The audience was shocked by the subject matter
of "Ghosts," -- venereal disease.
The play concerns the damage done to a woman by strict adherence
to the conventions of marriage, regardless of the circumstances.
Married to a profligate husband, whose excesses she discovers
soon after the wedding, she flees to Pastor Manders for refuge.
Despite their affection for each other, Manders encourages her
to return to Alving and preserve the marriage. To save their
son, Oswald, from learning the truth about his father, she sends
the boy away to school, and creates for him and the community
at large an image of Alving as an upstanding philanthropist and
citizen. Pastor Manders encourages this endeavor.
As the action begins, Oswald, now grown but
in ill health, returns home for the dedication of an orphanage
in the name of his father, perpetuating the myth of Alving’s virtues.
Manders, who has handled the details of the building, arrives
to welcome Oswald, and although the parson has not changed his
narrow views over the years, Mrs. Alving has read liberal publications
and has widened her outlook – she is the New Woman. But
she is trapped once again, as Oswald’s illness increases and his
symptoms reveal that he has inherited the venereal disease of
A brilliant production in London in the summer
of 2001 starred Francesca Annis as Mrs. Alving and Anthony Andrews
as Parson Manders. In their memorable encounter, in which
we learn how the years have affected each of them, these expert
actors revealed hidden depths of feeling through their nuances
in speech and gesture. In the final scene, when Oswald
pleads for euthanasia, Annis was brilliant as his anguished mother.