In Ibsen’s Forgotten Merman, Barbara Fass Leavy provides an essay-length chapter on “Hedda Gabler and the Huldre,” examining Ibsen’s play in light of (and as informed by) popular Scandinavian folklore with which both author and audience were familiar. Were our production approach for the current AC version of Hedda Gabler more postmodern or explicitly mythological, this chapter would provide a treasure trove of specific narratives and references, and the means to seek out visual and movement-based tools to facilitate those references.
But this production is not; it tends to emphasize the tactics of individual relationships within the larger social whole, and not focus on any one specific interpretive schema or meaning-making approach. That is to say: while Leavy provides much valuable material for fruitful readings of the play, and the references she elucidates provide excellent background for any production, this work doesn’t directly address a specific research need in our preparation of Hedda Gabler.
Leavy’s project, for instance, demands that she address the potential significance of character names – what associations they carry for the audience, as well as potential symbolic significance.
“… Hedda could be placed directly in the tradition of the demonic havfru who lures men to their doom. Therefore it is worth pursuing the possible connection between the names “Hedda” and huldre. From Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology, Ibsen would have found a connection between the goddess Holda and the Norwegian huldre,”
a specific form of Norwegian fairy who closely resembled human women (the only difference was that huldre could be detected by the presence of a long cow’s tail under their skirts). Leavy makes reference to an Icelandic tale called “Hildur, the Queen of the Elves,” and adds
“… that some variation of the name Hilde is often taken by the huldre after marriage to a mortal and conversion to Christianity. … Finally, Hilde is also a variant form of Hillelil, the name sometimes given to the “Demeter” and sometimes to the “Proserpine” figure in the Rosmer ballads. In any event, the resemblance among a series of names becomes striking to contemplate: Huldre, Holda, Hildur, Hilde, Hillelil, Hedda” (Jacobsen & Leavy, 213-4).
I’m a sucker for intertextual references, and mythological correspondences like these drew me to Ibsen studies in the first place. But they will not prove of immediate use in this production of the play, as fascinating as this work is from a historical and literary perspective.
What works or texts have you encountered that at first seemed useful, but have turned out instead to offer distracting tangents? What sources have you encountered that you may need to table or set aside in order to keep your work focused and the scale of your project under control? What material have you encountered in your research that will make an excellent source for an entirely different project?