Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Miss Julie is not simply the tragedy of an aristocratic woman with a self-destructive personality and an ambivalent feeling toward men. It is also more than a naturalistic study about a victimized woman torn apart by family strife. Miss Julie, a drama of paradoxes and reversals, is about the breakdown of the social order. The play begins on the celebration of Midsummer’s Eve, a carnival-like festival allowing for the breakdown of social and sexual distinctions. Miss Julie, the lady of the house, would rather dance with the peasants than visit relatives with her father. Jean, her servant, is more concerned than the reckless Julie about propriety. In keeping with Midsummer’s Eve, Julie wants all rank laid aside and asks Jean to take off his servant’s livery. Julie and Jean then reverse roles. He drinks wine, she prefers beer; he is concerned about his reputation, she is negligent and foolhardy; he dreams of climbing, she dreams of falling.
In Miss Julie, aristocracy itself is a paradox. Jean fights to become a new aristocrat, but the aristocracy to which he aspires is a sham. Young ladies use foul language, their polished nails are dirty underneath, and their perfumed handkerchiefs are soiled. Miss Julie’s family title was obtained when a miller let his wife sleep with the king. Thus, the aristocratic title was earned through sexual corruption. Jean’s fiancé, Christine, who is not above thievery and fornication, cannot...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Miss Julie’s broken engagement to the county attorney was quite a scandal to the servants in the house. Miss Julie, the twenty-five-year-old daughter of a count, had made her fiancé actually jump over her horsewhip several times, giving him a cut with the whip each time. He finally put an end to such conduct and the engagement by snatching the whip, breaking it, and striding away from the manor.
A few weeks later, on Midsummer Eve, a great holiday observed throughout the Swedish countryside, Miss Julie enters into the festivities and dances with the servants. She dares to do so because her father has gone to the city and is not expected to return. Although the servants dislike her joining in their fun, they are powerless to stop her or to let her know of their dislike, for she is their mistress. Her father’s valet, Jean, leaves the festivities after dancing once with Miss Julie. He retreats to the kitchen, where his fiancé, Christine the cook, gives him a little supper.
Miss Julie gives Jean no peace, however. She comes into the kitchen and drags him out to dance with her again, even though she knows that he had promised to dance with Christine. After dancing once more with Miss Julie, Jean again escapes to the kitchen. He is afraid that Christine will be angry, but she assures him that she does not blame him for what has happened. Just then, Miss Julie returns to the kitchen and demands that Jean change from his livery into a tailcoat and dance with her again. While he is changing, Christine falls asleep in a chair. When he returns, Miss Julie asks him to get her something to drink. Jean gets a bottle of beer for her and another for himself.
After finishing the beer, Miss Julie teases Christine by trying to wake her up. Christine, moving as if asleep, goes to her own room. After she leaves, Miss Julie begins to ogle Jean, who warns his mistress that it is dangerous to flirt with a man as young as he. Miss Julie pays no attention to him. Jean, falling in with her mood, tells about his early life as a cotter’s child and how, even as a small child, he had been in love with his young mistress. They talk until the other servants come to look for Jean. Rather than expose themselves to the comments and the scandal of having drunk together in the kitchen, Jean and Miss Julie go into Jean’s room. They are there a long time, for the servants stay in the kitchen and dance and sing. During that time Miss Julie gives herself to Jean.
After the servants leave, neither Jean nor Miss Julie knows just what to do. They agree only that it is best for them to leave the country. Jean suggests that they go to Como, Italy, to open a hotel. Miss Julie asks Jean to take her in his arms again. He refuses, saying that he cannot make love to her a second time in her father’s house, where she...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)