Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1153
Miss Julie’s broken engagement to the county attorney was quite a scandal to the servants in the house. Miss Julie, the twenty-five-year-old daughter of a count, had made her fiancé actually jump over her horsewhip several times, giving him a cut with the whip each time. He finally put an end to such conduct and the engagement by snatching the whip, breaking it, and striding away from the manor.
A few weeks later, on Midsummer Eve, a great holiday observed throughout the Swedish countryside, Miss Julie enters into the festivities and dances with the servants. She dares to do so because her father has gone to the city and is not expected to return. Although the servants dislike her joining in their fun, they are powerless to stop her or to let her know of their dislike, for she is their mistress. Her father’s valet, Jean, leaves the festivities after dancing once with Miss Julie. He retreats to the kitchen, where his fiancé, Christine the cook, gives him a little supper.
Miss Julie gives Jean no peace, however. She comes into the kitchen and drags him out to dance with her again, even though she knows that he had promised to dance with Christine. After dancing once more with Miss Julie, Jean again escapes to the kitchen. He is afraid that Christine will be angry, but she assures him that she does not blame him for what has happened. Just then, Miss Julie returns to the kitchen and demands that Jean change from his livery into a tailcoat and dance with her again. While he is changing, Christine falls asleep in a chair. When he returns, Miss Julie asks him to get her something to drink. Jean gets a bottle of beer for her and another for himself.
After finishing the beer, Miss Julie teases Christine by trying to wake her up. Christine, moving as if asleep, goes to her own room. After she leaves, Miss Julie begins to ogle Jean, who warns his mistress that it is dangerous to flirt with a man as young as he. Miss Julie pays no attention to him. Jean, falling in with her mood, tells about his early life as a cotter’s child and how, even as a small child, he had been in love with his young mistress. They talk until the other servants come to look for Jean. Rather than expose themselves to the comments and the scandal of having drunk together in the kitchen, Jean and Miss Julie go into Jean’s room. They are there a long time, for the servants stay in the kitchen and dance and sing. During that time Miss Julie gives herself to Jean.
After the servants leave, neither Jean nor Miss Julie knows just what to do. They agree only that it is best for them to leave the country. Jean suggests that they go to Como, Italy, to open a hotel. Miss Julie asks Jean to take her in his arms again. He refuses, saying that he cannot make love to her a second time in her father’s house, where she is the mistress and he the servant. When she reminds him of the extravagant language he used a little while before, he tells her the time has come to be practical.
To comfort her, Jean offers Miss Julie a drink of wine from a bottle he had taken from the count’s cellar. She sees whose it is and accuses him of stealing. An argument follows, with bitter words on both sides. When they had both calmed a little, Miss Julie tries to tell Jean how she had come to be who she is. She says that she had been brought up to do a man’s work by her mother, who hated to be a slave to men. She tells also how her mother had revenged herself on Miss Julie’s father by taking a brick manufacturer as her lover and how her mother’s lover had stolen great sums of money from the count. From her mother, says Miss Julie, she had learned to hate men and to wish to make them her slaves. He understands then why she had treated her fiancé as she had. Miss Julie ends her recital with the recommendation that she and Jean go abroad at once. To her suggestion that when they cease enjoying one another they should commit suicide, Jean, far more practical, advises her to go away by herself. Miss Julie, helpless in the urgency of the situation, does as Jean suggests and prepares to leave.
While Miss Julie is upstairs dressing, Christine comes into the kitchen. Seeing the glasses on the table, she knows that Miss Julie and Jean had been drinking together. She guesses the rest, and Jean admits what had happened. Christine tells Jean that fine people do not behave that way with their servants. Christine urges him to go away with her as soon as possible. She loves him and does not intend to lose him to her mistress.
Christine persuades Jean to get ready to go to church with her, for it is Sunday morning. When they are both dressed, Miss Julie and Jean meet in the kitchen. Julie carries a bird cage. When Jean says she cannot take her pet finch with her, she orders him to kill it. While watching her bird die, Miss Julie’s love turns to hate. She despises Jean for killing in cold blood the pet she has loved so much, and she rages at him and tells him that her father would soon return. She would tell him what had happened. Miss Julie declares that she now wishes to die.
When Christine appears, ready for church, she tells Miss Julie bluntly that she will not allow her mistress to run off with the man who has promised to become her husband. Miss Julie tries to persuade Christine to go with them to Como. While the two women talk, Jean leaves the room. He returns a few moments later with his razor. Christine, refusing to join in the flight, leaves for church after saying that she has spoken to the men at the stables about not letting anyone have horses until the count’s return.
After Christine departs, Miss Julie asks Jean what he would do if he were in her position. He indicates the razor in his hand. At that moment the valet’s bell rings. The count has returned. Jean, answering the bell, receives instructions to have boots and coffee ready in half an hour. His master’s voice reduces Jean once again to the mental attitude of a servant. Miss Julie, almost in a state of trance, is filled with ecstasy at the thought of freeing herself by committing suicide. She takes the razor Jean had given her and leaves the kitchen with it in her hand.