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Plays by August Strindberg: Creditors. Pariah online

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TEKLA. I don't believe so.

GUSTAV. But it is very like you.

TEKLA. [Cynically] Do you think so?

GUSTAV. That reminds me of the story - you know it - "How could your
majesty see that?"

TEKLA, [Laughing aloud] You are impossible! - Do you know any new

GUSTAV. No, but you ought to have some.

TEKLA. Oh, I never hear anything funny nowadays.

GUSTAV. Is he modest also?

TEKLA. Oh - well -

GUSTAV. Not an everything?

TEKLA. He isn't well just now.

GUSTAV. Well, why should little brother put his nose into other people's

TEKLA. [Laughing] You crazy thing!

GUSTAV. Poor chap! - Do you remember once when we were just married - we
lived in this very room. It was furnished differently in those days.
There was a chest of drawers against that wall there - and over there
stood the big bed.

TEKLA. Now you stop!

GUSTAV. Look at me!

TEKLA. Well, why shouldn't I?

[They look hard at each other.]

GUSTAV. Do you think a person can ever forget anything that has made a
very deep impression on him?

TEKLA. No! And our memories have a tremendous power. Particularly the
memories of our youth.

GUSTAV. Do you remember when I first met you? Then you were a pretty
little girl: a slate on which parents and governesses had made a few
scrawls that I had to wipe out. And then I filled it with inscriptions
that suited my own mind, until you believed the slate could hold nothing
more. That's the reason, you know, why I shouldn't care to be in your
husband's place - well, that's his business! But it's also the reason why
I take pleasure in meeting you again. Our thoughts fit together exactly.
And as I sit here and chat with you, it seems to me like drinking old
wine of my own bottling. Yes, it's my own wine, but it has gained a
great deal in flavour! And now, when I am about to marry again, I have
purposely picked out a young girl whom I can educate to suit myself. For
the woman, you know, is the man's child, and if she is not, he becomes
hers, and then the world turns topsy-turvy.

TEKLA. Are you going to marry again?

GUSTAV. Yes, I want to try my luck once more, but this time I am going
to make a better start, so that it won't end again with a spill.

TEKLA. Is she good looking?

GUSTAV. Yes, to me. But perhaps I am too old. It's queer - now when
chance has brought me together with you again - I am beginning to doubt
whether it will be possible to play the game over again.

TEKLA. How do you mean?

GUSTAV. I can feel that my roots stick in your soil, and the old wounds
are beginning to break open. You are a dangerous woman, Tekla!

TEKLA. Am I? And my young husband says that I can make no more

GUSTAV. That means he has ceased to love you.

TEKLA. Well, I can't quite make out what love means to him.

GUSTAV. You have been playing hide and seek so long that at last you
cannot find each other at all. Such things do happen. You have had to
play the innocent to yourself, until he has lost his courage. There
ARE some drawbacks to a change, I tell you - there are drawbacks to it,

TEKLA. Do you mean to reproach -

GUSTAV. Not at all! Whatever happens is to a certain extent necessary,
for if it didn't happen, something else would - but now it did happen,
and so it had to happen.

TEKLA. YOU are a man of discernment. And I have never met anybody with
whom I liked so much to exchange ideas. You are so utterly free from
all morality and preaching, and you ask so little of people, that it is
possible to be oneself in your presence. Do you know, I am jealous of
your intended wife!

GUSTAV. And do you realise that I am jealous of your husband?

TEKLA. [Rising] And now we must part! Forever!

GUSTAV. Yes, we must part! But not without a farewell - or what do you

TEKLA. [Agitated] No!

GUSTAV. [Following after her] Yes! - Let us have a farewell! Let us drown
our memories - you know, there are intoxications so deep that when you
wake up all memories are gone. [Putting his arm around her waist] You
have been dragged down by a diseased spirit, who is infecting you with
his own anaemia. I'll breathe new life into you. I'll make your talent
blossom again in your autumn days, like a remontant rose. I'll - -

(Two LADIES in travelling dress are seen in the doorway leading to the
veranda. They look surprised. Then they point at those within, laugh,
and disappear.)

TEKLA. [Freeing herself] Who was that?

GUSTAV. [Indifferently] Some tourists.

TEKLA. Leave me alone! I am afraid of you!


TEKLA. You take my soul away from me!

GUSTAV. And give you my own in its place! And you have no soul for that
matter - it's nothing but a delusion.

TEKLA. You have a way of saying impolite things so that nobody can be
angry with you.

GUSTAV. It's because you feel that I hold the first mortgage on
you - Tell me now, when - and - where?

TEKLA. No, it wouldn't be right to him. I think he is still in love with
me, and I don't want to do any more harm.

GUSTAV. He does not love you! Do you want proofs?

TEKLA, Where can you get them?

GUSTAV. [Picking up the pieces of the photograph from the floor] Here!
See for yourself!

TEKLA. Oh, that's an outrage!

GUSTAV. Do you see? Now then, when? And where?

TEKLA. The false-hearted wretch!


TEKLA. He leaves to-night, with the eight-o'clock boat.

GUSTAV. And then -

TEKLA. At nine! [A noise is heard from the adjoining room] Who can be
living in there that makes such a racket?

GUSTAV. Let's see! [Goes over and looks through the keyhole] There's a
table that has been upset, and a smashed water caraffe - that's all! I
shouldn't wonder if they had left a dog locked up in there. - At nine
o'clock then?

TEKLA. All right! And let him answer for it himself. - What a depth of
deceit! And he who has always preached about truthfulness, and tried
to teach me to tell the truth! - But wait a little - how was it now?
He received me with something like hostility - didn't meet me at the
landing - and then - and then he made some remark about young men on
board the boat, which I pretended not to hear - but how could he know?
Wait - and then he began to philosophise about women - and then the
spectre of you seemed to be haunting him - and he talked of becoming a
sculptor, that being the art of the time - exactly in accordance with
your old speculations!

GUSTAV. No, really!

TEKLA. No, really? - Oh, now I understand! Now I begin to see what a
hideous creature you are! You have been here before and stabbed him to
death! It was you who had been sitting there on the sofa; it was you who
made him think himself an epileptic - that he had to live in celibacy;
that he ought to rise in rebellion against his wife; yes, it was
you! - How long have you been here?

GUSTAV. I have been here a week.

TEKLA. It was you, then, I saw on board the boat?

GUSTAV. It was.

TEKLA. And now you were thinking you could trap me?

GUSTAV. It has been done.

TEKLA. Not yet!


TEKLA. Like a wolf you went after my lamb. You came here with a
villainous plan to break up my happiness, and you were carrying it out,
when my eyes were opened, and I foiled you.

GUSTAV. Not quite that way, if you please. This is how it happened
in reality. Of course, it has been my secret hope that disaster might
overtake you. But I felt practically certain that no interference on
my part was required. And besides, I have been far too busy to have any
time left for intriguing. But when I happened to be moving about a bit,
and happened to see you with those young men on board the boat, then I
guessed the time had come for me to take a look at the situation. I came
here, and your lamb threw itself into the arms of the wolf. I won his
affection by some sort of reminiscent impression which I shall not be
tactless enough to explain to you. At first he aroused my sympathy,
because he seemed to be in the same fix as I was once. But then he
happened to touch old wounds - that book, you know, and "the idiot" - and
I was seized with a wish to pick him to pieces, and to mix up these so
thoroughly that they couldn't be put together again - and I succeeded,
thanks to the painstaking way in which you had done the work of
preparation. Then I had to deal with you. For you were the spring that
had kept the works moving, and you had to be taken apart - and what a
buzzing followed! - When I came in here, I didn't know exactly what to
say. Like a chess-player, I had laid a number of tentative plans, of
course, but my play had to depend on your moves. One thing led to the
other, chance lent me a hand, and finally I had you where I wanted
you. - Now you are caught!


GUSTAV. Yes, you are! What you least wanted has happened. The world at
large, represented by two lady tourists - whom I had not sent for, as
I am not an intriguer - the world has seen how you became reconciled
to your former husband, and how you sneaked back repentantly into his
faithful arms. Isn't that enough?

TEKLA. It ought to be enough for your revenge - But tell me, how can you,
who are so enlightened and so right-minded - how is it possible that you,
who think whatever happens must happen, and that all our actions are
determined in advance -

GUSTAV. [Correcting her] To a certain extent determined.

TEKLA. That's the same thing!


TEKLA. [Disregarding him] How is it possible that you, who hold me
guiltless, as I was driven by my nature and the circumstances into
acting as I did - how can you think yourself entitled to revenge - ?

GUSTAV. For that very reason - for the reason that my nature and the
circumstances drove me into seeking revenge. Isn't that giving both
sides a square deal? But do you know why you two had to get the worst of
it in this struggle?

(TEKLA looks scornful.)

GUSTAV. And why you were doomed to be fooled? Because I am stronger than
you, and wiser also. You have been the idiot - and he! And now you may
perceive that a man need not be an idiot because he doesn't write novels
or paint pictures. It might be well for you to bear this in mind.

TEKLA. Are you then entirely without feelings?

GUSTAV. Entirely! And for that very reason, you know, I am capable of
thinking - in which you have had no experience whatever-and of acting - in
which you have just had some slight experience.

TEKLA. And all this merely because I have hurt your vanity?

GUSTAV. Don't call that MERELY! You had better not go around hurting
other people's vanity. They have no more sensitive spot than that.

TEKLA. Vindictive wretch - shame on you!

GUSTAV. Dissolute wretch - shame on you!

TEKLA. Oh, that's my character, is it?

GUSTAV. Oh, that's my character, is it? - You ought to learn something
about human nature in others before you give your own nature free rein.
Otherwise you may get hurt, and then there will be wailing and gnashing
of teeth.

TEKLA. You can never forgive: -

GUSTAV. Yes, I have forgiven you!


GUSTAV. Of course! Have I raised a hand against you during all these
years? No! And now I came here only to have a look at you, and it was
enough to burst your bubble. Have I uttered a single reproach? Have I
moralised or preached sermons? No! I played a joke or two on your dear
consort, and nothing more was needed to finish him. - But there is
no reason why I, the complainant, should be defending myself as I am
now - Tekla! Have you nothing at all to reproach yourself with?

TEKLA. Nothing at all! Christians say that our actions are governed by
Providence; others call it Fate; in either case, are we not free from
all liability?

GUSTAV. In a measure, yes; but there is always a narrow margin left
unprotected, and there the liability applies in spite of all. And
sooner or later the creditors make their appearance. Guiltless, but
accountable! Guiltless in regard to one who is no more; accountable to
oneself and one's fellow beings.

TEKLA. So you came here to dun me?

GUSTAV. I came to take back what you had stolen, not what you had
received as a gift. You had stolen my honour, and I could recover it
only by taking yours. This, I think, was my right - or was it not?

TEKLA. Honour? Hm! And now you feel satisfied?

GUSTAV. Now I feel satisfied. [Rings for a waiter.]

TEKLA. And now you are going home to your fiancee?

GUSTAV. I have no fiancee! Nor am I ever going to have one. I am not
going home, for I have no home, and don't want one.

(A WAITER comes in.)

GUSTAV. Get me my bill - I am leaving by the eight o'clock boat.

(THE WAITER bows and goes out.)

TEKLA. Without making up?

GUSTAV. Making up? You use such a lot of words that have lost
their - meaning. Why should we make up? Perhaps you want all three of us
to live together? You, if anybody, ought to make up by making good what
you took away, but this you cannot do. You just took, and what you took
you consumed, so that there is nothing left to restore. - Will it satisfy
you if I say like this: forgive me that you tore my heart to pieces;
forgive me that you disgraced me; forgive me that you made me the
laughing-stock of my pupils through every week-day of seven long years;
forgive me that I set you free from parental restraints, that I released
you from the tyranny of ignorance and superstition, that I set you to
rule my house, that I gave you position and friends, that I made a woman
out of the child you were before? Forgive me as I forgive you! - Now I
have torn up your note! Now you can go and settle your account with the
other one!

TEKLA. What have you done with him? I am beginning to suspect - something

GUSTAV. With him? Do you still love him?


GUSTAV. And a moment ago it was me! Was that also true?

TEKLA. It was true.

GUSTAV. Do you know what you are then?

TEKLA. You despise me?

GUSTAV. I pity you. It is a trait - I don't call it a fault - just a
trait, which is rendered disadvantageous by its results. Poor Tekla! I
don't know - but it seems almost as if I were feeling a certain regret,
although I am as free from any guilt - as you! But perhaps it will be
useful to you to feel what I felt that time. - Do you know where your
husband is?

TEKLA. I think I know now - he is in that room in there! And he has heard
everything! And seen everything! And the man who sees his own wraith

(ADOLPH appears in the doorway leading to the veranda. His face is white
as a sheet, and there is a bleeding scratch on one cheek. His eyes are
staring and void of all expression. His lips are covered with froth.)

GUSTAV. [Shrinking back] No, there he is! - Now you can settle with him
and see if he proves as generous as I have been. - Good-bye!

(He goes toward the left, but stops before he reaches the door.)

TEKLA. [Goes to meet ADOLPH with open arms] Adolph!

(ADOLPH leans against the door-jamb and sinks gradually to the floor.)

TEKLA. [Throwing herself upon his prostrate body and caressing him]
Adolph! My own child! Are you still alive - oh, speak, speak! - Please
forgive your nasty Tekla! Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me! - Little
brother must say something, I tell him! - No, good God, he doesn't hear!
He is dead! O God in heaven! O my God! Help!

GUSTAV. Why, she really must have loved HIM, too! - Poor creature!




Both "Creditors" and "Pariah" were written in the winter of 1888-89 at
Holte, near Copenhagen, where Strindberg, assisted by his first wife,
was then engaged in starting what he called a "Scandinavian Experimental
Theatre." In March, 1889, the two plays were given by students from the
University of Copenhagen, and with Mrs. von Essen Strindberg as Tekla. A
couple of weeks later the performance was repeated across the Sound,
in the Swedish city of Malmo, on which occasion the writer of this
introduction, then a young actor, assisted in the stage management. One
of the actors was Gustav Wied, a Danish playwright and novelist, whose
exquisite art since then has won him European fame. In the audience was
Ola Hansson, a Swedish novelist and poet who had just published a short
story from which Strindberg, according to his own acknowledgment on
playbill and title-page, had taken the name and the theme of "Pariah."

Mr. Hansson has printed a number of letters (Tilskueren, Copenhagen,
July, 1912) written to him by Strindberg about that time, as well as
some very informative comments of his own. Concerning the performance
of Malmo he writes: "It gave me a very unpleasant sensation. What did
it mean? Why had Strindberg turned my simple theme upsidedown so that
it became unrecognisable? Not a vestige of the 'theme from Ola Hansson'
remained. Yet he had even suggested that he and I act the play together,
I not knowing that it was to be a duel between two criminals. And he had
at first planned to call it 'Aryan and Pariah' - which meant, of course,
that the strong Aryan, Strindberg, was to crush the weak Pariah,
Hansson, coram populo."

In regard to his own story Mr. Hansson informs us that it dealt with "a
man who commits a forgery and then tells about it, doing both in a sort
of somnambulistic state whereby everything is left vague and undefined."
At that moment "Raskolnikov" was in the air, so to speak. And without
wanting in any way to suggest imitation, I feel sure that the groundnote
of the story was distinctly Dostoievskian. Strindberg himself had been
reading Nietzsche and was - largely under the pressure of a reaction
against the popular disapproval of his anti-feministic attitude - being
driven more and more into a superman philosophy which reached its
climax in the two novels "Chandalah" (1889) and "At the Edge of the Sea"
(1890). The Nietzschean note is unmistakable in the two plays contained
in the present volume.

But these plays are strongly colored by something else - by something
that is neither Hansson-Dostoievski nor Strindberg-Nietzsche. The
solution of the problem is found in the letters published by
Mr. Hansson. These show that while Strindberg was still planning
"Creditors," and before he had begun "Pariah," he had borrowed
from Hansson a volume of tales by Edgar Allan Poe. It was his
first acquaintance with the work of Poe, though not with American
literature - for among his first printed work was a series of
translations from American humourists; and not long ago a Swedish
critic (Gunnar Castren in Samtiden, Christiania, June, 1912) wrote of
Strindberg's literary beginnings that "he had learned much from Swedish
literature, but probably more from Mark Twain and Dickens."

The impression Poe made on Strindberg was overwhelming. He returns to
it in one letter after another. Everything that suits his mood of the
moment is "Poesque" or "E. P-esque." The story that seems to have made
the deepest impression of all was "The Gold Bug," though his thought
seems to have distilled more useful material out of certain other
stories illustrating Poe's theories about mental suggestion. Under the
direct influence of these theories, Strindberg, according to his own
statements to Hansson, wrote the powerful one-act play "Simoom," and
made Gustav in "Creditors" actually CALL FORTH the latent epileptic
tendencies in Adolph. And on the same authority we must trace the method
of: psychological detection practised by Mr. X. in "Pariah" directly to
"The Gold Bug."

Here we have the reason why Mr. Hansson could find so little of his
story in the play. And here we have the origin of a theme which, while
not quite new to him, was ever afterward to remain a favourite one with
Strindberg: that of a duel between intellect and cunning. It forms the
basis of such novels as "Chandalah" and "At the Edge of the Sea," but
it recurs in subtler form in works of much later date. To readers of the
present day, Mr. X. - that striking antithesis of everything a scientist
used to stand for in poetry - is much less interesting as a superman in
spe than as an illustration of what a morally and mentally normal man
can do with the tools furnished him by our new understanding of human
ways and human motives. And in giving us a play that holds our interest
as firmly as the best "love plot" ever devised, although the stage shows
us only two men engaged in an intellectual wrestling match, Strindberg
took another great step toward ridding the drama of its old, shackling

The name of this play has sometimes been translated as "The Outcast,"
whereby it becomes confused with "The Outlaw," a much earlier play on
a theme from the old Sagas. I think it better, too, that the Hindu
allusion in the Swedish title be not lost, for the best of men may
become an outcast, but the baseness of the Pariah is not supposed to
spring only from lack of social position.





MR. X., an archaeologist, Middle-aged man.

MR. Y., an American traveller, Middle-aged man.


(A simply furnished room in a farmhouse. The door and the windows in the
background open on a landscape. In the middle of the room stands a
big dining-table, covered at one end by books, writing materials,
and antiquities; at the other end, by a microscope, insect cases, and
specimen jars full of alchohol.)

(On the left side hangs a bookshelf. Otherwise the furniture is that of
a well-to-do farmer.)

(MR. Y. enters in his shirt-sleeves, carrying a butterfly-net and a
botany-can. He goes straight up to the bookshelf and takes down a book,
which he begins to read on the spot.)

(The landscape outside and the room itself are steeped in sunlight. The
ringing of church bells indicates that the morning services are just
over. Now and then the cackling of hens is heard from the outside.)

(MR. X. enters, also in his shirt-sleeves.)

(MR. Y. starts violently, puts the book back on the shelf upside-down,
and pretends to be looking for another volume.)

MR. X. This heat is horrible. I guess we are going to have a

MR. Y. What makes you think so?

MR. X. The bells have a kind of dry ring to them, the flies are sticky,
and the hens cackle. I meant to go fishing, but I couldn't find any
worms. Don't you feel nervous?

MR. Y. [Cautiously] I? - A little.

MR. X. Well, for that matter, you always look as if you were expecting

MR. Y. [With a start] Do I?

MR. X. Now, you are going away tomorrow, of course, so it is not to be
wondered at that you are a little "journey-proud." - Anything new? - Oh,
there's the mail! [Picks up some letters from the table] My, I have
palpitation of the heart every time I open a letter! Nothing but debts,
debts, debts! Have you ever had any debts?

MR. Y. [After some reflection] N-no.

MR. X. Well, then you don't know what it means to receive a lot of
overdue bills. [Reads one of the letters] The rent unpaid - the landlord
acting nasty - my wife in despair. And here am I sitting waist-high in
gold! [He opens an iron-banded box that stands on the table; then both
sit down at the table, facing each other] Just look - here I have
six thousand crowns' worth of gold which I have dug up in the last
fortnight. This bracelet alone would bring me the three hundred and
fifty crowns I need. And with all of it I might make a fine career for
myself. Then I could get the illustrations made for my treatise at once;
I could get my work printed, and - I could travel! Why don't I do it, do
you suppose?

MR. Y. I suppose you are afraid to be found out.

MR. X. That, too, perhaps. But don't you think an intelligent fellow
like myself might fix matters so that he was never found out? I am alone
all the time - with nobody watching me - while I am digging out there in
the fields. It wouldn't be strange if I put something in my own pockets
now and then.

MR. Y. Yes, but the worst danger lies in disposing of the stuff.

MR. X. Pooh! I'd melt it down, of course - every bit of it - and then I'd
turn it into coins - with just as much gold in them as genuine ones, of
course - -

MR. Y. Of course!

MR. X. Well, you can easily see why. For if I wanted to dabble in
counterfeits, then I need not go digging for gold first. [Pause] It is a
strange thing anyhow, that if anybody else did what I cannot make myself
do, then I'd be willing to acquit him - but I couldn't possibly acquit
myself. I might even make a brilliant speech in defence of the thief,
proving that this gold was res nullius, or nobody's, as it had been
deposited at a time when property rights did not yet exist; that even
under existing rights it could belong only to the first finder of it, as
the ground-owner has never included it in the valuation of his property;
and so on.

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