Places Discussed

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Country estate

Country estate. Grand home of an unnamed Swedish count. A silent but prominent symbol of the unseen count’s authority in his manor house’s kitchen is a pair of his riding boots. Julie is his unmarried daughter of twenty-five, whose engagement has recently been broken off. With its community of tenant farmers, the estate could well lie near Stockholm, a region Strindberg knew well.

It is Midsummer Eve, an occasion for carousing by the rural population. In traditional Scandinavian culture, the shortest night of the year was an interstice in normal time, when social lines might be crossed. The farmers sing off-color songs to satirize their “betters,” and the aristocratic Julie invites, even commands, her father’s servant to dance on the village green that is only hinted at by lilacs in bloom beyond the kitchen door.

As Julie explains her mixed aversion and attraction to men, she reveals her family past. Her mother was not well born, and Jean knows that even the count’s supposed aristocratic background has little historical depth. The manor house itself had been destroyed by arson, then rebuilt under questionable financial circumstances dictated by the likely arsonist, Julie’s mother. Until the count restored patriarchal order to the chaos of the estate, Julie’s mother had raised her as a tomboy. She learned to ride and shoot but not manage a house. As an adult in this house of dubious origin, she is helplessly stranded between age and gender roles, and the conflicting demands of awakening sexuality and constraining social order.

Jean’s tree

Jean’s tree. Image in a recurrent dream of the count’s valet, who is Julie’s lover. Kristin’s kitchen is set in ordinary space, although the scene has an intentionally skewed quality explicitly stated in the dramatist’s stage directions that suggests the areas beyond it. Vertical space is also important as the dimension of social hierarchy, the medium of personal rise and fall. Jean had a childhood experience and a recurrent dream, both articulated vertically. As a boy he had been called to help his mother weed onion beds near the count’s manor house. Attracted to a decorated pavilion, he explored it, only to discover that it was an outhouse (privy), and his only means of escape was through the hole and out the back. Filthy after this “descent to Hades,” he saw the young Julie and was struck with her beauty, as well as by her higher social station and its privileges. His more mature dream is of climbing a great tree that would lead him up to the clouds among the birds of prey, if only he could reach the first branch.

Julie’s column

Julie’s column. Miss Julie’s corresponding dream is of being trapped at the top of a pillar and then of inevitable downward motion, both feared and desired: subjecting men to her will but being personally degraded as well. After alienating her fiancé, this movement continues with her yielding to sexual urges on Midsummer Eve, an occasion already culturally identified for this purpose.

Kitchen and side-rooms

Kitchen and side-rooms. When commoners from the rustic celebration approach the manor house, Julie and Jean wish to avoid being seen together and leave the kitchen. The revelers enter, drink, sing, and dance. This lightly scornful pantomime provides enough time for Julie and Jean to make love off stage. When they return to the stage, everything has changed—except the time and place. In Julie’s mind, no future is possible on the estate: She and Jean cannot marry because of class distinctions, and she is unwilling to continue as Jean’s casual mistress.

The play has only one...

(This entire section contains 793 words.)

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scene. The seemingly cozy farm kitchen, invaded by the intoxicating smell of summer flowers, is a place where a woman of Julie’s rank and age would normally enter only to give orders. It is too constraining a place for positive change to occur. Instead, it becomes a crucible where social qualities and character attributes are broken down but do not fuse into a stronger new alloy. Rigid as the setting is, the significant acts of sexual union and self-destruction can only occur beyond it.


*Ticino. Resort town in southern Switzerland where Julie and Jean fantasize about going to open a hotel. This utopian fantasy is alternately scorned and promoted by Julie, who at one point even tries to rope in the reluctant cook, Kristin. However, the cook immediately senses the social shift taking place around her: Jean’s transgression—which she forgives as the act of an ambitious male—and Julie’s defloration—which she judges willful self-abasement and cannot excuse. In her eyes, the manor house has again been brought low.

Historical Context

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In 1859, less than thirty years before Strindberg wrote Miss Julie, Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, a book that revolutionized scientific thought on the subjects of evolution and environmental adaptation Darwin identified a process he called natural selection. According to this theory, the earth cannot support all organisms that develop and so these life forms must compete with one another for environmental resources such as food and living space. The tendency for the hardier species to prevail and propagate while the weaker species die off is what Darwin termed the survival of the fittest.

Darwin's ideas were extremely controversial at this time. Previously, people believed that God had created each species individually Further, Darwin's theories indicated that humans evolved from lower life forms—-more specifically lower primates such as apes. To many, this idea was sacrilegious (as they believed God had created humans in his image, as fully-evolved creatures), a repudiation of God, and a threat to religion. Although some pious individuals accepted Darwin's theories, believing evolution occurred under God's guidance, others found their beliefs challenged. After all, if humans descended from other species, then there was little to separate man from beast.

In spite of such objections, acceptance of Darwin's theories grew. And while Darwin's ideas applied to biology, the concept of survival of the fittest began to influence other disciplines as well. Most notable was the development of social Darwinism, a concept that came to prominence in the late-1800s. Social Darwinists saw natural selection occurring within the social as well as biological realm; the concept was used to explain disparities— why some rose to aristocracy while others languished in the lower-classes—in social status. Those who were wealthy or had accomplished much had done so because they were better adapted to compete for scarce social resources. Those who were poor and had achieved little were in then-positions because of their own nature. The concept of social Darwinism became important to the Naturalist literary movement from which Miss Julie arose. In Strindberg's play, the concept of social Darwinism can be seen in the fall of Julie, who is clearly unfit for a superior position and cannot survive. Jean's ability to rise, while questionable, is presented more optimistically; he is stronger and consequently more likely to improve his position in society.

The social position of the lower-class was improving at the time Strindberg's work appeared. Workers in Sweden began to strike for higher wages and shorter workdays. In 1881, a law was passed to limit child labor in factories, but it was not until 1909 that all adult males in Sweden were given the right to vote. The possibility of social mobility was becoming greater at this time as well. In his preface to Miss Julie, Strindberg, himself the child of a servant, wrote of' 'the old... nobility giving way to a new nobility of nerve and intellect."

The position of women in society was also an important issue at this time. It was only in 1845 that women in Sweden were given the right to own property. In 1846 women were also given the right to hold certain specific jobs, such as teaching, and finally, in 1862, the right to vote. In the 1870s, women were let into the universities for the first time, although they were not allowed to study theology or law. In general, women were gradually becoming, at least in the eyes of the law, more independent and closer in equality with men.

Strindberg himself showed mixed feelings about the changing roles of women. In many ways he sympathized with women, but while Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen created Nora, the heroine of A Doll's House who walked out on her husband and children to meet her own needs, Strindberg placed more importance on the sanctity of marriage and spoke in his preface to Miss Julie about the rise of the "man-hating half-woman." A general opposition to feminism is also apparent in Miss Julie.

Literary Style

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Allusion An allusion is a reference to another literary work. In Miss Julie, the name of Julie's dog, Diana, is an allusion to the Roman goddess of hunting. According to her legend, when a man caught sight of her bathing, Diana unleashed her hounds to tear him to pieces. The goddess Diana's rejection of men mirrors Julie's. Another allusion is found in the subject of the church sermon Kristine will attend, the beheading of John the Baptist. According to the Biblical story, John the Baptist was beheaded by the Palestinian ruler King Herod Antipas, who was tricked into killing the disciple of Jesus Christ by his wife, Herodias, and daughter, Salome. John the Baptist's death is reflected in the death of Julie's bird as well as in the death of Julie herself.

Foreshadowing In foreshadowing, words, symbols, or an event suggest a future incident. Julie's dog Diana's sexual encounter with the gatekeeper's dog, an encounter that horrifies Julie, foreshadows her own sexual act with Jean—as well as her subsequent shame and horror following the act. The beheading of Julie's bird by Jean foreshadows Julie's own death.

The Unities The three classical unities, unity of time, unity of place, and unity of action, are a Renaissance-era interpretation of the rules of ancient Greek drama (as they are described in Aristotle's Poetics). Unity of time dictates that the action of a drama occur within a twenty-four hour period. In order to conform to unity of place, the action of a play must take place in either a single location or locations that are close to one another; one cannot, for instance, set one scene in Paris while another is set in Rome. Unity of action means that all of the incidents of a drama must follow each other logically. In writing Miss Julie, Strindberg strictly adhered to the classical unities.

Structure The structure of Miss Julie differs from contemporary late-nineteenth century drama in that Strindberg, believing that the intermissions between acts interrupted an audience's concentration, chose to write a shorter play He conceived Miss Julie as a one-act rather than the traditional three-act play so that the audience could experience his drama in a single sitting. Nevertheless, the play's structure reflects the traditional structure in that it has three distinct parts. Instead of being divided by an intermission, the first and second acts occur on either side of the mime, in which Kristine appears alone onstage. The second and third parts are separated by the servants' ballet, which occurs onstage while Jean and Julie are alone (having sex) in Jean's room.

Symbol A symbol represents something outside of itself. In Miss Julie, the Count's boots and bell symbolize his offstage presence as well as his continuing power over Julie and Jean. When Jean hears the Count's bell, his dreams of social mobility evaporate, and he once again becomes a lackey. Likewise, Jean and Julie's respective dreams are symbols of their desire to escape their reality.

Naturalism Naturalism is a literary movement that began in France in the mid~1800s. The French writer Eraile Zola (the Rougon-Macquart series of novels) is considered the most influential in defining the principles of the movement. Naturalists were influenced by the theory of social Darwinism, in which the human struggle for social survival mirrored the struggle of animals for physical survival (survival of the fittest). In Naturalism, humans are controlled by social and biological factors, heredity, and environment, rather than by their own strength of will and character. Miss Julie is widely considered to be the most important naturalistic drama.

Compare and Contrast

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1888: Although published in 1859, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species is still the focus of controversy as religious people feel threatened by Darwin's findings and the resulting conception of human beings as animals.

Today: Darwin's theories are widely accepted, and most people consider humans to be, biologically, animals. Few religious people consider their beliefs shaken by evolution.

1888: The role of women is rapidly changing as women gain more equality with men under the law. Husbands, however, retain legal rights over their wives and the proper position of married women is widely debated.

Today: European and American women have close to complete legal equality with men, but many believe much progress remains to be made. In some third-world counties there is still great inequality between the sexes.

1888: Social Darwinism gains importance as a theory as people see the concept of the survival of the fittest at work in society.

Today: Circumstances beyond individual control and genetics are now seen as having a great impact in determining who will gain status and wealth. Acceptance of the theory of social Darwinism has greatly declined.

1888: Social reforms in Sweden are in the process of increasing the rights of workers, who are demanding higher wages and shorter workdays. In Sweden, workers are kept from voting by a law that requires a minimum income of those who vote.

Today: The position of workers throughout the world has greatly unproved. Due to a government welfare system, all Swedes have a relatively high standard of living.

Media Adaptations

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Miss Julie was made into the 1951 Swedish film Froken Julie, directed by Alf Sjoberg.

A television version of Miss Julie was produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1965. The program was directed by Alan Bridges and stars Stephanie Bidmean, Ian Hendry, and Gunnel Lindblom.

In 1972, John Glenister and Robin Phillips directed another version of Miss Julie. This adaptation stars Helen Mirren, Donald McCann, and Heather Canning.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Carlson, Harry G. Strindberg and the Poetry of Myth, University of California Press, 1982, pp. 61-64.

Ferns, Lesley. Acting Women Images of Women in Theatre, New York University Press, 1989, pp 121-24.

Jarv, Harry. "Strindberg's 'Characterless' Miss Julie" in Gradiva, Vol. 1,1977, pp. 197-206.

Lamm, Martin. August Strindberg, translated and edited by Harry G Carlson, Benjamin Bloom, 1971, pp. 216-17.

Meyer, Michael. Strindberg A Biography, Seeker & Warburg, 1985, pp 203-04,515.

Steene, Birgitta. The Greatest Fire: A Study of August Strindberg, Southern Illinois University Press, 1973, p. 55.

Ward, John. The Social and Religious Plays of Strindberg, Athlone, 1980, p 62.

Further Reading Ferns, Lesley. Acting Women- Images of Women in Theatre, New York University Press, 1989. This book is a good basic introduction to the depiction of female characters in drama from the Greeks to the present.

Hawkins, Mike. Social Darwinism in European and American Thought- 1860-1945, Nature As Model and Nature As Threat, Cambridge University Press, 1997. This book provides a basic introduction to the theory and history of social Darwinism, particularly as it was perceived during Strindberg's time.

Morgan, Margery. August Strindberg, Macmillan, 1985. This book provides a brief biography of Strindberg and an introduction to his works.

Sprinchorn, Evert. Strindberg As Dramatist, Yale University Press, 1982. Dividing his work into periods, this book integrates a study of Strindberg's development as a dramatist, including biographical information and criticism of his plays.


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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.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide