Critical Context

The Confession of a Fool is the author’s most notoriously autobiographical novel and the most sensational of his writings. The novel is responsible for the view that Strindberg was mentally unbalanced. Its publication in Germany caused him to be charged with indecency and immorality. Of this book, Strindberg himself wrote, “This is a terrible book. I fully admit it, for I regret that I ever wrote it. How did I write it? Because I felt under a powerful and justifiable compulsion to wash my corpse before it was laid in the coffin for ever.” Thus, it was written when Strindberg believed himself ready to die (he lived another twenty-five years) and ostensibly for reasons of catharsis, to cleanse himself of filth. It appears, however, that his motives were mixed. Strindberg always needed money, and he feared that a friend would soon write this book if he did not. He also obviously intended the book as revenge on his wife and as vindication of himself. Strindberg consistently put his life to use in his writings, but he suffered guilt for doing so. Later, leaving literature and turning to science, he confessed his relief that he would no longer have “to use his own wife as a rabbit for his vivisections or to flay his friends and offer the skins for sale.”

Aside from being notable for its virulent misogyny and for the lurid light which it casts on Strindberg’s life, The Confession of a Fool is also notable for its minute psychological analysis. Writing before the vogue of psychoanalysis, Strindberg was intent on studying, analyzing, and describing a whole range of mental and emotional states. He struggled heroically to put his pain to some use, to gain some insight into paranoia, jealousy, guilt, hate, hysteria, and all the dark things which, like the poet William Blake’s invisible worm that flies in the night, eat away at our greatest joys.