Home > English > Literature Classic Books > Ghosts > Act II
Ghosts
Classic Book   

READ STUDY GUIDE: Act 2, Part 1 of 4 | Act 2, Part 2 of 4 | Act 2, Part 3 of 4 | Act 2, Part 4 of 4

 

Act II

(The same scene. The landscape is still obscured by Mist. MANDERS
and MRS. ALVING come in from the dining-room.)
Mrs. Alving (calls into the dining-room from the doorway). Aren't
you coming in here, Oswald?
Oswald. No, thanks; I think I will go out for a bit.
Mrs. Alving. Yes, do; the weather is clearing a little. (She
shuts the dining-room door, then goes to the hall door and
calls.) Regina!
Regina (from without). Yes, ma'am?
Mrs. Alving. Go down into the laundry and help with the garlands.
Regina. Yes, ma'am.
(MRS. ALVING satisfies herself that she has gone, then shuts the
door.)
Manders. I suppose he can't hear us?
Mrs. Alving. Not when the door is shut. Besides, he is going out.
Manders. I am still quite bewildered. I don't know how I managed
to swallow a mouthful of your excellent dinner.
Mrs. Alving (walking up and down, and trying to control her
agitation). Nor I. But, what are we to do?
Manders. Yes, what are we to do? Upon my word I don't know; I am
so completely unaccustomed to things of this kind.
Mrs. Alving. I am convinced that nothing serious has happened
yet.
Manders. Heaven forbid! But it is most unseemly behaviour, for
all that.
Mrs. Alving. It is nothing more than a foolish jest of Oswald's,
you may be sure.
Manders. Well, of course, as I said, I am quite inexperienced in
such matters; but it certainly seems to me—
Mrs. Alving. Out of the house she shall go—and at once. That
part of it is as clear as daylight—
Manders. Yes, that is quite clear.
Mrs. Alving. But where is she to go? We should not be justified
in—
Manders. Where to? Home to her father, of course.
Mrs. Alving. To whom, did you say?
Manders. To her—. No, of course Engstrand isn't—. But, great
heavens, Mrs. Alving, how is such a thing possible? You surely
may have been mistaken, in spite of everything.
Mrs. Alving. There was no chance of mistake, more's the pity.
Joanna was obliged to confess it to me—and my husband couldn't
deny it. So there was nothing else to do but to hush it up.
Manders. No, that was the only thing to do.
Mrs. Alving. The girl was sent away at once, and was given a
tolerably liberal sum to hold her tongue. She looked after the
rest herself when she got to town. She renewed an old
acquaintance with the carpenter Engstrand; gave him a hint, I
suppose, of how much money she had got, and told him some fairy
tale about a foreigner who had been here in his yacht in the
summer. So she and Engstrand were married in a great hurry. Why,
you married them yourself!
Manders. I can't understand it—, I remember clearly Engstrand's
coming to arrange about the marriage. He was full of contrition,
and accused himself bitterly for the light conduct he and his
fiancee had been guilty of.
Mrs. Alving. Of course he had to take the blame on himself.
Manders. But the deceitfulness of it! And with me, too! I
positively would not have believed it of Jacob Engstrand. I shall
most certainly give him a serious talking to. And the immorality
of such a marriage! Simply for the sake of the money—! What sum
was it that the girl had?
Mrs. Alving. It was seventy pounds.
Manders. Just think of it—for a paltry seventy pounds to let
yourself be bound in marriage to a fallen woman!
Mrs. Alving. What about myself, then?—I let myself be bound in
marriage to a fallen man.
Manders. Heaven forgive you! What are you saying? A fallen man?
Mrs. Alving. Do you suppose my husband was any purer, when I went
with him to the altar, than Joanna was when Engstrand agreed to
marry her?
Manders. The two cases are as different as day from night.
Mrs. Alving. Not so very different, after all. It is true there
was a great difference in the price paid, between a paltry
seventy pounds and a whole fortune.
Manders. How can you compare such totally different things! I
presume you consulted your own heart—and your relations.
Mrs. Alving (looking away from him). I thought you understood
where what you call my heart had strayed to at that time.
Manders (in a constrained voice). If I had understood anything of
the kind, I would not have been a daily guest in your husband's
house.
Mrs. Alving. Well, at any rate this much is certain—I
didn't consult myself in the matter at all.
Manders. Still you consulted those nearest to you, as was only
right—your mother, your two aunts.
Mrs. Alving. Yes, that is true. The three of them settled the
whole matter for me. It seems incredible to me now, how clearly
they made out that it would be sheer folly to reject such an
offer. If my mother could only see what all that fine prospect
has led to!
Manders. No one can be responsible for the result of it. Anyway
there is this to be said, that the match was made in complete
conformity with law and order.
Mrs. Alving (going to the window). Oh, law and order! I often
think it is that that is at the bottom of all the misery in the
world,
Manders. Mrs. Alving, it is very wicked of you to say that.
Mrs. Alving. That may be so; but I don't attach importance to
those obligations and considerations any longer. I cannot! I must
struggle for my freedom.
Manders. What do you mean?
Mrs. Alving (taping on the window panes). I ought never to have
concealed what sort of a life my husband led. But I had not the
courage to do otherwise then—for my own sake, either. I was too
much of a coward.
Manders. A coward?
Mrs. Alving. If others had known anything of what happened, they
would have said: "Poor man, it is natural enough that he should
go astray, when he has a wife that has run away from him."
Manders. They would have had a certain amount of justification
for saying so.
Mrs. Alving (looking fixedly at him). If I had been the woman I
ought, I would have taken Oswald into my confidence and said to
him: "Listen, my son, your father was a dissolute man"—
Manders. Miserable woman.
Mrs. Alving.—and I would have told him all I have told you,
from beginning to end.
Manders. I am almost shocked at you, Mrs. Alving.
Mrs. Alving. I know. I know quite well! I am shocked at myself
when I think of it. (Comes away from the window.) I am coward
enough for that.
Manders. Can you call it cowardice that you simply did your duty?
Have you forgotten that a child should love and honour his father
and mother?
Mrs. Alving. Don't let us talk in such general terms. Suppose we
say: "Ought Oswald to love and honour Mr. Alving?"
Manders. You are a mother—isn't there a voice in your heart that
forbids you to shatter your son's ideals?
Mrs. Alving. And what about the truth?
Manders. What about his ideals?
Mrs: Alving. Oh—ideals, ideals! If only I were not such a coward
as I am!
Manders. Do not spurn ideals, Mrs. Alving—they have a way of
avenging themselves cruelly. Take Oswald's own case, now. He
hasn't many ideals, more's the pity. But this much I have seen,
that his father is something of an ideal to him.
Mrs. Alving. You are right there.
Manders. And his conception of his father is what you inspired
and encouraged by your letters.
Mrs: Alving. Yes, I was swayed by duty and consideration for
others; that was why I lied to my son, year in and year out. Oh,
what a coward—what a coward I have been!
Manders. You have built up a happy illusion in your son's mind,
Mrs. Alving—and that is a thing you certainly ought not to
undervalue.
Mrs. Alving. Ah, who knows if that is such a desirable thing
after all!—But anyway I don't intend to put up with any goings
on with Regina. I am not going to let him get the poor girl into
trouble.
Manders. Good heavens, no—that would be a frightful thing!
Mrs. Alving. If only I knew whether he meant it seriously, and
whether it would mean happiness for him.
Manders. In what way? I don't understand.
Mrs. Alving. But that is impossible; Regina is not equal to it,
unfortunately.
Manders, I don't understand: What do you mean?
Mrs. Alving. If I were not such a miserable coward, I would say
to him: "Marry her, or make any arrangement you like with her—
only let there be no deceit in the matter."
Manders. Heaven forgive you! Are you actually suggesting anything
so abominable, so unheard of, as a marriage between them!
Mrs. Alving. Unheard of, do you call it? Tell me honestly, Mr.
Manders, don't you suppose there are plenty of married couples
out here in the country that are just as nearly related as they
are?
Manders. I am sure I don't understand you.
Mrs. Alving. Indeed you do.
Manders. I suppose you are thinking of cases where possibly—. It
is only too true, unfortunately, that family life is not always
as stainless as it should be. But as for the sort of thing you
hint at—well, it's impossible to tell, at all events, with any
certainty. Here on the other hand—for you, a mother, to be
willing to allow your—
Mrs. Alving. But I am not willing to allow it; I would not allow
it for anything in the world; that is just what I was saying.
Manders. No, because you are a coward, as you put it. But,
supposing you were not a coward—! Great heavens—such a
revolting union!
Mrs. Alving. Well, for the matter of that, we are all descended
from a union of that description, so we are told. And who was it
that was responsible for this state of things, Mr. Manders?
Manders. I can't discuss such questions with you, Mrs. Alving;
you are by no means in the right frame of mind for that. But for
you to dare to say that it is cowardly of you—!
Mrs. Alving. I will tell you what I mean by that. I am frightened
and timid, because I am obsessed by the presence of ghosts that I
never can get rid of,
Manders. The presence of what?
Mrs. Alving. Ghosts. When I heard Regina and Oswald in there, it
was just like seeing ghosts before my eyes. I am half inclined to
think we are all ghosts, Mr. Manders. It is not only what we have
inherited from our fathers anal mothers that exists again in us,
but all sorts of old dead ideas and all kinds of old dead beliefs
and things of that kind. They are not actually alive in us; but
there they are dormant, all the same, and we can never be rid of
them. Whenever I take up a newspaper and read it, I fancy I see
ghosts creeping between the lines. There must be ghosts all over
the world. They must be as countless as the grains of the sands,
it seems to me. And we are so miserably afraid of the light, all
of us.
Manders. Ah!—there we have the outcome of your reading. Fine
fruit it has borne—this abominable, subversive, free-thinking
literature!
Mrs. Alving. You are wrong there, my friend. You are the one who
made me begin to think; and I owe you my best thanks for it.
Menders. I!
Mrs. Alving. Yes, by forcing me to submit to what you called my
duty and my obligations; by praising as right and lust what my
whole soul revolted against, as it would against something
abominable. That was what led me to examine your teachings
critically. I only wanted to unravel one point in them; but as
soon as I had got that unravelled, the whole fabric came to
pieces. And then I realised that it was only machine-made.
Manders (softly, and with emotion). Is that all I accomplished by
the hardest struggle of my life?
Mrs. Alving. Call it rather the most ignominious defeat of your
life.
Manders. It was the greatest victory of my life, Helen; victory
over myself.
Mrs. Alving. It was a wrong done to both of us.
Manders. A wrong?—wrong for me to entreat you as a wife to go
back to your lawful husband, when you came to me half distracted
and crying: "Here I am, take me!" Was that a wrong?
Mrs. Alving. I think it was.
Menders. We two do not understand one another.
Mrs. Alving. Not now, at all events.
Manders. Never—even in my most secret thoughts—have I for a
moment regarded you as anything but the wife of another.
Mrs. Alving. Do you believe what you say?
Manders. Helen—!
Mrs. Alving. One so easily forgets one's own feelings. Manders.
Not I. I am the same as I always was.
Mrs. Alving. Yes, yes—don't let us talk any more about the old
days. You are buried up to your eyes now in committees and all
sorts of business; and I am here, fighting with ghosts both
without and within me.
Manders. I can at all events help you to get the better of those
without you. After all that I have been horrified to hear you
from today, I cannot conscientiously allow a young defenceless
girl to remain in your house.
Mrs. Alving. Don't you think it would be best if we could get her
settled?—by some suitable marriage, I mean.
Manders. Undoubtedly. I think, in any case, it would have been
desirable for her. Regina is at an age now that—well, I don't
know much about these things, but—
Mrs. Alving. Regina developed very early.
Manders. Yes, didn't she. I fancy I remember thinking she was
remarkably well developed, bodily, at the time I prepared her for
Confirmation. But, for the time being, she must in any case go
home. Under her father's care—no, but of course Engstrand is
not. To think that he, of all men, could so conceal the truth
from me! (A knock is heard at the hall door.)
Mrs. Alving. Who can that be? Come in!
(ENGSTRAND, dressed in his Sunday clothes, appears in the
doorway.)
Engstrand. I humbly beg pardon, but—
Manders. Aha! Hm!
Mrs. Alving. Oh, it's you, Engstrand!
Engstrand. There were none of the maids about, so I took the
great liberty of knocking.
Mrs. Alving. That's all right. Come in. Do you want to speak to
me?
Engstrand (coming in). No, thank you very much, ma'am. It was Mr.
Menders I wanted to speak to for a moment.
Manders (walking up and down). Hm!—do you. You want to speak to
me, do you?
Engstrand. Yes, sir, I wanted so very much to—
Manders (stopping in front of him). Well, may I ask what it is
you want?
Engstrand. It's this way, Mr. Manders. We are being paid off now.
And many thanks to you, Mrs. Alving. And now the work is quite
finished, I thought it would be so nice and suitable if all of
us, who have worked so honestly together all this time, were to
finish up with a few prayers this evening.
Manders. Prayers? Up at the Orphanage?
Engstrand. Yes, sir, but if it isn't agreeable to you, then—
Manders. Oh, certainly—but—hm!—
Engstrand. I have made a practice of saying a few prayers there
myself each evening.
Mrs: Alving. Have you?
Engstrand. Yes, ma'am, now—and then—just as a little
edification, so to speak. But I am only a poor common man, and
haven't rightly the gift, alas—and so I thought that as Mr,
Manders happened to be here, perhaps—
Manders. Look here, Engstrand! First of all I must ask you a
question. Are you in a proper frame of mind for such a thing? Is
your conscience free and untroubled?
Engstrand. Heaven have mercy on me a sinner! My conscience isn't
worth our speaking about, Mr. Manders.
Manders. But it is just what we must speak about. What do you say
to my question?
Engstrand. My conscience? Well—it's uneasy sometimes, of course.
Manders. Ah, you admit that at all events. Now will you tell me,
without any concealment—what is your relationship to Regina?
Mrs. Alving (hastily). Mr. Manders!
Manders (calming her).—Leave it to me!
Engstrand. With Regina? Good Lord, how you frightened me! (Looks
at MRS ALVING.) There is nothing wrong with Regina, is there?
Manders. Let us hope not. What I want to know is, what is your
relationship to her? You pass as her father, don't you?
Engstrand (unsteadily): Well—hm!—you know, sir, what happened
between me and my poor Joanna.
Manders. No more distortion of the truth! Your late wife made a
full confession to Mrs. Alving, before she left her service...
Engstrand. What!—do you mean to say—? Did she do that after
all?
Manders. You see it has all come out, Engstrand.
Engstrand. Do you mean to say that she, who gave me her promise
and solemn oath—
Manders. Did she take an oath?
Engstrand. Well, no—she only gave me her word, but as seriously
as a woman could.
Manders. And all these years you have been hiding the truth from
me—from me, who have had such complete and absolute faith in you.
Engstrand. I am sorry to say I have, sir.
Manders. Did I deserve that from you, Engstrand? Haven't I been
always ready to help you in word and deed as far as lay in my
power? Answer me! Is it not so?
Engstrand. Indeed there's many a time I should have been very
badly off without you, sir.
Manders. And this is the way you repay me—by causing me to make
false entries in the church registers, and afterwards keeping
back from me for years the information which you owed it both to
me and to your sense of the truth to divulge. Your conduct has
been absolutely inexcusable, Engstrand, and from today everything
is at an end between us.
Engstrand (with a sigh). Yes, I can see that's what it means.
Manders. Yes, because how can you possibly justify what you did?
Engstrand. Was the poor girl to go and increase her load of shame
by talking about it? Just suppose, sir, for a moment that your
reverence was in the same predicament as my poor Joanna.
Manders. I!
Engstrand. Good Lord, sir, I don't mean the same predicament. I
mean, suppose there were something your reverence was ashamed of
in the eyes of the world, so to speak. We men ought not judge a
poor woman too hardly, Mr. Manders.
Manders. But I am not doing so at all. It is you I am blaming.
Engstrand. Will your reverence grant me leave to ask you a small
question?
Manders. Ask away.
Engstrand. Shouldn't you say it was right for a man to raise up
the fallen?
Manders. Of course it is.
Engstrand. And isn't a man bound to keep his word of honour?
Manders. Certainly he is; but—
Engstrand. At the time when Joanna had her misfortune with this
Englishman—or maybe he was an American or a Russian, as they
call 'em—well, sir, then she came to town. Poor thing, she had
refused me once or twice before; she only had eyes for good-
looking men in those days, and I had this crooked leg then. Your
reverence will remember how I had ventured up into a dancing-
saloon where seafaring men were revelling in drunkenness and
intoxication, as they say. And when I tried to exhort them to
turn from their evil ways—
Mrs. Alving (coughs from the window). Ahem!
Manders. I know, Engstrand, I know—the rough brutes threw you
downstairs. You have told me about that incident before. The
affliction to your leg is a credit to you.
Engstrand. I don't want to claim credit for it, your reverence.
But what I wanted to tell you was that she came then and confided
in me with tears and gnashing of teeth. I can tell you, sir, it
went to my heart to hear her.
Manders. Did it, indeed, Engstrand? Well, what then?
Engstrand. Well, then I said to her: "The American is roaming
about on the high seas, he is. And you, Joanna," I said, "you
have committed a sin and are a fallen woman. But here stands
Jacob Engstrand," I said, "on two strong legs"—of course that
was only speaking in a kind of metaphor, as it were, your
reverence.
Manders. I quite understand. Go on.
Engstrand. Well, sir, that was how I rescued her and made her my
lawful wife, so that no one should know how recklessly she had
carried on with the stranger.
Manders. That was all very kindly done. The only thing I cannot
justify was your bringing yourself to accept the money.
Engstrand. Money? I? Not a farthing.
Manders (to MRS. ALVING, in a questioning tare). But—
Engstrand. Ah, yes!—wait a bit; I remember now. Joanna did have
a trifle of money, you are quite right. But I didn't want to know
anything about that. "Fie," I said, "on the mammon of
unrighteousness, it's the price of your sin; as for this tainted
gold"—or notes, or whatever it was—"we will throw it back in
the American's face," I said. But he had gone away and
disappeared on the stormy seas, your reverence.
Manders. Was that how it was, my good fellow?
Engstrand. It was, sir. So then Joanna and I decided that the
money should go towards the child's bringing-up, and that's what
became of it; and I can give a faithful account of every single
penny of it.
Manders. This alters the complexion of the affair very
considerably.
Engstrand. That's how it was, your reverence. And I make bold to
say that I have been a good father to Regina—as far as was in my
power—for I am a poor erring mortal, alas!
Manders. There, there, my dear Engstrand.
Engstrand. Yes, I do make bold to say that I brought up the
child, and made my poor Joanna a loving and careful husband, as
the Bible says we ought. But it never occurred to me to go to
your reverence and claim credit for it or boast about it because
I had done one good deed in this world. No; when Jacob Engstrand
does a thing like that, he holds his tongue about it.
Unfortunately it doesn't often happen, I know that only too well.
And whenever I do come to see your reverence, I never seem to
have anything but trouble and wickedness to talk about. Because,
as I said just now—and I say it again—conscience can be very
hard on us sometimes.
Manders. Give me your hand, Jacob Engstrand,
Engstrand. Oh, sir, I don't like—
Manders. No nonsense, (Grasps his hand.) That's it!
Engstrand. And may I make bold humbly to beg your reverence's
pardon—
Manders. You? On the contrary it is for me to beg your pardon—
Engstrand. Oh no, sir.
Manders. Yes, certainly it is, and I do it with my whole heart.
Forgive me for having so much misjudged you. And I assure you
that if I can do anything for you to prove my sincere regret and
my goodwill towards you—
Engstrand. Do you mean it, sir?
Manders. It would give me the greatest pleasure.
Engstrand. As a matter of fact, sir, you could do it now. I am
thinking of using the honest money I have put away out of my
wages up here, in establishing a sort of Sailors' Home in the
town.
Mrs. Alving. You?
Engstrand. Yes, to be a sort of Refuge, as it were, There are
such manifold temptations lying in wait for sailor men when they
are roaming about on shore. But my idea is that in this house of
mine they should have a sort of parental care looking after them.
Menders. What do you say to that, Mrs. Alving!
Engstrand. I haven't much to begin such a work with, I know; but
Heaven might prosper it, and if I found any helping hand
stretched out to me, then—
Manders. Quite so; we will talk over the matter further. Your
project attracts me enormously. But in the meantime go back to
the Orphanage and put everything tidy and light the lights, so
that the occasion may seem a little solemn. And then we will
spend a little edifying time together, my dear Engstrand, for now
I am sure you are in a suitable frame of mind.
Engstrand. I believe I am, sir, truly. Goodbye, then, Mrs.
Alving, and thank you for all your kindness; and take good care
of Regina for me. (Wipes a tear from his eye.) Poor Joanna's
child—it is an extraordinary thing, but she seems to have grown
into my life and to hold me by the heartstrings. That's how I
feel about it, truly. (Bows, and goes out.)
Manders. Now then, what do you think of him, Mrs Alving! That was
quite another explanation that he gave us.
Mrs. Alving. It was, indeed.
Manders. There, you see how exceedingly careful we ought to be in
condemning our fellow-men. But at the same time it gives one
genuine pleasure to find that one was mistaken. Don't you think
so?
Mrs. Alving. What I think is that you are, and always will
remain, a big baby, Mr. Manders.
Menders. I?
Mrs. Alving (laying her hands on his shoulders). And I think that
I should like very much to give you a good hug.
Manders (drawing beck hastily). No, no, good gracious! What an
idea!
Mrs. Alving (with a smile). Oh, you needn't be afraid of me.
Manders (standing by the table). You choose such an extravagant
way of expressing yourself sometimes. Now I must get these papers
together and put them in my bag. (Does so.) That's it. And now
goodbye, for the present. Keep your eyes open when Oswald comes
back. I will come back and see you again presently.
(He takes his hat and goes out by the hall door. MRS. ALVING
sighs, glances out of the window, puts one or two things tidy in
the room and turns to go into the dining-room. She stops in the
doorway with a stifled cry.)
Mrs. Alving. Oswald, are you still sitting at table!
Oswald (from the dining-room). I am only finishing my cigar.
Mrs. Alving. I thought you had gone out for a little turn.
Oswald (from within the room). In weather like this? (A glass is
heard clinking. MRS. ALVING leaves the door open and sits down
with her knitting on the couch by the window.) Wasn't that Mr.
Manders that went out just now?
Mrs. Alving. Yes, he has gone over to the Orphanage.
Oswald. Oh. (The clink of a bottle on a glass is heard again.)
Mrs. Alving (with an uneasy expression.) Oswald, dear, you should
be careful with that liqueur. It is strong.
Oswald. It's a good protective against the damp.
Mrs. Alving. Wouldn't you rather come in here?
Oswald. You know you don't like smoking in there.
Mrs. Alving. You may smoke a cigar in here, certainly.
Oswald. All right; I will come in, then. Just one drop more.
There! (Comes in, smoking a cigar, and shuts the door after him.
A short silence.) Where has the parson gone?
Mrs. Alving. I told you he had gone over to the Orphanage.
Oswald. Oh, so you did.
Mrs. Alving. You shouldn't sit so long at table, Oswald,
Oswald (holding his cigar behind his back). But it's so nice and
cosy, mother dear. (Caresses her with one hand.) Think what it
means to me—to have come home; to sit at my mother's own table,
in my mother's own room, and to enjoy the charming meals she
gives me.
Mrs. Alving. My dear, dear boy!
Oswald (a little impatiently, as he walks tip and down smoking.)
And what else is there for me to do here? I have no occupation—
Mrs. Alving. No occupation?
Oswald. Not in this ghastly weather, when there isn't a blink of
sunshine all day long. (Walks up and down the floor.) Not to be
able to work, it's—!
Mrs. Alving. I don't believe you were wise to come home.
Oswald. Yes, mother; I had to.
Mrs. Alving. Because I would ten times rather give up the
happiness of having you with me, sooner than that you should—
Oswald (standing still by the table). Tell me, mother—is it
really such a great happiness for you to have me at home?
Mrs. Alving. Can you ask?
Oswald (crumpling up a newspaper). I should have thought it would
have been pretty much the same to you whether I were here or
away.
Mrs. Alving. Have you the heart to say that to your mother,
Oswald?
Oswald. But you have been quite happy living without me so far.
Mrs. Alving. Yes, I have lived without you—that is true.
(A silence. The dusk falls by degrees. OSWALD walks restlessly up
and down. He has laid aside his cigar.) Oswald (stopping beside
MRS. ALVING). Mother, may I sit on the couch beside you?
Mrs. Alving. Of course, my dear boy.
Oswald (sitting down). Now I must tell you something mother.
Mrs. Alving (anxiously). What?
Oswald (staring in front of him). I can't bear it any longer.
Mrs. Alving. Bear what? What do you mean?
Oswald (as before). I couldn't bring myself to write to you about
it; and since I have been at home—
Mrs. Alving (catching him by the arm). Oswald, what is it?
Oswald. Both yesterday and today I have tried to push my
thoughts away from me—to free myself from them. But I can't.
Mrs. Alving (getting up). You must speak plainly, Oswald!
Oswald (drawing her down to her seat again). Sit still, and I
will try and tell you. I have made a great deal of the fatigue I
felt after my journey—
Mrs. Alving. Well, what of that?
Oswald. But that isn't what is the matter. It is no ordinary
fatigue—
Mrs. Alving (trying to get up). You are not ill, Oswald!
Oswald (pulling her down again). Sit still, mother. Do take it
quietly. I am not exactly ill—not ill in the usual sense. (Takes
his head in his hands.) Mother, it's my mind that has broken
down—gone to pieces—I shall never be able to work anymore!
(Buries his face in his hands and throws himself at her knees in
an outburst of sobs.)
Mrs. Alving (pale and trembling). Oswald! Look at me! No, no, it
isn't true!
Oswald (looking up with a distracted expression). Never to be
able to work anymore! Never—never! A living death! Mother, can
you imagine anything so horrible!
Mrs. Alving. My poor unhappy boy? How has this terrible thing
happened?
Oswald (sitting up again). That is just what I cannot possibly
understand. I have never lived recklessly, in any sense. You must
believe that of me, mother, I have never done that.
Mrs. Alving. I haven't a doubt of it, Oswald.
Oswald. And yet this comes upon me all the same; this terrible
disaster!
Mrs. Alving. Oh, but it will all come right again, my dear
precious boy. It is nothing but overwork. Believe me, that is so.
Oswald (dully). I thought so too, at first; but it isn't so.
Mrs. Alving. Tell me all about it.
Oswald. Yes, I will.
Mrs. Alving. When did you first feel anything?
Oswald. It was just after I had been home last time and had got
back to Paris. I began to feel the most violent pains in my head-
-mostly at the back, I think. It was as if a tight band of iron
was pressing on me from my neck upwards.
Mrs. Alving. And then?
Oswald. At first I thought it was nothing but the headaches I
always used to be so much troubled with while I was growing.
Mrs. Alving. Yes, yes.
Oswald. But it wasn't; I soon saw that. I couldn't work any
longer. I would try and start some big new picture; but it seemed
as if all my faculties had forsaken me, as if all my strengths
were paralysed. I couldn't manage to collect my thoughts; my head
seemed to swim—everything went round and round. It was a
horrible feeling! At last I sent for a doctor—and from him I
learned the truth.
Mrs. Alving. In what way, do you mean?
Oswald. He was one of the best doctors there. He made me describe
what I felt, and then he began to ask me a whole heap of
questions which seemed to me to have nothing to do with the
matter. I couldn't see what he was driving at—
Mrs. Alving. Well?
Oswald. At last he said: "You have had the canker of disease in
you practically from your birth"—the actual word he used was "vermoulu"...
Mrs. Alving (anxiously). What did he mean by that? Oswald. I
couldn't understand, either—and I asked him for a clearer
explanation, And then the old cynic said—(clenching his fist).
Oh!
Mrs. Alving. What did he say?
Oswald. He said: "The sins of the fathers are visited on the
children."
Mrs. Alving (getting up slowly). The sins of the fathers—!
Oswald. I nearly struck him in the face.
Mrs. Alving (walking across the room). The sins of the fathers—!
Oswald (smiling sadly). Yes, just imagine! Naturally I assured
him that what he thought was impossible. But do you think he paid
any heed to me? No, he persisted in his opinion; and it was only
when I got out your letters and translated to him all the
passages that referred to my father—
Mrs. Alving. Well, and then?
Oswald. Well, then of course he had to admit that he was on the
wrong track; and then I learned the truth—the incomprehensible
truth! I ought to have had nothing to do with the joyous happy
life I had lived with my comrades. It had been too much for my
strength. So it was my own fault!
Mrs. Alving. No, no, Oswald! Don't believe that—
Oswald. There was no other explanation of it possible, he said.
That is the most horrible part of it. My whole life incurably
ruined—just because of my own imprudence. All that I wanted to do
in the world-=not to dare to think of it any more—not to be able
to think of it! Oh! if only I could live my life over again—if
only I could undo what I have done! (Throws himself on his face
on the couch. MRS. ALVING wrings her hands, and walks up and down
silently fighting with herself.)
Oswald (looks up after a while, raising himself on his elbows).
If only it had been something I had inherited—something I could
not help. But, instead of that, to have disgracefully, stupidly,
thoughtlessly thrown away one's happiness, one's health,
everything in the world—one's future, one's life!
Mrs. Alving. No, no, my darling boy; that is impossible! (Bending
over him.) Things are not so desperate as you think.
Oswald. Ah, you don't know—(Springs up.) And to think, mother,
that I should bring all this sorrow upon you! Many a time I have
almost wished and hoped that you really did not care so very much
for me.
Mrs. Alving. I, Oswald? My only son! All that I have in the
world! The only thing I care about!
Oswald (taking hold of her hands and kissing them). Yes, yes, I
know that is so. When I am at home I know that is true. And that
is one of the hardest parts of it to me. But now you know all
about it; and now we won't talk anymore about it today. I can't
stand thinking about it long at a time. (Walks across the room.)
Let me have something to drink, mother!
Mrs. Alving. To drink? What do you want?
Oswald. Oh, anything you like. I suppose you have got some punch
in the house.
Mrs. Alving. Yes, but my dear Oswald—!
Oswald. Don't tell me I mustn't, mother. Do be nice! I must have
something to drown these gnawing thoughts. (Goes into the
conservatory.) And how—how gloomy it is here! (MRS. ALVING rings
the bell.) And this incessant rain. It may go on week after week-
-a whole month. Never a ray of sunshine. I don't remember ever
having seen the sunshine once when I have been at home.
Mrs. Alving. Oswald—you are thinking of going away from me!
Oswald. Hm!—(sighs deeply). I am not thinking about anything. I
can't think about anything! (In a low voice.) I have to let that
alone.
Regina (coming from the dining-room). Did you ring, ma'am?
Mrs. Alving. Yes, let us have the lamp in.
Regina. In a moment, ma'am; it is all ready lit. (Goes out.)
Mrs. Alving (going up to OSWALD). Oswald, don't keep anything
back from me.
Oswald. I don't, mother. (Goes to the table.) It seems to me I
have told you a good lot.
(REGINA brings the lamp and puts it upon the table.)
Mrs. Alving. Regina, you might bring us a small bottle of
champagne.
Regina. Yes, ma'am. (Goes out.)
Oswald (taking hold of his mother's face). That's right; I knew
my mother wouldn't let her son go thirsty.
Mrs, Alving. My poor dear boy, how could I refuse you anything
now?
Oswald (eagerly). Is that true, mother? Do you mean it?
Mrs. Alving. Mean what?
Oswald. That you couldn't deny me anything?
Mrs. Alving. My dear Oswald—
Oswald. Hush!
(REGINA brings in a tray with a small bottle of champagne and two
glasses, which she puts on the table.)
Regina. Shall I open the bottle?
Oswald. No, thank you, I will do it. (REGINA goes out.)
Mrs, Alving (sitting clown at the table). What did you mean, when
you asked if I could refuse you nothing?
Oswald (busy opening the bottle). Let us have a glass first—or
two.
(He draws the cork, fills one glass and is going to fill the
other.)
Mrs. Alving (holding her hand over the second glass) No, thanks—
not for me.
Oswald. Oh, well, for me then! (He empties his glass, fills it
again and empties it; then sits down at the table.)
Mrs. Alving (expectantly). Now, tell me.
Oswald (without looking at her). Tell me this; I thought you and
Mr. Manders seemed so strange—so quiet—at dinner.
Mrs. Alving. Did you notice that?
Oswald. Yes. Ahem! (After a short pause.) Tell me—what do you
think of Regina?
Mrs. Alving. What do I think of her?
Oswald. Yes, isn't she splendid!
Mrs. Alving. Dear Oswald, you don't know her as well as I do—
Oswald. What of that?
Mrs. Alving. Regina was too long at home, unfortunately. I ought
to have taken her under my charge sooner.
Oswald. Yes, but isn't she splendid to look at, mother? (Fills
his glass,)
Mrs. Alving. Regina has many serious faults—
Oswald. Yes, but what of that? (Drinks.)
Mrs. Alving. But I am fond of her, all the same; and I have made
myself responsible for her. I wouldn't for the world she should
come to any harm.
Oswald (jumping up). Mother, Regina is my only hope of salvation!
Mrs. Alving (getting up). What do you mean?
Oswald. I can't go on bearing all this agony of mind alone.
Mrs. Alving, Haven't you your mother to help you to bear it?
Oswald. Yes, I thought so; that was why I came home to you. But
it is no use; I see that it isn't. I cannot spend my life here.
Mrs. Alving. Oswald!
Oswald. I must live a different sort of life, mother; so I shall
have to go away from you, I don't want you watching it.
Mrs. Alving. My unhappy boy! But, Oswald, as long as you are ill
like this—
Oswald. If it was only a matter of feeling ill, I would stay with
you, mother. You are the best friend I have in the world.
Mrs. Alving. Yes, I am that, Oswald, am I not?
Oswald (walking restlessly about). But all this torment—the
regret, the remorse—and the deadly fear. Oh—this horrible fear!
Mrs. Alving (following him). Fear? Fear of what? What do you
mean?
Oswald. Oh, don't ask me any more about it. I don't know what it
is. I can't put it into words. (MRS. ALVING crosses the room and
rings the bell.) What do you want?
Mrs. Alving. I want my boy to be happy, that's what I want. He
mustn't brood over anything. (To REGINA, who has come to the
door.) More champagne—a large bottle.
Oswald. Mother!
Mrs. Alving. Do you think we country people don't know how to
live?
Oswald. Isn't she splendid to look at? What a figure! And the
picture of health!
Mrs. Alving (sitting down at the table). Sit down, Oswald, and
let us have a quiet talk.
Oswald (sitting down). You don't know, mother, that I owe Regina
a little reparation.
Mrs. Alving. You!
Oswald. Oh, it was only a little thoughtlessness—call it what
you like. Something quite innocent, anyway. The last time I was
home—
Mrs. Alving. Yes?
Oswald.—she used often to ask me questions about Paris, and I
told her one thing and another about the life there. And I
remember saying one day: "Wouldn't you like to go there yourself?"
Mrs. Alving. Well?
Oswald. I saw her blush, and she said: "Yes, I should like to
very much." "All right." I said, "I daresay it might be managed"-
-or something of that sort.
Mrs. Alving. And then?
Oswald. I naturally had forgotten all about it; but the day
before yesterday I happened to ask her if she was glad I was to
be so long at home—
Mrs. Alving. Well?
Oswald.—and she looked so queerly at me, and asked: "But what
is to become of my trip to Paris? "
Mrs. Alving. Her trip!
Oswald. And then I got it out of her that she had taken the thing
seriously, and had been thinking about me all the time, and had
set herself to learn French—
Mrs. Alving. So that was why—
Oswald. Mother—when I saw this fine, splendid, handsome girl
standing there in front of me—I had never paid any attention to
her before then—but now, when she stood there as if with open
arms ready for me to take her to myself—
Mrs. Alving. Oswald!
Oswald.—then I realised that my salvation lay in her, for I saw
the joy of life in her!
Mrs. Alving (starting back). The joy of life—? Is there
salvation in that?
Regina (coming in from the dining-room with a bottle of
champagne). Excuse me for being so long; but I had to go to the
cellar. (Puts the bottle down on the table.)
Oswald. Bring another glass, too.
Regina (looking at him in astonishment). The mistress's glass is
there, sir.
Oswald. Yes, but fetch one for yourself, Regina (REGINA starts,
and gives a quick shy glance at MRS. ALVING.) Well?
Regina (in a low and hesitating voice). Do you wish me to, ma'am?
Mrs. Alving. Fetch the glass, Regina. (REGINA goes into the
dining-room.)
Oswald (looking after her). Have you noticed how well she walks?-
-so firmly and confidently!
Mrs. Alving. It cannot be, Oswald.
Oswald. It is settled. You must see that. It is no use forbidding
it. (REGINA comes in with a gloss, which she holds in her hand.)
Sit down, Regina. (REGINA looks questioningly at MRS. ALVING.)
Mrs. Alving. Sit down. (REGINA sits down on a chair near the
dining-room door, still holding the glass in her hand.) Oswald,
what was it you were saying about the joy of life?
Oswald. Ah, mother—the joy of life! You don't know very much
about that at home here. I shall never realise it here.
Mrs. Alving. Not even when you are with me?
Oswald. Never at home. But you can't understand that.
Mrs. Alving. Yes, indeed I almost think I do understand you now.
Oswald. That—and the joy of work. They are really the same thing
at bottom. Put you don't know anything about that either.
Mrs. Alving. Perhaps you are right. Tell me some more about it,
Oswald.
Oswald. Well, all I mean is that here people are brought up to
believe that work is a curse and a punishment for sin, and that
life is a state of wretchedness and that the sooner we can get
out of it the better.
Mrs. Alving. A vale of tears, yes. And we quite conscientiously
make it so.
Oswald. But the people over there will have none of that. There
is no one there who really believes doctrines of that kind any
longer. Over there the mere fact of being alive is thought to be
a matter for exultant happiness. Mother, have you noticed that
everything I have painted has turned upon the joy of life?—
always upon the joy of life, unfailingly. There is light there,
and sunshine, and a holiday feeling—and people's faces beaming
with happiness. That is why I am afraid to stay at home here with
you.
Mrs. Alving. Afraid? What are you afraid of here, with me?
Oswald. I am afraid that all these feelings that are so strong in
me would degenerate into something ugly here.
Mrs. Alving (looking steadily at him). Do you think that is what
would happen?
Oswald. I am certain it would. Even if one lived the same life at
home here, as over there—it would never really be the same life.
Mrs. Alving (who has listened anxiously to him, gets up with a
thoughtful expression and says:) Now I see clearly how it all
happened.
Oswald. What do you see?
Mrs. Alving. I see it now for the first time. And now I can
speak.
Oswald (getting up). Mother, I don't understand you.
Regina (who has got up also). Perhaps I had better go.
Mrs. Alving. No, stay here. Now I can speak. Now, my son, you
shall know the whole truth. Oswald! Regina!
Oswald. Hush!—here is the parson.
(MANDERS comes in by the hall door.)
Manders. Well, my friends, we have been spending an edifying time
over there.
Oswald. So have we.
Manders. Engstrand must have help with his Sailors Home. Regina
must go home with him and give him her assistance.
Regina. No, thank you, Mr. Manders.
Manders (perceiving her for the first time). What—?You in here?—
and with a wineglass in your hand!
Regina (putting down the glass hastily). I beg your pardon—!
Oswald. Regina is going away with me, Mr. Manders.
Manders. Going away! With you!
Oswald. Yes, as my wife—if she insists on that.
Manders. But, good heavens—!
Regina. It is not my fault, Mr. Manders.
Oswald. Or else she stays here if I stay.
Regina (involuntarily). Here!
Manders. I am amazed at you, Mrs. Alving.
Mrs. Alving. Neither of those things will happen, for now I can
speak openly.
Manders. But you won't do that! No, no, no!
Mrs. Alving. Yes, I can and I will. And without destroying anyone's ideals.
Oswald. Mother, what is it that is being concealed from me?
Regina (listening). Mrs. Alving! Listen! They are shouting
outside.
(Goes into the conservatory and looks out.)
Oswald (going to the window on the left). What can be the matter?
Where does that glare come from?
Regina (calls out). The Orphanage is on fire!
Mrs. Alving (going to the window). On fire?
Manders. On fire? Impossible. I was there just a moment ago.
Oswald. Where is my hat? Oh, never mind that. Father's Orphanage—!
(Runs out through the garden door.)
Mrs. Alving. My shawl, Regina! The whole place is in flames.
Manders. How terrible! Mrs. Alving, that fire is a judgment on
this house of sin!
Mrs. Alving. Quite so. Come, Regina.
(She and REGINA hurry out.)
Manders (clasping his hands). And no insurance! (Follows them
out.)
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error
Classic Book Go to top
  
Study Guides
Ghosts
SparkCollege
College Admissions
Financial Aid
College Life