From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Miss Julie (Swedish: Fröken Julie) is an 1888 play by August Strindberg dealing with class, love/lust, the battle of the sexes, and the interaction among them. Set on midsummer night of 1894 in a small town in Sweden, the young woman of the title, attempting to escape an existence cramped by social mores and have a little fun, dances at the servants' annual midsummer party, where she is drawn to a senior servant, a footman named Jean, who is particularly well-traveled, well-mannered and well-read. The action takes place in the kitchen of Miss Julie's father's manor; here Jean's fiancée, a servant named Kristin, sometimes sleeps even as Jean and Miss Julie talk.
The plot is primarily concerned with power in its various forms. Miss Julie has power over Jean because she is upper-class and female. Jean has power over Miss Julie because he is more wise in the ways of the world and male. The count, Miss Julie's father (an unseen character), has power over one or both of them since he is a nobleman, an employer, and a father.
On this night, previously only flirtatious behavior between Miss Julie and Jean roughly but rapidly becomes a love relationship—or is it just lust?—that is fully consummated. Over the course of the play, Miss Julie and Jean battle for control, which swings back and forth between them until Jean convinces his social superior and recent lover that the only way to escape her predicament is to kill herself.
Miss Julie: Daughter of the count who owns the estate. She is very strong-willed. Raised by her late mother to 'think like and act like a man', she is a rather confused individual. She is aware of the power she holds, but switches between being above the servants and flirting with them. She longs to fall from her social standing.
Jean: Manservant to the count. When he was a child, he had seen Miss Julie many times at a distance and thought of her. He left the town and traveled widely, working many different jobs as he went along, before finally returning to work for the count. He has aspirations to rise from his station in life and manage his own hotel, with Miss Julie being part of his plan. He is alternately kind and callous; Strindberg switches between the two opposing personalities. Despite his aspirations, he is easily made servile by merely the sight of the count's gloves and boots.
Kristin: The cook in the count's household. She is devoutly religious and apparently betrothed to Jean, although they refer to this marriage almost jokingly. She is the antagonist of the play since she represents what Strindberg hated: peasants satisfied with their situation.Template:Fact
The Count: Never seen, but his gloves and his boots are on stage, constantly serving as a reminder of his presence and power. When the bell sounds, his presence is also noted more strongly. A symbol for the ever-present God.
A new translation of Miss Julie by Frank McGuinness was produced in July 2006 at the Theatre Royal, Bath by director Rachel O'Riordan. Set in 19th-century Northern Ireland, this version relies on the tension between the Irish servant class and Ascendancy landowners to carry Strindberg's message to an Anglophone audience. Even more recently, a modern adaptation was produced by the Elizabeth Malone Production Company in New York City.
The play opens with Jean walking onto the stage, the stage being the kitchen of the manor. He drops his boots off to the side but still within view of the audience; his clothing shows that he is a valet. The author/playwright, at this point, goes into great detail about the kitchen. Jean then begins to talk to Kristin about Miss Julie's peculiar behavior. He considers her mad since she went to the barn dance and constantly tried to waltz with Jean, a mere servant of the count. Kristin delves into the background of Miss Julie, stating how, unable to face her family after the humiliation of breaking her engagement, she stayed behind to mingle with the servants at the dance instead of going with her father to the Midsummer's Eve celebrations. (Miss Julie got rid of her fiancé seemingly because he refused her demand that he jump over a riding whip she was holding. The incident, apparently witnessed by Jean, was exceedingly similar to training and commanding a dog to jump through a hoop.)
Jean takes a bottle of fine wine out, a wine with a "yellow seal," and then reveals that he and Kristin are engaged in the way he flirts with her. Noticing a stench, Jean asks what Kristin is cooking so late on Midsummer's Eve. The pungent mixture turns out to be an abortifacient for Miss Julie's dog, which was impregnated by the gatekeeper's mongrel. Jean calls Miss Julie "too stuck-up in some ways and not proud enough in others," traits apparently inherited from her mother. Despite her character flaws, Jean finds Miss Julie beautiful. When Miss Julie enters and asks Kristin if the "meal" has finished cooking, Jean instantly shapes up, becoming charming and polite. Jokingly he asks if the women are gossiping about secrets or making a witch's broth for seeing Miss Julie's future suitor. After more niceties, Miss Julie invites Jean once more to dance the waltz, at which point he hesitates, pointing out that he already promised Kristin to dance and that the gossip generated by such an act would be savage. Almost offended by this response, she justifies her request by pulling rank: she is the lady of the house and must have the best dancer as her partner. Then, insisting that rank does not matter, she convinces Jean to waltz with her. The scene ends with the two leaving for the barn and Kristin going about her business, tidying up and preparing for her own dance with Jean.
- (The preceding summarizes only the first half of the play.)
- In 1912, Anna Hofman-Uddgren directed a film version, based on her own and Gustaf Uddgren's screenplay. Manda Björling played Julie and August Falck played Jean. It was based on the stage production in Stockholm in 1906.
- In 1951, Alf Sjöberg made a film version, Miss Julie, from his own screenplay.
- In 1972, John Glenister and Robin Phillips directed a television version, with Helen Mirren as Julie and Donal McCann as Jean.
- In 1986, Bob Heaney and Mikael Wahlforss directed a television adaptation, set in South Africa in the 1980s, in which the two main characters were separated by race as well as class and gender. It was based on a 1985 stage production at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. Sandra Prinsloo played Julie and John Kani played Jean.
- In 1987, Michael Simpson directed a television version, in which Patrick Malahide played Jean and Janet McTeer played Julie.
- In 1991, David Ponting directed a television version, in which Sean Galuszka played Jean and Eleanor Comegys played Julie.
- In 1999, Mike Figgis made a film version, Miss Julie, from a screenplay by Helen Cooper. Saffron Burrows played Julie and Peter Mullan played Jean.
- In July 2006, a new translation of Miss Julie by Frank McGuinness was produced at the Theatre Royal, Bath by director Rachel O'Riordan. Set in 19th-century Northern Ireland, this version relies on the tension between the Irish servant class and Ascendancy landowners to carry Strindberg's message to an Anglophone audience.