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Vanity versus Happiness: 
Can a Man Distinguish Between Them?

By Ernest DeFilippis
--  Part 2  --
Public Seminar of August 28, 2003, at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene St., New York, NY 10012 

Vanity: The Great Interference with Happiness in Love

Because men haven't been able to distinguish between a notion of love based on vanity, and the real thing--the happiness and pride that comes from encouraging a woman to care for the world--we've had pain and also caused pain.  A character who is useful in the understanding of this fight is Eilert Lovborg from the 1891 play, Hedda Gabler, by the important 19th century Norwegian dramatist, Henrik Ibsen. 

          One of the great instances of literary criticism and the understanding of humanity, is Eli Siegel's seeing of this play and who Hedda Gabler, one of the most misunderstood and controversial characters in all of drama, is.  Was she good and kind, or malicious and spiteful--out to hurt Lovborg and others?  In 1969 and 1970, Mr. Siegel lectured extensively on the play, looking at it line by line.  And he showed that Hedda, contrary to the way she had been seen before, wanted to be kind, hoped to be honest. As he explained what the play is about, he related Hedda to important women of mind--the art critic Anna Jameson, novelist Emily Bronte, poet Christina Rosetti.  And he related her to Hamlet, saying:

There is a great necessity of being seen so one can say "somebody sees me as I hoped I would be"…It’s the most important thing in human life, that some other consciousness sees you as you hope to be seen. 
And he explained, 
Hedda Gabler …is bitter, feeling she could not be cared for, for what she truly is, for what is best in her.
          What Hedda valued most in herself was her mind, her desire to know, and that was not seen or loved by persons around her, notably, Eilert Lovborg, a flamboyant young intellectual.  A big new thing Mr. Siegel showed is this:  Earlier as she and Lovborg knew each other and they talked, she had an intellectually good effect on him, had him see new things, enabling him to write a book about the future of civilization, which he refers to as "the book I have put my true self in.5"  But Lovborg is not grateful, does not acknowledge the good effect and instead makes advances towards her which she rebuffs.  Said Mr. Siegel, "On the subject of women who show mind, men have been very punko."

Two Notions of Love

As the play begins, Hedda has recently married George Tesman, a research fellow in history, and they are returning from abroad. Very early we see how Hedda's husband is using her for his vanity. Tesman is greeted by his Aunt Juliana. 

Aunt Juliana. [she takes both his hands and looks at him] ...to think that you are now a married man...,   And that you should be the one to carry off Hedda Gabler the beautiful Hedda Gabler!  Only think of it--she who had so many admirers! 
Tesman. [hums a little and smiles complacently] Yes, I imagine I have several good friends about town who would like to be in my shoes--eh?7
Tesman feels, as many men do, that by having a woman others see as desirable he'll be happy.  Hedda is an adornment to boost his already high opinion of himself. "Hedda Gabler," Mr. Siegel said, "felt there was a vanity of a more stodgy kind in her husband."

         Shortly after, Thea Elvsted, a former schoolmate of Hedda, comes.  We learn that Eilert Lovborg had been living with her and her husband, a sheriff, in the country for several years tutoring his children.  While there, Lovborg, who had been given to drink and carousing, has reformed, and wrote his book which Thea says he dictated to her.  It is clear their relationship has become intimate.  So when he suddenly returns to Christiania, Thea, distressed, leaves her husband to find him.  She urges Tesman, who had known Lovborg in college, to welcome him if he comes. 

         To Eilert, Thea Elvsted and Hedda Gabler represent two very different notions of love.  Mr. Siegel once said of me: 

Ernest DeFilippis would like someone to care for him, soothe him, make him feel mighty and important and he would like to care for someone who would make him see all things better.  That makes for trouble.
Eilert Lovborg has this fight--Thea pleases his vanity, soothes him, makes him feel mighty as she patronizes him;  Hedda asks him to "see all things better." 

        Mr. Siegel asked me, "What do you appeal to, the strength of a woman or her weakness?" I never thought in terms of strengthening a woman.  What mattered was whether she liked me.  And the main indication of her love was whether she gave me what I saw as the ultimate approval--sex. "What do you depend on for your charm," Mr. Siegel asked me, "truth or DeFilippis?"  "My smile," I answered.  I felt what would get a woman was my looks, my "dynamic" personality, flattery, acting as if I couldn't live without her. 

         Mr. Siegel said of Lovborg, "[He has a] sense of a woman's vanity and how to build it up." One of the ways he flatters Thea is in having her believe she inspired him in the writing of his book, in fact, he calls it their "child."  Thea says, "Then came the lovely, happy time when I began to share in his work--when he allowed me to help him!" Said Mr. Siegel: 

 Thea...plays into Eilert Lovborg's non-infinite hands.  [He] wants women to be rather silly; wants them to work and be handmaids of the higher sex, and Thea Elvsted, though not sincere about it, does oblige because by being so compliant and serving him she can affect the man. 
         About Lovborg, Thea says: "I gained a sort of power over him." And Lovborg doesn't respect Thea, which is evident when he says of her, referring to the conversations he and Hedda had about the world, "She's too stupid to understand anything of that sort..."

Continued  >>  "A Woman Wants to Be Known"

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Copyright 2005 by Ernest DeFilippis