When Hedda Gabler first began to be performed, it was not a popular play by any means. In fact, it was Ibsen's most poorly-received work to date, and was expected to go down in history as a colossal failure. Slowly, however, as more and more theaters began to put on performances, the play received an increasingly great amount of attention. Audiences marveled at the way in which each actress's interpretation of the role revealed more about Hedda Gabler's complexities.
Below are two excerpts from reviews of productions in the 1890s:
"The production of an Ibsen play impels the inquiry, What is the province of art? If it be to elevate and refine, as we have hitherto humbly supposed, most certainly it cannot be said that the works of Ibsen have the faintest claim to be artistic. We see no ground on which his method is defensible...Things rank and gross in nature alone have place in the mean and sordid philosophy of Ibsen. Those of his characters who are not mean morally are mean intellectually - the wretched George Tesman, with his enthusiasm about the old shoes his careful aunt brings him wrapped up in a bit of newspaper, is a case in point. As for refining and elevating, can any human being, it may be asked, feel happier or better in anyway from a contemplation of the two harlots at heart who do duty in Hedda Gabler?...We do not mean to say that there are not, unhappily, Hedda Gablers and George Tesmans in "real life". There are; but when we meet them we take the greatest pains to get out of their way, and why should they be endured on the stage?"
- Saturday Morning Review
"Now, to us Hedda Gabler appears a wonderful work of art, one that must produce a profound impression upon those who will accustom themselves to regard a stage-play from the point of view of real, living character in actual contact with the facts and sensations and possibilities of human experience, instead of gauging it by the conventional standard of playmaking, or the superficial observation of ordinary social intercourse. Ibsen has a way of going to the root of the matter, and exposing the skeleton in the cupboard, which is certainly not always a pleasant sight. But life, with its infinite subtleties and inconsistencies, is always interesting, and Ibsen shows the wonder and the pity of it, while perhaps he only infers its loveliness by contrast. But therein he proves himself a master artist, for his point of view is definite, and the impression he produces is complete and final. In Hedda Gabler he gives us a typical tragedy of modern life, and in the strange, sensitive, selfish heroine, he presents one of the most wonderful and subtle conceptions of woman in the whole range of dramatic literature."
- Sunday Times Review