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August Strindberg 1849-1912

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(Also wrote under the pseudonym of Härved Ulf) Swedish playwright, novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, and journalist.

Strindberg is considered one of the most important and influential dramatists in modern literature. With the plays Fadren (1887; The Father, ) and Fröken Julie (1889; Miss Julie), he proved himself an innovative exponent of Naturalism, while the later plays Ett drömspel(1907; The Dream Play) and the trilogy Till Damaskus (1898-1904; To Damascus) are recognized as forerunners of Expressionism, Surrealism, and the Theater of the Absurd.

Biographical Information

Strindberg was born in Stockholm. Although he portrayed himself in his autobiographical novel Tjänstekvinnans son (1886; The Son of a Servant) as the unwanted product of a union between an impoverished aristocrat and a former servant, recent biographers have constructed a more favorable picture of the circumstances of his birth. His father was involved in the shipping trade, and although his mother had worked as a maid for a short time, she was the daughter of a tailor. Life in the Strindberg home was by all objective accounts rather comfortable, but Strindberg was an extremely shy and sensitive child who held an excessively negative perception of his own circumstances. He was educated first at the local primary school, then at the Stockholm Lyceum, a progressive private school, where he was an average student. In 1867 Strindberg enrolled at the University of Uppsala. While at the university, he wrote his first play; the endeavor afforded him such satisfaction that he resolved to make playwriting his profession. During 1869 he wrote three more plays, two of which were accepted for production by the prestigious Royal Theater in Stockholm. However, these plays were not financially successful, and Strindberg was obliged to write stories and articles for periodicals in order to earn a living, a practice he considered degrading. It was not until the publication of his novel Röda rummet (The Red Room) in 1879 that Strindberg became a highly respected and nationally recognized author.

Essential material for Strindberg's subsequent works was provided by his three tempestuous marriages. The first and longest, to Sigrid von Essen, was the basis for a novel, two collections of short stories, and several plays. The story collections, titled Giftas (1884-86; Married, Parts I and II) contained irreverent passages that caused Strindberg and his publisher to be charged with blasphemy. Following the breakup of his second marriage in 1891, Strindberg experienced a period of deep depression and hallucinations that he called his Inferno Crisis, because it occurred while he was writing the novel Inferno (1897; The Inferno). While his behavior had always been slightly bizarre, during this period he appears to have suffered a complete psychological break with reality. Severely paranoiac, he moved from lodging to lodging, convinced that his enemies were trying to murder him with electrical currents and lethal gases. Further manifestations of Strindberg's breakdown are observed in his abandonment of his literary career in order to devote himself to alchemical experiments and in the radical alteration of his religious thinking from agnostic to traditionally Christian. Believing that his affliction had been decreed by God as punishment for his sins, Strindberg sought a reconciliation with the deity as a possible cure, becoming fascinated with the work of Emmanuel Swedenborg, a Christian mystic.

Strindberg's eventual recovery from his psychosis was accompanied by a surge of creative activity. He returned to the theater to transform the horrors of the Inferno Crisis and his new-found religious mysticism into dramatic images. Strindberg's final years were relatively peaceful and productive, and he was revered by the Swedish people, who staged an enormous celebration in...

(The entire section contains 173027 words.)

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August Strindberg World Literature Analysis