Hedda Gabler

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Mrs. Thea Elvsted Character Analysis

Mrs. Elvsted is a slight woman with soft attractive features, large blue eyes that tend to protrude with a scared, questioning expression, and almost whitish-yellow hair that is unusually rich and wavy. She is a couple years younger than her old schoolmate Hedda, and was once romantically involved with Jörgen Tesman. After Ejlert Lövborg’s fall from social grace, Mrs. Elvsted and her husband, a sheriff, welcomed Lövborg into their home as a tutor for their children. During that time, Mrs. Elvsted served as Lövborg’s helpmate and muse, and also seemed to fall in love with him, committing herself to him, body and soul. When Lövborg returns to the city where the Tesmans live, Mrs. Elvsted follows him without her husband’s permission (she is repelled by her husband) in order to deliver him from his temptation to drink. She is as conventional as Tesman, in her way, and somewhat timid, but Mrs. Elvsted also has a capacity for passionate, courageous commitment that is rare in Ibsen’s world—even Hedda is afraid of scandal—and this makes her, however quietly, somewhat heroic.

Mrs. Thea Elvsted Quotes in Hedda Gabler

The Hedda Gabler quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Thea Elvsted or refer to Mrs. Thea Elvsted. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power and Influence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of Hedda Gabler published in 2008.
Act 1 Quotes

Hedda: Frightened? Of me?

Mrs. Elvsted: Oh, dreadfully frightened. When we met on the steps you used to pull my hair.

Hedda: No, did I really?

Mrs. Elvsted: Yes, and once you said you were going to burn it off.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Mrs. Thea Elvsted (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Elvsted and Hedda have not seen one another in years. Their romantic histories have been intertwined, however, as Mrs. Elvsted used to be Tesman's sweetheart, and Hedda had an intense friendship with Lovborg, the man that Mrs. Elvsted is currently in love with. Although these connections are largely unspoken at this point, they contextualize the play of power and sexual jealousy in this exchange between the two women.

Here, Mrs. Elvsted is recalling how she was frightened of Hedda when they were younger. Her fear recalls Berte's earlier confession of being "so scared" of her mistress. Hedda inspires fear in the women around her because she exerts power over them, which goes against provincial stereotypes of feminine delicacy and sisterhood. Hedda is, of course, aware of these stereotypes and exploits them for her own gain later in this conversation, gossiping with Mrs. Elvsted in order to gain control over her.

In her lines here, Hedda acts as if she has forgotten that she used to bully Mrs. Elvsted, although we suspect that she has not, and that she takes pleasure in hearing Mrs. Elvsted recount her earlier manipulations and cruelties. The fact that the young Hedda targeted Mrs. Elvsted's hair is telling, as her hair is widely acknowledged as beautiful, and is attractive to men. Hedda's competitive social instincts were on display when she attacked it. 

Finally, Mrs. Elvsted recalls a young Hedda's threat to burn her hair off. This foreshadows the coming moment in the play when Hedda burns Lovborg's cherished manuscript. We see that Hedda has long had an impulse to destroy, often by fire, those things that others love best. 

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Act 3 Quotes

I want you to know, Lövborg, what you’ve done to the book…. For the rest of my life it’ll be for me as though you killed a little child.

Related Characters: Mrs. Thea Elvsted (speaker)
Related Symbols: Lövborg and Thea’s Manuscript
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

After Judge Brack leaves, Lovborg bursts into the Tesman's sitting room and speaks to Hedda and Mrs. Elvsted. He omits the details of his drunken debauchery and says only that Mrs. Elvsted is no longer of use to him, and that he has torn up his precious manuscript and thrown the pieces into the fjord (an inlet of sea bordered by cliffs). Mrs. Elvsted is horrified. Lovborg tells this lie to give the impression of self-control and artistic passion—tearing up the manuscript is much more impressive than the truth, which is that he lost it in a drunken stupor. Lovborg tries to make the scene tragic, but in reality it is farcical.

Here, Mrs. Elvsted tells Lovborg how terribly he has wounded her, referring to his act of tearing up the manuscript as the murder of a child—their child. She tells him that this is a permanent wound. She will resent him for "the rest of [her] life." 

Before this point, Mrs. Elvsted's feelings for Lovborg have been veiled by propriety, but in this moment she reveals how close the two of them were. By calling the manuscript they created together a child, she implies that their relationship was as intimate as husband and wife. The life of the manuscript is over, and so too is Mrs. Elvsted's. In her mind, there is nothing to live for without Lovborg's manuscript. 

Now I’m burning your child, Thea! With your curly hair! Your child and Ejlert Lövborg’s. I’m burning…burning your child.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg, Mrs. Thea Elvsted
Related Symbols: Lövborg and Thea’s Manuscript, Fire and the Tesmans’ Stove
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

After Lovborg leaves, Hedda feeds his manuscript into the fire and murmurs these lines to herself. She addresses her lines to Mrs. Elvsted (and again refers to her famously beautiful hair), revealing the part that jealousy plays in this action. By referring to the manuscript as their child, Hedda confirms Mrs. Elvsted's influence and intimacy with Lovborg. The fact that Mrs. Elvsted influenced Lovborg productively (as Hedda has not been able to) enrages Hedda, and she is compelled to destroy the product of their partnership. 

Her investment in Lovborg's beautiful death also motivates her to burn the manuscript. Without the manuscript, Lovborg has nothing to live for, and Hedda wants to ensure that neither he nor anyone else has a way of discovering it. 

Finally, this moment is one of Hedda's most desperate acts of control. She destroys the manuscript for many reasons, of course, but perhaps the primary reason is a yearning to destroy as a means of control. Since she cannot create anything beautiful, she must content herself with destroying something precious. 

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Mrs. Thea Elvsted Character Timeline in Hedda Gabler

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Thea Elvsted appears in Hedda Gabler. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...finds a card that reads: “Will come again later today.” The card is from Mrs. Thea Elvsted. Hedda recalls that Mrs. Elvsted had hair that everyone made a fuss over once,... (full context)
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Berte appears at the hall door and announces that Mrs. Elvsted is back for the second time that morning. Hedda asks that she be brought in.... (full context)
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“How can this possibly concern you,” Hedda asks. Mrs. Elvsted gives a scared look, then quickly says that Lövborg is her stepchildren’s tutor. Tesman awkwardly... (full context)
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...caused an enormous stir, was something his rival had tucked away during this “good” period Mrs. Elvsted speaks of. Mrs. Elvsted explains that the book was actually written within the last year.... (full context)
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Mrs. Elvsted proceeds to say that she’s succeeded in finding Lövborg’s address. Hedda gives her a searching... (full context)
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Mrs. Elvsted at last begs Mr. Tesman, in the name of his old friendship with the man,... (full context)
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Hedda goes over to Mrs. Elvsted with a smile, and in a low voice says that she’s killed two birds with... (full context)
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Mrs. Elvsted doesn’t want to talk about her life at home at all, so Hedda tries to... (full context)
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Hedda dismisses this, and insists that Mrs. Elvsted refer to her informally by her first name, as she claims was the girls’ practice... (full context)
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...call Mrs. Elvsted by her first name, which she misremembers as being “Thora.” “I’m called Thea,” says Mrs. Elvsted. Hedda smoothly transitions from this error, and asks why Thea is not... (full context)
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Hedda presses Thea Elvsted for more of her life story. It all comes out: Thea went so far... (full context)
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Casually Hedda asks Thea about the fact that Ejlert Lövborg has been living near her for about three years.... (full context)
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Hedda then asks what Thea’s husband is really like. After some evasive answers, Thea admits that she and Mr. Elvsted... (full context)
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Thea is depressed and exhausted by this point, but Hedda asks her how her “familiarity” with... (full context)
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Despite all this, Thea cannot be sure that Lövborg’s irreproachable conduct, and her happiness with him, will last: the... (full context)
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Hedda hears Tesman coming, and she and Thea agree to keep their discussion to themselves. Tesman enters with a letter for Lövborg, signed... (full context)
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Judge Brack enters, bowing with his hat in hand. Tesman introduces him to Mrs. Elvsted (whom he again calls Miss Rysing, to his wife’s perturbation). Hedda says that it is... (full context)
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...Tesman: his old friend Ejlert Lövborg is back in town—as Tesman has already learned from Mrs. Elvsted . Tesman thinks it’s delightful that Lövborg is sober and making good on his extraordinary... (full context)
Act 2
Provincialism and Patriarchy Theme Icon
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...Tesman doesn’t know if this arrangement is quite appropriate, but his wife assures him that Mrs. Elvsted will join her and her guest. Judge Brack thinks it might be in Lövborg’s best... (full context)
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Tesman observes that the handwriting isn’t Lövborg’s, and Lövborg explains he dictated the book (to Mrs. Elvsted , as we know). Tesman says he would never have thought to write such a... (full context)
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...rather stay where he is and take supper with her, anyway—and also, of course, with Mrs. Elvsted . Lövborg agrees, and Hedda summons Berte to make the necessary arrangements. (full context)
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...you, answers her husband. He fills two glasses with punch—one for Hedda and one for Mrs. Elvsted , who will arrive soon. Hedda asks Tesman about a photograph of a village in... (full context)
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It has started to get dark. Berte opens the hall door and Thea Elvsted enters, greeted by Hedda and all the gentlemen. Thea confirms that Lövborg will not... (full context)
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Hedda offers Thea some cold punch, but she declines, as does Lövborg. Lövborg says he would not drink... (full context)
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...is steadfast: he will not drink or go out partying. Hedda smiles approvingly. She reminds Thea of earlier that morning, when she (Thea) came to the Tesmans in a state of... (full context)
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Thea begs to explain, but Lövborg picks up a glass of punch, hoarsely toasts her, downs... (full context)
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Tesman and Judge Brack enter—it’s time to go. Lövborg announces, despite Thea’s pleading, that he too is going to the drinking party, if only to read to... (full context)
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The men exit. Thea, wandering about uneasily, wonders how the night will end. Hedda is confident that Lövborg will... (full context)
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Thea cries out to be let go, frightened of Hedda. Berte enters and announces that everything... (full context)
Act 3
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...early the next morning, and the fire in the stove has almost burnt itself out. Thea Elvsted is reclining in an armchair, anxiously waiting for Lövborg to return, as she has... (full context)
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Berte enters with a letter, which Thea thinks concerns Lövborg—but it does not. It is from Aunt Julle and is addressed to... (full context)
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Hedda is woken by the closing of the door. She asks Thea the time: it is past seven o’clock, and neither Tesman nor Lövborg has returned. Hedda... (full context)
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Thea says that not even Hedda herself believes what she’s saying, and Hedda calls her “a... (full context)
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...who had inspired him in his work. Tesman supposes he must have been talking about Mrs. Elvsted . (full context)
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...and excited Lövborg forces himself into the Tesmans’ drawing room. You’re late in calling for Thea, Hedda tells him. Hedda makes it clear to him that the scandal he has caused... (full context)
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Thea Elvsted enters. Lövborg announces to her, “I’m finished.” He insists that Hedda stay in the... (full context)
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Lövborg then turns to the subject of the manuscript, which was his and Thea’s brainchild together. It will never be published because, he lies, he tore it up, just... (full context)
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...for lack of courage and defiance. Hedda is bitter that so silly a fool as Thea has her hands in a man’s destiny. Lövborg goes on to confess—under the condition that... (full context)
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...the stove door and begins feeding pages into the fire. “Now I’m burning your child, Thea,” she whispers to herself. “I’m burning…burning your child.” (full context)
Act 4
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...Lövborg, to whom he has yet to return the manuscript. Tesman also mentions having met Thea Elvsted while out—did you tell her about the manuscript, Hedda asks quickly. Tesman says that... (full context)
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Tesman becomes uneasy and thoughtful again when he remembers Lövborg’s manuscript. Just then Thea Elvsted enters. She speaks in agitation: she fears that Lövborg may have met with an... (full context)
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...has in fact been taken to the hospital, and he is not expected to live. Thea cries out and says that she must see him alive, but Brack tells her that... (full context)
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Tesman asks where Lövborg shot himself, and Judge Brack responds uncertainly, “at his lodgings.” Thea says that this isn’t possible, because she was there herself at about half past six.... (full context)
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...courage and beauty of his deed: he did what had to be done. Tesman and Thea think that he must have been desperate and mad to do such a thing, but... (full context)
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...should not leave behind him the one work that “would have made his name immortal.” Thea wonders whether the manuscript could be put together again—she has all the notes he used... (full context)
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...beautiful illusion: Lövborg shot himself accidentally. Moreover, the Judge told a few lies to protect Thea’s feelings: first, Lövborg is already dead. Moreover, Lövborg shot himself not at his lodgings, but... (full context)
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Tesman and Thea come back into the drawing room. Tesman asks his wife if he can work at... (full context)
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Hedda rises, and remarks that Thea is now sitting here with Tesman working just as she used to sit with Ejlert... (full context)
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Back at the desk, Tesman tells Thea that it’s probably not good for Hedda to see the two of them working together.... (full context)
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...those pistols again, says Tesman. He pulls the curtain aside and runs in, followed by Thea. They find Hedda dead. Confusion and shouting ensue, and an alarmed Berte comes in from... (full context)