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 is helplessly stranded between age and gender roles, and the conflicting demands of awakening sexuality and constraining social order.
Jean’s tree. Image in a recurrent dream of the count’s valet, who is Julie’s lover. Kristin’s kitchen is set in ordinary space, although the scene has an intentionally skewed quality explicitly stated in the dramatist’s stage directions that suggests the areas beyond it. Vertical space is also...
(The entire section is 793 words.)