Aunt Julle and Berte enter the drawing room of the Tesmans' residence. The Tesmans have just returned from their six-month honeymoon. Berte says that she is worried about whether she can please her new mistress, Hedda. Jürgen Tesman enters the room and joyously greets his aunt. He compliments her on her new hat, and they discuss the research he did on his honeymoon and Aunt Rina's failing health. They hint at the extravagance of the honeymoon and the expense of appeasing a lady of aristocratic background like Hedda. In fact, Aunt Julle announces that she has mortgaged her annuity to provide security on the expensive new house. She also mentions that Ejlert Lövborg has published a new book; this is a surprise to Tesman. Hedda enters and complains that the maid has opened the windows. Hedda is very particular about the lighting, and Tesman is eager to please her. Aunt Julle produces Jürgen's old slippers, much to his delight. He wants Hedda to examine them, but she is not interested. Hedda interrupts their conversation with a comment on the ugliness of Aunt Julle's hat, which Hedda takes to be the maid's. Aunt Julle is offended, but Hedda apologizes. To defuse the situation, Tesman hopes to prompt Aunt Julle to compliment Hedda by drawing her attention to the way Hedda has pleasantly filled out over the course of their honeymoon--but Hedda refuses to admit that the six months have changed her at all.
Aunt Julle leaves, and Tesman asks Hedda to try to be nicer to her. They agree to have her over again later that day. Hedda mentions that her old piano doesn't look right in the drawing room, and Tesman considers exchanging it when he gets his next paycheck. Hedda suggests they simply buy a new one. Suddenly, Mrs. Elvsted, an old acquaintance of both, arrives. She is in town looking for Ejlert Lövborg, who has for two years served as tutor in the Elvsted household. Mrs. Elvsted informs the Tesman's that Ejlert has been free of drunkenness for two years, but she fears a relapse now that Ejlert has returned to the city. She has followed him here in order to keep an eye on him. She tells Tesman what a tremendous success Ejlert's new book has been; it is obvious that Tesman has to make an effort not to seem jealous. Tesman promises to be supportive of Ejlert if he comes to visit, but Hedda proposes that he go so far as to write to Ejlert and invite him to visit. She suggests he write Ejlert a long letter. Tesman goes to do this, and Hedda presses Mrs. Elvsted to confide in her now that she has gotten rid of Tesman.
In the first half of this section, Ibsen introduces the main problems that face the characters in Hedda Gabler. This is a sign of a well-structured play. We learn that Tesman's rival, Ejlert Lövborg, is back in town and is once again a threat to Tesman's career. Tesman's marriage to Hedda was based on the assumption that he would quickly earn a post at the university, but Ejlert's reappearance and success may stand in Tesman's way.
We also learn that Hedda and Tesman do not have a perfect relationship. Hedda is clearly of a higher class than Tesman. Even before she enters, we see that Berte, the servant, is afraid Hedda cannot be pleased. And indeed, when Hedda enters, she immediately complains that Berte has opened the window. Hedda has high standards and is impossible to please. The incident involving Aunt Julle's hat provides another example of Hedda's obstinate implacable personality. Aunt Julle had decided to wear the hat especially for Hedda, but Hedda criticizes it.
Tesman warns Hedda to be nicer to Aunt Julle, which shows that he recognizes Hedda's rudeness but refuses to acknowledge the real problem--that Hedda is spoiled and treats him just as badly as she does Berte and Julle. Hedda's disregard for Tesman's feelings is illustrated by her refusal to look at his beloved slippers. Moreover, although Ibsen never makes it explicit, Tesman's reference to the fact that Hedda has been gaining weight indicates that she is now pregnant, and Hedda's refusal to admit that she has begun to fill-out physically hints at her problematic relationship with being pregnant and also with Tesman, the assumed father of the child. Tesman remains unaware of the pregnancy, another indication that their relationship suffers from a lack of openness and awareness and that they may be headed toward some serious problems later in the play. Although they never come directly into conflict, the tension between them is the basis for much of the tragedy in Hedda Gabler.