Compare and contrast the characters of Hedda Gabler and Miss Julie in the plays by Ibsen and Strindberg. Support your findings with comments on the writers attitudes to their characters.
August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen were both great playwrights of the 19th century, and both played a large role in the evolution of modern day naturalism/ realism. The plays I will be discussing are Ibsens Hedda Gabler, (1890) and Strindbergs Miss Julie (1888). In Karens lecture on Strindberg, she told how the two playwrights were rivals in a sense, mainly caused by Strindbergs attitudes on social issues- Namely his thoughts and theory on the role of women in society. Thus, I am lead to believe that Hedda Gabler was written by Ibsen as a direct retaliation to Strindbergs Miss Julie, just as Karen believes that Strindbergs The Father was written as a reply to Ibsens Ghosts. Although both plays end with the suicide of the leading character, the circumstances by which they occur are very different.
In order to take these plays in their full context, it is important to examine the lives of the playwrights and see just how much of their own thoughts, beliefs and feelings are reflected in their plays. I feel this is particularly important in the case of Strindberg. I was intrigued by Karens lecture on Strindberg, in particular the rise of his misogynist attitudes and his state of mental health. His attitudes are reflected in Miss Julie quite clearly. Strindberg believed that Women were a secondary form, which can be seen through reading his preface to the play. The translation of the play I examined was from the Drama Classics (D.C) Series. I found a very interesting piece of writing in this version of the play; In an editors note, it is explained that the translation was based on the original text, and contained some rants which were not included in most published versions. The most interesting of these was a part in the preface which was not in the other versions, it reads as follows;
Theres a view, current at the moment even among quite sensible people,
that women, that secondary form humanity (second to men, the lords and
shapers of human civilisation) should in some way become equal with men,
or could so be; this is leading to a struggle which is both bizarre and doomed.
Its bizarre because a secondary form, by the laws of science, is always going
to be a secondary form……..the proposition is as impossible as that two
parallel lines should ever meet.
I find these comments quite astounding, and there are no shortage of similar comments in his preface. Karen explained how Strindberg also believed that when a woman was menstruating, it meant she was in an altered state of mind. In his preface, Strindberg gives this as one of the possible reasons behind Julies suicide. An understanding of these attitudes is vital to fully understand Miss Julie and make the connection between Julie and Hedda.
As I touched on earlier, Strindberg developed a hate towards Ibsen, as he saw him as a promoter of feminism. Karen spoke of Ibsens Ghosts, in which a woman spoke out against a dead man. Strindberg did not like this, as the male had no chance to defend himself. As a result, he wrote The Father. In this play, Strindberg makes all the female characters out to be dislikeable and narky. It is this which leads me to believe that Hedda Gabler was written by Ibsen as a reply to Miss Julie. I will attempt to display my reasoning behind this theory, analysing the title characters from both plays and demonstrating the writers attitudes being displayed throughout the play.
To me, Miss Julie seems to be a true Battle of the sexes play, in which the male inevitably wins. Throughout the play, a power game is being played by Jean and Julie. The character of Julie is what Strindberg would describe as a half-woman- that is, she does not know her place in society and tries to dominate a male. Strindbergs preface touches on this issue;
Modern feminists thrust themselves forward, selling themselves for
power, honours, distinctions and diplomas as women once did for
She is socially superior to Jean in that she is from an aristocratic family and Jean is her fathers servant. She tries to assert herself over Jean from the very start of the play when she demands that Jean dances with her. She even claims herself to be Fireproof (D.C p.14). Julies power is clear as Jean endows her with comments such as Id obey. Naturally. (D.C p.9).
As the play progresses, Julies desires to be dominated break out, and Jean rises. Strindberg comments in his preface;
His power over Miss Julie has nothing to do with the fact that he is rising
in the world; it is because he is a man. He is sexually her superior because
of his maleness, his finer sensibilities and his ability to take initiative.
The pair both tell of a dream they have, which seems to be almost prophetic. Julies dream is that she is on top of a high pillar, and cant get down again, but longs to be on the ground. She says if she did reach the ground, she would want to sink lower, lower. (D.C p12). On the other hand, Jean dreams that he is lying under a tree and wants to be up, aloft, where he can see the horizon. The problem being that the first branch is too high, but he says I know if I can only reach it, I could shin up the rest like a ladder (D.C p12). Jeans First branch is of course Miss Julie. He longs to rise into a higher social class, and sees Julie as a means of doing so. The dreams correspond, as Julie longs to be dominated.
By the end of the play, Jean has complete dominance over Julie, he has progressed from lackey to wine drinker. He conquers Julie sexually therefore mentally to a point where she is actually pleading with him;
Help me. Give me orders, Ill obey like a dog. One last service:
Save my name, my honour. You know what I want to do, and cant.
Make me, will me to do it, order me. (D.C p.50)
Julie wants to save her name by killing herself, but lacks the power to make the decision. She is made to realise she is inferior to Jean, which is a direct result of Strindbergs personal attitudes. She needs Jean to tell her to kill herself and even goes so far as to thank him for giving her the permission.
Strindbergs Miss Julie is a direct depiction of his own thoughts. It is, in a sense, displaying Darwins Survival of the fittest theory, The fittest being the male species according to Strindberg. It shows the dramatic rise of Jean, a servant, and its corresponding effects on Her Ladyship Miss Julie, Who was powerful by way of her social status, but reduced because of her gender. There are definite similarities between Miss Julie and the title character in Ibsens Hedda Gabler. The main difference, though, is that Hedda does not ever allow herself to be dominated, and maintains till the end that she an equal to man. This is why I believe that Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler in reply to Strindbergs misogynist depiction of a gender war in Miss Julie.
Upon reading Hedda Gabler, (I examined three versions of this play, one from the Drama Classics D.C series, an adaptation by John Osborne Osborne and a translation by Nicholas Rundall Rundall) I was struck immediately by the status Hedda held whenever she was on stage. As soon as she made her entrance, it was clear that she had all the power within the household. I could see that Tesman felt himself very lucky to have Hedda as his wife, and wanted to please her. Hedda seemed to me to be a very cold, snobby character. She does not possess a sense of humour, but rather a sort of conniving wit. She rudely commented on Miss Tesmans new hat, and how she thought it was the maids. As a result, I came to dislike Hedda as she continues to have fun at the expense of others.
The reason, it seems, for Heddas apparent rudeness is the fact that she strives against the constraints of the narrow role society allows her (as we see in Strindbergs Miss Julie) and wishes to satisfy her ambitious intellect. As it becomes a reality to Hedda that she cannot do as she desires, she becomes destructive. The daughter of a General, Hedda is a natural leader and does not easily fit the mould of a housewife. She emphasises this by constantly denying her pregnancy whenever Jorgen mentions it (that is, mentions it indirectly, eg. saying how she is rounded). She longs for control over everyone she comes in contact with. It seems to me the only reason she married Tesman was because she would have financial security as Tesman had an impending professorship, whilst at the same time still have the ability to dominate a dull academic. She gets power by manipulating her husband, and at one point even tells Mrs Elvsted; I want the power to shape a mans destiny. This is clearly the opposite to Strindbergs Miss Julie, where Julie had the desire to be dominated by a man.
Hedda becomes jealous of Mrs Elvsteds relationship with Tasmans rival Lovborg, which is intellectual and creates a child in the form of a manuscript. I find it interesting how she gains power over Lovborg when he comes to visit. Lovborg recalls the past; Did you feel love for me? A flicker…a spark…for me? (D.Cp.57), but this flirting does not have an effect on Hedda, even if she would like to respond, she spurns his advances, thus giving her superiority over Lovborg, much as she does with Judge Brack, her confidant. He tells how Hedda has always had power;
And Hedda, the things I told you! Things about myself. No one else
knew, then. My drinking…days and nights on end. I sat there and told
you. Days and nights. Oh Hedda, what gave you such power? To make
me tell you…things like that? (D.C p.58)
It is Heddas jealousy for Lovborg and Mrs Elvsteds creative relationship which causes her to become destructive and destroy the manuscript, rather than see it back into Lovborgs hands, with the ever powerless Jorgen believing she did it for his sake. As she is burning the manuscript she displays her resentment towards the relationship;
Look, Thea. Im burning your baby, Thea. Little Curly hair!
Your baby…yours and his.
The baby. Burning the baby. (D.C p.88)
I struggled to fully understand why she urged Lovborg to kill himself, but in this context I can only speculate that it was to further consolidate the end of the relationship between Miss Elvsted and Lovborg, of which she was so envious.
By the end of the play, Hedda has relinquished all of her power. Lovborgs death backfired and Hedda ended up losing the dominance over Jorgen, as he and Mrs Elvsted devote their lives to resurrecting Lovborgs manuscript and Mrs Elvsted hopes to inspire Tesman as she did Lovborg. Brack then establishes power over her through her fear of scandal, blackmailing her in a sense to agree to his terms of living. He could destroy her at any moment by releasing the information that the gun which killed Lovborg belonged to Hedda. She finds this thought unbearable;
Im still in your power. At your disposal. A slave. I wont have it. I wont (D.C p.105)
So Hedda, unable to live under the control of others, plays a final tune on the piano before taking one of her fathers pistols and shooting herself.
Although both Ibsens Hedda Gabler and Strindbergs Miss Julie ended with the suicide of the leading character, the circumstances by which the suicides occurred were most different, and particularly in the case of Miss Julie, the writers personal thoughts were prominent in the outcome. Julie ended her life after a deep underlying yearning to be dominated by Jean and in the end displays her inferiority by begging Jean to give her permission to end her life. This is unlike the circumstances in Hedda Gabler, where Hedda maintains her dignity and status to the very end. Unlike Julie, she cannot bear the thought of being under the control of others. This is why I speculate that Hedda Gabler could very well have been written by Ibsen in direct reply and contradiction to Strindbergs Miss Julie. I am sure that Henrik Ibsen would have found a lot to disagree upon when it came to the ideas and philosophies contained within Strindbergs Miss Julie, not to mention the plays preface.