Rainer Maria Rilke on Henrik Ibsen: The Unparalleled Violence in Hedda’s Death In Rainer Maria Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, he reflects on Henrik Ibsen’s character as something which is akin to “a timeless tragic poet” who “struggled with the unparalleled violence” of his work. This “unparalleled violence” is best seen in the closing parts of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler where the heroine, Hedda Gabler Tesman, shot herself to her death after learning that Judge Brack knows where the pistol Ejlertt Lovborg used to shoot himself came from.
The thing that makes that part of the story as a violence that is unparalleled is the observation that all the rest of the seemingly violent parts in Hedda Gabler other than the closing parts were short of standing at par with the latter in terms of violence. More importantly, the violence in the closing part of Hedda Gabler is all the more amplified by Hedda’s attempt to play the piano before she killed herself. Hedda’s piano playing part appears as if her musical rendition for some moments was signaling something horrendous to happen.
Apparently, the death of Hedda is precisely that horrendous part where Hedda resorted to put an end to her life upon knowing about the consequences of Judge Bracks knowing of the death of Lovborg. Nevertheless, there are still other parts in the story where violence is portrayed which are close but not close enough in fitting the descriptions of Rilke about Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. The death of Ejlertt Lovborg, as described by Judge Brack, is an ugly death, citing that the pistol Lovborg held went off accidentally which caused a wound in his chest and, eventually, his death.
Out of his desperation and frustration after losing the manuscript for the sequel of his published work which, in fact, was in the hands of Hedda, Lovborg wanted to die. Hedda pitched in by offering Lovborg a pistol so that the latter can die a beautiful death. Apparently, Judge Brack sums the death of Lovborg in one phrase—it was “an ugly death”. But was it violent? More than that, was it marked by violence unparalleled by any of the other scenes in the story? The answer to the first question may likewise be yes for several reasons. For one, the death of Lovborg is violent to a certain extent by virtue of Lovborg’s decision to end his life.
He lost his manuscript which seemed to amount more than his whole life, and so he was determined to cut the chase and die a death in any possible way he can. Hedda Tesman, on the other hand, found a way for Lovborg to take away his own life. She gave him a pistol so that he can die a “beautiful death. ” However, this does not necessarily mean that the death of Lovborg is the part in the story which reveals an unparalleled violence. The circumstances that led to the death of Lovborg do not amount to an unparalleled violence, although the death of Lovborg itself can be seen as violent in terms of the use of a gun.
The death of Hedda Tesman, on the other hand, is a death that is violent first and last. But more than that, it is a death that highlights the unparalleled violence that Rainer Maria Rilke refers to. What makes the death of Hedda a death of unparalleled violence? For one, she too, like Lovborg, used a pistol to kill herself, thereby making violent to a certain extent. The time prior to her suicide also contributes to the ominous scene that loomed ahead of the story, the scene where Hedda plays the piano which foretells a scene that is nothing but violent.
The part that marks the death of Hedda as a death of unparalleled violence is the fact that Hedda is not the person whom you would easily distinguish as someone who had guns and habitually wielded them regardless of the presence of any necessity. Hedda was a girl expected to be unaccustomed to the use of guns, and yet she shot herself in the temple part of her head as if to secure her instantaneous death. In contrast, the death of Lovborg is even claimed by Judge Brack as an accidental death, which makes his death compare less to Hedda’s death in terms of sheer brutality.
Hedda’s death was premeditated while Lovborg’s death is said to have been caused by the pistol he held which accidentally fired. That contrast alone puts the death of Hedda above the death of Lovborg. In their case, Hedda’s death is unparalleled by the death of Lovborg by virtue of the premeditated nature of the former’s death. More importantly, Hedda’s death could easily equal the death of Lovborg in terms of the “tool” used to hasten the end of their lives. Both of them used pistols as a matter of fact which was never contested nor doubted even by their relatives.
Yet Lovborg’s death fails to stand at par with Hedda’s death in terms of the decisiveness of Hedda. While Lovborg was quite unsure of how to put an end to his life, even listening and following the suggestions of Hedda herself, Hedda on the other hand knew quite well what to do. In fact, she even had the time to play the piano for the last time before she executed herself to death. Rainer Maria Rilke has seen the “unparalleled violence” in Henrik Ibsen’s literary work. It is important to note that the death of Hedda best reflects this unparalleled violence as she is more than just the heroine in the story.
Apart from that, Hedda Tesman’s life and death is the very foundation upon which the story Hedda Gabler revolves and evolves. Why the story’s title is Hedda Gabler instead of Hedda Tesman provides the most succinct reason why her life and the unparalleled violence of her death are the crucial aspects in the story itself—Henrik Ibsen tells us that his intentions in giving that title to the story is to indicate that Hedda should be regarded not as her husband’s wife but her father’s daughter.
Dorcy, Michael M. “Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler: Tragedy as Denouement. ” College English 29. 3 (1967): 223-27.