Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
It is Midsummer Eve, an occasion for carousing by the rural population. In traditional Scandinavian culture, the shortest night of the year was an interstice in normal time, when social lines might be crossed. The farmers sing off-color songs to satirize their “betters,” and the aristocratic Julie invites, even commands, her father’s servant to dance on the village green that is only hinted at by lilacs in bloom beyond the kitchen door.
As Julie explains her mixed aversion and attraction to men, she reveals her family past. Her mother was not well born, and Jean knows that even the count’s supposed aristocratic background has little historical depth. The manor house itself had been destroyed by arson, then rebuilt under questionable financial circumstances dictated by the likely arsonist, Julie’s mother. Until the count restored patriarchal order to the chaos of the estate, Julie’s mother had raised her as a tomboy. She learned to ride and shoot but not manage a house. As an adult in this house of dubious origin, she is helplessly stranded between age and gender roles, and the conflicting demands of awakening sexuality and constraining social order.
Jean’s tree. Image in a recurrent dream of the count’s valet, who is Julie’s lover. Kristin’s kitchen is set in ordinary space, although the scene has an intentionally skewed quality explicitly stated in the dramatist’s stage directions that suggests the areas beyond it. Vertical space is also important as the dimension of social hierarchy, the medium of personal rise and fall. Jean had a childhood experience and a recurrent dream, both articulated vertically. As a boy he had been called to help his mother weed onion beds near the count’s manor house. Attracted to a decorated pavilion, he explored it, only to discover that it was an outhouse (privy), and his only means of escape was through the hole and out the back. Filthy after this “descent to Hades,” he saw the young Julie and was struck with her beauty, as well as by her higher social station and its privileges. His more mature dream is of climbing a great tree that would lead him up to the clouds among the birds of prey, if only he could reach the first branch.
Julie’s column. Miss Julie’s corresponding dream is of being trapped at the top of a pillar and then of inevitable downward motion, both feared and desired: subjecting men to her will but being personally degraded as well. After alienating her fiancé, this movement continues with her yielding to sexual urges on Midsummer Eve, an occasion already culturally identified for this purpose.
Kitchen and side-rooms. When commoners from the rustic celebration approach the manor house, Julie and Jean wish to avoid being seen together and leave the kitchen. The revelers enter, drink, sing, and dance. This lightly scornful pantomime provides enough time for Julie and Jean to make love off stage. When they return to the stage, everything has changed–except the time and place. In Julie’s mind, no future is possible on the estate: She and Jean cannot marry because of class distinctions, and she is unwilling to continue as Jean’s casual mistress.
The play has only one scene. The seemingly cozy farm kitchen, invaded by the intoxicating smell of summer flowers, is a place where a woman of Julie’s rank and age would normally enter only to give orders. It is too constraining a place for positive change to occur. Instead, it becomes a crucible where social qualities and character attributes are broken down but do not fuse into a stronger new alloy. Rigid as the setting is, the significant acts of sexual union and self-destruction can only occur beyond it.
*Ticino. Resort town in southern Switzerland where Julie and Jean fantasize about going to open a hotel. This utopian fantasy is alternately scorned and promoted by Julie, who at one point even tries to rope in the reluctant cook, Kristin. However, the cook immediately senses the social shift taking place around her: Jean’s transgression–which she forgives as the act of an ambitious male–and Julie’s defloration–which she judges willful self-abasement and cannot excuse. In her eyes, the manor house has again been brought low.