August Strindberg - Biography and Works

Strindberg (1849 -1912) is the Swedish playwright. August was the third son of Carl Oscar Strindberg and Ulrika Eleanora Norling. The couple had nine more children. Strindberg's childhood was poor and miserable. He was shy and family tensions depressed him.

August Strindberg (1849 -1912)

Ulrika Eleanora died when he was 13 years old. After his father remarried, Strindberg came to hate his stepmother. To underline his sympathies with the lower-classes, Strindberg entitled his autobiography The Son of a Servant (1886).

Strindberg returned to his studies in Uppsala and completed in 1872 a senior candidacy. Back in Stockholm, Strindberg worked as a journalist and wrote the historical drama Master Olof, about the introspective Swedish Protestant reformer Olaus Petri. It was written in the spirit of Shakespeare, but Strindberg also adopted influences from Schiller. Strindberg became in 1874 an assistant librarian at the Royal Library, serving until his resignation in 1882.

The publication of the first part of his scenes of marital life Giftas (1884, Getting Married), outraged the Swedish establishment, especially the short story 'Reward of virtue', in which Strindberg mocked the Holy Communion. The book was confiscated, Strindberg was prosecuted for blasphemy but acquitted. In Sweden the younger generation hailed him as a hero. Getting Married was inspired by Ibsen's play A Doll's House (1883), but Strindberg was more on the side of Nora's husband.

Froken Julie (1888, Miss Julie), Strindberg's next major drama after Fadren (1887, The Father), coupled one of his favorite themes, the Darwinian battle between the sexes, with a social struggle and love-hate bond. Strindberg wrote it during his stay in Denmark. The protagonist, Julie, a daughter of a count, allows herself to be seduced by her father's servant Jean. She must then confront the situation, in which Jean, a man on the rise, turns out to be the stronger person. Julie chooses her own tragic fate. Unable to arrive at any reasonable plan, she orders Jean to hypnotize her into committing suicide. Miss Julie had its premiere at Strindberg's Experimental Theater in Copenhagen in 1889.

He wrote fifty-eight plays. He enjoys the extra credit of being a writer of more than a dozen novels. He wrote more than a hundred short stories. The entire gamut of Strindberg's works falls into two parts. The first part of his work was completed before 1894. Entire works produced by Strindberg up to 1894 belong to the first part. In this first period Strindberg produced primarily naturalistic plays. Some of these naturalistic plays are The Father (1877), Miss Julie (1888), and The Creditors (1889). All works written by him after 1894 belong to the second part. In this period after 1894 Strindberg produced wholly expressionist plays. Some of these expressionistic plays are To Damascus (1898-1901), There are Crimes and Crimes (1899), Easter (1901), The Dance of Death (1901) etc.

While producing an astonishing body of work, Strindberg fell prey to persistent paranoia. His personal life was unbelievably unsatisfactory. He suffered the destruction of three marriages. He was unusually prone to nervous breakdown.

Strindberg is often described as a woman-hater, a misogynist. For periods of his life he seems to have been misogynistic, but he was nonetheless extremely contradictory in both behavior and belief. There is no simple way to talk about Strindberg's attitude toward women. On the one hand, he is conventional in his thinking that women belong in the home.

In 1907, he began experimenting with what he called an "intimate theatre" based on the structures of chamber music, turning from the conventional figure of the protagonist in favor of a smaller and a more balanced group of characters to direct his plays. Stnndberg's misogyny was central to the many psychotic episodes he suffered throughout the 1890s episodes that put a stop to his dramatic production altogether. Like Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Strindberg never received the Nobel Prize for literature. However, he had actively supported the Trades Union movement and was awarded its alternative Nobel Prize.

His influence has been wide. As a dramatist he was a source of inspiration to the German expressionists, and to Eugene O'Neill, Eugene Ionesco, and Tennessee Williams, and his impact is seen among others in the works of such playwrights as Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, John Osborne, and John Arden. Pär Lagerkvist wrote about Strindberg in Modern Theatre (1966).

August Strindberg Study Center

Miss Julie (Drama)