From Ghosts. In 1864 the Norwegian playwright left Oslo and lived abroad for the next twenty-seven years. A public outcry followed the publication of Ghosts in December 1881; many claimed Ibsen wished to promote nihilism and sexual lasciviousness. “I had to write Ghosts,” he wrote in a letter. “I couldn’t stop at A Doll’s House; after Nora, I had to create Mrs. Alving.” European theaters refused to stage the play. Finally, in 1882, a theater in Chicago put it on for Scandinavian immigrants.
Pastor Manders: My dear Oswald, you have inherited the name of a man who undoubtedly was both energetic and worthy. Let us hope it will be a spur to your energies—
Oswald Alving: It ought to be, certainly.
Pastor Manders: In any case, it was nice of you to come home for the day that is to honor his memory.
Oswald: I could do no less for my father.
Helena Alving: And I shall have my son here so long—that’s the nicest part.
Pastor Manders: Yes, I hear you are going to spend the winter at home.
Oswald: I am here for an indefinite time, Mr. Manders. Oh, it’s good to be at home again!
Mrs. Alving: [beaming] Yes, isn’t it?
Pastor Manders: [looking sympathetically at him] You went out into the world very young, my dear Oswald.
Oswald: I did. Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t too young.
Mrs. Alving: Not a bit of it. It is the best thing for an active boy, and especially for an only child. It’s a pity when they are kept at home with their parents and get spoiled.
Pastor Manders: That is a very debatable question, Mrs. Alving. A child’s own home is, and always must be, his proper place.
Oswald: I agree entirely with Mr. Manders.
Pastor Manders: Take the case of your own son. Oh yes, we can talk about it before him. What has the result been in his case? He is twenty-six or twenty-seven and has never yet had the opportunity of learning what a well-regulated home means.
Oswald: Excuse me, Mr. Manders, you are quite wrong there.
Pastor Manders: Indeed? I imagined that your life abroad had practically been spent entirely in artistic circles.
Oswald: So it has.
Pastor Manders: And chiefly among the younger artists.
Pastor Manders: But I imagined that those gentry, as a rule, had not the means necessary for family life and the support of a home.
Oswald: There are a considerable number of them who have not the means to marry, Mr. Manders.
Pastor Manders: That is exactly my point.
Oswald: But they can have a home of their own, all the same. A good many of them have. And they are very well-regulated and very comfortable homes, too.
[Mrs. Alving, who has listened to him attentively, nods assent but says nothing.]
Pastor Manders: Oh, but I am not talking of bachelor establishments. By a home I mean family life—the life a man lives with his wife and children.
Oswald: Exactly, or with his children and his children’s mother.
Pastor Manders: [with a start, clasping his hands] Good heavens!
Oswald: What is the matter?
Pastor Manders: Lives with—with his children’s mother?
Oswald: Well, would you rather he should repudiate his children’s mother?
Pastor Manders: Then what you are speaking of are those unprincipled conditions known as “irregular unions.”
Kitchen Scene, by Meester van de Amsterdamse Bodegón, c. 1620. © Rijksmuseum.
Oswald: I have never noticed anything particularly unprincipled about these people’s lives.
Pastor Manders: But do you mean to say that it is possible for a man of any sort of bringing up and a young woman to reconcile themselves to such a way of living—and to make no secret of it, either.
Oswald: What else are they to do? A poor artist and a poor girl—it costs a good deal to get married. What else are they to do?
Pastor Manders: What are they to do? Well, Mr. Alving, I will tell you what they ought to do. They ought to keep away from each other from the very beginning—that is what they ought to do!
Oswald: That advice wouldn’t have much effect upon hot-blooded young folk who are in love.
Mrs. Alving: No, indeed it wouldn’t.
Pastor Manders: [persistently] And to think that the authorities tolerate such things. That they are allowed to go on, openly! [turns to Mrs. Alving] Had I so little reason, then, to be sadly concerned about your son? In circles where open immorality is rampant—where, one may say, it is honored—
Oswald: Let me tell you this, Mr. Manders. I have been a constant Sunday guest at one or two of these “irregular” households—
Pastor Manders: On Sunday, too!
Oswald: Yes, that is the day of leisure. But never have I heard one objectionable word there, still less have I ever seen anything that could be called immoral. No, but do you know when and where I have met with immorality in artists’ circles?
Pastor Manders: No, thank heaven, I don’t!
Oswald: Well, then, I shall have the pleasure of telling you. I have met with it when some one or other of your model husbands and fathers have come out there to have a bit of a look around on their own account and have done the artists the honor of looking them up in their humble quarters. Then we had a chance of learning something, I can tell you. These gentlemen were able to instruct us about places and things that we had never so much as dreamed of.
Pastor Manders: What? Do you want me to believe that honorable men when they get away from home will—
Oswald: Have you never, when these same honorable men come home again, heard them deliver themselves on the subject of the prevalence of immorality abroad?
Pastor Manders: Yes, of course, but—
Mrs. Alving: I have heard them, too.
Oswald: You can take their word for it, unhesitatingly. Some of them are experts in the matter.