Study Guide

Ghosts Sex

By Henrik Ibsen

Sex

ENGSTRAND. You wouldn't stop long with me, my girl. No such luck! If you knew how to play your cards, such a fine figure of a girl as you've grown in the last year or two – (1.82)

Engstrand has some "fatherly" advice for Regina: your beauty is not to be squandered. He encourages her to think strategically about using her gifts. But Engstrand doesn't have to tell Regina. She's already on it.

ENGSTRAND. Then never mind about marrying them. You can make it pay all the same. [More confidentially.] He – the Englishman – the man with the yacht – he came down with three hundred dollars, he did; and she wasn't a bit handsomer than you. (1.88)

We can't decide whether Engstrand says this to irritate Regina or to motivate her (he would really love for her to work at his brothel, after all). It's probably both.

REGINA. [Arranging an arm-chair beside the table.] Now, do sit down, Pastor Manders, and make yourself comfortable. [He sits down; she places a footstool under his feet.] There! Are you comfortable now, sir?
MANDERS. Thanks, thanks, extremely so. [Looks at her.] Do you know, Miss Engstrand, I positively believe you have grown since I last saw you. (1.112-113)

She leans over and then he says she's grown? Pastor Manders recognizes Regina's sexual attractiveness. She notices that he notices, and believes it may be a card she can play.

MANDERS. [Quickly.] I left it down at the inn. I shall sleep there to-night.
MRS. ALVING. [Suppressing a smile.] Are you really not to be persuaded, even now, to pass the night under my roof? (1.147-148)

Manders guards against temptation – or probably more accurately, the gossip of the neighbors. In the first minutes of their reunion, Mrs. Alving recognizes with amusement the old, familiar foibles of her good friend.

MANDERS. Just think of it – for a miserable three hundred dollars, to go and marry a fallen woman!
MRS. ALVING. Then what have you to say of me? I went and married a fallen man.
MANDERS. Why – good heavens! – what are you talking about! A fallen man! (2.29-31)

Mrs. Alving isn't too proud to equate herself with Engstrand. She sees the transactions as identical, only with different price tags. Pastor Manders can't get beyond gender and class to understand her point.

MANDERS. What are they to do? Let me tell you, Mr. Alving, what they ought to do. They ought to exercise self-restraint from the first; that is what they ought to do.
OSWALD. That doctrine will scarcely go down with warm-blooded young people who love each other.
MRS. ALVING. No, scarcely! (1.329-331)

Pastor Manders preaches abstinence. Oswald and Mrs. Alving acknowledge the reality of sex. In society today, this conflict is still alive and kicking.

MANDERS. Just on that account. Yes, you may thank God that I possessed the necessary firmness; that I succeeded in dissuading you from your wild designs; and that it was vouchsafed me to lead you back to the path of duty, and home to your lawful husband. (1.364)

Manders acknowledges his attraction to Mrs. Alving, only to laud himself for resisting temptation. This is one of a few places in which he describes Mrs. Alving as wild, erratic, unpredictable. It seems like he might be afraid of women in general.

MANDERS. [Softly, with emotion.] And was that the upshot of my life's hardest battle? (2.90)

Manders admits that resisting Mrs. Alving was a battle. There are not many moments in the play when Manders shows the soft side that a young Mrs. Alving may have fallen in love with, but this is one of them.

MANDERS. Never – never in my most secret thoughts have I regarded you otherwise than as another's wife.
MRS. ALVING. Oh – indeed?
MANDERS. Helen – ! (2.98-100)

Why is Manders so unwilling to admit his feelings for Mrs. Alving, feelings almost twenty years old at this point? Perhaps they still exist and he fears that something could ignite between them. Whatever the case, he tellingly says her first name in this moment.

OSWALD. Isn't she splendid to look at? How beautifully she's built! And so thoroughly healthy! (2.342)

Oswald is sexually attracted to Regina. Mrs. Alving gets that. What she doesn't understand is that Oswald is also checking for signs that Regina can do what he needs her to do, namely euthanize him.