Study Guide

August Strindberg

August Strindberg Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

0111201623-Strindberg.jpg(Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Sweden’s Strindberg stands, with the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, as Scandinavia’s greatest dramatist. He introduced both naturalism and expressionism to the modern European stage; considered to be the father of Swedish literature, with dozens of novels, essays, and scientific treatises as well as more than fifty plays to his credit, he never received that country’s Nobel Prize but permanently influenced the shape of twentieth century world theater.

Early Life

Born into a successful merchant family, the third son of Carl Oscar Strindberg and Ulrika Eleonora Norling, Johan August Strindberg enjoyed an orderly, if emotionally undemonstrative, childhood, until his mother’s death when he was only thirteen. His father’s coldness and hasty marriage to Strindberg’s governess were, according to some biographers, the precipitating factors in Strindberg’s lifelong anxieties about his place in society and his ambivalent relationships with the women in his life. His teen years became a series of explorations into literature, the occult, and science, always motivated by the emptiness he felt from the loss of his mother. He attended several schools, finally seeking a medical education at the university at Uppsala, but dropped out suddenly in 1872.

A prolific letter-writer, Strindberg chronicled his own early life in correspondence to his brothers and friends and wrote a fictionalized autobiography entitled Tjänstekvinnans son: En själs utvecklingshistoria (4 volumes, 1886; The Son of a Servant: The Story of the Evolution of a Human Being, 1966, first volume only), from which many of the details of his youth are taken. Contact with the Royal Theater of Stockholm, first as a bit-part actor and then as a playwright, began his interest in drama; his first production was of his play, I Rom (1870). His early writing included journalistic essays on contemporary political topics, a combative habit that was to continue throughout his life.

Life’s Work

Although not his first commercial work, Strindberg’s play Fröken Julie (1888; Miss Julie, 1912) first brought him international recognition as a playwright in the new naturalistic vein, a trend in theater owing its popularity in large part to the independent theater movement advocated in France by André Antoine, in Germany by Otto Brahm, and in England by Jacob Thomas Grein. This one-act play (with a balletic interlude), not only a model of naturalistic pyschological characterization but also a miniature portrait of Strindberg’s subsequent thematic preoccupations, was performed throughout Europe whenever the independent theater’s repertory needed a new play. In this first wave of mature creativity, Strindberg fed the new theater (again alongside Henrik Ibsen) with Fadren (1887; The Father, 1899) and, after a period of instability (his “Inferno”), two other plays on the battle of marriage, Dödsdansen första delen (1901; The Dance of Death I, 1912), and Dödsdansen, andra delen (1901; The Dance of Death II, 1912), while at the same time publishing several novels, most notably the autobiographical Inferno (1897; English translation, 1912), in which he describes this most tumultuous period of his life.

The explosive and egoistic personality of Strindberg was often combined with his exaggerated sense of self-righteousness to produce a public image of a fiery, tyrannical man of letters; in private life he was shy, insecure, and constantly enthralled by his affection for others, first fantasizing about love affairs, next perceiving slights to his honor, and finally living in a dream construction made of his own psychological delusions. His behavior, typically artistic in that he always walked a fine line between creativity and madness, became erratic enough in the years from 1892 to 1898, especially 1895-1896, that scholars divide his life work at that point, referring to pre-and post-Inferno outlooks and styles. These years, often called the “Inferno Crisis,” marked a change in Strindberg’s dramatic style; whether his new attitude reflected a conversion or a regression is a matter of contention, but he clearly altered his view of stage language, if not his major themes.

He emerged from that period with even greater creative powers, turning out the three-part play Till Damaskus (1898-1904; To Damascus, 1913), Ett drömspel (1902; A Dream Play, 1912), and several other works in the first few years of the twentieth century. His dramatic style during this outburst was markedly different from the earlier naturalism: Now Strindberg moved almost cinematically from scene to scene, dealing with personal and universal symbols in great sweeps of ideas, depicting historical and archetypal characters, trying out a fragmented, internalized communication of character, theme, and plot that eventually earned the name “expressionism” and became the major framework of German drama between the world wars.

In addition to his literary contributions to the theater, Strindberg established the “intimate” theatrical style, in which a small audience experienced plays in “chamber”-sized settings. Strindberg, along with August Falck, an actor and producer who had toured Miss Julie to great acclaim in 1906, founded the Intimate Theater in...

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August Strindberg Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born in Stockholm on January 22, 1849, Johan August Strindberg was the fourth child of twelve born to Ulrika Eleonora Norling, formerly a waitress, and Carl Oscar Strindberg, a shipping agent. Strindberg’s early life was spent in poverty, in the aftermath of his father’s bankruptcy. When he was thirteen, his mother died, and his father married a housemaid. In 1867, Strindberg entered the University of Uppsala, where he studied, intermittently, until 1872, only to leave the university without a degree. In 1869, during one of his respites from university life, he tried acting at the Royal Theater and completed an acting course at the Dramatic Academy, though with little promise of success on the stage. By the following year, Strindberg had turned to playwriting, returned to the university, and had a modest theatrical success with the production of I Rom by Runa, a local literary club. The play had been preceded by several other dramatic efforts, and its production encouraged Strindberg to begin work on Master Olof, a play about the Swedish religious reformer Olaus Petri, on which Strindberg was to work for nearly a decade. When he left the university, Strindberg worked as a journalist in Stockholm. In 1874, following a second unsuccessful attempt at acting, he took a position at the Royal Library in Stockholm, which he retained for eight years as he continued writing plays.

In 1875, Strindberg met the first of his three wives, Siri von Essen, who was married at the time to Baron Carl Gustaf Wrangel. The actress divorced her husband following an attempted suicide by Strindberg and, late in 1877, married the man who had been a frequent guest in their home. The marriage lasted until 1891, producing three children (a fourth, born two months after the wedding, did not live). During this period, Strindberg...

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August Strindberg Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Johan August Strindberg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 22, 1849. On the side of his father, a steamship agent, he came from a solid middle-class background; his mother, however, was the daughter of a tailor and had been a waitress before coming to the home of her future husband as his servant girl. Strindberg later somewhat romantically referred to himself as “the son of the maidservant,” when in fact he was solidly anchored in the Swedish bourgeoisie.

Strindberg grew up around his father’s business and early developed an appreciation for matters relating to the sea, especially the Stockholm archipelago. Unlike his several brothers, however, he was not to be prepared for a business career. In 1867, he received his matriculation certificate and soon thereafter took up residence as a student at the University of Uppsala.

Not finding academic life entirely to his liking, Strindberg was only intermittently a full-time student and for a time earned a living as a tutor and as an elementary school teacher. During that time, he wrote several insignificant plays, one of which was performed at Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre in the fall of 1870. After abandoning his studies in 1872, Strindberg began pursuing a career as a writer more aggressively. The first fruit of this activity was the prose version of his drama Mäster Olof (pb. 1878; Master Olof, 1915), completed in early August of 1872. No theater would accept the play, however, and for the next few years, Strindberg made a living as a journalist and assistant at Stockholm’s Royal Library.

In the late spring of 1875, Strindberg was introduced to Siri von Essen, the young wife of Baron Carl Gustaf Wrangel, and a love affair ensued. Siri obtained a divorce in June of 1876, after which she and Strindberg were married in December of 1877. In the same month, Strindberg had a collection of short stories published.

Strindberg’s breakthrough as a prose writer came in 1879 with the publication of his novel The Red Room. After a period of research into cultural history, he moved with his family to France, where he would spend a considerable portion of his life. In 1884, however, he briefly returned to Sweden to stand trial on the charge of blasphemy; one of the short stories in his just-published collection Married was found by the authorities to be...

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August Strindberg Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201623-Strindberg.jpgAugust Strindberg Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Johan August Strindberg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 22, 1849, the son of Carl Oscar Strindberg, a steamship agent with an aristocratic background, and Ulrika Eleonora Norling, a domestic servant. When Strindberg was four years old, his father went bankrupt, and the family, constantly on the move, lived under impoverished conditions in which food was scarce. His relationship with his parents was an ambivalent one. Though he admired his father’s aristocratic ties, Strindberg frequently saw his father as a hostile force. Though he felt that his mother was violent and unreasonable, he came to see maternity as something sacred. A sensitive and anxious man, Strindberg returned to his youthful experiences for material for...

(The entire section is 861 words.)

August Strindberg Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

August Strindberg is an influential figure in the history of modern drama. His dramas probe the psyches of alienated, confused, and disturbed characters who are crushed by social, personal, and existential pressures. He brought to the forefront of modern drama the intense struggles and inner workings of troubled sexual relationships. His dramas explore the central themes of modernism: the alienation of the individual, the subjective nature of the truth, the illusory nature of experience, and the existential struggle to create meaning in a meaningless universe. Strindberg also experimented with various dramatic forms: the tightly constructed and carefully motivated structure of naturalism, the broad, expansive form of subjective...

(The entire section is 116 words.)

August Strindberg Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201623-Strindberg.jpgAugust Strindberg Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Johan August Strindberg, greatest of Swedish writers and one of the few true geniuses among modern dramatists, was born in Stockholm on January 22, 1849. He barely escaped illegitimacy, for his father, a bankrupt shipping agent, married his servant-mistress just before August’s birth; three boys had been born before the marriage, and of the numerous children born later, four survived to crowd the tiny flat of the impoverished family. The overly sensitive boy was unhappy at home and less happy at school. He felt himself tormented because of his origins, and he was exasperated by a school system geared to the most stupid children. Upon the death of August’s mother, whom he idealized, his father married his young housekeeper, much...

(The entire section is 1117 words.)

August Strindberg Biography (Drama for Students)

August Strindberg is now considered to be one of Sweden's finest dramatists and among the most important contributors to the modern theatre....

(The entire section is 912 words.)

August Strindberg Biography (Drama for Students)

Strindberg was born Johan August Strindberg on January 22,1849, in Riddarholm, Stockholm, Sweden. His father was a middle-class merchant, his...

(The entire section is 473 words.)