Short summary - The Wild Duck (Vildanden) - Henrik Johan Ibsen

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Wild Duck (Vildanden)
Henrik Johan Ibsen

80s 19th century A festive table in the office of a wealthy Norwegian businessman Werle. Among the guests are the son of a businessman Gregers called from a factory in the Mountain Valley (he works there as a simple employee) and Gregers' old school friend Hjalmar Ekdal. Friends did not see each other for fifteen years. During this time, Hjalmar married, his daughter Hedwig was born (she is now fourteen), he started his own business - a photo studio. And, it would seem, everything is fine with him. The only thing is that Hjalmar did not complete his education due to a lack of funds for the family - his father, a former companion of Werle, was then imprisoned. True, Verle helped the son of a former friend: he gave Hjalmar money to equip a photo studio and advised him to rent an apartment from a friend of the hostess, whose daughter Hjalmar married. All this seems suspicious to Gregers: he knows his father. What is Hjalmar's wife's maiden name? By chance, not Hansen? Having received an affirmative answer, Gregers has little doubt that his father's "good deeds" are dictated by the need to "get away with it" and arrange a former mistress - after all, Gina Hansen served as Werle's housekeeper and left his house just at that time, shortly before the patient died Gregers' mother. The son, apparently, cannot forgive the father for the death of his mother, although he is obviously not to blame for it. As Gregers suspects, the father married, hoping to receive a large dowry, which he nevertheless did not get. Gregers directly asks his father if he cheated on his late mother with Gina, but he answers the question evasively. Then, decisively rejecting Werle's offer to become his companion, the son announces that he is breaking with him. He now has a special purpose in life.

Which one, it soon becomes clear. Gregers decided to open Hjalmar's eyes to the "quagmire of lies" into which he was plunged, because Hjalmar, "a naive and great soul", does not suspect anything of the kind and firmly believes in the kindness of the merchant. Overcome, according to his father, by “hot honesty,” Gregers believes that by revealing the truth to Hjalmar, he will give impetus to a “great settlement with the past” and help him “erect a new strong building on the ruins of the past, start a new life, create a marital union in spirit of truth, without lies and concealment.

To this end, Gregers visits the same day the apartment of the Ekdal family, located on the attic floor and serving at the same time as the pavilion of the photo studio. The apartment communicates with an attic large enough to keep rabbits and chickens in it, which old Ekdal, Hjalmar's father, shoots from time to time with a pistol, imagining that he hunts bears and partridges in the same way as in the old days in the Mountain Valley. . The best and worst experiences of the elder Ekdal are connected with the Mountain Valley: after all, it was there, in the vicinity of their common plant with Verle, that he was put in prison for cutting down the forest.

Gregers does not immediately lay out the bitter truth before Hjalmar. He looks closely at the family - the rustic and eternally burdened Gina (in fact, she manages all the affairs of the photo studio and does all the work in it), the old man Ekdal, out of his mind and obviously broken by prison, the fourteen-year-old Hedwig - an enthusiastic and exalted girl who adores her father (as he tells Gregers, Hedwig is doomed - the doctors said that she will soon go blind), finally, to Hjalmar himself, who hides his parasitism under the guise of tireless work on an invention that, according to him, should restore the well-being and honest name of his family.

Since Gregers has left the Mountain Valley, and now also left his father's house, he needs an apartment. The Ekdals have just such a suitable room with a separate passage in the house, and they - however, not without Gina's resistance - rent it to the son of their benefactor. The next day, Werle, worried about his son's hostile mood, visits him, he wants to find out what his son is plotting against him. Having learned Gregers' "goal", the businessman ridicules him and warns him that he would not be disappointed in his new idol Hjalmar. The same, albeit in harsher terms, is taught to Gregers by his neighbor on the floor, a drunkard and reveler, Dr. Relling, a frequent visitor to the Ekdal family. Truth, according to Relling's theory, is not needed by anyone, and one should not rush with it, as with a written bag. By opening the eyes of Hjalmar, Gregers will achieve nothing but trouble, and even trouble for the Ekdal family. According to the doctor, "taking away the worldly lie from the average person is like taking away happiness from him." Events confirm the truth of his saying.

Gregers goes for a walk with Hjalmar and tells him all the ins and outs of his family life as he sees it. Returning, Hjalmar loudly announces to his wife that from now on he will conduct all the affairs of the atelier and household accounts himself - he no longer trusts her. Is it true that she was close to the merchant Werle when she worked as his housekeeper? Gina does not deny the past relationship. True, she is not to blame for Verle's sick wife - in fact, Verle molested her, but everything that happened between them happened after the death of his wife, when Gina no longer worked for Verle. However, all this is so old, in the words of Gina, "affairs", that she forgot to think about them.

Hjalmar calms down somewhat. Dr. Relling, who is present at the marital explanation, sends Gregers to hell with all his heart and expresses his sincere wish that he, “this medicine man, this healer of souls, go away. Otherwise, he will confuse everyone!” Unexpectedly, Fr Serby, the housekeeper of Werle, comes to Gina. She came to say goodbye to her, because she is getting married to the owner, and they immediately leave for their factory in the Mountain Valley. This news plunges Dr. Relling into despondency - once he and Fr. Sorby were connected by a serious feeling. Gregers asks if Fr Sorby is afraid that he will report their past relationship to his father? The answer is negative: no, he and Verle told each other everything about the past - their marriage is based on honesty. Fru Serby will not leave her husband under any circumstances, even when he becomes completely helpless. Don't those present know that Werle will soon go blind?

This news, as well as the donation from Werle (according to her, to the old man Ekdal; and then after his death, Hedwig will be paid a monthly allowance of one hundred crowns) brought Hjalmar Ekdal out of his usual complacent mood. If he vaguely guessed about the connection between Gina's past and Verle's beneficences, then the news about the same eye disease in Verle and his daughter, as well as about the donation, take him by surprise and hurt his heart. Is it possible that Hedwig is not his daughter, but Werle's? Gina honestly admits that she cannot answer this question. Then perhaps she knows how much Werle's accountant pays old man Ekdal for copying business papers? About the same amount as it takes to maintain it, Gina answers. Well, tomorrow morning Hjalmar will leave this house, but first he will go to the accountant and ask him to calculate their debt for all the past years. They will give everything! Hjalmar tears the deed of gift in two and, together with Dr. Relling (who has his own chagrins), embarks on a spree for the night.

But, after sleeping with a neighbor, Hjalmar returns the next day. He can't leave home now - he lost his hat in his nightly wanderings. Gradually, Gina calms him down and persuades him to stay. Hjalmar even glues together the donation he had torn in the heat of the moment (one must think of the old father too!). But he stubbornly ignores his beloved Hedwig. The girl is in despair. The night before, Gregers had advised her on how to win back her father's love. You need to bring him your "childish sacrifice", do something so that his father sees how much she loves him. Hjalmar now took a great dislike to the wild duck, the same one that lives in their box in the attic, because the Ekdals got it from Verle. The merchant wounded her while hunting on the lake, and then his servant gave the duck to the old man Ekdal. Hedwig will prove her love to her father if she sacrifices a wild duck for him, which she also loves very much. Well, Hedwig agrees, she will persuade her grandfather to shoot the duck, although she does not understand why dad is so angry with her: even if she is not his daughter and she was found somewhere - she read about such a thing - but they also found a wild duck, and that doesn't stop her, Hedwig, from loving her!

A tragic end is coming. The next day, Hjalmar, not wanting to see his daughter, drives her from everywhere. Hedwig hides in the attic. At the moment of the conversation, when Hjalmar convinces Gregers that Hedwig can cheat on him, as soon as Werla, perhaps her real father, beckons her with his wealth, a shot is heard in the attic. Gregers rejoices - it is the old man Ekdal who shot the wild duck at the request of Hedwig. But the grandfather runs into the pavilion from the other side. There was an accident: Hedwig accidentally emptied a gun into herself. Dr. Relling does not believe this: the girl's blouse is scorched, she deliberately shot herself. And Gregers is to blame for her death with his “ideal requirements” made to mere mortals. Without them, these "ideal requirements", life on earth could be tolerable.

In that case, says Gregers, he is happy with his destiny. The doctor asks what is it? To be thirteenth at the table!