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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
ENGSTRAND. Fancy a thing like that happening to a charitable institution, something that was going to be such a boon to the whole district, as you might say. I don’t suppose the papers are going to let you off very lightly, Pastor.
MANDERS. No, that’s just what I’m thinking. That’s just about the worst part of the whole affair. All these spiteful accusations and insinuations. . . ! Oh, it’s terrible to think about!
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.
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!