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Why Does Hedda Gabler Marry Jørgen Tesman?
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Why Does Hedda Gabler Marry 10rgen Tesman? STEIN HAUGOM OLSEN In the preface to Hedda Gabler in the centenary edition of Ibsen's works, Halvdan Koht says: On the other hand, what has always been difficult to explain in Hedda's life, is that she has married a man like J~rgen Tesman. fuseD makes her attempt an explanation herself, but what she could not get away from was the thought that Tesrnan was ridiculous (lQtjerlig). And it is just this, that she. the sophisticated woman of the world, should have accepted a "ridiculous" man, which at bottom seems unthinkable. I More than one critic shares Professor Kohl's doubt about the probability of the marriage between Hedda Gabler and J0rgen Tesman. Professor Koht sees a problem of social and psychological motivation here, and he "solves" this problem by pointing out that Tesman in earlier drafts of the play appears less ridiculous and that this characterization makes it less odd that Ibsen should cause Hedda to accept him. Other critics try to defend the marriage by identifying realistic motives for Hedda's acceptance of Tesman: But the day arrived when she was tired of dancing and had to look around for a man to support her. since the General had left no money and she had received no proper education. Her choice fell on a decent research feUow in cultural history, who in everybody's opinion was guaranteed a future as professor. She had calculated that, as a professor, he would be able to maintain her standard ofliving, that is, to let her entertain lavishly, to keep a horse and a footman. Besides, as he was in all respects decent and proper, and, in particular, as he as a person was too insignificant to appeal to her female instincts, she meant, with him as a companion, to continue her life as General Gabler's daughter.2 592 STEIN HAUGOM OLSEN Hedda Gabler can also be seen in another limiting perspective: as asociological study illuminating the struggle between two social classes in a bourgeois society. A young research fellow from the lower middle c1asses, If/1rgen Tesman, has married a beautiful and admired woman, the daughter of a general. She has been raised in social circumstances superior to and more exclusive than those from which Tesman comes. However, she has married him because he, as an art historian, has a certain feeling for ancient culture and, in particular, because he can offer her a reasonable standard of living. He will in all probability get a Chair at Christiania University,3 These critics both give what is in the main a social-psychological-economic explanation, a realistic explanation designed to make the marriage appear a probable and unproblematic, realistic event. The problem with such realistic explanations, however, is that they do not really satisfy. The marriage between Tesman and Hedda remains odd. But this sense ofoddness does not necessarily mean that Ibsen has committed an artistic blunder in presenting the marriage. It may mean that a realistic explanation cannot capture the artistic point of the marriage and that another type of explanation is called for. And the play does in fact contain hints that a realistic explanation will be inadequate. For the marriage does not appear improbable and odd to critics alone; Hedda's choice is an inexplicable surprise to all the characters in the play with the exception of Thea Elvsted. J~rgen Tesman himself is impressed with his great good luck, with the fact that the "lovely Hedda" has become his wife. Berte and Aunt Julle, who in no way underestimate J~rgen Tesman, are surprised and impressed by the marriage. Brack expresses his wonder and L~vborg his shocked dismay: BRACK (looks at her inquiringly) But tell me ... how amI then to account for the fact that ... ? Hm.... HEDDA That l¢rgen Tesman and I made amatch of it, you mean? BRACK Well , let's put it that way. HEDDA Oh, Heavens, does it seem to you so strange, then? BRACK Both yes and no ... my lady. (p. 206) L0VBORG (with bitterness in his voice) Hedda Gabler married. And married to ... 10rgen Tesman! HEDDA Yes ... that's the way...