August Strindberg (1849–1912) lived through tremendous cultural, social, and political transformations in his native Sweden, as well as in Denmark and France, where he lived for several years. His own parents came from distinct backgrounds: his father, a middle-class merchant, was proud of an aristocratic background, while his mother had been a house servant. In the play, Miss Julie’s parents come from similar backgrounds. The play is set on her family’s estate, a large property in rural Sweden; she occupies a privileged role in local society.
The erosion of religious life and concomitant growth in agnostic humanism in Scandinavian society were pronounced in the late 19th century, and the conflicting views of Christine and Julie reflect the larger cultural conflicts. Considerable changes in women’s social status occurred in 19th-century Sweden as well, which likely influenced Strindberg’s characterization of this “half-man,” as he calls Julie in the preface.
Regarding women’s rights, both property rights and employment opportunities were liberalized mid-century; female suffrage on the municipal level was achieved in 1862, and anti-female discrimination in the universities was greatly reduced in the 1870s. Julie is far from being a feminist. Although Julie is sharply aware of class conflicts, her character is most notable for self-absorption and elitism, along with indulging her sexual desires. She espouses no political views or female solidarity.