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.

Notes on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

Rereading Ibsen and made the following notes about A Doll’s House:

It’s a Christmas story, inasmuch as a Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Conan Doyle’s Blue Carbuncle. Setting around the holiday, and with Torvald’s bankrupt pleas to Nora to stay with him out of duty to religion (in Act 3) is a smart move.

Kristine and Krogstad are still my favorite characters in the play. They are, in various and varied degrees, doppelgangers of Torvald and Nora, at various stages in their past, present, and future. We do this often as humans, measure ourselves against others, as Nora and Torvald do with Kristine and Krogstad.

Nora turning on Torvald–after ceremoniously removing her dance costume–is not as sudden as I remembered. Nora in Act 1 is plainly full of shit, disguising her unhappiness at every turn. Don’t know why I saw it differently so long ago.

Torvald is a great fool, incompetent, boobish, perhaps the first man-child in western literature. His outburst anger at Nora in Act 3 is the only time in the play he is genuine and alive. He knows his anger more than anything else.

Nora acknowledging the lonely journey she has planned for herself–informing Torvald she is leaving–is terrific. Her voice is calm and assured yet still confused and questioning.

Kristine and Krogstad are the only honest characters in the play until Nora comes clean; their easy way with their failures and hardships (and the truth) can be said to influence Nora’s talk to Torvald.