Strindberg, Johan August

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Strindberg, Johan August

(strĭnd`bərg, Swed. yo͞o`hän ou`gəst strĭnd`bĕr'yə), 1849–1912, Swedish dramatist and novelist. He was a master of the Swedish language and an innovator in dramatic and literary styles.

Strindberg was the unwanted fourth child of a once well-to-do father and a mother who had come to his father's house as a servant. He studied intermittently at the Univ. of Uppsala, but poverty forced him to leave without a degree, taking work as a tutor, journalist, and librarian.

Strindberg's first mature drama, Master Olaf (written c.1873), showed the influence of IbsenIbsen, Henrik
, 1828–1906, Norwegian dramatist and poet. His early years were lonely and miserable. Distressed by the consequences of his family's financial ruin and on his own at sixteen, he first was apprenticed to an apothecary.
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 and ShakespeareShakespeare, William,
1564–1616, English dramatist and poet, b. Stratford-upon-Avon. He is widely considered the greatest playwright who ever lived. Life
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; it represented the personality of the author in three characters. The play was refused production until 1881 because of its realistic portrayal of national figures and its unprecedented use of prose for dramatic tragedy. With the novel The Red Room (1879), in which he satirized hypocrisy and injustice in Swedish life, Strindberg achieved renown. The Red Room, which helped initiate Swedish realism, revealed Strindberg's remarkable style, brilliantly visual and precisely suited to his ideas. He developed it more fully in the next decade, pouring forth an impressive assortment of novels, plays, stories, histories, and poems.

Strindberg's life was complicated by an unsuccessful suit brought against him for blasphemy as a result of his stories in Married (2 vol., 1884–85), which derogated women and denounced conventional religious practices. Although this conflict stirred a persecution complex in Strindberg, he remained for a time prolific and creative. His bitter and revealing autobiography Tjänstekvinnans son (tr. Son of a Servant, 1913) appeared in 1886.

In the late 1880s he began to experiment with free verse and created the great dramas The Father (1887), Miss Julie (1888), and Creditors (1888). These plays follow naturalism in their emphasis on the pathological and in their realism, but they depart from its objective, documentary techniques to achieve a subjective and emotional tone. The Father vividly expresses Strindberg's view of the war between the sexes, in which he saw man as victimized by woman. Miss Julie is a psychological study of the seduction of an upper-class woman by an insensitive chauffeur. These works show the influence of the ideas of ZolaZola, Émile
, 1840–1902, French novelist, b. Paris. He was a professional writer, earning his living through journalism and his novels. About 1870 he became the apologist for and most significant exponent of French naturalism, a literary school that maintained that
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 and NietzscheNietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm
, 1844–1900, German philosopher, b. Röcken, Prussia. The son of a clergyman, Nietzsche studied Greek and Latin at Bonn and Leipzig and was appointed to the chair of classical philology at Basel in 1869.
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In 1891 the first of Strindberg's three wretched marriages ended in divorce, and his second marriage and separation soon followed. He was precipitated into his "inferno crisis" (1894–96), in which he explored the occult and entertained the delusion that he was persecuted by creatures from another world, an experience later described in Inferno (1897). His inner turmoil subsided somewhat as he adopted Swedenborgian mysticism (see Swedenborg, EmanuelSwedenborg, Emanuel
, 1688–1772, Swedish scientist, religious teacher, and mystic. His religious system, sometimes called Swedenborgianism, is largely incorporated in the Church of the New Jerusalem, founded some years after his death.
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) and he entered a new period of creativity. In 1901 he married the actress Harriet Bosse; they parted in 1904, and, as with his previous marriages, he lost custody of their offspring.

In the dramas of this period Strindberg began to experiment with visual effects and other aspects of dramatic form, initiating changes that still remain living influences in the modern theater. Expressionist dream sequences and symbolism were combined with realism and with religious mysticism. Major works in this vein are The Dream Play (1902), To Damascus (3 parts, 1898–1904), and The Ghost Sonata (1907); in all there prevails some compassion for humanity's discordant existence, accompanied by varying degrees of pessimism. Strindberg also wrote many historical dramas, including the outstanding Gustav Vasa (1899). His last play, The Great Highway (1909), was a symbolic study of his own life. Many of his works have been translated into English.


See his Open Letters to the Intimate Theatre (1966) and his letters (1939, repr. 1959); memoir, Marriage with Genius (1937), by his second wife, F. Strindberg; biographies by M. Lamm (tr. 1971), M. Meyer (1985), and S. Prideaux (2012); studies by W. G. Johnson (1963), E. O. Johannesson (1968), E. Sprinchorn (1982), and J. E. Bellquist (1986).

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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.


Brandes, G. “Avgust Strindberg.” Sobr. soch., vol. 2. St. Petersburg [no date].
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Velikomuchenik individualizma (A. Strindberg).” In Meshchanstvo i individualizm. Moscow-Petrograd, 1923.
Blok, A. Stat’i o Strindberge. In Sobr. soch., vol. 9. Moscow-Leningrad, 1936.
Gorky, M. Sobr. soch. Vol. 24: Moscow, 1953, pp. 49, 468; vol. 28: Moscow, 1954, pp. 77–79; vol. 29: Moscow, 1955, p. 245.
Mann. T. “Avgust Strindberg.” Sobr. soch., vol. 10. Moscow, 1961.
Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 5. Moscow, 1970.
Sharypkin, D. M. Russkaia literatura v skandinavskikh stranakh. Leningrad, 1975.
Berendsohn, W. Strindbergsproblem. Stockholm, 1946.
Brandell, G. Strindbergs Infernokris. Stockholm, 1950.
Hagsten, A. Den unge Strindberg, vols. 1–2. Lund, 1951.
Ollén, G. Strindbergs dramatik. Stockholm, 1961.
Lamm, M. August Strindberg. Stockholm, 1963.
Kärnell, K. A. Strindbergslexikon. Stockholm [1969].


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