Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Axel, the narrator of the novel and its protagonist. At the book’s outset, he is in his late twenties, and his narrative, an autobiographical account of his first marriage, follows him through his early forties. Axel is a librarian at the Royal Stockholm Library, as well as an aspiring, and eventually successful, playwright. A small but intense man, he is interested primarily in scientific and aesthetic pursuits. He also may suffer from acute paranoia, and thus his chronicle forces the reader to question whether the novel is an accurate presentation of the facts or the lunatic ravings of a man who is, or is going, insane. Axel’s problems begin when he is introduced to Marie, a baroness with whom he immediately becomes obsessed. At first he idealizes her, imagining her to be a chaste, Madonna-like figure, and he shuns the thought of any romantic inclinations toward her. As it becomes clear that the baroness is unhappy in her marriage to Baron Gustav—even so far as to condone the baron’s illicit affair with her young cousin, Matilda—Axel finds himself sexually attracted to her. He becomes so infatuated with her that the thought of living without her drives him to attempt suicide. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, the attempt fails, the baroness’s marriage collapses, and she and Axel become lovers and marry. Axel idealizes the beginning of their marriage just as he initially idealized the baroness herself. His romantic bliss is soon shattered, however, when he begins to suspect that Marie had ulterior motives for marrying him. She has ambitions of becoming an actress, and because Axel has had some success as a playwright, he wonders if she married him simply to further her career. Furthermore, he imagines that she may have married him for what little money he has,...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Axel is an undisguised August Strindberg; the Baroness is an equally undisguised portrait of Strindberg’s first wife, Siri von Essen, the Baroness Wrangel at the time that he met her; and the Baron is Baron Carl Gustaf Wrangel. Even the Baron’s mistress, Matilda, has a real-life counterpart in Sofia In de Betou, Siri’s cousin.

The extent to which The Confession of a Fool may be read as a reliable account of Strindberg’s relationship with Siri von Essen is a matter of continuing controversy. Some have argued that Strindberg, in writing, gives free rein to his imagination, his fancies, and his speculations; thus, the story is fiction or at least semifiction. One critic suggests that Strindberg the dramatist has created in Axel a fictional character who behaves not as Strindberg behaved, but as he would have behaved if he had been insane. What is beyond doubt, however, is the number of striking correspondences between the novel and the well-documented fourteen years of Strindberg’s life from his first meeting with Siri von Essen in 1875 to the final separation in 1889.

Axel, like Strindberg, is an employee of the Royal Library, a contributor to newspapers and magazines, author of several published plays, and a member of a society to promote free love. Like Strindberg, he attributes his nervous excitability and oversensitivity to being born prematurely. Axel also relentlessly denounces feminism, proclaims male superiority, and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Johannesson, Eric O. The Novels of August Strindberg, 1968.

Johnson, Walter. August Strindberg, 1976.

Lagercrantz, Olof. August Strindberg, 1983.

Lamm, Martin. August Strindberg, 1971.

Reinert, Otto, ed. Strindberg: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1971.