Translated with an Introduction by William Archer
The winter of 1879-80 Ibsen spent in Munich and the greater part
of the summer of 1880 at Berchtesgaden. November 1880 saw him back
in Rome and he passed the summer of 1881 at Sorrento. There
fourteen years earlier he had written the last acts of _Peer
Gynt_; there he now wrote or at any rate completed _Gengangere_.
It was published in December 1881 after he had returned to Rome.
On December 22 he wrote to Ludwig Passarge one of his German
translators "My new play has now appeared and has occasioned a
terrible uproar in the Scandinavian press; every day I receive
letters and newspaper articles decrying or praising it. ... I
consider it utterly impossible that any German theatre will accept
the play at present. I hardly believe that they will dare to play
it in the Scandinavian countries for some time to come." How
rightly he judged we shall see anon.
In the newspapers there was far more obloquy than praise. Two men
however stood by him from the first: Bjornson from whom he had
been practically estranged ever since _The League of Youth_ and
Georg Brandes. The latter published an article in which he declared
(I quote from memory) that the play might or might not be Ibsen's
greatest work but that it was certainly his noblest deed. It was
doubtless in acknowledgment of this article that Ibsen wrote to
Brandes on January 3 1882: "Yesterday I had the great pleasure of
receiving your brilliantly clear and so warmly appreciative review
of _Ghosts_. ... All who read your article must it seems to me
have their eyes opened to what I meant by my new book--assuming
that is that they have any _wish_ to see. For I cannot get rid of
the impression that a very large number of the false interpretations
which have appeared in the newspapers are the work of people who
know better. In Norway however I am willing to believe that the
stultification has in most cases been unintentional; and the reason
is not far to seek. In that country a great many of the critics are
theologians more or less disguised; and these gentlemen are as a
rule quite unable to write rationally about creative literature.
That enfeeblement of judgment which at least in the case of the
average man is an inevitable consequence of prolonged occupation
with theological studies betrays itself more especially in the
judging of human character human actions and human motives.
Practical business judgment on the other hand does not suffer
so much from studies of this order. Therefore the reverend
gentlemen are very often excellent members of local boards;
but they are unquestionably our worst critics." This passage is
interesting as showing clearly the point of view from which
Ibsen conceived the character of Manders. In the next paragraph
of the same letter he discusses the attitude of "the so-called
Liberal press"; but as the paragraph contains the germ of _An
Enemy of the People_ it may most fittingly be quoted in the
introduction to that play.
Three days later (January 6) Ibsen wrote to Schandorph the Danish
novelist: "I was quite prepared for the hubbub. If certain of our
Scandinavian reviewers have no talent for anything else they have
an unquestionable talent for thoroughly misunderstanding and
misinterpreting those authors whose books they undertake to judge. ...
They endeavour to make me responsible for the opinions which
certain of the personages of my drama express. And yet there is not
in the whole book a single opinion a single utterance which can
be laid to the account of the author. I took good care to avoid
this. The very method the order of technique which imposes its
form upon the play forbids the author to appear in the speeches of
his characters. My object was to make the reader feel that he was
going through a piece of real experience; and nothing could more
effectually prevent such an impression than the intrusion of the
author's private opinions into the dialogue. Do they imagine at
home that I am so inexpert in the theory of drama as not to know
this? Of course I know it and act accordingly. In no other play
that I have written is the author so external to the action so
entirely absent from it as in this last one."
"They say" he continued "that the book preaches Nihilism. Not at
all. It is not concerned to preach anything whatsoever. It merely
points to the ferment of Nihilism going on under the surface at
home as elsewhere. A Pastor Manders will always goad one or other
Mrs. Alving to revolt. And just because she is a woman she will
when once she has begun go to the utmost extremes."
Towards the end of January Ibsen wrote from Rome to Olaf Skavlan:
"These last weeks have brought me a wealth of experiences lessons
and discoveries. I of course foresaw that my new play would call
forth a howl from the camp of the stagnationists; and for; this I
care no more than for the barking of a pack of chained dogs. But
the pusillanimity which I have observed among the so-called
Liberals has given me cause for reflection. The very day after my
play was published the _Dagblad_ rushed out a hurriedly-written
article evidently designed to purge itself of all suspicion of
complicity in my work. This was entirely unnecessary. I myself am
responsible for what I write I and no one else. I cannot possibly
embarrass any party for to no party do I belong. I stand like a
solitary franc-tireur at the outposts and fight for my own hand.
The only man in Norway who has stood up freely frankly and
courageously for me is Bjornson. It is just like him. He has in
truth a great kingly soul and I shall never forget his action in
One more quotation completes the history of these stirring January
days as written by Ibsen himself. It occurs in a letter to a
Danish journalist Otto Borchsenius. "It may well be" the poet
writes "that the play is in several respects rather daring. But it
seemed to me that the time had come for moving some boundary-posts.
And this was an undertaking for which a man of the older generation
like myself was better fitted than the many younger authors who
might desire to do something of the kind. I was prepared for a
storm; but such storms one must not shrink from encountering. That
would be cowardice."
It happened that just in these days the present writer had
frequent opportunities of conversing with Ibsen and of hearing
from his own lips almost all the views expressed in the above
extracts. He was especially emphatic I remember in protesting
against the notion that the opinions expressed by Mrs. Alving or
Oswald were to be attributed to himself. He insisted on the
contrary that Mrs. Alving's views were merely typical of the moral
chaos inevitably produced by re-action from the narrow conventionalism
represented by Manders.
With one consent the leading theatres of the three Scandinavian
capitals declined to have anything to do with the play. It was more
than eighteen months old before it found its way to the stage at
all. In August 1883 it was acted for the first time at Helsingborg
Sweden by a travelling company under the direction of an eminent
Swedish actor August Lindberg who himself played Oswald. He took
it on tour round the principal cities of Scandinavia playing it
among the rest at a minor theatre in Christiania. It happened that
the boards of the Christiania Theatre were at the same time
occupied by a French farce; and public demonstrations of protest
were made against the managerial policy which gave _Tete de
Linotte_ the preference over _Gengangere_. Gradually the prejudice
against the play broke down. Already in the autumn of 1883 it was
produced at the Royal (Dramatiska) Theatre in Stockholm. When the
new National Theatre was opened in Christiania in 1899 _Gengangere_
found an early place in its repertory; and even the Royal Theatre
in Copenhagen has since opened its doors to the tragedy.
Not until April 1886 was _Gespenster_ acted in Germany and then
only at a private performance at the Stadttheater Augsburg the
poet himself being present. In the following winter it was acted
at the famous Court Theatre at Meiningen again in the presence of
the poet. The first (private) performance in Berlin took place on
January 9 1887 at the Residenz Theater; and when the Freie Buhne
founded on the model of the Paris Theatre Libre began its
operations two years later (September 29 1889) _Gespenster_ was
the first play that it produced. The Freie Buhne gave the initial
impulse to the whole modern movement which has given Germany a new
dramatic literature; and the leaders of the movement whether
authors or critics were one and all ardent disciples of Ibsen who
regarded _Gespenster_ as his typical masterpiece. In Germany then
the play certainly did in Ibsen's own words "move some boundary-posts."
The Prussian censorship presently withdrew its veto and on
November 27 1894 the two leading literary theatres of Berlin the
Deutsches Theater and the Lessing Theater gave simultaneous
performances of the tragedy. Everywhere in Germany and Austria it
is now freely performed; but it is naturally one of the least
popular of Ibsen's plays.
It was with _Les Revenants_ that Ibsen made his first appearance on
the French stage. The play was produced by the Theatre Libre (at
the Theatre des Menus-Plaisirs) on May 29 1890. Here again it
became the watchword of the new school of authors and critics and
aroused a good deal of opposition among the old school. But the
most hostile French criticisms were moderation itself compared with
the torrents of abuse which were poured upon _Ghosts_ by the
journalists of London when on March 13 1891 the Independent
Theatre under the direction of Mr. J. T. Grein gave a private
performance of the play at the Royalty Theatre Soho. I have
elsewhere [Note: See "The Mausoleum of Ibsen" _Fortnightly
Review_ August 1893. See also Mr. Bernard Shaw's _Quintessence of
Ibsenism_ p. 89 and my introduction to Ghosts in the single-volume
edition.] placed upon record some of the amazing feats of
vituperation achieved of the critics and will not here recall
them. It is sufficient to say that if the play had been a tenth
part as nauseous as the epithets hurled at it and its author the
Censor's veto would have been amply justified. That veto is still
(1906) in force. England enjoys the proud distinction of being the
one country in the world where _Ghosts_ may not be publicly acted.
In the United States the first performance of the play in English
took place at the Berkeley Lyceum New York City on January 5
1894. The production was described by Mr. W. D. Howells as "a great
theatrical event--the very greatest I have ever known." Other
leading men of letters were equally impressed by it. Five years
later a second production took place at the Carnegie Lyceum; and
an adventurous manager has even taken the play on tour in the
United States. The Italian version of the tragedy _Gli Spettri_
has ever since 1892 taken a prominent place in the repertory of the
great actors Zaccone and Novelli who have acted it not only
throughout Italy but in Austria Germany Russia Spain and South
In an interview published immediately after Ibsen's death
Bjornstjerne Bjornson questioned as to what he held to be his
brother-poet's greatest work replied without a moment's
hesitation _Gengangere_. This dictum can scarcely I think be
accepted without some qualification. Even confining our attention
to the modern plays and leaving out of comparison _The Pretenders_
_Brand_ and _Peer Gynt_ we can scarcely call _Ghosts_ Ibsen's
richest or most human play and certainly not his profoundest or
most poetical. If some omnipotent Censorship decreed the
annihilation of all his works save one few people I imagine
would vote that that one should be _Ghosts_. Even if half a dozen
works were to be saved from the wreck I doubt whether I for my
part would include _Ghosts_ in the list. It is in my judgment a
little bare hard austere. It is the first work in which Ibsen
applies his new technical method--evolved as I have suggested
during the composition of _A Doll's House_--and he applies it with
something of fanaticism. He is under the sway of a prosaic ideal--
confessed in the phrase "My object was to make the reader feel
that he was going through a piece of real experience"--and he is
putting some constraint upon the poet within him. The action moves
a little stiffly and all in one rhythm. It lacks variety and
suppleness. Moreover the play affords some slight excuse for the
criticism which persists in regarding Ibsen as a preacher rather
than as a creator--an author who cares more for ideas and doctrines
than for human beings. Though Mrs. Alving Engstrand and Regina are
rounded and breathing characters it cannot be denied that Manders
strikes one as a clerical type rather than an individual while
even Oswald might not quite unfairly be described as simply and
solely his father's son an object-lesson in heredity. We cannot be
said to know him individually and intimately as we know Helmer or
Stockmann Hialmar Ekdal or Gregors Werle. Then again there are
one or two curious flaws in the play. The question whether Oswald's
"case" is one which actually presents itself in the medical books
seems to me of very trifling moment. It is typically true even if
it be not true in detail. The suddenness of the catastrophe may
possibly be exaggerated its premonitions and even its essential
nature may be misdescribed. On the other hand I conceive it
probable that the poet had documents to found upon which may be
unknown to his critics. I have never taken any pains to satisfy
myself upon the point which seems to me quite immaterial. There is
not the slightest doubt that the life-history of a Captain Alving
may and often does entail upon posterity consequences quite as
tragic as those which ensue in Oswald's case and far more
wide-spreading. That being so the artistic justification of the
poet's presentment of the case is certainly not dependent on its
absolute scientific accuracy. The flaws above alluded to are of
another nature. One of them is the prominence given to the fact
that the Asylum is uninsured. No doubt there is some symbolical
purport in the circumstance; but I cannot think that it is either
sufficiently clear or sufficiently important to justify the
emphasis thrown upon it at the end of the second act. Another
dubious point is Oswald's argument in the first act as to the
expensiveness of marriage as compared with free union. Since the
parties to free union as he describes it accept all the
responsibilities of marriage and only pretermit the ceremony the
difference of expense one would suppose must be neither more nor
less than the actual marriage fee. I have never seen this remark of
Oswald's adequately explained either as a matter of economic fact
or as a trait of character. Another blemish of somewhat greater
moment is the inconceivable facility with which in the third act
Manders suffers himself to be victimised by Engstrand. All these
little things taken together detract as it seems to me from the
artistic completeness of the play and impair its claim to rank as
the poet's masterpiece. Even in prose drama his greatest and most
consummate achievements were yet to come.
Must we then wholly dissent from Bjornson's judgment? I think
not. In a historical if not in an aesthetic sense _Ghosts_ may
well rank as Ibsen's greatest work. It was the play which first
gave the full measure of his technical and spiritual originality
and daring. It has done far more than any other of his plays to
"move boundary-posts." It has advanced the frontiers of dramatic
art and implanted new ideals both technical and intellectual in
the minds of a whole generation of playwrights. It ranks with
_Hernani_ and _La Dame aux Camelias_ among the epoch-making plays
of the nineteenth century while in point of essential originality
it towers above them. We cannot I think get nearer to the truth
than Georg Brandes did in the above-quoted phrase from his first
notice of the play describing it as not perhaps the poet's
greatest work but certainly his noblest deed. In another essay
Brandes has pointed to it with equal justice as marking Ibsen's
final breach with his early-one might almost say his hereditary
romanticism. He here becomes at last "the most modern of the
moderns." "This I am convinced" says the Danish critic "is his
imperishable glory and will give lasting life to his works."
MRS. HELEN ALVING widow of Captain Alving late Chamberlain to
the King. [Note: Chamberlain (Kammerherre) is the only title of
honour now existing in Norway. It is a distinction conferred by the
King on men of wealth and position and is not hereditary.]
OSWALD ALVING her son a painter.
JACOB ENGSTRAND a carpenter.
REGINA ENGSTRAND Mrs. Alving's maid.
The action takes place at Mrs. Alving's country house beside one
of the large fjords in Western Norway.
A FAMILY-DRAMA IN THREE ACTS.
[A spacious garden-room with one door to the left and two doors
to the right. In the middle of the room a round table with chairs
about it. On the table lie books periodicals and newspapers. In
the foreground to the left a window and by it a small sofa with a
worktable in front of it. In the background the room is continued
into a somewhat narrower conservatory the walls of which are
formed by large panes of glass. In the right-hand wall of the
conservatory is a door leading down into the garden. Through the
glass wall a gloomy fjord landscape is faintly visible veiled by
[ENGSTRAND the carpenter stands by the garden door. His left leg
is somewhat bent; he has a clump of wood under the sole of his
boot. REGINA with an empty garden syringe in her hand hinders him
REGINA. [In a low voice.] What do you want? Stop where you are.
You're positively dripping.
ENGSTRAND. It's the Lord's own rain my girl.
REGINA. It's the devil's rain _I_ say.
ENGSTRAND. Lord how you talk Regina. [Limps a step or two forward
into the room.] It's just this as I wanted to say--
REGINA. Don't clatter so with that foot of yours I tell you! The
young master's asleep upstairs.
ENGSTRAND. Asleep? In the middle of the day?
REGINA. It's no business of yours.
ENGSTRAND. I was out on the loose last night--
REGINA. I can quite believe that.
ENGSTRAND. Yes we're weak vessels we poor mortals my girl--
REGINA. So it seems.
ENGSTRAND. --and temptations are manifold in this world you see.
But all the same I was hard at work God knows at half-past five
REGINA. Very well; only be off now. I won't stop here and have
_rendezvous's_ [Note: This and other French words by Regina are in
that language in the original] with you.
ENGSTRAND. What do you say you won't have?
REGINA. I won't have any one find you here; so just you go about
ENGSTRAND. [Advances a step or two.] Blest if I go before I've had
a talk with you. This afternoon I shall have finished my work at
the school house and then I shall take to-night's boat and be off
home to the town.
REGINA. [Mutters.] Pleasant journey to you!
ENGSTRAND. Thank you my child. To-morrow the Orphanage is to be
opened and then there'll be fine doings no doubt and plenty of
intoxicating drink going you know. And nobody shall say of Jacob
Engstrand that he can't keep out of temptation's way.
ENGSTRAND. You see there's to be heaps of grand folks here
to-morrow. Pastor Manders is expected from town too.
REGINA. He's coming to-day.
ENGSTRAND. There you see! And I should be cursedly sorry if he
found out anything against me don't you understand?
REGINA. Oho! is that your game?
ENGSTRAND. Is what my game?
REGINA. [Looking hard at him.] What are you going to fool Pastor
Manders into doing this time?
ENGSTRAND. Sh! sh! Are you crazy? Do _I_ want to fool Pastor
Manders? Oh no! Pastor Manders has been far too good a friend to me
for that. But I just wanted to say you know--that I mean to be off
home again to-night.
REGINA. The sooner the better say I.
ENGSTRAND. Yes but I want you with me Regina.
REGINA. [Open-mouthed.] You want me--? What are you talking about?
ENGSTRAND. I want you to come home with me I say.
REGINA. [Scornfully.] Never in this world shall you get me home
ENGSTRAND. Oh we'll see about that.
REGINA. Yes you may be sure we'll see about it! Me that have been
brought up by a lady like Mrs Alving! Me that am treated almost as
a daughter here! Is it me you want to go home with you?--to a house
like yours? For shame!
ENGSTRAND. What the devil do you mean? Do you set yourself up
against your father you hussy?
REGINA. [Mutters without looking at him.] You've sail often enough
I was no concern of yours.
ENGSTRAND. Pooh! Why should you bother about that--
REGINA. Haven't you many a time sworn at me and called me a--? _Fi
ENGSTRAND. Curse me now if ever I used such an ugly word.
REGINA. Oh I remember very well what word you used.
ENGSTRAND. Well but that was only when I was a bit on don't you
know? Temptations are manifold in this world Regina.
ENGSTRAND. And besides it was when your mother was that
aggravating--I had to find something to twit her with my child.
She was always setting up for a fine lady. [Mimics.] "Let me go
Engstrand; let me be. Remember I was three years in Chamberlain
Alving's family at Rosenvold." [Laughs.] Mercy on us! She could
never forget that the Captain was made a Chamberlain while she was
in service here.
REGINA. Poor mother! you very soon tormented her into her grave.
ENGSTRAND. [With a twist of his shoulders.] Oh of course! I'm to
have the blame for everything.
REGINA. [Turns away; half aloud.] Ugh--! And that leg too!
ENGSTRAND. What do you say my child?