Ghosts

Mrs. Helene Alving Character Analysis

Mrs. Alving is a wealthy widow whose husband, Captain Alving, died 10 years ago. A proper but surprisingly free-thinking woman, Mrs. Alving has decided to build an orphanage in her husband’s name. The day before it is set to open, Pastor Manders pays Mrs. Alving a visit to discuss the institution’s finances. Despite Mrs. Alving’s apparently romantic interest in him, Manders criticizes Mrs. Alving for briefly leaving her husband when they were first married. He also suggests that Mrs. Alving is a bad mother because she sent her son, Oswald, away from home at such a young age. However, Mrs. Alving reveals that Captain Alving was a wretched man who led an immoral life. Manders knows this was the case when Captain Alving was young, but Mrs. Alving says that her husband never actually reformed himself. Nevertheless, Mrs. Alving devoted herself to him and helped him create a sterling reputation. One day, though, she discovered that Captain Alving had gotten their maid, Johanna, pregnant. This, she tells Manders, was the final straw, and she sent Oswald to live abroad so that his father wouldn’t be a bad influence on him. Unfortunately, though, soon after this conversation she discovers that Captain Alving did influence Oswald, since Oswald inherited syphilis from him. Trying to convince her son that he should stay home with her, Mrs. Alving promises to care for him, but he says that Regine (the Alvings’ current maid, for whom he has romantic feelings) will be the one to help him. Hearing this, Mrs. Alving tells both him and Regine that they are half-siblings, since Captain Alving impregnated Johanna, Regine’s mother. This information drives Regine away from the Alving household, at which point Oswald asks his mother to euthanize him if his condition overtakes him. And though she hesitantly agrees, she doesn’t think this will ever actually happen. Shortly after this conversation, though, she has to decide whether or not she’s going to honor her word, since Oswald suddenly goes catatonic. Unable to make a decision, she stands in a fit of terror before her motionless son, clutching the vile of morphine pills he gave her for the purpose of euthanizing him.

Mrs. Helene Alving Quotes in Ghosts

The Ghosts quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Helene Alving or refer to Mrs. Helene Alving. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of Ghosts published in 2008.
Act One Quotes

REGINE [after a short silence]. And what did you want with me in town?

ENGSTRAND. How can you ask what a father wants with his only child? I’m a lonely, deserted widower, aren’t I?

REGINE. Oh, don’t come that fiddle-faddle with me. What do you want me there for?

ENGSTRAND. Well, the thing is I’ve been thinking of going in for something new.

REGINE [sneers]. How many times haven’t I heard that one before! But you always made a mess of it.

Related Characters: Jacob Engstrand (speaker), Regine (speaker), Mrs. Helene Alving
Related Symbols: Engstrand’s Hotel
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
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There has to be some women about the place, that’s clear. Because we’d want a bit of fun in the evenings, singing and dancing and that sort of thing. These are seafaring men, you’ve got to remember, roaming the high seas. [Comes closer.] Now don’t be such a fool as to stand in your own way, Regine. What can you do with yourself out here? Is it going to be any use to you, all this education the lady’s lavished on you? You’ll be looking after the children in the new Orphanage, they tell me. What sort of thing is that for a girl like you, eh? Are you all that keen on working yourself to death for the sake of a lot of dirty little brats?

Related Characters: Jacob Engstrand (speaker), Mrs. Helene Alving, Regine
Related Symbols: Engstrand’s Hotel
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
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MRS. ALVING. Well, I find it seems to explain and confirm a lot of the things I had been thinking myself. That’s the strange thing. Pastor Manders…there’s really nothing new in these books; there’s nothing there but what most people think and believe already. It’s just that most people either haven’t really considered these things, or won’t admit them.

MANDERS. Good God! Do you seriously believe that most people . . . ?

MRS. ALVING. Yes, I do.

[…]

MRS. ALVING. Anyway, what is it in fact you’ve got against these books?

MANDERS. Got against them? You don’t think I waste my time examining publications of that kind, surely?

MRS. ALVING. Which means you know absolutely nothing about what you are condemning?

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders (speaker)
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
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MANDERS. […] It would be so terribly easy to interpret things as meaning that neither you nor I had a proper faith in Divine Providence.

MRS. ALVING. But as far as you are concerned, my dear Pastor, you know perfectly well yourself. . . .

MANDERS. Yes, I know, I know . . . my conscience is clear, that’s true enough. But all the same, we might not be able to stop people from seriously misrepresenting us. And that in turn might well have an inhibiting effect on the activities of the Orphanage.

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders (speaker)
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
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OSWALD. […] never have I heard one word that could give offence, let alone seen anything that could be called immoral. No, do you know where and when I have encountered immorality in artistic circles?

MANDERS. No, thank God!

OSWALD. Well then, permit me to tell you. When some of our model husbands and fathers took themselves a trip to Paris to have a look round on the loose…and condescended to drop in on the artists in their modest haunts, that’s when I’ve met it. Then we got to know what was what. These gentlemen were able to tell us about places and things we’d never dreamt of.

Related Characters: Oswald Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders (speaker), Mrs. Helene Alving
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
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I know quite well the rumours that were going about. And I would be the last person to condone his conduct as a young man, assuming these rumours told the truth. But it is not a wife’s place to sit in judgement on her husband. Your duty should have been to bear with humility that cross which a higher power had judged proper for you. But instead you have the effrontery to cast away the cross, you abandon the man whose stumbling steps you should have guided, you go and risk your own good name, and . . . very nearly jeopardize other people’s reputations into the bargain.

Related Characters: Pastor Manders (speaker), Mrs. Helene Alving, Captain Alving
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
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That was the endless battle I fought, day after day. When we had Oswald, I rather thought Alving improved a little. But it didn’t last long. And then I had to battle twice as hard, fight tooth and nail to prevent anybody from knowing what sort of person my child’s father was. And you know, of course, how charming Alving could be. Nobody could believe anything but good of him. He was one of those people whose reputation is proof against anything they may do.

Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:
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MRS. ALVING. Shortly afterwards I heard my husband come in, too. I heard him say something to her in a low voice. And then I heard. . . . [With a short laugh.] Oh, I can still hear it, so devastating and yet at the time so ludicrous…I heard my own maid whisper: ‘Let me go, Mr. Alving! Leave me alone!’

MANDERS. How unseemly! How indiscreet of him!

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders (speaker), Regine, Captain Alving, Johanna
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
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That was the time Oswald was sent away. He was getting on for seven, and beginning to notice things and ask questions, as children do. That was something I couldn’t bear. I felt the child would somehow be poisoned simply by breathing the foul air of this polluted house. That was why I sent him away. And now you understand why he was never allowed to set foot in this place as long as his father was alive. Nobody knows what that cost me.

Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act Two Quotes

MANDERS. Nobody can be held responsible for the way things have turned out. But nevertheless one thing is clear: your marriage was arranged in strict accord with law and order.

MRS. ALVING. Oh, all this law and order! I often think that’s the cause of all the trouble in the world.

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders (speaker), Captain Alving
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ghosts. When I heard Regine and Oswald in there, it was just like seeing ghosts. But then I’m inclined to think that we are all ghosts, Pastor Manders, every one of us. It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them. I’ve only to pick up a newspaper and I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. Over the whole country there must be ghosts, as numerous as the sands of the sea.

Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:
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OSWALD. At last he said: there’s been something worm-eaten about you since birth. He used that very word: ‘vermoulu’.

MRS. ALVING [tense]. What did he mean by that?

OSWALD. I couldn’t understand it either, and I asked him for a more detailed explanation. And then he said, the old cynic…[Clenches his fist.] Oh…!

MRS. ALVING. What did he say?

OSWALD. He said: the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Oswald Alving (speaker), Captain Alving
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:
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OSWALD [smiling sadly]. Yes, what do you think? Of course, I assured him that was quite out of the question. But do you think he would give way? No, he wouldn’t budge. And it wasn’t until I’d produced your letters and translated for him all those bits about Father. . . .

MRS. ALVING. What then. . . ?

OSWALD. Well, then he naturally had to admit that he’d been on the wrong track. Then I learnt the truth. The incredible truth! This blissfully happy life I’d been living with my friends, I should never have indulged in it. It had been too much for my strength. So it was my own fault, you see!

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Oswald Alving (speaker), Captain Alving
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act Three Quotes

MRS. ALVING. Your father could never find any outlet for this tremendous exuberance of his. And I didn’t exactly bring very much gaiety into his home, either.

OSWALD. Didn’t you?

MRS. ALVING. They’d taught me various things about duty and such like, and I’d simply gone on believing them. Everything seemed to come down to duty in the end—my duty and his duty and . . . I’m afraid I must have made the house unbearable for your poor father, Oswald.

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Oswald Alving (speaker), Captain Alving
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
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MRS. ALVING. What a terrible thought! Surely a child ought to love its father in spite of all?

OSWALD. What if a child has nothing to thank its father for? Never knew him? You don’t really believe in this old superstition still, do you? And you so enlightened in other ways?

MRS. ALVING. You call that mere superstition. . . !

OSWALD. Yes, surely you realize that, Mother. It’s simply one of those ideas that get around and . . .

MRS. ALVING [shaken]. Ghosts!

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Oswald Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders, Captain Alving
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mrs. Helene Alving Character Timeline in Ghosts

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Helene Alving appears in Ghosts. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
As Regine goes about her duties one morning as a maid in Mrs. Helene Alving ’s home, her father, Jacob Engstrand, comes in from the rain to speak with her.... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...night. Regine rejects this idea, saying she’ll never return to Engstrand’s home and claiming that Mrs. Alving has essentially raised her as one of her own family members. This, she believes, gives... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...spends her time toiling in the orphanage, he says the education she has received from Mrs. Alving won’t do her any good. In response, Regine claims that she has plans to rise... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
Before Regine goes to get Mrs. Alving , Pastor Manders talks to her about Engstrand, saying that he’s the kind of person... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Regine fetches Mrs. Alving , who enters and greets Pastor Manders. When Regine leaves, Mrs. Alving insists that Manders... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Pastor Manders says he doesn’t blame Mrs. Alving for wanting to understand new ideas that have recently surfaced in society, but he urges... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Returning to the topic of the orphanage’s finances, Pastor Manders shows Mrs. Alving the various documents he’s brought along with him and explains that he has decided to... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Although Mrs. Alving decides not to insure the orphanage, Pastor Manders asks if she would be able to... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
Pastor Manders tells Mrs. Alving that Engstrand wants Regine to come live with him, but she refuses to let the... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Interrupting Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving ’s conversation, Oswald finally enters the room. Manders hardly recognizes the young man, whom he... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
While talking to Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving , Oswald smokes his father’s pipe, which he found in a room upstairs. Seeing him... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
...point, Pastor Manders comments that Oswald left home at a very young age, and when Mrs. Alving suggests that it’s good for children to leave, the pastor disagrees, saying that children belong... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
After Oswald leaves, Mrs. Alving admits that she agrees with everything her son has said. Consequently, Pastor Manders sees this... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mrs. Alving reminds Pastor Manders that Captain Alving was an immoral man in the early years of... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
Continuing his criticism of Mrs. Alving , Pastor Manders says that she has also shirked her responsibilities as a mother. This,... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
Having listened patiently to Pastor Manders, Mrs. Alving finally tells him that he’s passing judgment on matters about which he knows very little.... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The worst part of this entire story, Mrs. Alving tells Pastor Manders, is that one day she heard Captain Alving make a sexually inappropriate... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Mrs. Alving tells Pastor Manders that she had to put up with Captain Alving’s misbehavior for Oswald’s... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
Pastor Manders marvels at the fact that Mrs. Alving is constructing a memorial to Captain Alving even after the terrible way he treated her,... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...to go help her open the bottles. When he leaves the room, Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving resume their conversation, but they’re interrupted by Regine’s voice, which reaches them from the adjacent... (full context)
Act Two
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
After dinner, Mrs. Alving and Pastor Manders return to the living room to continue their conversation. Mrs. Alving says... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
...Engstrand would agree to marry a “fallen woman” for the price of 300 dollars, prompting Mrs. Alving to point out that she herself married a disreputable man and inherited a lot more.... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Animatedly, Mrs. Alving declares that she’s tired of living her life according to a set of rules. In... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Mrs. Alving reiterates her feeling that hearing Oswald and Regine in the next room was like hearing... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...that his fight to remain true to his faith has been a profound triumph, but Mrs. Alving insists that it was nothing but a tragedy for both of them. Hearing this, Pastor... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
Just as Mrs. Alving and Pastor Manders begin to talk once more about what they should do with Regine,... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...drunken sailors to morally improve their lives, so they threw him down the stairs. Although Mrs. Alving grunts at this story, clearly seeing through Engstrand’s insincerity, Manders believes Engstrand. (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
After Pastor Manders and Engstrand go to the orphanage, Mrs. Alving finds Oswald drinking and smoking a cigar. Frowning at the decanter of liquor, Mrs. Alving... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Oswald tells Mrs. Alving that he asked his doctor what, exactly, that diagnosis meant. His doctor, he explains regretfully,... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Talking about his illness with Mrs. Alving , Oswald wishes that it were something he had inherited, since at least he wouldn’t... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Oswald tells Regine to have a drink with him and Mrs. Alving . When she goes to get a glass, he voices his theory that nobody from... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Before Mrs. Alving can say anything more, Regine notices that a fire has broken out at the orphanage.... (full context)
Act Three
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mrs. Alving and Regine stand by the window looking at the orphanage, which has burned down. Mrs.... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...institution, which plunges Manders into a state of panic and fear. Entering from the garden, Mrs. Alving tries to make him feel better by saying that the orphanage wouldn’t have done anyone... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...asking why she doesn’t call him by his first name. In response, she says that Mrs. Alving wouldn’t like it if she addressed him so casually, but Mrs. Alving says this isn’t... (full context)
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mrs. Alving also tells Oswald and Regine that Captain Alving is Regine’s true father. Upon hearing this,... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
After Regine leaves, Mrs. Alving asks Oswald if he’s devastated by the news that his father was a wretched man.... (full context)
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Now that Regine has left, Oswald says, he has to depend upon Mrs. Alving . Producing a small box from his pocket, he tells his mother that he has... (full context)
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Mrs. Alving tries to run from the house to fetch a doctor, but Oswald keeps her from... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
While Mrs. Alving talks and talks, the sun begins to rise, showing itself through the windows. “Mother,” Oswald... (full context)