Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Country estate. Grand home of an unnamed Swedish count. A silent but prominent symbol of the unseen count’s authority in his manor house’s kitchen is a pair of his riding boots. Julie is his unmarried daughter of twenty-five, whose engagement has recently been broken off. With its community of tenant farmers, the estate could well lie near Stockholm, a region Strindberg knew well.
It is Midsummer Eve, an occasion for carousing by the rural population. In traditional Scandinavian culture, the shortest night of the year was an interstice in normal time, when social lines might be crossed. The farmers sing off-color songs to satirize their “betters,” and the aristocratic Julie invites, even commands, her father’s servant to dance on the village green that is only hinted at by lilacs in bloom beyond the kitchen door.
As Julie explains her mixed aversion and attraction to men, she reveals her family past. Her mother was not well born, and Jean knows that even the count’s supposed aristocratic background has little historical depth. The manor house itself had been destroyed by arson, then rebuilt under questionable financial circumstances dictated by the likely arsonist, Julie’s mother. Until the count restored patriarchal order to the chaos of the estate, Julie’s mother had raised her as a tomboy. She learned to ride and shoot but not manage a house. As an adult in this house of dubious origin, she...
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In 1859, less than thirty years before Strindberg wrote Miss Julie, Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, a book that revolutionized scientific thought on the subjects of evolution and environmental adaptation Darwin identified a process he called natural selection. According to this theory, the earth cannot support all organisms that develop and so these life forms must compete with one another for environmental resources such as food and living space. The tendency for the hardier species to prevail and propagate while the weaker species die off is what Darwin termed the survival of the fittest.
Darwin's ideas were extremely controversial at this time. Previously, people believed that God had created each species individually Further, Darwin's theories indicated that humans evolved from lower life forms—-more specifically lower primates such as apes. To many, this idea was sacrilegious (as they believed God had created humans in his image, as fully-evolved creatures), a repudiation of God, and a threat to religion. Although some pious individuals accepted Darwin's theories, believing evolution occurred under God's guidance, others found their beliefs challenged. After all, if humans descended from other species, then there was little to separate man from beast.
In spite of such objections, acceptance of Darwin's theories grew. And while Darwin's ideas applied to biology, the concept of survival of the fittest began...
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An allusion is a reference to another literary work. In Miss Julie, the name of Julie's dog, Diana, is an allusion to the Roman goddess of hunting. According to her legend, when a man caught sight of her bathing, Diana unleashed her hounds to tear him to pieces. The goddess Diana's rejection of men mirrors Julie's. Another allusion is found in the subject of the church sermon Kristine will attend, the beheading of John the Baptist. According to the Biblical story, John the Baptist was beheaded by the Palestinian ruler King Herod Antipas, who was tricked into killing the disciple of Jesus Christ by his wife, Herodias, and daughter, Salome. John the Baptist's death is reflected in the death of Julie's bird as well as in the death of Julie herself.
In foreshadowing, words, symbols, or an event suggest a future incident. Julie's dog Diana's sexual encounter with the gatekeeper's dog, an encounter that horrifies Julie, foreshadows her own sexual act with Jean—as well as her subsequent shame and horror following the act. The beheading of Julie's bird by Jean foreshadows Julie's own death.
The three classical unities, unity of time, unity of place, and unity of action, are a Renaissance-era interpretation of the rules of ancient Greek drama (as they are described in Aristotle's Poetics). Unity of time dictates that the action of a drama occur within a twenty-four hour...
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Compare and Contrast
1888: Although published in 1859, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species is still the focus of controversy as religious people feel threatened by Darwin's findings and the resulting conception of human beings as animals.
Today: Darwin's theories are widely accepted, and most people consider humans to be, biologically, animals. Few religious people consider their beliefs shaken by evolution.
1888: The role of women is rapidly changing as women gain more equality with men under the law. Husbands, however, retain legal rights over their wives and the proper position of married women is widely debated.
Today: European and American women have close to complete legal equality with men, but many believe much progress remains to be made. In some third-world counties there is still great inequality between the sexes.
1888: Social Darwinism gains importance as a theory as people see the concept of the survival of the fittest at work in society.
Today: Circumstances beyond individual control and genetics are now seen as having a great impact in determining who will gain status and wealth. Acceptance of the theory of social Darwinism has greatly declined.
1888: Social reforms in Sweden are in the process of increasing the rights of workers, who are demanding higher wages and shorter workdays. In Sweden, workers are kept from voting by a law that...
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Topics for Further Study
Compare Miss Julie to Edna in Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening. How do both women respond to the restrictions of their societies? How does Edna's suicide differ from Julie's? Could the authors' genders be an influence in the differences between these two works?
Although the Count affects the action of Miss Julie, he never appears onstage. Discuss the Count's importance to the play. What might be the purpose of his remaining an offstage presence? How would the play be different if he appeared onstage''
Compare Miss Julie to the Ibsen plays A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler. How does Strindberg's apparent view of the changing roles of women in his society differ from Ibsen's?
Compare and contrast Jean and Miss Julie's characters. How do they differ in their dissatisfaction with their class positions? Why is Jean able to live while Julie sees no option but suicide?
Research the theory of social Darwinism. How do the fates of the characters in Miss Julie reflect Strindberg's belief in this theory?
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Miss Julie was made into the 1951 Swedish film Froken Julie, directed by Alf Sjoberg.
A television version of Miss Julie was produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1965. The program was directed by Alan Bridges and stars Stephanie Bidmean, Ian Hendry, and Gunnel Lindblom.
In 1972, John Glenister and Robin Phillips directed another version of Miss Julie. This adaptation stars Helen Mirren, Donald McCann, and Heather Canning.
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What Do I Read Next?
A Doll's House, a play by Henrik Ibsen first produced in 1879, considers the place of the heroine, Nora, as a woman in her culture, Strindberg expressed a strong dislike of this play's portrayal of gender roles. Miss Julie is widely believed to be Strindberg's answer to A Doll's House.
Hedda Gabler, an 1890 play also written by Ibsen, is the story of a woman who, like Miss Julie, cannot live within the confines of her society's gender roles. The play is regarded by some to be Ibsen's answer to Miss Julie.
A Streetcar Named Desire, a 1947 play by Tennessee Williams, is considered to be strongly influenced by Miss Julie. This play focuses on Blanche DuBois, a southern belle who has seen better times, and Blanche's relationship with her sister's husband, Stanley Kowalski. Sexual desire as well as class and gender roles are important issues in this drama.
The Awakening, an 1899 novel by Kate Chopin, tells the story of Edna Pontellier, who also rejects society and its conventions. Like Julie, Edna commits suicide. Chopin, however, presents a view of a troubled woman very different from that of Strindberg.
The Father, Strindberg's 1887 play, is another naturalistic drama that is concerned with the difficulties of relationships between men and women.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Carlson, Harry G. Strindberg and the Poetry of Myth, University of California Press, 1982, pp. 61-64.
Ferns, Lesley. Acting Women Images of Women in Theatre, New York University Press, 1989, pp 121-24.
Jarv, Harry. "Strindberg's 'Characterless' Miss Julie" in Gradiva, Vol. 1,1977, pp. 197-206.
Lamm, Martin. August Strindberg, translated and edited by Harry G Carlson, Benjamin Bloom, 1971, pp. 216-17.
Meyer, Michael. Strindberg A Biography, Seeker & Warburg, 1985, pp 203-04,515.
Steene, Birgitta. The Greatest Fire: A Study of August Strindberg, Southern Illinois University Press, 1973, p. 55.
Ward, John. The Social and Religious Plays of Strindberg, Athlone, 1980, p 62.
Ferns, Lesley. Acting Women- Images of Women in Theatre, New York University Press, 1989.
This book is a good basic introduction to the depiction of female characters in drama from the Greeks to the present.
Hawkins, Mike. Social Darwinism in European and American Thought- 1860-1945, Nature As Model and Nature As Threat, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
This book provides a basic introduction to the theory and history of social Darwinism, particularly as it was perceived during Strindberg's time.
Morgan, Margery. August Strindberg, Macmillan, 1985.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Gilman, Richard. “Strindberg.” In The Making of Modern Drama. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974. Posits that Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen restored the presence of personal existence to the drama. In Miss Julie, Jean and Julie become the agencies for each other’s discovery of their divided selves.
Johnson, Walter. “Master Dramatist.” In August Strindberg. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Discusses the plays Strindberg wrote from 1882 to 1894. Asserts that in Miss Julie, Strindberg achieves the goals of naturalistic drama that he had outlined in the play’s preface.
Sprinchorn, Evert. Strindberg as Dramatist. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982. Puts Strindberg’s drama in context of the dramaturgy of the time and of Strindberg’s life and psychology. Argues that Miss Julie and The Father (1887) move beyond naturalism into tragedy; compares Miss Julie with Jean Genet’s The Maids (1947).
Törnqvist, Egil. “Speech Situations in Fröken Julie/Miss Julie.” In Strindbergian Drama: Themes and Structure. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982. Analyzes the dialogue in the play, dividing it into duologues, triologues, and monologues, and pointing out the significance of each.
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