There Are Crimes and Crimes

by August Strindberg

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1892

First produced: 1899

First published: 1899

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Symbolic realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Locale: Paris

Principal Characters:

Maurice, a young Parisian playwright

Jeanne, his mistress

Marion, their five-year-old daughter

Adolphe, a young Parisian painter

Henriette, his mistress, a sculptress

Emile, Jeanne's brother, a workman

Madame Catherine, the proprietress of the cremerie

The Abbe


THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES was written soon after August Strindberg himself had passed through a period of profound depression and was entering into the final phase of his prolific career. Thus the play is a combination of the realism that he had mastered so well in his earlier works and the symbolism that was to mark his later triumphs. The setting is definite and the characters are actual personalities, but woven into the action is the foreboding presence of a greater meaning and a motivation that is more than human. There are crimes punishable by law, Strindberg is saying, but there are others, undetected by human eyes, that are punished by a higher power.

The Story:

Early in the day that was to mark his first theatrical triumph, Maurice met Jeanne, his mistress, and Marion, their young daughter, in the Montparnasse Cemetery. He promised them that the success of his play was assured and that with the money he would make he would finally be able to marry Jeanne. Unable to leave Marion to attend the performance of the play, Jeanne presented Maurice with a tie and a pair of gloves to wear in her honor in his hour of victory.

That afternoon Maurice went to the headquarters of his set, the cremerie of Madame Catherine. There he saw for the first time the beautiful Henriette, the mistress of his painter-friend, Adolphe. Immediately attracted to her, he felt, at the same time, a strange premonition of evil. Madame Catherine, also sensing the evil, and thinking of Jeanne and her child, pleaded with him to leave. He started to go out but, ironically, collided with Emile, Jeanne's brother, as he walked toward the door. While Emile was apologizing, Henriette came up to him. Once in her presence, he found it impossible to retreat. When Adolphe finally arrived, he realized at once that he had lost his mistress to his friend.

Maurice's play was as great a success as he had hoped. Although his friends arranged a victory celebration for him at the cremerie, he never appeared; he and Henriette had gone to an inn, ostensibly to wait for Adolphe. Adolphe, having misunderstood the meeting place, failed to appear, and Maurice and Henriette openly declared their passion for each other. Henriette, even though she admitted her propensity for evil and acknowledged that she had once committed a crime, easily convinced Maurice that she was more worthy of sharing his triumph than the dull, uneducated Jeanne. To stress her point she threw Jeanne's present, the tie and gloves, into the fire and placed her own laurel wreath on Maurice's brow.

When Adolphe finally met the pair the next morning, he realized the situation that now existed. After he had discreetly retired, Henriette attempted to persuade Maurice to run away with her. Maurice admitted that it was not Jeanne who held him, but the child Marion. Henriette replied that she wished the child were dead. Maurice agreed that things would be simpler if she were, and that he would go away with Henriette if she would consent to his seeing the child once before he left. Henriette reluctantly granted this favor, and Maurice went...

(This entire section contains 1892 words.)

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off for his last visit with his daughter.

Later that morning the customers of the cremerie, smarting from the slight Maurice had paid them by not attending their party in his honor, were astounded by the news, brought by the Abbe, that Maurice's daughter was dead. Apparently she had been murdered by someone who had visited her in her mother's absence, for there was no sign of illness. A commissaire of police arrived to question the patrons as to Maurice's whereabouts. At first they protested that Maurice was incapable of such a crime as the murder of his own daughter; but as the evidence against him and Henriette began to accumulate—waiters had overheard all their remarks, the tie and gloves had been recovered from the fire, Maurice was known to have visited the little girl—even Madame Catherine and the Abbe began to waver, the Abbe maintaining, however, that the whole business was the work of a higher power.

When Maurice and Henriette arrived to bid their friends adieu, the evidence against them was so strong that they were taken into custody. Presently it was decided that there was as yet no proof that the child had actually been murdered, and so they were released. But public opinion was against them. Maurice's play was taken from the stage and that of a rival put in its place. Worse still, his payments were suspended. The hero of the night before was now shunned and penniless. He and his new mistress were haunted by men they imagined detectives, who were waiting for them to convict themselves with a chance word or gesture.

The situation was too much for their love. Held together only by fear, they began to hate each other, to suspect each other of the murder. Maurice was convinced of Henriette's guilt when she confessed the details of her earlier crime: she had assisted in an abortion performed on a friend, and the friend had died. She lived in terror, fearing that her dead friend's lover would, in a moment of contrition, confess his guilt and thereby reveal hers. Her wanton existence had been the result of this constant dread. Maurice suggested that since they were bound by hate and fear they should be married. Henriette would not agree.

Finally Henriette left Maurice outside the closed Luxembourg gardens near the statues of Adam and Eve and returned to the cremerie where she made her accusations to Adolphe. The previously despised Adolphe, seeing the effect of success on Maurice, had just refused a coveted painting prize. From the newspaper he had learned the verdict that Marion had died of some rare disease and that Maurice and Henriette were exonerated. Obsessed by guilt and her hatred of Maurice, however, Henriette at first rejected the news. At last, however, Adolphe persuaded her to give up her Bohemian existence and return to her mother.

After the departure Maurice returned and made his accusation to Adolphe. Adolphe informed him of his exoneration and the consequent restaging of his play. Even the news that his payments would be resumed gave him little pleasure, for he was too strongly aware of his crime of intention. He began to have some hope of atonement when Emile arrived to present him once again with the tie and gloves from Jeanne. The Abbe offered him an even stronger hope. He agreed to meet the Abbe at the church that night instead of attending the reopening of his play.

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:

THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES stands on a thin line between the naturalism of August Strindberg's early works and the expressionism of his later plays. Although it lacks either the dramatic intensity and psychological complexity of the former or the poetic imagination and intellectual density of the latter, THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES shares many of the qualities of both in a most provocative manner.

The realistic side of the play resembles a typical French sexual intrigue and crime melodrama. In part stimulated by his Paris sojourn of a few years earlier, Strindberg called THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES his "boulevard play" and loosely modeled it on a contemporary potboiler, Octave Feuillet's DALILA (1850). It contains all of the standard type characters: the honest artist (Maurice), the devoted woman (Jeanne), the femme fatale (Henriette), the faithful friend (Adolphe), the common-sense matron (Madame Catherine), and the good priest (The Abbe). The plot is also a melodramatic cliche: the innocent is lured away from his devoted lady by a designing woman; she involves him in a crime; he is charged, harassed, and finally exonerated; penitent, he returns to his first love for a happy reunion.

Thus, as an example of realism, THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES is a very thin, trite drama; but Strindberg never intended it to be judged by that criterion. What gives the play its unique interest is not its realism as such, but the way Strindberg has used a realistic context to present what is essentially a symbolic action.

When Maurice and Henriette talk about their "evil dreams" near the end of the first act, they articulate the mood and atmosphere of the play: it is like a dream which turns into a nightmare where one's half-stated longings and subconscious desires become realities, with the dreamer instantly subjected to the practical consequences of his fantasies. The plot moves with the speed and fluidity of a dream. One moment Maurice vows fidelity to Jeanne, the next he is enamored of Henriette; one instant Adolphe loves Henriette, the next he relinquishes her to Maurice with little more than a shrug; Maurice expresses his intense devotion for his daughter, seconds later he wishes her dead. In a purely realistic drama such behavioral gyrations would be shallow and contrived, perhaps absurd, but in THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES they simply reinforce the dreamlike atmosphere.

Marion's death is the climax of the action, and in keeping with the fantasy mood of the play, it happens offstage. At this point Strindberg's belief that "psychic crime" is real and demands concrete punishment takes over. Maurice and Henriette realize that they are both "unpunished criminals" and are oppressed by their sense of guilt. Immediately, their crime, in Henriette's words, sets them "outside, on the other side of life and society and my fellow beings." This isolation leads directly to paranoia; they suspect everyone and everything in their environment—strangers, friends, and especially each other.

And, in the nightmare atmosphere of the play, real punishment instantly intensifies these psychological torments. Maurice is charged with murder, his play is closed, and his fortune negated. Henriette is verbally abused, branded a prostitute, and harassed by the police. Their "crowd" turns them out in disgrace.

And yet, in spite of these punishments, Strindberg's final attitude toward guilt and responsibility remains ambiguous. Even while Maurice expresses his contrition, he defends himself: "But at the same time I am guiltless. What has tied this net out of which I can never escape? Guilty and guiltless, guiltless and guilty." Everyone has committed hidden crimes, Strindberg concludes, with the implication that, if everyone is guilty, then no one is guilty. Maurice is ultimately cleared, his play is rescheduled, his fortune returned, his reputation restored, and his virtuous mistress, Jeanne, reconciled. Even his final desire to do penance and expiate his sin via "confession" to the priest is ambivalent; he will go to church with the Abbe that night, but the next day he returns to the theater.

Strindberg labeled THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES a "comedy," and given its relative lightness of touch and tone, coupled with its happy ending, the label is accurate. But it is certainly a "dark comedy" at best. It is this very combination of the comic and the nightmarish that gives the play its special appeal.