Johan August Strindberg

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Strindberg, Johan August


Born Jan. 22, 1849, in Stockholm; died there May 14, 1912. Swedish writer.

The son of a merchant of aristocratic origin and a domestic servant, Strindberg attended the University of Uppsala intermittently between 1867 and 1872. Under the influence of G. Brandes, Strindberg maintained in his senior thesis (1871), an essay on A. Oehlenschläager’s tragedy Hakon Jarl, and in the series of articles Perspectives (1872) that art must conform to the truth of reality. Strindberg’s historical drama on the Reformation in Sweden, Master Olof (first version, 1872; stage version, 1874; verse version, 1877), was akin in spirit to heroic sagas and to Shakespeare’s chronicles. The novel The Red Room (1879), a sweeping critique of bourgeois society that became a classic of Swedish critical realism, reflected Strindberg’s socialist sympathies. The novella The New Kingdom (1882) was a pointed satire of bourgeois civilization.

Persecuted by reactionary circles in Sweden, Strindberg spent the years between 1883 and 1898 traveling about Europe. In the short-story collection Married (1884–86) he denounced bourgeois marriage. The ideas of Rousseau, Saint-Simon, and Fourier and especially the views in N. G. Chernyshevkskii’s What Is to Be Done? were reflected in the short-story collection Utopias on Earth (1885).

The influence of naturalism and impressionism is very strong in Strindberg’s works of the late 1880’s, although Strindberg did not fully accept the aesthetics of these trends. The essay on naturalist drama that served as the preface to Strindberg’s play Miss Julie (1888) supported theatrical reform and established the principles of philosophical drama. Strindberg’s best naturalist plays, TheFather (1887), Miss Julie (1888), Comrades (1888), and Creditors (1889), were socially oriented psychological dramas.

Although Strindberg was influenced by modernism, he attacked the bourgeois way of life and continually strove for literary realism. His novel The People of Hemsö (1887) depicted the destruction of patriarchal life under the pressure of bourgeois civilization. Contemporary society and literary life were portrayed in the autobiographical novel Son of a Maidservant (1886–87). In 1888, Strindberg came under the influence of Nietzsche, as seen in the novel A Fool’s Defence (1888). However, although Strindberg exalted individualist scientists in the novella Tschandala (1889) and the novel By the Open Sea (1890), in the final analysis he revealed the superman to be amoral and criminal. The autobiographical Inferno (1897) and Legends (1898) were mystical in tone.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Strindberg wrote lyrical chamber plays, including the trilogy To Damascus (1898–1904), The Dance of Death (1901), A Dream Play (1902), and The Ghost Sonata (1907). His dream of an experimental theater was realized in 1907 with the opening of the Intima Theater in Stockholm, which staged his plays. The theater was in operation until 1910.

Strindberg’s plays reflected contemporary life and social contradictions. He wrote a number of historical dramas that affirmed the people’s dominance as just and lawful, including Gustavus Vasa and Erik XIV (both 1899), Engelbrekt and Charles XII (both 1901), and Christina (1903).

Strindberg’s prose of the 1900’s constituted a passionate condemnation of social vices and a quest for social ideals, as seen in the novels Alone (1903), Gothic Rooms (1904), and Black Banners (1905). His publicist writings, including Open Letters to the Intima Theater (1909), the three-volume The Blue Books (1907–08), and the collection Speeches to the Swedish Nation (1910), dealt with contemporary events and the emancipation and labor movements.

In the early 20th century, Strindberg and Ibsen were the foremost influences among the European intelligentsia, including Russian writers. The development of Strindberg’s work paralleled that of European art of the turn of the 20th century and thus became a symbol of contemporary literature. Strindberg influenced the plays of Maeterlinck and Pirandello and the aesthetics and works of I. Bergman, P. Lagerkvist, O’Neill, Anouilh, and Sartre. Brecht and Dürrenmatt have made use of Strindberg’s themes.


Samlade skrifter, vols. 1–55. Stockholm, 1912–20.
Brev, vols. 1–12. Stockholm, 1948–70.
In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–12. Moscow, 1908–11.
[Stat’i] In Khrestomatiiapo istorii zap. lealra na rubezhe X1X-XX vv. Moscow-Leningrad. 1939.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.