04 August 2011

Book Review: Ghosts

Title: Ghosts
Author: Henrik Ibsen
Publisher/Year: 1881 / 2008 / Methuen Drama
Date Finished: 4 August 2011
Source/Format: School / Print

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

The Short and Sweet of It
Ghosts takes place over one night at a mansion in Norway. The majority of the story is unveiled in a conversation between the protagonist, Mrs. Alving, and a pastor from a nearby town, Manders. The two are building an orphanage to honor the late Captain Alving, a man Manders believed to have been an honorable man, but who in fact was a scoundrel and a drunk. Alving's actions in the past are influencing the present through his son, Oswald.

A Bit of a Ramble

The metaphor of ghosts is entirely appropriate as the remnants of the past have a dire effect on the present situation. The truth of the past and the lies told about it are a constant presence in Mrs. Alving's life, and she is overcome by these ghosts daily...as we are all influenced and haunted by our past and our ancestors...except maybe a bit more extreme due to the nature of the Captain's errr...illnesses, both social and physical.

I chose this play for my Introduction to Literature class for two reasons: one, I had never read it and that is almost a necessity for me in teaching (I really like something new); and two, the critical reaction to the play was one of horror. The play was described as "one of the filthiest things ever written in Scandinavia", "an open drain: a loathsome sore unbandaged", and "unutterably offensive". I just had to find out why. Turns out, there isn't anything a modern reader would find obscene, maybe a bit dirty, but not exactly obscene. And that is perfect for teaching the historical perspective and ideology, so I'm excited.

Thematically, the play stretched the minds of its contemporary audience, promoting joie de vivre and independent thinking while criticizing traditional morays and values, specifically in regards to feminine "duty". I can't wait to see what my students make of it.

This is my first real review since June 7, and I must say I have missed the blogosphere something fierce. It was nice to read a book that actually made me want to sit down and write, to discuss, to share. I've read other books this summer, all re-reads, but this is the first that had me jonesing for the blog. I am in the middle of two others: The White Album by Joan Didion and Black American Short Stories.  I'll definitely be writing something up on those when I'm finished!

In other words, I feel the return to blogging coming along!

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

things mean a lot; Theatre Database; Read it at Project Gutenberg

Question: How much do you think "the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons"?


  1. I'll be happy to see you around. :)

  2. Yay! You are back! Also, now I simply must know why this story is thought of as such a cesspit! I an fascinated and intrigued, and I am going to have to look for this one. Great post today, and I must say that this cover is indeed very creepy!

  3. I know what you mean about missing the blogosphere! I just want to say about that book that the cover is creepy!

  4. Welcome back!

    And...ack! Creepy cover!

  5. I'm glad you are feeling a return to blogging coming on! A good read can do that for you.

  6. I'm not sure how this play would 'read' but C.J. and I saw a production a few years ago that left us devastated. We've seldom been so moved by anything we've seen in the theatre. Which goes to show how much life great actors and productions can breath into a playwrights words.

    You know this play was Ibsen's answer to the critics of A Doll's House, of course.

  7. Oh that Ibsen, always causing trouble. Did you find Ghosts to be anywhere near as creepy as the cover?

  8. Amanda - I am happy to be around!

    Heather - It is one seriously creepy cover isn't it?

    Jenny - I had to search to get that cover; I just couldn't go with one of the more popular covers. :)

    Jill - It really freaks me out.

    Jenners - Yeah, I needed a kick in the pants to get things moving again.

    James - I would love to see this live! I can totally see how it would be devastating if done right.

    Cass - Such a silly little trouble maker, right? I don't know if I find anything as creepy as that cover... But the story was definitely creepy.

  9. whoa, what a cover.

    I have read this in combination with A DOLL'S HOUSE. I like it very much -- especially with the other. They just seem such a good combination, two ways of reacting to a situation. (Have you read A Doll's House?) I find this particular one fascinating look at ghosts of the past.


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