Hedda Gabler – It’s funny to read Hedda Gabler after re-reading A Doll’s House because you go from thinking that Henrik Ibsen is a great feminist to thinking he might just hate women. In truth, I tend to recommend to not look for motives in the creation of characters, because you might otherwise miss great characters. Hedda is a young woman who has recently married Jorgen Tessman, a research academic who is poised to received an appointment at the university. This coming money inspires in the two of them to beginning creating the life they both agree Hedda deserves, which includes things like buying a second piano to better match the furniture already selected and putting the other piano in a different room. Jorgen is looked over and looking over an elderly aunt who serves a kind of moral center to the play. Hedda runs into a former classmate of hers, Thea, who is in an unhappy marriage. She tells Hedda about the return of Hedda’s former lover, Ijlert, who it turns out is also up for the appointment at the university. As the tensions and passions fly, Hedda becomes more and more distraught at the possibility of having chosen a dud, professionally and personally, for the sake of safety, and not the fun, and apparent success of the previous lover. An opportunity for manipulation turns into an ironic reversal, and leads to multiple tragedies.
A Doll’s House – I first read this in high school, and maybe once in college. It’s so deeply familiar to me in a lot of ways, but if you had asked me to give you the plot beyond the basic impressions I recalled, it would be nothing like the actual play. Nora and Torvald are a married couple of some repute. They seem happy and in love and on the eve of a great party. Their close friend, the doctor, visits them, and helps us to understand their joyful marriage. But the arrival of an old friend of Nora who asks for help attaining work in Torvald’s bank leads to a conversation where the friend lightly accuses Nora of being silly and protected. This is certainly true of how Torvald treats Nora, but Nora shares that she has a secret that deeply stresses her and were it revealed it could ruin her. A few years back Torvald took sick from stress and overwork. Nora borrowed a large sum of money from her father’s estate but also from a private lender to plan a trip to Italy to help him recover. She masked her own machinations as her father’s generosity and the trip as a celebration. Torvald recovered and has gone on to great success as the president of the bank. Nora is almost finally able to pay off the debt, which she’s been able to do through thrift.
It later turns out that the source of this private loan, a man of ill-repute, who works at the bank is also a former lover of the newly arrived friend and he fears he will lose his job soon as a consequence. He aims to extort Nora to get her to help him keep his job. As this plot works through, Nora begins to question the ways in which Torvald treats and regards her: as a wife or as a doll?
Enemy of the People – Man oh man do we already know this story. We find ourselves in a spa town whose very lifeblood is the natural springs that run through the town and provides the economic stability the town enjoys. A scientist who works for the company has been working on a study of the cleanliness of the bath and discovers that they are actually a source of potential contagion through a bacterial culture living within them. He prepares his report and tells his brother about it, who works as a higher up in the company as well. This shocks his brother who sees only the cost and the potential downfall. He cautions him not to submit the report. As word of the reports gets out, the town begins to react in various and predictable ways. It’s determined that the cost for updating the bath would be enormously ruinous, so of course all kinds of denialism, antagonism, and outright refusal crop up. If this sounds familiar, well, look around, but you might also notice this is the basic plot of movies like Jaws.