Alving home. Family estate located in Rosenvold on one of western Norway’s fjords. The house’s garden provides the play’s primary setting. This room has a door on the left and two doors on the right. Also on the left wall is a window, in front of which is a small sofa with a worktable in front of it. In the center of the room is a round table covered with books, magazines, and newspapers. Chairs are positioned around the table. The back of the room is a glass conservatory, and a glass door leads to the garden. All in all, it is a very prosaic, if expensively furnished room, in the style of the late nineteenth century.
The glass wall at the back of the garden room sets the atmosphere for the drama as it shows and reflects what is happening in and around the estate. Most of the time, the scene is a gloomy fjord shrouded in mist, which prepares the audience for the subject matter of the play. Later, a huge fire that destroys a new orphanage is visible through the glass. As the play ends, the new day’s dawn sunlight comes through the window. The reading materials on the table also show something about the house and its owner. These items represent the publications of new findings in science at the time, and as the play is a debate over science, they reinforce the subject matter of the script: that a fine house and wealth do not guarantee personal happiness.
Norway in the 1880s
Ibsen lived away from Norway from 1863 to 1891. Rather than distancing him from the character of the Norwegian people, though, critics note that this separation helped him understand his native land better. Throughout the 1800s, Norway was a land of peaceful self-assurance, left alone to rule itself while still formally under the control of Sweden. This period of independence was a result of the Napoleonic Wars, which changed the organization of Scandinavia as much as they changed almost all of Europe’s political structure. Norway had been a province of Denmark for several centuries, from 1381 to 1814, but was taken from Norway, which supported Napoleon, and given over to Swedish rule because Sweden had supported the Russians, who eventually defeated the French. Sweden allowed Norway a great deal of independence. The Norwegian constitution, drafted in 1815, gave more political power to the Norwegian king’s council than to ministers from Sweden, whose power was limited to advising. Norway came to be one of Europe’s most independent and also one of its wealthiest countries, with the third largest merchant navy on the planet.
One result of this peace, prosperity, and independence was that social issues were examined with greater seriousness than they were in countries just struggling for subsistence. Issues of moral conduct were examined by radical social organizations that would have been outlawed in stricter countries. Also, questions of marriage and sexuality, which would have been left to church decree in the Catholic countries of Europe, were open to discussion in Norway, which was predominantly Lutheran. Ghosts was still a shock to Norwegian audiences when it debuted, but it would have been unthinkable to raise some of the issues it raises in a less progressive country.
Ibsen is considered one of the most important figures in the realist movement that came to dominate literature in Europe and America in the last half of the 1800s. Realism was a reaction to romanticism, which dominated the first half of the century. The romantic movement was about individual freedom— the most important writers of that period generally shared the belief that reality was flexible, subject to human interpretation. Beauty was assumed to have its own distinct existence, aside from the world people live in, and it was assumed that people had the power to interpret reality as they saw fit. Leading romantic writers were the poets Keats and Shelly, the essayist Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. After a while, romantic idealism came to be seen...
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