August Strindberg’s status as a giant of the modern theater has greatly overshadowed the fact that he was also a prolific novelist. To most non-Scandinavians, Strindberg’s fiction is remembered as quasi-autobiographical adjuncts to such dramatic masterpieces as THE FATHER (1887), MISS JULIE (1888), THE DANCE OF DEATH (1901), A DREAM PLAY (1902), and THE GHOST SONATA (1907). To Scandinavian readers, however, Strindberg’s reputation as a novelist almost equals his status as a playwright, and his first published novel, THE RED ROOM, is frequently considered to be the first modern Swedish novel.
As in all of Strindberg’s writings, there is a strong autobiographical flavor to THE RED ROOM. The protagonist, Arvid Falk, in many ways resembles the young Strindberg and reflects his brief foray into journalism (1872-1874). Most of the characters who gather in the “red room” are modeled on artistic comrades acquired during those newspaper years. The financial manipulations and disasters, particularly the “Triton Insurance” affair, were suggested by Strindberg’s own bankruptcy in the wake of the financial crisis of 1878.
It is a mistake, however, to read THE RED ROOM as straight autobiography. Strindberg’s tone throughout the novel is detached, ironic, and, although bitter at times, essentially comic. While Arvid Falk’s experiences parallel many of Strindberg’s own, the character is too naive, foolish, and frivolous to be accepted as self-portraiture. The novel can be more easily understood as a skillful blending of comic BILDUNGSROMAN, social satire, and “idea” novel.
Like all of Strindberg’s novels, and, in a different way, his plays, THE RED ROOM is basically a quest for identity. As the typical hero of a BILDUNGSROMAN, or novel of...
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