Ibsen’s Ghosts

The big dust-up in Act 1 of Ghosts pits pious windbag Pastor Manders against the widow Helene Alving. This is a front-loaded play, with a great back-and-forth, featuring Manders patronizing Helene about her financial holdings and the contemporary books she enjoys, and later his supposed do-gooder role as family adviser to the Alvings–he kept Helene and her late husband together when she wanted to split after one year of bad marriage–and Helene’s ace response to Maders’ entire being.

It’s great fun to watch Manders flail when Helene turns on him, cutting at his stupidity and ignorance of her unhappy union, of all unions, of which a pastor of course knows nothing. Helene’s a super-woman, hard-lived and fearless. She’s smarter than Manders but defers to him out of manners and a dated cultural probity. She is a free spirit, or wants to be, admiring of her reckless son. Manders is pre-Enlightenment hot gas, wise with useless wisdom. Wonder if 19th Century audiences found him as funny as he is.

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