Authors: August Strindberg

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Swedish playwright

January 22, 1849

Stockholm, Sweden

May 14, 1912

Stockholm, Sweden

Biography

Johan August Strindberg was born in Stockholm on January 22, 1849. His father, a bankrupt shipping agent, married Strindberg's mother, a servant, just before August’s birth; three boys had been born before the marriage, and of the numerous children born later, four survived to crowd the tiny flat of the impoverished family. The overly sensitive boy was unhappy at home and less happy at school. He felt himself tormented because of his origins, and he was exasperated by a school system geared to the most stupid children. Upon the death of Strindberg’s mother, whom he idealized, his father married his young housekeeper, much to Strindberg’s pain and humiliation. {$I[AN]9810001493} {$I[A]Strindberg, August} {$I[geo]SWEDEN;Strindberg, August} {$I[tim]1849;Strindberg, August}

August Strindberg

(Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library)

At secondary school he was stimulated by the study of science, and to the end of his life he studied geology, astronomy, biology, and chemistry. He attended Uppsala University but was unhappy there; he was poor, lonely, and confused. Leaving the university without taking a degree, he engaged in a bewildering series of activities, becoming at various times a teacher, a tutor, an actor, a journalist, a political radical, a landscape painter, a medical student, a playwright, a librarian, a Sinologist, a poet, a chemist, a novelist, and an autobiographer.

Most of all, however, he was a dramatist who gradually attained fame all over Europe, though at home his genuine distinction proved difficult for his compatriots to discern through the clouds of scandal surrounding his melodramatically unsuccessful marriages, the shocking notoriety resulting from his frankly autobiographical books, subjective novels, and short stories, and his bizarre conduct during periods of near-insanity and frightening religious mania. Although few of the many studies of Strindberg have succeeded in making him a completely understandable human being, the “mad genius” strikes scholars of literature and drama increasingly as a genius, less as a madman. Strindberg spent much of his adult life abroad, but five years preceding his death he ended his continental exile and again lived in Stockholm, where he was associated with an intimate theater for the presentation of his plays and where he became a respected public figure. Nevertheless, he was still frustrated and tormented in his search for certainty, and his literary record of volcanic adventures of mind and spirit made him a violent and controversial figure to the end.

Critics consider Strindberg one of the most important and influential playwrights of the twentieth century. George Bernard Shaw and Eugene O’Neill are two of many dramatists who greatly admired his work. Strindberg wrote naturalistic plays such as The Father, Miss Julie, and The Stronger in the late 1880’s but later penned expressionistic dramas such as A Dream Play and The Ghost Sonata in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The sweep of Strindberg’s dramatic output is breathtaking: historical verse plays, fairy plays, romances, dozens of realistic and naturalistic plays, moralities, religious dramas, plays of complete cynicism and pessimism, and expressionistic plays. Not only was he far more versatile than any other modern playwright, but he also attained distinction in every genre he attempted. The reader is sharply conscious of the dynamic intellect on every page of Strindberg.

Strindberg’s historical and religious dramas and his social-reform or crusading plays generally hold little interest for British and American critics, who believe that Strindberg reached his full stature in his revolutionary naturalistic and expressionistic plays. The former reflect, if not a pathological misogyny, at least the most ferocious antifeminism ever to appear in drama. The Father, Comrades, The Dance of Death, and Creditors have as their central theme the duel of the sexes, in each of which the woman is more unscrupulous, selfish, and conscienceless than the man. The Father is one of the most terrifying tragedies ever written, partly because Strindberg poured into it experience from his own shattered marriage, partly because there is no alleviation of hope, and partly because of the superb construction and swift tempo that sweep the playgoer or reader along in breathless horror to the tragic and cynical final curtain. This work includes echoes of Greek tragedy (the Omphale motif) and of William Shakespeare’s works (Iago cleverly planting the seeds of doubt in Othello), but The Father is modern in its sharp study of a crumbling mind. Comrades is not a tragedy but is no less an intense expression of Strindberg’s misogyny, his contempt for Henrik Ibsen’s and Nora Helmer’s ideal of marriage as a companionship of equals. To Strindberg, woman has neither the integrity nor the intelligence to succeed as a comrade or partner. The Dance of Death exploits the same theme: that the underside of love is hate and that only tragedy can result from their inseparableness.

Miss Julie is perhaps Strindberg’s most popular play in the United States; the play involves an aristocratic young woman who sleeps with Jean, an impudent, attractive servant and who subsequently commits suicide. Miss Julie’s problems derive from various sources, such as her mother’s immorality, her father’s failure to bring her up properly, and the rigid class system, but her dilemma arises predominantly from her own want of character. She is far wealthier than Jean, and her social class results in greater expectations for her and greater shame when Jean, the thirty-year-old valet, deflowers her. Julie mistakenly thinks that she loves Jean; her feelings prove to be an infatuation, and the significant difference between their social classes renders their relationship impossible. Perhaps the impossibility of their relationship makes Jean more attractive to Julie. Jean’s power thus derives, ironically, from his lower social class; the twenty-five-year-old heroine has much more to lose than he. Gender roles also prove a factor in Strindberg’s drama because of the sexual double standard, which increases Jean’s reputation while destroying that of Julie. Strindberg effectively juxtaposes Julie’s tragedy with the jocular festivities of Midsummer Eve.

Strindberg stands as the father of expressionistic drama, which was carried to its greatest success in Germany after World War I and then declined as a dramatic form in the 1930’s. Echoes of expressionism still appear in modern plays, where its techniques have been used to some extent by O’Neill, Elmer Rice, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Jean Anouilh, J. B. Priestley, and others. To Damascus is the first real expressionistic drama. In it Strindberg abandoned traditional dramatic techniques in order to dramatize his own soul’s inferno in his search for religious certainty. His other two great expressionistic dramas are A Dream Play and The Ghost Sonata. This latter play O’Neill much admired, and its influence may be seen in a number of his plays.

Author Works Drama: Fritänkaren, pb. 1870 I Rom, pr., pb. 1870 Den fredlöse, pr. 1871 (The Outlaw, 1912) Hermione, pb. 1871 Anno fyrtioåtta, wr. 1876, pb. 1881 Mäster Olof, pb. 1878 (Master Olof, 1915) Gillets hemlighet, pr., pb. 1880 Herr Bengts hustru, pr., pb. 1882 Lycko-Pers resa, pr., pb. 1883 (Lucky Peter’s Travels, 1912) Fadren, pr., pb. 1887 (The Father, 1899) Marodörer, pr. 1887 Fröken Julie, pb. 1888 (Miss Julie, 1912) Kamraterna, pb. 1888 (with Axel Lundegård; Comrades, 1912) Fordringsägare, pb. 1888 (in Danish), pr. 1889 (Creditors, 1910) Hemsöborna, pr. 1889 (adaptation of his novel) Paria, pr. 1889 (Pariah, 1913) Den starkare, pr. 1889 (The Stronger, 1912) Samum, pr., pb. 1890 (Simoom, 1906) Himmelrikets nycklar: Eller, Sankte Per vandrar på jorden, pb. 1892 (The Keys of Heaven, 1965) Moderskärlek, pb. 1893 (Mother Love, 1910) Bandet, pb. 1893 (in German), pb. 1897 (The Bond, 1960) Debet och kredit, pb. 1893 (Debit and Credit, 1906) Första varningen, pr., pb. 1893 (The First Warning, 1915) Inför döden, pr., pb. 1893 (In the Face of Death, 1916) Leka med elden, pb. 1893 (Playing with Fire, 1930) Till Damaskus, forsta delen, pb. 1898 (To Damascus I, 1913) Till Damaskus, andra delen, pb. 1898 (To Damascus II, 1913) Advent, ett mysterium, pb. 1899 (Advent, 1912) Brott och Brott, pb. 1899 (Crime and Crime, 1913, also known as There Are Crimes and Crimes) Erik XIV, pr., pb. 1899 (English translation, 1931) Folkungasagan, pb. 1899 (The Saga of the Folkungs, 1931) Gustav Vasa, pr., pb. 1899 (English translation, 1916) Gustav Adolf, pb. 1900 (English translation, 1957) Carl XII, pb. 1901 (Charles XII, 1955) Dödsdansen, första delen, pb. 1901 (The Dance of Death I, 1912) Dödsdansen, andra delen, pb. 1901 (The Dance of Death II, 1912) Engelbrekt, pr., pb. 1901 (English translation, 1949) Kaspers fet-tisdag, pr. 1901 Kristina, pb. 1901 (Queen Christina, 1955) Midsommar, pr., pb. 1901 (Midsummertide, 1912) Påsk, pr., pb. 1901 (Easter, 1912) Ett drömspel, pb. 1902 (A Dream Play, 1912) Halländarn, wr. 1902, pb. 1918 Kronbruden, pb. 1902 (The Bridal Crown, 1916) Svanevit, pb. 1902 (Swanwhite, 1914) Genom öknar till arvland: Eller, Moses, wr. 1903, pb. 1918 (Through Deserts to Ancestral Lands, 1970) Gustav III, pb. 1903 (English translation, 1955) Lammet och vilddjuret: Eller, Kristus, wr. 1903, pb. 1918 (The Lamb and the Beast, 1970) Näktergalen i Wittenberg, pb. 1904 (The Nightingale of Whittenberg, 1970) Till Damaskus, tredje delen, pb. 1904 (To Damascus III, 1913) Brända tomten, pr., pb. 1907 (After the Fire, 1913) Oväder, pr., pb. 1907 (Storm, 1913) Pelikanen, pr., pb. 1907 (The Pelican, 1962) Spöksonaten, pb. 1907 (The Ghost Sonata, 1916) Abu Casems tofflor, pr., pb. 1908 Bjälbo-Jarlen, pr., pb. 1909 (Earl Birger of Bjälbo, 1956) Riksföreståndaren, pr. 1909 (The Regent, 1956) Siste riddaren, pr., pb. 1909 (The Last of the Knights, 1956) Stora landsvägen, pb. 1909 (The Great Highway, 1954) Svarta handsken, pb. 1909 (The Black Glove, 1916) Hellas: Eller, Sokrates, pb. 1918 (Hellas, 1970) Toten-Insel: Eller, Hades, pb. 1918 (Isle of the Dead, 1962) Six Plays, pb. 1955 Eight Expressionist Plays, pb. 1965 Long Fiction: Från Fjärdingen och Svartbäcken, 1877 Röda rummet, 1879 (The Red Room, 1913) Jäsningstiden, 1886 (The Growth of the Soul, 1914) Hemsöborna, 1887 (The Natives of Hemsö, 1965) Tschandala, 1889 (in Danish), 1897 I havsbandet, 1890 (By the Open Sea, 1913) Le Plaidoyer d’un fou, 1893 (in German), 1895 (A Madman’s Defense, 1912; also known as The Confessions of a Fool) Inferno, 1897 (English translation, 1912) Ensam, 1903 (Alone, 1968) Götiska rummen, 1904 Svarta fanor, 1907 Taklagsöl, 1907 Syndabocken, 1907 (The Scapegoat, 1967) Författaren, 1909 Short Fiction: Giftas I, 1881 Svenska öden och äventyr, 1882-1892 Utopier i verkligheten, 1885 Giftas II, 1886 (Married, 1913; also known as Getting Married, 1973; includes Giftas I and Giftas II) Skärkarlsliv, 1888 Legender, 1898 (Legends, 1912) Fagervik och Skamsund, 1902 (Fair Haven and Foul Strand, 1913) Sagor, 1903 (Tales, 1930) Historiska miniatyrer, 1905 (Historical Miniatures, 1913) Poetry: Dikter och verkligheter, 1881 Dikter på vers och prosa, 1883 Sömngångarnätter på vakna dagar, 1884 Nonfiction: Gamla Stockholm, 1880 Det nya riket, 1882 Svenska folket i helg och söcken, krig och fred, hemma och ute: Eller, Ett tusen år av svenska bildningens och sedernas historia, 1882 Tjänstekvinnans son: En s äls utvecklingshistoria, 1886 (4 volumes; The Son of a Servant: The Story of the Evolution of a Human Being, 1966, volume 1 only) Vivisektioner, 1887 Blomstermalningar och djurstycken, 1888 Bland franska bönder, 1889 Antibarbarus, 1896 Jardin des plantes, 1896 Svensk natur, 1897 Världshistoriens mystik, 1903 Modersmålets anor, 1910 Religiös renässans, 1910 Världsspråkens rötter, 1910 Folkstaten, 1910-1911 Tal till svenska nationen, 1910-1911 Öppna brev till Intima Teatern, 1911-1912 (Open Letters to the Intimate Theater, 1959) Zones of the Spirit: A Book of Thoughts, 1913 Bibliography Carlson, Harry Gilbert. Out of “Inferno”: Strindberg’s Reawakening as an Artist. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996. A study of the change in Strindberg’s literary works after his publication of Inferno. Includes bibliography and index. Ekman, Hans-Göran. Strindberg and the Five Senses: Studies in Strindberg’s Chamber Plays. Somerset, N.J.: Transaction, 2000. A critical analysis of Strindberg’s chamber plays, with particular emphasis on the five senses. Includes bibliography and index. Lagercrantz, Olof. August Strindberg. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984. Marker, Frederick J., and Christopher Innes, eds. Modernism in European Drama: Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1998. A collection of essays from Modern Drama published between 1963 and 1994 on modernism in the dramatic works of Strindberg, Henrik Ibsen, Luigi Pirandello, and Samuel Beckett. Includes bibliography and index. Martinus, Eivor. Strindberg and Love. Charlbury, Oxford, England: Amber Lane Press, 2001. A study of Strindberg’s relations with women, including how they manifested in his literary works. Includes bibliography and index. Robinson, Michael, ed. Strindberg and Genre. Norwich, England: Norvik Press, 1991. A good selection of essays on Strindberg’s literary form. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Robinson, Michael. Studies in Strindberg. Norwich: Norvik Press, 1998. A critical analysis and interpretation of the literary works of Strindberg. Bibliography and index. Robinson, Michael, and Sven Hakon Rossel, eds. Expressionism and Modernism: New Approaches to August Strindberg. Vienna: Edition Praesens, 1999. A collection of papers from the Thirteenth International Strindberg Conference, Linz Austria, October, 1997, and one essay from the Internationale Strindberg-Tage, Vienna, October, 1997, that examine the literary works of Strindberg. Includes bibliography and index. Steene, Birgitta, ed. Strindberg and History. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1992. Examines the theme of history in Strindberg’s works. Törnqvist, Egil. Strindberg’s “The Ghost Sonata”: From Text to Performance. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000. An in-depth analysis of Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata. Includes bibliography and index.

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