Miss Julie

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The plot combines sexual and social clashes. Miss Julie is the 25-year-old daughter of the widowed landowner of a large estate in the Swedish countryside. Her father’s weak nature has taught her to despise men; her emancipated mother taught her to dominate and tyrannize them; her former fiance filled her with egalitarian notions that temper her arrogance; her strong libido checks her masculine inclination; her unconscious drives lead her toward dirt, degradation, and death.

The action has Julie flirt with and erotically provoke her father’s valet, 30-year-old Jean, in the festive atmosphere of Midsummer’s Eve. The dramatic design is that of a neatly executed crossover: Julie the social aristocrat condescends to Jean the upstart social slave; conversely, Jean becomes her sexual master; they meet on the leveling grounds of seduction, in the arms of that great equalizer, sex. The materialistic Jean then suggests that they avoid scandal at home by fleeing to Switzerland and running a hotel at Lake Como. However, the 35-year-old cook Kristin, engaged to Jean, prevents the lovers from leaving before the return of Julie’s absent father.

In a conclusion open to contrasting interpretations, the desperate Julie begs Jean to order her to slash her throat. He puts the razor in her hand, and she “walks firmly out through the door,” on her way to suicide. From a naturalistic perspective, her end signifies his triumph; he has defeated her sexually and is unscrupulous and opportunistic enough to advance his fortunes over opponents’ bodies. From the perspective of Aristotelian tragic criteria, however, it is Julie who wins a moral victory through her honorable death. She may be morbidly masochistic, but she shows herself capable of assuming responsibility for her behavior and ending her flawed life nobly.

Bibliography:

Gilman, Richard. “Strindberg.” In The Making of Modern Drama. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974. Posits that Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen restored the presence of personal existence to the drama. In Miss Julie, Jean and Julie become the agencies for each other’s discovery of their divided selves.

Johnson, Walter. “Master Dramatist.” In August Strindberg. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Discusses the plays Strindberg wrote from 1882 to 1894. Asserts that in Miss Julie, Strindberg achieves the goals of naturalistic drama that he had outlined in the play’s preface.

Sprinchorn, Evert. Strindberg as Dramatist. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982. Puts Strindberg’s drama in context of the dramaturgy of the time and of Strindberg’s life and psychology. Argues that Miss Julie and The Father (1887) move beyond naturalism into tragedy; compares Miss Julie with Jean Genet’s The Maids (1947).

Törnqvist, Egil. “Speech Situations in Fröken Julie/Miss Julie.” In Strindbergian Drama: Themes and Structure. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982. Analyzes the dialogue in the play, dividing it into duologues, triologues, and monologues, and pointing out the significance of each.

Valency, Maurice. “Strindberg.” In The Flower and the Castle: An Introduction to Modern Drama. 1963. Reprint. New York: Schocken Books, 1982. Valency sees in Strindberg’s works a continuous spiritual autobiography styled in the art of the unbalanced and exces-sive. In Miss Julie, the dramatist identifies himself with Jean and characterizes Julie as an iconic femme fatale.

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