Translation: Michael Meyer, 1962
Review number: 34
At the time when Ghosts first appeared, it was considered extremely dangerous and indecent. The themes it contains of inherited illness (siphylis, though this is never directly stated) and hypocrisy were unacceptable to the later nineteenth century audience, even to those who considered themselves liberals and had championed Ibsen's earlier plays.
The story of the play is that of a young man, who returns home from the bohemian life of an artist because he is suffering from a mysterious illness. He has been brought up abroad, and has always believed, as the world in general has believed, that his father was a pillar of the community. He begins to fall in love with his mother's maid.
His mother is extremely alarmed when she realises what is happening. She is the only one who really knows what her dead husband was like, and she knows that he was in fact the father of the serving girl. There are parallels between her past history and the story of Nora in The Dollshouse; she too tried to leave her husband, though he was far more unpleasant than Nora's. She, however, was persuaded to return by the local church minister, with whom she had sought refuge. For the sake of her son, she spent the rest of her life covering up the truth about her husband.
The story very powerfully brings out its themes, but is very much less shocking than it seemed over a hundred years ago. It is still a play which makes one think about what you really inherit from your parents, anticipating Philip Larkin's famous poem by many years.