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...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)
Miss Julie opens with Jean, a valet, and Kristine, a cook, in the kitchen of the Count, their master. The two begin to talk about Miss Julie, the Count's daughter. Jean says she is crazy, dancing with the servants at a Midsummer's Eve celebration when she should be visiting relatives with her father. Kristine remarks that Julie has always been crazy but has gotten worse since breaking off her engagement with her fiancé. Jean reveals that he once saw Julie "training" her fiancé as one would train a dog, making him jump over her riding crop and hitting him with it after each jump until he finally took the riding crop from her, struck her with it, and broke it into pieces. According to Jean, Julie, like her late mother, acts in some ways like an aristocrat and in others like a commoner.
Julie enters and asks Jean to dance with her. At first he declines, noting that he has already promised this dance to Kristine, but Julie finally persuades him. The two go offstage together, leaving Kristine working in the kitchen. When Julie and Jean return, they engage in conversation while Kristine sleeps at the table. Jean reveals to Julie his aristocratic tastes—he drinks wine, speaks French, and uses the language of the upper classes. In contrast Julie chooses to drink beer instead of wine, saying she prefers it.
Julie wants to dance with Jean again, but Jean warns her that she is talked about because of her familiarity with the male...
(The entire section is 1010 words.)