August Strindberg  

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Johan August Strindberg (January 22, 1849 – May 14, 1912) was a Swedish writer, playwright, and painter. Along with Henrik Ibsen he is arguably the most influential and most important of all Scandinavian authors, along with Knut Hamsun, Henrik Ibsen, Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen. Strindberg is known as one of the fathers of modern theatre. His work falls into two major literary movements, Naturalism and Expressionism. He is noted for such works as A Dream Play (1901).



Early years

Strindberg was the third son of Carl Oscar Strindberg, a shipping agent, and Ulrika Eleonora (Nora) Norling. Ulrika was twelve years Carl's junior and of humble origin, called a "domestic servant woman" by Strindberg. He used this expresion in the title of his autobiographical novel, Tjänstekvinnans son (The Son of a Servant). Strindberg's paternal grandfather Zacharias was born in 1758 to a clergyman in Jämtland and settled in Stockholm, where he became a successful spice tradesman and a major in the Burghers' Military Corps. Strindberg's aunt Johanna Magdalena Elisabeth Strindberg (1797-1880), also called "Lisette", was married to the inventor and industrialist Samuel Owen (born 1774 in Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire, England, died February 15, 1854 in Stockholm) who went to Sweden in 1804 to help with the installation of the first steam engines for industrial use in Sweden and later in 1806 set up his own workshop 'Kungsholms Mekaniska Verkstad' in Stockholm. Carl Oscar Strindberg's older brother Johan Ludvig Strindberg was a successful businessman, the model for the protagonist Arvid Falk's wealthy and socially ambitious uncle in Strindberg's novel Röda rummet (The Red Room).

Strindberg's own version of his childhood is available in his novel The Son of a Servant, but at least one of his biographers, Olof Lagercrantz, warns against its use as a biographical source. Much of what Strindberg wrote has an autobiographical character, but Lagercrantz notes Strindberg's "talent to make us believe what he wants us to believe," and his unwillingness to accept any characterization of his person other than his own.

From the age of seven, Strindberg grew up in the Norrtull area on the northern, almost-rural periphery of Stockholm, not far from Tegnérlunden, the park where Carl Eldh's grand statue of Strindberg was later placed. He went to the elementary schools of Klara and Jakob parishes, continuing to the Stockholms Lyceum, a progressive private school for middle-class boys. He completed his graduation exam studentexamen on May 25 1867, and matriculated at the University of Uppsala in the autumn.


Strindberg would spend the next years in Uppsala and Stockholm, alternately studying for exams and trying his hand at non-academic pursuits. As a young student, Strindberg also worked as an assistant in a chemist's shop in the university town of Lund in southern Sweden. He first left Uppsala in 1868 to work as a schoolteacher, but then studied chemistry for some time at the Institute of Technology in Stockholm in preparation for medical studies, later working as a private tutor before becoming an extra at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm. He returned to Uppsala in January 1870 to study and work on a set of plays, the first of which opened at the Royal Theatre in September 1870, a biography of the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. In Uppsala, he started Runa, a small literary club with friends who all took pseudonyms from Nordic mythology; Strindberg called himself Frö after the god of fertility. He spent a few more semesters in Uppsala, finally leaving in March 1872 without graduating. He would often ridicule Uppsala and its professors, as when he published Från Fjerdingen och Svartbäcken ("From Fjerdingen and Svartbäcken", 1877), short stories depicting Uppsala student life. After leaving university for the last time, he embarked on his career as a journalist and critic for newspapers in Stockholm.


The rise and fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 led to a political awakening for the young Strindberg, and he started to see politics as a conflict between the upper- and lower classes. Strindberg was admired by the Swedish working class as a radical writer. He was a socialist (or perhaps more of an anarchist, which he himself claimed on at least one occasion). Strindberg's political views nevertheless shifted considerably within this spectrum over the years, and he was never primarily a political writer. Nor was he often found campaigning for any one issue, preferring instead to pour literary and manifesto-style scorn over his enemies en masse—the military, the church, the monarchy, the politicians, the stingy publishers, the incompetent reviewers, the narrow-minded, the idiots—and he was loyal to no party or ideology. Many of his works however carried at least some political coloring and sometimes an abundance of it. They often displayed the conviction that life and the prevailing system was profoundly unjust and injurious to ordinary citizens.

The fluid nature of his political positions is perhaps illustrable by the women's rights issue. Early on, Strindberg approached the position of women in 19th-century Sweden with sympathy, calling for women's suffrage as early as 1884. However, in other periods he would hold wildly misogynistic views, calling for lawmakers to reconsider the emancipation of these "half-apes ... mad ... criminal, instinctively evil animals". This has become an area of some controversy in contemporary assessments of Strindberg, as have the starkly antisemitic portraits he painted of Jews (and, in particular, Jewish enemies of his in Swedish cultural life) in some works (eg. Det nya riket), particularly in the early 1880s. Strindberg's antisemitic pronouncements, just like his views on women, have been hotly debated, and also seem to have shifted considerably back and forth.

In satirizing Swedish society—in particular the upper classes, the cultural and political establishment, and his many personal and professional foes—he could be bitingly confrontational, with scarecly-concealed caricatures of political opponents. This could take the form of brutal character assassination or open mockery, and while the presentation was invariably skilful and hard-hitting, it was not necessarily subtle.

His daughter Karin Strindberg married Vladimir Smirnov, one of the leading Russian Bolsheviks. Because of his political views, Strindberg was heavily promoted in socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the Soviet Union and Cuba.Template:Fact


A multi-faceted author, Strindberg was often extreme. His novel The Red Room (Röda rummet) (1879) brought him fame. His early plays were written in the Naturalistic style. His works from this time are often compared with the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Strindberg's best-known play from this period is Miss Julie (Fröken Julie).

Strindberg wanted to attain what he called "Greater Naturalism." He did not prefer expository character backgrounds seen in the work of Ibsen, or write plays that gave his audiences a "slice of life" because he felt that these plays were mundane and uninteresting. Strindberg felt that true naturalism was a psychological battle of brains (hjärnornas kamp). Two people who hate each other in the immediate moment and strive to drive the other to doom is the type of mental hostility that Strindberg strove to capture. Furthermore, he intended his plays to be impartial and objective, citing a desire to make literature somewhat of a science.

Later, he underwent a time of inner turmoil known as the Inferno Period, which culminated in the production of a book written in French, Inferno. He also exchanged a few cryptic letters with Nietzsche.

Strindberg subsequently broke with Naturalism and began to produce works informed by Symbolism. He is considered one of the pioneers of the Modern European stage and Expressionism. The Dance of Death (Dödsdansen), A Dream Play (Ett drömspel) and The Ghost Sonata (Spöksonaten) are well-known plays from this period.

One year before his death, his main book publisher Albert Bonniers förlag bought the rights to all his writings for 200,000 Swedish crowns, a fortune at that time, which Strindberg shared with his children.

Other interests

Strindberg, something of a polymath, was also a telegrapher, painter, photographer and alchemist.

Painting and photography offered venues for his belief that chance played a crucial part in the creative process. Strindberg's paintings were unique for their time, and went beyond those of his contemporaries for their radical lack of adherence to visual reality. The 117 paintings that are acknowledged as his, were mostly painted within the span of a few years, and are now seen by some as among the most original works of nineteenth century art. Today, his best-known pieces are stormy, expressionist seascapes, selling at high prices in auction houses. Though Strindberg was friends with Edvard Munch and Paul Gauguin, and was thus familiar with modern trends, the spontaneous and subjective expressiveness of his landscapes and seascapes can be ascribed also to the fact that he painted only in periods of personal crisis.

His interest in photography resulted, among other things, in a large number of arranged self-portraits in various environments, which now number among the best-known pictures of Strindberg.

Alchemy, occultism, Swedenborgianism, and various other eccentric interests were pursued by Strindberg with some intensity for periods of his life. In the curious autobiographical work Inferno—a dark, paranoid and confusing tale of his years in Paris, written in French—he claims to have successfully carried out experiments in alchemy and cast black magic spells on his daughter.

Personal life

Strindberg was married three times, to Siri von Essen (1850-1912), Frida Uhl (1872-1943), and Harriet Bosse (1878-1961). He had children with all his wives, but his hypersensitive, neurotic character led to bitter divorces. Late in his life he met the young actress and painter Fanny Falkner (1890-1963), whose book illuminates his last years, but the exact nature of their relationship is debated. He had a brief affair in Berlin with Dagny Juel before his marriage to Frida; it has been suggested that the shocking news of her murder was the reason he cancelled his honeymoon with his third wife, Harriet.

Strindberg's relationships with women were troubled and have often been interpreted as misogynistic by contemporaries and modern readers. Most acknowledge, however, that he had uncommon insight into the hypocrisy of his society's gender roles and sexual morality. Marriage and the family were under stress in Strindberg's lifetime as Sweden industrialized and urbanized at a rapid pace. Problems of prostitution and poverty were debated heatedly among writers, critics and politicians. His early writing often dealt with the traditional roles of the sexes imposed by society, which he criticized as unjust.

Strindberg's last home was Blå tornet in central Stockholm, where he lived from 1908 until 1912. Today it is a museum.

By the end of his life Strindberg had returned to Christianity, authoring religious works inspired by Emanuel Swedenborg.

At Christmas 1911, Strindberg became sick with pneumonia, and he never fully recovered. At this time he also started to suffer from a stomach disease, presumably cancer. He died in May 1912 at the age of 63. Strindberg was interred in the Norra begravningsplatsen in Stockholm, and thousands of people followed him during the funeral proceedings.

Several statues and busts of him have been erected in Stockholm; most prominently Carl Eldh's erected in 1942 in Tegnérlunden, a park next to the house were Strindberg lived the last years of his life.


Strindberg wrote 58 plays, an autobiography (9 volumes, A Soul's Advance, 1886-1903)


The Storm
The Burned Site
The Pelican
The Ghost Sonata

Poetry, fiction, other, and autobiography

  • From Fjerdingen and Svartbäcken, short stories, 1877
  • The Red Room, novel, 1879
  • Gamla Stockholm (Old Stockholm), with Claes Lundin, cultural history, 1880
  • I Vårbrytningen: Ungdomsarbeten, for childlren, Volumes I-VI, 1881
  • Kulturhistoriska studier, 1881
  • Dikter och verkligheter (Poems and Realities), verse and prose, 1881
  • Svenska folket i helg och söcken, i krig och i fred, hemma och ute; eller, Ett tusen år av svenska bildningens och sedernas historia (The Swedish People on Holy Day and Everyday, in War and Peace, at Home and Abroad; or, A Thousand Years of the History of Swedish Culture and Manners), illustrations by Carl Larsson and C. E. Fritze, Volume I ,1881 and volume II, 1882
  • Det nya riket (The New Kingdom), essay, 1882
  • Svenska öden och äventyr (Swedish Destinies and Adventures), novel, 1883
  • Dikter på vers och prosa Poems in Verse and Prose, 1883
  • Likt och olikt, 1884
  • Sömngångarnätter och vakna dagar (verse), 1884
  • Giftas (Married), two volumed short stories, Schleussner 1884–1886
  • Kvarstadsresan (Journey into Detention), autobiography, 1885
  • Utopier i verkligheten (Utopias in Reality), short stories, 1885
  • Jäsningstiden (Time of Ferment), autobiographical novel, 1886
  • Tjänstekvinnans son (The Son of a Servant), autobiography, 1886–1909
  • Hemsöborna (Natives of Hemsö), novel, 1887
  • Vivisectioner, (Vivisections), essays includes On Psychic Murder, 1887
  • Blomstermaalningar och djurstycken ungdomen tillaegnade (Flowers and Animals), popular science, 1888
  • Le Plaidoyer d'un fou, 1888
  • Tschandala, novel, 1888
  • Skaerkarlslif: Beraettelser (Life in the Skerries), short story, 1888
  • Bland franska boender (Among French Peasants), non-fiction, 1889
  • Om modern drama och modern teater" (On Modern Drama and the Modern Theatre), essay, 1889
  • En haxa (A Witch), novel, 1890
  • I havsbandet, novel, 1890
  • Tryckt och otryckt (Printed and unprinted), plays, essays, and other writings, 1890–1897
  • Les Relations de la France avec la Suede jusqu'a nos jours, 1891
  • Antibarbarus, essays, 1892
  • Jardin des plantes (Botanical Gardens), science, 1896
  • Hortus Merlini: Lettres sur la chimie; Sylva sylvarum, 1897
  • Inferno, novel/autobiography, 1897
  • Svensk natur (Swedish Nature), 1897
  • Legender (Legends: Autobiographical Sketches), 1898
  • Klostret (Monastery), novel ,1898
  • Typer och prototyper inom mineralkemien: Festskrift till firandet af Berzelii femtioaarsminne, 1898
  • Jakob brottas (Jacob Wrestling), journal, 1898
  • Samvetsqval (Remorse), 1899
  • Vaerldshistoriens mystik ((The Mysticism (or Mystique or Hidden Meaning) of World History)), essay, 1901
  • Fagervik och Skamsund (Fair Haven and Foul Strand), 1902
  • Ensam (Alone), novella, 1903
  • Sagor (Fairy tales), stories, 1903
  • Oeppna brev till Intima Teatern, essays, 1903
  • Götiska rummen (Gothic Rooms), novel, 1904
  • Historiska miniatyrer (Historical Thumbnails), fiction, 1905
  • Ordalek och smaakonst (Word Play and Miniature Art), poems, 1905
  • Taklagsoel, novella, 1907
  • Syndabocken, novella, 1907
  • Svarta fanor (Black Banners), novel, 1907
  • Kammarspel, 1907
  • En blaa bok (A Blue Book), essays and journal entries, four volumes, 1907–1912
  • Fabler och smårre beråttelser (Fables and Minor Stories), 1909
  • Shakespeares Macbeth, Othello, Romeo och Julia, Stormen, Kung Lear, Henrik VIII, En Midsommarnattsdröm (Shakespeare's Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, King Lear, Henry VIII, A Midsummer Night's Dream), 1909
  • Tal till Svenska Nationen om olust i landet, levernet, litteraturen och laerdomen ... Sjunde upplagan (Speeches to the Swedish Nation), 1910
  • Författaren: En sjåls utvecklingshistoria (Author: A psychic development history), 1910
  • Folkstaten: Studier till en stundande författningsrevision (People's State: Studies in a forthcoming Constitutional Court), 1910
  • Modersmaalets anor (The Origins of Our Mother Tongue), essay ,1910
  • Vaerldspraakens roetter (The Roots of World Languages), 1910
  • Religioes renaessans (Religious Renaissance), 1910
  • Kina och Japan: Studier (China and Japan Studies), 1911
  • Kinesiska språkets hårkomst (Chinese language descent), 1912
  • Samlade skrifter (Collected Works), fifty-five volumes, edited by John Landquist

In popular culture

  • In Woody Allen's 1979 Academy Award nominated film Manhattan, the protagonist (played by Allen) says to a friend: "You shouldn't ask me for advice. When it comes to relationships with women, I'm the winner of the August Strindberg Award."
  • In the film Modern Problems (1981), Dabney Coleman recites a "partial" list of his favorite things that includes "Strindberg's women - all of them"
  • In a popular Hindi novel A Torn Happiness by Nirmal Verma, Strindberg looms large over the heads of many characters.
  • In the Mel Brooks musical, The Producers, the line "So keep your Strindbergs and Ibsens at bay." is present in the song, "Keep It Gay".
  • A track featured on the album "Eli" by artists Jan Akkerman and Kaz Lux was written as a tribute to Strindberg's works.
  • In the French film Jules and Jim the main characters watch one of Strindberg's plays, influencing a change in one of the characters.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "August Strindberg" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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