Critical Context

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Inferno documents Strindberg’s mental breakdowns and emotional crises from 1894 to 1897. The narrator’s chemical experiments, the places where he stayed in Paris, and the people he mentions can all be traced back to Strindberg’s experiences. Yet documentation shows that Inferno is not an accurate autobiography. Events in Strindberg’s life have been rearranged to construct an almost poetic novel which treats more than a single individual’s bout with mental illness.

Inferno was a watershed work for Strindberg, for in it, he came to terms with his crisis of faith and emerged with a new vision, an expressionistic vision which sounded the death knell of literary naturalism. In Inferno, one can see the nascent development of expressionism in the outcast hero, the nameless characters, the solipsistic universe, the pilgrimage motif, the macabre images, the dreamlike episodes, the infernal machines, and the apocalyptic visions. After Inferno, Strindberg would create his dramatic masterpieces, such as Ett dromspel (1902; A Dream Play, 1912) and the three-part Till Damaskus (1898-1904; To Damascus, 1913), refining these expressionistic techniques and ultimately influencing the development of German expressionism as well as of modern absurdism.

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