Henrik Ibsen shocked the world with his honest portrayal of marital dissatisfaction in A Doll's House. His next work would not shy away from the harsh realities of human nature.
As early as November 1880, when Ibsen was living in Rome, he was meditating on a new play to follow ‘A Doll's House.’ When he went to Sorrento, in the summer of 1881, he was hard at work upon it. It was finished by the end of November 1881, and, soon after its publication, Ibsen was deluged with letters from people decrying or commending it.There were many lines in ‘A Doll's House’ which might be taken as indication of what the new play would be. Instead of the general query, “Did Nora return to her children”? the stress should have been laid on the problem of what would have happened to Nora's children had she and Helmer persisted in living the life they were accustomed to — a life of lies and subterfuges.
The moral rottenness of Oswald Alving, his degenerate relationship with Regina, the serving maid, who proves to be in the end his half-sister, are the direct product of the moral unsavoriness of Captain Alving, whose past life has been covered through the moral smugness of his wife, acting under the advice of the conventional minister, Pastor Manders. If Dr. Rank, in ‘A Doll's House,’ was suffering from the sins of his fathers, Oswald Alving is the product of the moral degeneracy of his father and the moral weakness of his mother. Thus, Ibsen's ‘Ghosts’ becomes an answer to the question whether Nora had a right to leave her children when she did.It was not an edifying canvas that Ibsen selected for his play, nor did he mean to have it so. What he sought to do was to show the gradual development of Mrs. Alving to that point where she reacts against the spiritual conventionality of Manders, and refuses any longer to respect or protect the memory of her husband, whose life was to have such an evil effect upon Oswald's physical and moral character. When, finally, in a revolting scene between Oswald and Regina, suggesting in its degeneracy what must have taken place between Captain Alving and Regina's mother, we at last get the awakening of Mrs. Alving to the unsound foundation upon which her family life had been resting all these years, Mrs. Alving's regeneration, we know, has come too late.
The canker-worm eats inwardly and undermines the whole physical side of Oswald. The play ends in a most tragic manner, and yet the only way in which the play could end. Oswald's imbecility, which falls upon him as the moral atmosphere begins to clear, is the just retribution, and technically, as far as Ibsen's own art is concerned, produces one of the most remarkable instances of heredity taking the place of Greek Fate in its tragical workings.The stage history of ‘Ghosts,’ since its first performance at Helsingborg, on 22 Aug. 1883, is varied in its continual progress. It was not given in London until 13 March 1891, at J. T. Grein's Independent Theatre, it having been held in check by the censor. “England,” writes William Archer, “enjoys the proud distinction of being the one country in the world where ‘Ghosts’ may not be publicly acted.” It was first produced in New York on 5 Jan. 1894, and by the New York Independent Theatre, in 1899, with Miss Mary Shaw as Mrs. Alving. In 1895-96 Madame Nazimova, with Paul Orleneff, gave a notable production of ‘Ghosts’ in a small room in the lower East side.
When Nazimova was a student in Russia she wanted to “play Regina for my graduation piece at the dramatic school at Moscow, but they would not let me. ‘Ghosts’ was at that time prohibited by the censor, because its reflects on the Church.”
Encyclopedia Americana, 1920