History of Literature

August Strindberg


August Strindberg

August Strindberg

August Strindberg, (b. Jan. 22, 1849, Stockholm—d. May 14, 1912, Stockholm), Swedish playwright, novelist, and short-story writer, who combined psychology and Naturalism in a new kind of European drama that evolved into Expressionist drama. His chief works include The Father (1887), Miss Julie (1888), Creditors (1888), A Dream Play (1902), and The Ghost Sonata (1907).


Early years
Strindberg’s father, Carl Oskar Strindberg, was a bankrupt aristocrat who worked as a steamship agent, and his mother was a former waitress. His childhood was marred by emotional insecurity, poverty, his grandmother’s religious fanaticism, and neglect, as he relates in his remarkable autobiography Tjänstekvinnans son (1886–87; The Son of a Servant, 1913). He studied intermittently at the University of Uppsala, preparing in turn for the ministry and a career in medicine but never taking a degree. To earn his living, he worked as a free-lance journalist in Stockholm, as well as at other jobs that he almost invariably lost. Meanwhile he struggled to complete his first important work, the historical drama Mäster Olof (published in 1872), on the theme of the Swedish Reformation, influenced by Shakespeare and by Henrik Ibsen’s Brand. The Royal Theatre’s rejection of Mäster Olof deepened his pessimism and sharpened his contempt for official institutions and traditions. For several years he continued revising the play—later recognized as the first modern Swedish drama—thus delaying his development as a dramatist of contemporary problems.

In 1874 he became a librarian at the Royal Library, and in 1875 he met the Finno-Swedish Siri von Essen, then the unhappy wife of an officer of the guards; two years later they married. Their intense but ultimately disastrous relationship ended in divorce in 1891, when Strindberg, to his great grief, lost the custody of their four children. At first, however, marriage stimulated his writing, and in 1879 he published his first novel, The Red Room, a satirical account of abuses and frauds in Stockholm society: this was something new in Swedish fiction and made its author nationally famous.

He also wrote more plays, of which Lucky Peter’s Travels (1881) contains the most biting social criticism. In 1883, the year after he published Det nya riket (“The New Kingdom”), a withering satire on contemporary Sweden, Strindberg left Stockholm with his family and for six years moved restlessly about the Continent. Although he was then approaching a state of complete mental breakdown, he produced a great number of plays, novels, and stories. The publication in 1884 of the first volume of his collected stories, Married, led to a prosecution for blasphemy. He was acquitted, but the case affected his mind, and he imagined himself persecuted, even by Siri.

He returned to drama with new intensity, and the conflict between the sexes inspired some of the outstanding works written at this time, such as The Father, Miss Julie, and The Creditors. All of these were written in total revolt against contemporary social conventions. In these bold and concentrated works, he combined the techniques of dramatic Naturalism—including unaffected dialogue, stark rather than luxurious scenery, and the use of stage props as symbols—with his own conception of psychology, thereby inaugurating a new movement in European drama. The People of Hemsö, a vigorous novel about the Stockholm skerries (rocky islands), always one of Strindberg’s happiest sources of inspiration, was also produced during this intensively creative phase.

The years after his return to Sweden in 1889 were lonely and unhappy. Even though revered as a famous writer who had become the voice of modern Sweden, he was by now an alcoholic unable to find steady employment. In 1892 he went abroad again, to Berlin. His second marriage, to a young Austrian journalist, Frida Uhl, followed in 1893; they finally parted in Paris in 1895.

A period of literary sterility, emotional and physical stress, and considerable mental instability culminated in a kind of religious conversion, the crisis that he described in Inferno. During these years Strindberg devoted considerable time to experiments in alchemy and to the study of theosophy.

Late years
His new faith, coloured by mysticism, re-created him as a writer. The immediate result was a drama in three parts, To Damascus, in which he depicts himself as “the Stranger,” a wanderer seeking spiritual peace and finding it with another character, “the Lady,” who resembles both Siri and Frida.

By this time Strindberg had again returned to Sweden, settling first in Lund and then, in 1899, in Stockholm, where he lived until his death. The summers he often spent among his beloved skerries. His view that life is ruled by the “Powers,” punitive but righteous, was reflected in a series of historical plays that he began in 1889. Of these, Gustav Vasa is the best, masterly in its firmness of construction, characterization, and its vigorous dialogue. In 1901 he married the young Norwegian actress Harriet Bosse; in 1904 they parted, and again Strindberg lost the child, his fifth.

Yet his last marriage, this “spring in winter,” as he called it, inspired, among other works, the plays The Dance of Death and A Dream Play, as well as the charming autobiography Ensam (“Alone”) and some lyrical poems. Renewed bitterness after his parting from his last wife provoked the grotesquely satirical novel Svarta Fanor (1907; “Black Banners”), which attacked the vices and follies of Stockholm’s literary coteries, as Strindberg saw them. Kammarspel (“Chamber Plays”), written for the little Intima Theatre, which Strindberg ran for a time with a young producer, August Falck, embody further developments of his dramatic technique: of these, The Ghost Sonata is the most fantastic, anticipating much in later European drama. His last play, The Great Highway, a symbolic presentation of his own life, appeared in 1909.

To the end, Strindberg debated current social and political ideas (returning to the radical views of his youth) in polemical articles, while his philosophy was expounded in the aphoristic Zones of the Spirit (1907–12). He was ignored in death, as in life, by the Swedish Academy but mourned by his countrymen as their greatest writer. On Swedish life and letters he has exercised a lasting influence and is admired for his originality, his extraordinary vitality, and his powerful imagination, which enabled him to transform autobiographic material into dramatic dialogue of exceptional brilliance.

The pregnant, colloquial style of Strindberg’s early novels and, especially, of his short stories, brought about a long-overdue regeneration of Swedish prose style, and The Son of a Servant gave perhaps the strongest impulse since Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions to the publication of discreditable self-revelations. His greatest influence, however, was exerted in the theatre, through his critical writings (such as the introduction to Miss Julie), his plays, and the production devices that their staging dictated. The continuous, brutal action and the extreme realism of the dialogue of Miss Julie and other plays written between 1887 and 1893 reached the ne plus ultra of naturalistic drama.

With the later phantasmagoric plays, such as To Damascus, A Dream Play, and The Ghost Sonata, Strindberg led that section of the revolt against stage realism that issued in the Expressionist drama, which was developed mainly in Germany after 1912 and which influenced such modern playwrights as Sean O’Casey, Elmer Rice, Eugene O’Neill, Luigi Pirandello, and Pär Lagerkvist.

Brita Maud Ellen Mortensen



The Red Room

August Strindberg

The Red Room is often described as the first modern Swedish novel. Using Zola's naturalism and Dickens' social criticism Strindberg revitalized a stale, conventional tradition. Because its social and political satire was a little too close to the bone, its initial reception was controversial, but the novel is now recognized as a watershed in Swedish literature. In the opening chapter, with its famous bird's-eye view of Stockholm, Strindberg's vivid prose sparkles with energy and invention. The hero of the novel, the young and idealistic Arvid Falk, resigns from the Civil Service in disgust at the corruption he sees everywhere in the Establishment. He wants to become a writer and joins a group of bohemian artists, but struggles to free himself from his own prim and puritan inclinations. Falk's radical and reforming spirit is gradually softened, and he is tempted to adopt the selfish view of life advocated by the conservative journalist Struve. As so often in Strindberg, it is the tension between irreconcilable opposites that provides the narrative energy.
The subtitle, Scenes of Literary and Artistic Life, reveals a series of satirical excursions into the worlds of the arts, religion, government, and finance. The focus is on man in society, sometimes at the expense of in-depth characterization. But many of the minor characters, like the carpenter who threatens to reclaim the lost beds of the working classes from affluent middle-class ladies who offer him charity, are memorable in an eccentric Dickensian way.



The People of  Hemso

August Strindberg

A feat of straightforward folksy storytelling, The People of Hemso is set on an island in Strindberg's beloved Stockholm archipelago. Written during a difficult period in exile from Sweden, the novel paradoxically has a strong sense of place, and is like a sunny, carefree summer holiday in comparison with some of his more psychologically intense work. Mrs.Flod, a widow of some means, hires Carlsson to run the farm on the island. As a newcomer and a landlubber among sailors and fishermen Carlsson is implicitly distrusted by the locals. His main rival is Gusten.the son and heir, and a struggle for control of the farm develops between them. Although it may be possible to see traces of a Nretzschean power struggle in their confrontation, the novel is far too light and happy to carry any sustained philosophical weight. Nevertheless, this contest is a clever, page-turning device: is Carlson a slippery confidence trickster preying on the lonely widow, or an honest, hard-working man revitalizing the neglected farm? This question, also debated by the other characters in the novel, still exercises readers today. It explains, together with the magnificent passages describing the sea and the islands, the broad rustic comedy, and the dramatic final twists and turns of the plot, why The People of Hemso has achieved its status as one of the most popular Swedish novels.


By the Open Sea

August Strindberg

When Strindberg wrote By the Open Sea, he had fallen under the influence of Nietzsche's "Superman" theories. He researched the fields of biology, geology, and geography to implement and authenticate the scientific method and to describe accurately a strong, intellectual man of science.
The novel has two main characters, Axel Borg, a fisheries inspector sent to investigate the dwindling supplies of herring, and the natural landscape of sea and islands, a constant source of fascination for the author. Snobbish and superior, Borg alienates the simple and down-to-earth fishermen, and assumes the stronger man's right to oppress the weak.Taught by his father to suppress the feminine within him, he dominates and conquers a young woman, Maria, but in his own unconscious she takes on the role of anima, exposing the dark recesses of his mind. When under pressure from the locals and the locality, cracks begin to appear in his ego and his confidence begins to look like insecurity. His ideas become increasingly grandiose, and he experiments on himself in an attempt to control and conquer nature.
Borg is clearly Strindberg's alter ego, a sensitive and lonely genius dragged down by the mediocrity of the common rabble. Pointing forward to his "lnferno" crisis of the 1890s, this psychological novel, which charts the frightening degeneration of a proud and intellectual man into a persecuted wreck, gives an interesting insight into Strindberg's own state of mind at the time.




Type of work: Drama
Author: August Strindberg (1849-1912)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: Mid-nineteenth century
Locale: Sweden
First presented: 1887


The antagonism between the sexes concerned Strindberg in all of his works. In The Father, the captain is driven to insanity by his wife and rejected by his own daughter. In the beginning of their relationship, his love for his wife was as a sonjor his mother. When he became her lover, she rebelled and planted in his mind the fear that he was not the father of their daughter, Bertha. Falling into insanity and finally suffering a stroke, the Captain is rejected by wife, daughter, and mother.


Principal Characters

The Captain, a captain of cavalry who is the chief sufferer in this domestic tragedy. He was rejected by his mother and consequently sought a mother-figure in marriage. Driven to raving madness by his wife, he is strait-jacketed and suffers a stroke.
Laura, his wife. Accepting the maternal side of her relationship with her husband, she loathes her role as wife and takes vengeance on her husband by destroying him. In her efforts to prove him mad, she resorts to forgery and to misrepresentation of his scientific interests, which in fact she does not understand. She also exploits a suspicion she has planted in his mind that their daughter is not his.
Bertha, their daughter and a chief object of conflict.
Margaret, the Captain's old nurse. She tries to reassure him periodically; it is she who at last calms him enough to slip a straitjacket on him.
Dr. Ostermark, the new village doctor, to whom Laura goes with her "evidence" of her husband's insanity.
Auditor Safberg, a freethinker with whom the Captain intends to board Bertha so that she will be educated away from the influence of her mother and of her grandmother, who is bent on teaching her spiritualism.
Nojd, a trooper in difficulties because he got a servant girl in trouble. His relatively trivial problem suggests to Laura the weapon she successfully uses against her husband.
Emma, the servant girl in trouble.
Ludwig, who Nojd claims may well be the father of Emma's child.
The Pastor, Laura's brother, before whom Nojd is called. His sympathy for Nojd is greater than the Captain's. Later, when the Pastor sees through Laura's scheme, she dares him to accuse her.


The Story

When a trooper named Nojd got a servant girl in trouble, the Captain sent an orderly to bring Nojd to face the Pastor. The culprit, vague about his affair with Emma, hinted that the paternity of her child was uncertain. The Pastor told Nojd that he would have to support the child, but the soldier claimed that Ludwig should contribute also, since it was possible that Ludwig was the real father. The Captain declared angrily that the case would go to court. After Nojd had gone, the Captain berated the Pastor for his gentle treatment of the soldier. The Pastor said he thought it a pity to saddle Nojd with the support of a child if he were not the real father.
The Captain was married to the Pastor's sister Laura. In his house, complained the Captain, there were too many women: his mother-in-law, a governess, his old nurse Margaret, his daughter Bertha. The Captain, worried about his daughter's education, which was being influenced in all directions by the people around her, deplored the incessant struggle between men and women.
After the Pastor had gone, Laura entered to collect her household money. His affairs near bankruptcy, the Captain reminded her that a father had the sole control of his children. When Laura brought up the subject of Nojd's affair, the Captain admitted that the paternity would be difficult to determine. Laura scoffingly claimed that if such were the case even the child of a married woman could be any other man's offspring.
Laura confided to Dr. Ostermark, the new village doctor, her suspicion that her husband was mentally ill. He bought books he never read, and he tried to fathom events on other planets by peering through a microscope. He had become a man who could not stand by his decisions, although he was most vehement when he first uttered one.
Speaking privately with his old nurse, the Captain expressed his fear that his family was plotting against him and that something evil was about to happen. The family quarrel was clearly outlined when Bertha complained to her father that her grandmother was trying to teach her spiritualism and had even told the girl that the Captain, who was a meteorologist by profession, was a charlatan. Bertha agreed with her father that she ought to go away to study, but Laura boasted that she could persuade Bertha to stay home. She hinted again that she could prove the Captain was not Bertha's father.
Dr. Ostermark explained to Laura that she had been mistaken about her husband; he had used a spectroscope, not a microscope, to examine the elements on other planets. Still, the doctor said, he would watch the Captain for further signs of insanity. Laura also told the doctor that the Captain feared he was not Bertha's'father; quite obviously Laura had planted this idea in the Captain's mind. When he began to worry over his daughter's paternity, old Margaret tried to reassure him.
It became impossible for the Captain to allow his wife to continue her persecution of him. She had intercepted some of his mail, thereby thwarting him in the progress of his scientific ventures. He further accused her of spreading among his friends the idea that he was insane. Afraid that under such provocation he might lose his reason, he appealed to his wife's selfishness. It would be in her best interest for him to remain sane, he said, since insanity might lead to his suicide, which would invalidate her right to collect his life insurance. She could assure his sanity by confessing that Bertha was not his child, a suspicion which was undermining his sanity.
When she refused to admit a sin of which she was not guilty, he reminded her that in doing so she would gain sole control of Bertha's future. The tables were turned. Now the Captain began to believe that Bertha was not his child and Laura began to insist that she was. The Captain, recalling the circumstances of Bertha's birth, recollected how a solicitor had told Laura that she had no right of inheritance without a child. At that time the Captain had been ill. When he recovered, Bertha had been born.
The Captain understood the power his wife held over him. At first he had loved her as he would love a mother, but she had loathed him after he became her lover. Laura showed him a letter she had forged in which he confessed his insanity and said that she had sent the letter to court. Boasting that she had employed him only as a breadwinner, she declared that she would use his pension for Bertha's education. In anger, the Captain hurled a lamp at her.
Laura succeeded in locking her husband in another room while she examined his private papers. Although the Pastor saw through her scheme, she dared him to accuse her. The doctor arrived with a straitjacket shortly before the Captain, armed with literary evidence of cases in which a child's paternity had been questioned, burst into the room. His talk was so erratic and his raving about conjugal fidelity so wild that when the doctor told him he was insane, the Captain acknowledged his own madness.
Bertha, accusing him of a deliberate attempt to injure her mother, announced that he was not her father if he behaved so badly. The Captain, in reply, told her that her soul was in two parts; one was a reflection of his own, and to preserve it he intended to destroy the part which was not his. He seized a revolver but found it empty. Bertha ran out screaming.
Old Margaret soothed the raving man by talking softly to him of his childhood, and when he was off guard she slipped the straitjacket on him. Seeing him seated, helpless and dejected, on the sofa, Laura nearly repented the course she had taken, as the Captain piteously described his life of torment with mother, wife, and child, all of whom had rejected him. After she had assured him that Bertha was his own child, the Captain, calling to old Margaret for comfort, suffered a stroke. As he lay unconscious, Bertha ran to her mother, who caressed her and called the girl her own daughter.


Critical Evaluation

The plays of August Strindberg have exerted a powerful and pervasive influence on modern drama. His insights into naturalism, in such early plays as The Father and Miss Julie (1888) were central in the shaping of that dramatic movement, while his later experiments with expressionism, in works such as the To Damascus trilogy (1898 -1904), A Dream Play {1902), and The Ghost Sonata (1907), have profoundly affected nonrealistic approaches to the modern stage.
The relationship between Strindberg's own life and his writing becomes apparent in an examination of A Madman's Defense (1893), an autobiographical novel. Written between 1887 and 1888, it chronicles fourteen years of Strindberg's life, including his fateful meeting with and marriage to Siri Von Essen. Strindberg intended the work as an expose of Siri's attempts to confine him for mental treatment, but, in reality, it presents a clear picture of enveloping paranoia and acute mental instability.
Strindberg's first-person narrator portrays his wife as doubtful of his sanity. (Indeed, in 1886 Siri consulted a Swiss doctor about Strindberg's instability.) Based on her conviction, Maria attempts to provoke behavior that can be used as evidence to justify confinement. When she sides with critics of her husband's book, he calls her a traitor. He escapes to Paris, but she follows him and insists on a retreat in Switzerland. Once there, she convinces the doctor, guests, proprietor, and servants that their new guest is, indeed, insane.
Beginning to doubt his sanity, the narrator turns his suspicions on his wife. He studies her behavior and comes to believe that she is an adulteress trying to cover her wrongdoings and gain his insurance money. He then rifles through her letters seeking evidence and makes her face his strenuous cross-examinations. Her denials simply intensify his agitation and instability. The parallels to The Father are clear.
Moreover, Strindberg's account closely parallels the events that surrounded the publication of the first volume of Married (1884). In this collection of short stories dealing with the husband-wife relationship, Strindberg is scornful of the "emancipated" woman, believing that such a woman wants not equality with her mate but domination over him. The ideal role for the woman, Strindberg believes, is that of wife and mother—anything else can only be destructive.
This view of woman clearly had its origins in Strindberg's persona] experience. Having been unwanted at birth and rejected as a child, Strindberg grew up as a stranger in his own home. Thus, what Strindberg sought in a mate (he went though three stormy marriages) was not only a wife but also a substitute mother. Naturally, his ideal of the wife-mother was shattered over and over again, leading to an absolute confusion of roles. When Strindberg first met Siri, he described her as "a deliriously girlish mother." During their trial separation, Strindberg stated that he felt "like an embryo prematurely detached from the umbilical cord." This attitude is echoed in The Father, when Laura tells the Captain (II, v): "I loved you as if you were my child. But you know, you must have felt it, when your sexual desires were aroused, and you came forward as my lover, I was reluctant, and the joy I felt in your embrace was followed by such revulsion that my very blood knew shame. The son became the lover— oh!"
Strindberg's disillusion led him naturally into bitter antifeminism. Actually, his philosophy paralleled that of many contemporaries, particularly those in France—a country he frequented during "exile" periods. The literary atmosphere there in the 1870s was extremely mis-ogynistic. In the theater, the character of the femme fatale, as popularized by such actresses as Sarah Bernhardt, was popular. The female was seen as a parasitic being who lived off of the productivity of the more talented and imaginative male.
The source for the question of paternity that is central to The Father is provided by Strindberg's personal correspondence. When Strindberg married Siri, she was pregnant and had not long before their marriage shared the company of her first husband, Baron Wrangel. After Strindberg became actively paranoid, his remembrance of that situation provoked him to harbor doubts about the paternity of his children. That the suspicion was in his mind was confirmed by his reaction to Henrik Ibsen's play The Wild Duck (1891): He considered suing Ibsen for slander on the grounds that Ibsen had used him as a model for the protagonist, Hjalmar Ekdal, who doubts the paternity of his child. Strindberg and Siri were also at odds about the future occupations of their two daughters. Siri wished them to become actresses, while Strindberg wanted them to be trained as midwives. Both of these two personal conflicts became central issues in The Father.
Although Strindberg's own experiences provided the major inspiration for The Father, he was also deeply influenced by the literary and cultural milieu of his time. The novels of the Goncourt brothers, particularly Edmond's Chirie (1884), may have directly affected the play. A naturalistic play with the same analytical emphasis, Therese Raquin (1867), by Emile Zola, may also have provided Strindberg with some insight. Furthermore, before he began writing The Father, he studied contemporary theories of psychiatry and hypnotism. After finishing The Father, he articulated the results of these researches in an essay series titled Vivisektioner (1887). The titles of two of the essays reveal the influence of these studies on The Father: "The Battle of the Brains" and "Psychic Murder."
The battle between Laura and the Captain is actually a Darwinian struggle for power, with survival going to the "fittest"—a central concept in the naturalistic school. The Captain states that the battle with his wife is "to eat or to be eaten." At one point, the discussion becomes overtly Darwinistic:

Captain: I feel in this battle one of us must succumb.
Laura: Who?
Captain: The weaker, of course.
Laura: And the stronger is right?
Captain: He is always right because he has the power.
Laura: Then I am right.

The amorality of action—with the end justifying the means—the detached scientific tone, the emphasis on the psychological, and the objectivity of the playwright are among the play's naturalistic tendencies.
Zola, however, pointed out that despite his psychological emphasis and scientific attitude, Strindberg had failed to give the play a social setting—that is, he had failed to emphasize the importance of heredity and environment in his characterizations. Although he had attributed the Captain's initial weakness to his early rejection, Strindberg had gone no further in demonstrating the power of environmental influences. In spite of this weakness, Zola encouraged Strindberg in his pursuits. Strindberg presented perhaps the first important naturalistic drama with his next play, Miss Julie, in which the power of heredity and milieu are dramatized in the destruction of a willful aristocratic female by her father's brazen valet.
Thus, at the time he wrote The Father, Strindberg was a man of mental and emotional complexity who stood on the brink of developing one of the most important movements in modern dramatic literature: naturalism. In the third section of his autobiography, Strindberg expresses an awareness of his position in the development of the modern drama. He saw himself as spanning the gap between Romanticism and naturalism and being "like the blindworm, which retains rudimentary lizard feet inside its skin." But this dependence on his background was no detriment to his dramatic career. Rather than holding him back, his reliance on autobiography, controlled and polished, became the driving force in his naturalistic writings and, in a different way, was to become the substance of his later experiments with expressionism.
His influence was felt not only on the Continent but also in the United States, for though never awarded the coveted Nobel Prize, he was noted by Eugene O'Neill in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize as one of O'Neill's foremost literary inspirations. Since that time, Strindberg's reputation has grown until he is generally regarded today to be, along with Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov, one of the three giants most responsible for the shape, direction, and power of the modern theater.



Туре of work: Drama
Author: August Strindberg (1849-1912)
Type of plot: Naturalism
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: A country estate in Sweden
First presented: 1888


No author has portrayed the "battle of the sexes" with more intensity than August Strindberg, and Miss Julie is one of his most forceful examples. The play strips the action down to an elemental struggle between the aristocratic, romantic, haughty Julie and the poor, realistic, grasping Jean, with survival at stake. But, in the end, the irrational inner drives overwhelm and destroy both of them in what is surely one of the most brutal short plays in the literature.


Principal Characters

Miss Julie, a headstrong young woman, the daughter of a count. She has derived from her mother a hatred of men and of woman's subservient role. As the drama begins, the household servants are scandalized over the circumstances of Miss Julie's broken engagement: she had made her fiance jump over her horsewhip several times, giving him a cut with the whip each time, and he had left her. Subsequently, she takes advantage of her father's absence to join the holiday dancing of the servants. She makes love to her father's not unwilling valet, Jean, and then shifts helplessly and unpractically from one plan of action to another: running off alone; running off with the valet; a suicide pact when they become tired of each other; taking his fiancee, who naturally objects to being deserted, with them. When Jean kills Miss Julie's pet finch, at her command, her love turns to hate. Then, ecstatic at the thought of freedom through suicide, she takes her lover's razor and leaves the room.
Jean, Miss Julie's lover and her father's valet. His first suggestion is that they go to Como, Italy, to open a hotel. Later he brings Miss Julie his razor and indicates it as one answer to her plea for advice. The return of his master, the count, reduces him again to the menial attitudes of a servant.
Christine, a cook and Jean's fiancee. She loves him and does not intend to lose him to Miss Julie. She refuses Miss Julie's offer to go along with them to Como and announces as she leaves for church that she has spoken to the stable men about not letting anyone have horses until after the count's return.


The Story

Miss Julie's broken engagement to the county attorney was quite a scandal to the servants in the house. Miss Julie, daughter of a count, had made the man actually jump over her horsewhip several times, giving him a cut with the whip each time. He had finally put an end to such conduct and the engagement by snatching the whip, breaking it, and striding away from the manor.
On Midsummer Eve, a great holiday held throughout the Swedish countryside a few weeks later, Miss Julie entered into the festivities and danced with the servants. She dared to do so because her father had gone to the city and was not expected to return. Although the servants disliked her entrance into their fun, they were powerless to make their dislike known; she was their mistress. Her father's valet, Jean, left the festivities after dancing once with Miss Julie. He retreated to the kitchen, where his fiancee, Christine the cook, gave him a little supper.
But Miss Julie gave Jean no peace. She came into the kitchen and dragged him out to dance with her again, even though she knew that he had promised to dance with Christine. After dancing another time with Miss Julie, Jean escaped once more to the kitchen. He was afraid that Christine was angry. She assured him, however, that she did not blame him for what had happened. Just then Miss Julie returned to the kitchen and demanded that Jean dance with her again after he had changed from his livery into a tailcoat. While he was changing, Christine fell asleep in a chair. When he returned, Miss Julie asked him to get her something to drink. Jean got a bottle of beer for her and another for himself.
After finishing the beer, Miss Julie teased Christine by trying to wake her up. Christine, moving as if asleep, went to her own room. After she had gone, Miss Julie began to ogle Jean, who warned his mistress that it was dangerous to flirt with a man as young as he. But Miss Julie paid no attention to him. Jean, falling in with her mood, told about his early life as a cotter's child and how, even as a small child, he had been in love with his young mistress. They talked so long that the other servants came to look for the valet. Rather than expose themselves to the comments and the scandal of having drunk together in the kitchen, Jean and Miss Julie went into Jean's room. They were there a long time, for the servants stayed in the kitchen and danced and sang. During that time Miss Julie gave herself to Jean.
After the servants had gone, neither Jean nor Miss Julie knew just what to do. They agreed only that it was best for them to leave the country. Jean suggested that they go to Como, Italy, to open a hotel. Miss Julie asked Jean to take her in his arms again. He refused, saying that he could not make love to her a second time in her father's house, where she was the mistress and he the servant. When she reminded him of the extravagant language he had used a little while before, he told her the time had come to be practical.
To cheer her, Jean offered Miss Julie a drink of wine from a bottle he had taken from the count's cellar. She saw whose it was and accused Jean of stealing. An argument followed, with bitter words on both sides. When they had both calmed a little, Miss Julie tried to tell Jean how she had come to be what she was. She said that she had been brought up to do a man's work by her mother, because her mother had hated to be a slave to men. She told also how her mother had revenged herself on Miss Julie's father by taking a brick manufacturer as her lover and how her mother's lover had stolen great sums of money from the count. From her mother, said Miss Julie, she had learned to hate men and to wish to make them her slaves. He understood then why she had treated her fiance as she had with the whip. Miss Julie ended her recital with the recommendation that she and Jean go abroad at once. To her suggestion that when they ceased enjoying each other they should commit suicide, Jean, far more practical, advised her to go away by herself. Miss Julie, helpless in the urgency of the situation, did as Jean suggested and prepared to leave.
While Miss Julie was upstairs dressing, Christine came into the kitchen. It was morning. Seeing the glasses on the table, she knew that Miss Julie and Jean had been drinking together. She guessed the rest, and Jean admitted what had happened. Christine, angry at Miss Julie, told Jean that fine people did not behave so with the servants. Christine urged him to go away with her as soon as possible. Loving him, she did not intend to lose him to her mistress.
Christine persuaded Jean to get ready to go to church with her, since it was Sunday morning. When they were both dressed, Miss Julie and Jean met in the kitchen. The mistress carried a bird cage. When Jean said she could not take her pet finch with her, she ordered him to kill it. Seeing her bird die, Miss Julie's love turned to hate. Despising him for killing in cold blood the pet she had loved so much, she raged at Jean and told him that her father would soon return. Then he would learn what had happened. Miss Julie declared she would welcome her father's discovery; she wished now only to die.
When Christine appeared ready for church, she told Miss Julie bluntly that she would not allow her mistress to run off with the man who had promised to become her husband. Miss Julie then tried to persuade Christine to go with them to Como. While the two women talked. Jean left the room. He returned a few moments later with his razor. Christine, refusing to join in the flight, left for church after saying that she had spoken to the men at the stables about not letting anyone have horses until the count's return.
After Christine's departure. Miss Julie asked Jean what he would do if he were in her position. He indicated the razor in his hand. At that moment the valet's bell rang. The count had returned. Jean, answering the bell, received instructions to have boots and coffee ready in half an hour. His master's voice reduced Jean once again to the mental attitudes of a servant. Miss Julie, almost in a state of trance, was filled with ecstasy at the thought of freeing herself by committing suicide. She took the razor Jean gave her and left the kitchen with it in her hand.


Critical Evaluation

Miss Julie was written by August Strindberg to be produced in Paris by Andre Antoine's avant-garde Theatre Libre. This "naturalistic tragedy" is recognized as one of the greatest works of the Swedish playwright. Strindberg's power, complexity, and originality of technique and vision have led playwrights such as Eugene O'Neill to see him as the father of modern drama.
Strindberg's achievements are all the more remarkable in view of the squalor of his upbringing. Born in Stockholm into a bankrupt family, one of twelve children, Strindberg was neglected by even his own mother. After her death when he was thirteen, his stepmother added harshness to neglect. This early experience developed in him a strong, life-long quarrel with any conventional authority figure, evidenced in his rejection of traditional stage techniques and the rejection of traditional beliefs and conventions of society in his plays. His private life was equally unconventional. His three marriages were each characterized by intense love-hate relationships. In addition to private tensions, Strindberg was prosecuted for blasphemy upon the publication of his short stories, Married (1886-1888). The combination of these tensions produced an unstable psychological state with spells of insanity and delusions of persecution. Between the years 1894-1896 the increasing violence of his hallucinations led to the crisis known as the "Inferno period."
The inner torment of this psychological crisis gave rise to a shift in technique from the psychological naturalism of The Father and Miss Julie to symbolistic and expres-sionistic departures from external reality in the imaginative brilliance of dramas such as A Dream Play and Ghost Sonata.
While in Paris in 1883, Strindberg became familiar with the doctrine of literary naturalism espoused by Emile Zola, and he successfully applied this approach to drama, even sending a copy of his first naturalistic play to Zola for comments. The long foreword Strindberg wrote for Miss Julie explains his use of naturalistic doctrine in the play, but Strindberg's final formulation of dramatic naturalism is found in his essay, "On Modern Drama and Modern Theater" (1889). There he suggests that the true essence of naturalism is a presentation of the polarization of the basic conflicts of life—love and hate, life and death—through the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest found in both personal relationships and class conflicts. Strindberg's knowledge of psychology contributes in creating his powerful authentic dramas, which remain as moving in our time as when they were created.
Strindberg utilized numerous important innovations in both the writing and the production of his plays. His dialogue, like Chekhov's, is meant to reproduce the pauses, wanderings, and flatness of everyday speech. He wrote Miss Julie to be presented in only one act without intermission to capitalize on the emotional involvement of the audience. In addition, he calls for music, mime, ballet, and improvisation to utilize the full range of actors' talents. He calls for new lighting techniques to illuminate faces better, allowing them to use less makeup and to appear more natural. Finally, he asks for a return to a smaller, more intimate theater with closer audience relationship.
Julie's complex motivations are ample evidence of Strindberg's art. We see her as a product of heredity and environment. Her mother was a low-born woman, full of hatred for woman's conventional place in society. She brought Julie up as a boy, creating in her a fascination with animals and a loathing for the opposite sex which causes self-disgust when her natural instincts attract her sexually to men. In addition, her mother suffered from strange attacks of mental instability which seems to carry over into Julie. Added to these problems is the biological determinant of Julie's menstrual cycle, which makes her more emotionally unstable than usual. There is also the strong element of chance: her father's absence frees Julie and Jean from customary restraints, and it is chance that leads the couple into the locked room. The sensual excitement of the Midsummer Eve celebration contributes to the seduction and to Julie's final tragedy.
Jean's motivation, although less complex than Julie's, is also conditioned by his environment, his biological drives, his psychological desires, and his social aspirations. At the same time that he can despise the weaknesses of the old aristocrats, he finds himself unable to break his social conditioning. Only in the count's absence could Jean have brought himself to seduce Julie.
An added complication is the class conflict in which the decaying aristocracy, which Julie represents, must, by law of nature, be destroyed to make way for a stronger lower class that is more fit for survival in the modern world. Some things of value, such as sensitivity and honor, are lost; these are the qualities that break Julie and her father, while brutality and lack of scruples ensure Jean's final triumph. He survives because of his animal virility, his keen physical senses, and his strength of purpose. Religion has been discarded by the aristocracy as meaningless, and it is used by the working class to ensure their innocence. Love is seen as another romantic illusion created by the aristocracy to be used, as Julie uses it, to explain animal instincts in an acceptable manner. Jean, the pragmatic realist from the lower class, has no such need for excuses for sexual release.
To underline his themes and characterizations, Strindberg uses recurring animal imagery which links man with his animal nature, a technique which may be seen in the dreams of Julie and Jean, the foreshadowing effect of Julie's mother, Julie's attitude toward her dog, and the brutal death of Julie's beautiful, caged bird.
Miss Julie follows Aristotle's analysis of tragedy, moving audiences to pity, fear, and catharsis. Pity is aroused by the characters' inherent weaknesses and the social class structure they inhabit; fear is aroused when we realize that the same fate could overcome any of us; catharsis is produced when we realize that the old, decaying order must give way to the newer and stronger order for life to continue.



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