. He gave up his old
habits. Not because I asked him to, for I never dared do that. But of course
he saw how repulsive they were to me; and he dropped them.
HG. Then you have reclaimed
him--as the saying goes--my little Thea.
TE. So he says himself
at any rate.
He then gave examples
of injustice from man to woman and woman to man in some of the great works
of literature--including Greek Drama, and the operas Carmen, Aida,
and Tosca. And he said that there was something new which
Ibsen was after in this play--even though he himself doesn't make it clear
enough. What that something is Mr. Siegel described when he said:
"A woman was able to ask a man questions which enabled him to see his thoughts
more clearly, express himself more clearly, present them more effectively,"--and
it was not liked, not acknowledged, by the man. "It's not that Ibsen
says this [directly] but we have to ask why Hedda Gabler is displeased?"
then read from a 1903 New York Times review of a Manhattan Theatre
production of Hedda Gabler, in which the reviewer writes:
"Mrs. Fisk played Hedda Gabler, the
presentation of a part which [another actress, Eleanora] Duse studied ten
Actresses haven't known how to play Hedda, Mr.
Siegel pointed out, because she has not been understood, but he said: "If
a part is worth studying 10 years [as Duse did] and all that [Hedda] is
is ill-natured, why do you have to study for so long?" The reviewer described
the play as "strangely disquieting." And what Mr. Siegel said about that
statement, I think, explains the art of Ibsen and why the play, while not
being understood, has been liked by audiences. He said:
"The purpose of art is always, deeply,
to bring something that can be called serenity, repose; to make for quieting.
But because of the honest stirring, one is supposed to feel less at odds
with oneself and the world."
That "honest stirring," we saw, is what Hedda
Gabler makes for. She questions the complacency of people,
their motives. She is going after what is true. Said Mr. Siegel,
"To see that someone felt that honesty was worth a lot should not be disquieting,
it should be encouraging and very often one is encouraged by being upset
a little." The reviewer, comparing Hedda to one of the most famous
characters of French fiction, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, writes: "All the
glitter and tinsel of romance is absent in this Emma Bovary of the North.
Even the romantic excuse for Emma's downfall is missing." And Mr.
Siegel showed that this comparison is unfair to Hedda Gabler. "Emma
Bovary quite definitely was a lady waiting for a man on a white horse,"
he said, "and that is not present in Hedda Gabler." "[Hedda]," he
said, "felt that the man on the white horse would be someone...willing
to have himself deeply affected by a woman, not necessarily complimenting
her or going through all the congratulations and all the obeisance associated
with love in the Palazzo."
page 3 click here