‘Paradise Within’: Hedda Gabler and John Gabriel Borkman as Types of the Romantic ‘Self’

  • Errol Durbach


If we cannot conceive of Hedda Gabler posing the highly articulate metaphysical queries of Wallace Stevens’s woman in ‘Sunday Morning’, it is probably beacause we know next to nothing of her psychic life. Hedda’s history is predominantly social — a fully dramatised image of a ci-devant aristocrat for whom Gablerism is a code of obligations heaped by nobility upon her nature, and who lives in a world where people no longer do ‘that sort of thing’. But as a psychological study of sexual distress, the fear of death, and the yearning for some intimation of immortal value, Hedda Gabler is enveloped in almost Pinteresque blankness. A phrase, a gesture, a sense of something left unspoken beneath broken sentences — we clutch at straws to make her whole or, bewildered by the force that drives her, attribute to her actions the motiveless malignity of Iago. More recently, she has been portrayed as a woman in whom the poetry of life runs deep but whose channels of expression have been dammed by the society in which she lives, in whom idealism burns with a hard gem-like flame but which — thwarted by her status in the world — can only burn itself and others in an agony of frustration.


Worth Living Human Spirit Sunday Morning Sexual Distress Symbolic Gesture 
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© Errol Durbach 1982

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  • Errol Durbach

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