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Hedda Gabler | Plot Summary

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Summary

Act 1

George Tesman and his wife Hedda (maiden name Gabler) have just come back to Norway after a six-month honeymoon. The morning after their return, they are visited by George's elderly aunt, Miss Juliana Tesman, who has raised George as her own child. Hedda, a general's daughter and a socialite, is uncomfortable around the bourgeois Miss Tesman and has difficulty treating her like family. The next visitor is Mrs. Elvsted, a former classmate of Hedda's, who has fled her husband in order to be close to her lover (and her children's tutor) Eilert Lövborg. Eilert, it is revealed, is a historian like George; in fact, he is George's main professional rival.

Judge Brack, the last guest for the time being, drops by to see how the young couple is settling in. He brings further news about Eilert, who has surprised everyone by getting sober and publishing a successful new book. For George, this is bad news because it makes Eilert a serious contender for the professorship George was counting on. Judge Brack confirms George's worst suspicions by stating that the professorship will now be subject to an open competition among the candidates. Struggling to suppress his career and financial worries, George agrees to join Judge Brack at a party that evening.

Act 2

That afternoon, Judge Brack returns to collect George for the party. Finding him not at home, he sits down and chats with Hedda, who is utterly disillusioned with her marriage and faces her future with foreboding. George returns, changes into evening clothes, and tells Judge Brack he is expecting a visit from Eilert Lövborg. Because the party is not starting anytime soon, the two men agree to wait.

Eilert shows up and somewhat sheepishly announces he has completed yet another book, which is even better than the recently published one. He has the manuscript with him and offers to read some to George. Learning that George and the judge are headed out for the evening, Eilert declines an invitation to join them and sits down with Hedda to look through some photos; meanwhile, George and Judge Brack enjoy a glass of punch in an adjoining room. In the previous act, it was hinted that Eilert was an old flame of Hedda's, and this scene confirms his ongoing feelings for her. She seems to reciprocate, though she never says so directly.

When Mrs. Elvsted arrives, Hedda immediately sets about driving a wedge between her and Eilert. In what she pretends is a moment of careless honesty, Hedda lets slip that Mrs. Elvsted is worried Eilert will start drinking again, a revelation that deeply offends Eilert. Vindictively, he pours himself two glasses of punch, downing them in quick succession. He then announces that he would like to go along to the party after all, and the three men leave the house together. Mrs. Elvsted is upset by this reversal, and her trust in Hedda appears deeply shaken.

Act 3

The next morning finds Hedda asleep on the couch and Mrs. Elvsted sitting up in an armchair. When Hedda awakens, she sends Mrs. Elvsted to bed, promising to let her know if she hears anything about Eilert. George comes in carrying Eilert's manuscript: it was misplaced during the night, and he intends to return it discreetly to avoid further embarrassment. Leaving the manuscript in Hedda's care, he then rushes off to attend to his Aunt Rina, who is ill and likely to die soon. Judge Brack pays a brief visit and tells Hedda all about Eilert's drunken escapades, which ended with a trip to the police station.

Eilert, still reeling from his wild night out, arrives next, and Mrs. Elvsted quickly joins him onstage. He announces that Mrs. Elvsted must leave him before she becomes further entangled in scandal. When she resists, he adds that he has destroyed the manuscript on which they worked so diligently together. Mrs. Elvsted is thunderstruck by this revelation and leaves the house in a daze. Eilert then confesses he has lost the manuscript, and now, with his career, reputation, and romantic prospects in ruins, he sees no option but to kill himself. Hedda encourages him to make a brave end of it, even lending him one of her pistols. After Eilert has gone, Hedda takes out his manuscript and throws it into the fire.

Act 4

Aunt Rina has died; Miss Tesman pays a visit in mourning dress. George returns from the wake, still worried about Eilert and unsure of his whereabouts. Hedda privately reveals to George that she has burnt Eilert's manuscript, an act that fills him with a mixture of dread and gratitude. Mrs. Elvsted rushes into the house—she, too, is concerned for Eilert, who is rumored to have been hospitalized. Judge Brack shows up and confirms the rumor: Eilert has shot himself and will die shortly. As a memorial to Eilert, Mrs. Elvsted decides to try and reconstruct his book from loose notes she kept, and George agrees to help.

While George and Mrs. Elvsted set about their work, Judge Brack reveals the truth of Eilert's condition to Hedda: he is already dead, and his death was evidently not a suicide. He says that the gun, which he had seen before in Hedda's possession, must have been stolen, but as long as he keeps quiet, the police will not be able to trace the pistol back to Hedda. Realizing she now is at Judge Brack's mercy, Hedda quickly makes up her mind to end her life rather than live in fear of blackmail. She gets up, goes quietly to an inner room, and shoots herself in the temple. Rushing into the room, George and the rest are astonished to find Hedda dead.

Hedda Gabler Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 George Tesman and Hedda Gabler return from their honeymoon.

Rising Action

2 An anxious Mrs. Elvsted pays the couple a visit.

3 Eilert Lövborg arrives, having just completed a new book.

4 Hedda tempts Eilert to drink, and his old habits reemerge.

5 Hedda gives the despairing Eilert one of her pistols.

6 After Eilert has gone, Hedda burns his manuscript.

Climax

7 Eilert dies by accident or mishap, not suicide.

Falling Action

8 Judge Brack tries to blackmail Hedda for arming Eilert.

Resolution

9 Hedda uses the remaining pistol to kill herself.

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