Hedda Gabler Ate My Hamster
Is of course fake news, but what a bitch.
Like many we went last week to the movie theatre to see the much praised National Theatre production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Like most drama written north and east of the Rhine there are more tears than laughs, more deaths than births. Fine. Is it those long winter nights that have the Scandies peering into the gloom and asking what is it all about. While sex, drugs and rock and roll are enough for most of us for the Scandy this is cannot be the whole story. And so he/she worries himself,and those around her, literally to death.
While the child bride was mesmerised by every one of Hedda’s destructive whims and fancies , the red wine got the better of me and I missed “the best bits”. I will never learn that the race between wine and high culture is an unequal contest.
But the experience reminded me of the Ibsen/Joyce connection. No one can understand Joyce’s career unless you grab hold of his (and his friends and family’s) precocious belief in his total greatness. Thousands of nights in bed sitting rooms never diminished this flame. Early confirmation was vital. In 1900,aged 18 ,Joyce wrote for the prestigious Fortnightly Review “Ibsen’s New Drama”. For this he was paid 12 guineas. He was now a made literary man. As Richard Ellman wrote in his definitive biography “this confirmation of his good opinion of himself encouraged him to stand even more aloof.”
But better was to come. Ibsen heard of this review and wrote him a personal note. To which Joyce replied “the words of Ibsen I shall keep in my heart all my life.” Ellman states,This note”fell upon him like a benison(blessing) at the beginning of his career.”
Great linguist that he was Joyce learnt Dano-Norwegian so he could read Ibsen in the original. This allowed him to write in 1901 to the playwright a birthday epistle in his own language.” Your battles inspired me” It was pretentious, overwritten, long, cod intellectual, fan mail. As Ellman says,”This is the sort of letter which the recipient discards hastily and the writer files away; Joyce did in fact keep and English draft.”
Back to Hedda. Thinking of Nora,Joyce’s long suffering partner and eventual wife, supportive and totally loyal, no Hedda she. If she had been, maybe no Joyce. Not alive any way.