August Strindberg.

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[Illustration - August Strindberg]














This translation is authorised by
Mr. Strindberg, and he has also
approved the selection of the
plays included in this volume.




To the first volume of his remarkable series of autobiographical
novels, August Strindberg gave the name of "The Bondwoman's
Son." The allusion was twofold - to his birth and to the position
which fate, in his own eyes, seemed to have assigned him both as
man and artist.

If we pass on to the third part of his big trilogy, "To
Damascus," also an autobiographical work, but written nearly
twenty years later, we find _The Stranger_, who is none but the
author, saying: "I was the Bondwoman's Son, concerning whom it
was writ - Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of
the bondwoman shall not be heir with the free woman's son.'"

And _The Lady_, back of whom we glimpse Strindberg's second
wife, replies: "Do you know why Ishmael was cast out? It is to
be read a little further back - because he was a scoffer! And
then it is also said: 'He will be a wild man; his hand will be
against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he
shall dwell in opposition to all his brethren.'"

These quotations should be read in conjunction with still
another, taken from Strindberg's latest play, "The Great
Highway," which, while being a sort of symbolical summary of his
life experience, yet pierces the magic circle of self-concern
within which too often he has remained a captive. There _The
Hermit_ asks: "You do not love your fellow-men?" And Strindberg,
masquerading as _The Hunter_, cries in answer: "Yes, far too
much, and fear them for that reason, too."

August Strindberg was born at Stockholm, Sweden, on January
22, 1849. His father was a small tradesman, who had lost his
business just before August was born, but who had the energy and
ability to start all over again as a steam-ship agent, making a
decided success of his second venture. The success, however, was
slow in coming, and the boy's earliest years were spent in the
worst kind of poverty - that poverty which has to keep up outward

The mother had been a barmaid in one of the numerous inns
forming one of the Swedish capital's most characteristic
features. There the elder Strindberg had met her and fallen
deeply in love with her. August was their third child, born a
couple of months after their relationship had become legalized
in spite of bitter opposition from the husband's family. Other
children followed, many of them dying early, so that August
could write in later years that one of his first concrete
recollections was of the black-jacketed candy which used to be
passed around at every Swedish funeral.

Though the parents were always tired, and though the little
home was hopelessly overcrowded - ten persons living in three
rooms - yet the family life was not without its happiness. Only
August seemed to stand apart from the rest, having nothing in
common with his parents or with the other children. In fact, a
sort of warfare seems to have been raging incessantly between
him and his elder brothers. Thus a character naturally timid and
reserved had those traits developed to a point where its whole
existence seemed in danger of being warped.

At school he was not much happier, and as a rule he regarded
the tasks set him there as so much useless drudgery. Always and
everywhere he seemed in fear of having his personality violated,
until at last that apprehension, years later, took on a form
so morbid that it all but carried him across the limits of
rationality. With this suspiciousness of his environment went,
however, a keen desire to question and to understand. He has
said of himself that the predominant traits of his character
have been "doubt and sensitiveness to pressure." In these two
traits much of his art will, indeed, find its explanation.

At the age of thirteen he lost his mother, and less than a year
later his father remarried - choosing for his second wife the
former housekeeper. That occurrence made the boy's isolation at
home complete. During the years that followed he threw himself
with his usual passionate surrender into religious broodings and
practices. This mood lasted until he left for the university
at Upsala. He was then eighteen. During his first term at the
university he was so poor that he could buy no books. Worse
even - he could not buy the wood needed to heat the bare garret
where he lived.

Returning to Stockholm, he tried to teach in one of the public
schools - the very school which he had attended during the
unhappiest part of his childhood. From that time dates the theme
of eternal repetition, of forced return to past experiences,
which recurs constantly in his works. Another recurring theme is
that of unjust punishment, and it has also come out of his own
life - from an occasion when, as a boy of eight, he was suspected
of having drunk some wine that was missing, and when, in spite
of his indignant protests, he was held guilty and finally
compelled to acknowledge himself so in order to escape further

But while still teaching school, he made certain acquaintances
that set his mind groping for some sort of literary expression.
He tried time and again to write verse, only to fail - until
one day, in a sort of trance, he found himself shaping words
into measured lines, and it suddenly dawned on him that he had
accomplished the feat held beyond him. From the first the stage
drew him, and his initial work was a little comedy, concerning
which nothing is known now. Then he wrote another one-act play
with the Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen for central figure, and
this was accepted by the Royal Theatre and actually played
with some success. Finally he produced a brief historical play
in prose, "The Outlaw," which was spurned by the critics and
the public, but which brought him the personal good-will and
financial support of King Charles XV.

Thus favoured, he returned to the university with the thought
of taking a degree. Instead he read everything not required in
the courses, quarrelled with every professor to whom he had to
submit himself for examination, and spent the major part of his
time with a set of youngsters whose sole ambition was to make
literature. Of that coterie, Strindberg was the only one to
reach the goal which all dreamt of. On the sudden death of the
king, when his little stipend ceased, he went up to the capital
again, bent on staying away for ever from the university.

During the next couple of years, he studied medicine for a
while, tried himself as an actor, conducted a trade journal, and
failed rather than succeeded to make a living as a hack writer
for various obscure newspapers. All this life he has pictured
with biting humour in his first big novel, "The Red Room."
At last, when he was twenty-three and had withdrawn in sheer
desperation to one of the little islands between Stockholm and
the open sea, he conceived and completed a five-act historical
play, named "Master Olof," after Arch-bishop Olaus Petri, the
Luther of Sweden.

The three main figures of that play, _Master Olof, King
Gustavus Vasa_, and _Gert the Printer_, were designed by the
author to represent three phases of his own character. The
_King_ was the opportunist, _Olof_ the idealist, and _Gert_ the
"impossibilist." The title first chosen for the play was "The
Renegade." It was suggested by the cry with which _Gert_ greets
the surrender of _Olof_ in the final scene.

The indifference shown that first big work came near turning
Strindberg away from a literary career for ever. It took him
several years to recover from the shock of disappointment - a
shock the more severe because he felt so uncertain of his own
gifts. But those years of seeming inactivity were not lost. He
had obtained a position in the Royal Library, which gave him a
living and free access to all the books he wanted. At first he
sought forgetfulness in the most exotic studies, such as the
Chinese language. The honours of the savant tempted him, and he
wrote a monograph which was accepted by the French Institute.

Gradually, however, he was drawn back to his own time. And there
was hardly a field of human thought to which he did not give
some attention. Already as a student at Upsala, his conception
of life had been largely determined by the study of the Danish
individualistic philosopher Kierkegaard, the English determinist
Buckle, and the German pessimist Eduard von Hartmann. Among
novelists, Hugo and Dickens were his favourites. They together
with the brothers de Goncourt, and not Zola, helped principally
to shape his artistic form until he was strong enough to stand
wholly on his own feet.

At the age of twenty-six he met the woman who was to play the
double part of muse and fate to him. She was already married.
In the end she obtained a divorce and became Strindberg's wife.
To begin with they were very happy, and under the stimulus of
this unfamiliar feeling Strindberg began once more to write - but
now in a manner such that recognition could no longer be denied
him. The novel already mentioned was his first popular success.
It drew bitter attacks from the conservative elements, but the
flavour of real life pervading it conquered all opposition.
To this day that first work of social criticism has not been
forgiven Strindberg by the official guardians of Swedish

After a while Strindberg threw himself with passion into the
study of Swedish history. One of the results was a daring work
named "The Swedish People," which is still, next to the Bible,
the most read book among the Swedes in this country. He wrote
also a series of short stories on historical themes which
combined artistic value with a truly remarkable insight into the
life of by-gone days. This series was named "Swedish Events and
Adventures." About the same time he administered some scathing
strictures on social and political conditions in a volume of
satirical essays entitled "The New Kingdom."

His plays from this period include "The Secret of the Guild" and
"Sir Bengt's Lady," both historical dramas of romantic nature.
To these must be added his first fairy play, "The Wanderings
of Lucky-Per," concerning which he declared recently that it
was meant for children only and must not be counted among his
more serious efforts. But this play has from the start been a
great favourite with the public, combining in its rapidly moving
scenes something of a modern "Everyman" and not a little of a
Swedish "Peer Gynt."

After he had resigned from the Royal Library and retired to
Switzerland for the purpose of devoting all his time to writing,
he produced the volume of short stories, "Marriage," which led
him up to the first turning point in his artistic career. It
dealt with modern marital conditions in a manner meant to reveal
the economic reefs on which so many unions are wrecked. His
attitude toward women had already become critical in that work,
but it was not yet hostile.

The book was confiscated. Criminal proceedings were brought
against its publisher. The charge was that it spoke offensively
of rites held sacred by the established religion of Sweden.
Everybody knew that this was a mere pretext, and that the true
grievance against the book lay in its outspoken utterances on
questions of sex morality. Urged by friends, Strindberg hastened
home and succeeded in assuming the part of defendant in place of
the publisher. The jury freed him, and the youth of the country
proclaimed him their leader and spokesman.

But the impression left on Strindberg's mind by that episode was
very serious and distinctly unfavourable. As in his childhood,
when he found himself disbelieved though telling the truth, so
he felt now more keenly than anything else the questioning of
his motives, which he knew to be pure. And the leaders of the
feminist movement, then particularly strong in Sweden, turned
against him with a bitterness not surpassed by that which
Ibsen had to face from directly opposite quarters after the
publication of "A Doll's House." Add finally that his marriage,
which had begun so auspiciously, was rapidly changing into
torture for both parties concerned in it.

Yet his growing embitterment did not make itself felt at once.
In 1885 he published four short stories meant to em-body the
onward trend of the modern spirit and the actual materialisation
of some of its fondest dreams. Collectively he named those
stories "Real Utopias," and they went far toward winning him a
reputation in Germany, where he was then living.

But with the appearance of the second part of "Marriage" in
1886, it was plain that a change had come over him. Its eighteen
stories constituted an unmistakable protest against everything
for which the feminist movement stood. The efforts of Ibsen and
Björnson to abolish the so-called "double code of morality" - one
for men and another one for women were openly challenged on the
ground that different results made male and female "immorality"
two widely different things. Right here it should be pointed
out, however, that Strindberg always, and especially in his
later years, has demanded as high a measure of moral purity from
men as from women - the real distinction between him and the two
great Norwegians lying in the motives on which he based that

The second part of "Marriage" shows a change not only in spirit
but in form, and this change becomes more accentuated in every
work published during the next few years. Until then Strindberg
had shown strong evidence of the Romantic origin of his art.
From now on, and until the ending of the great mental crisis in
the later nineties, he must be classed as an ultra-naturalist,
with strong materialistic and sceptical leanings. At the same
time he becomes more and more individualistic in his social
outlook, spurning the mass which, as he then felt, had spurned
him. And after a while the works of Nietzsche came to complete
what his personal experience had begun. His attitude toward
woman, as finally developed during this period, may be summed up
in an allegation not only of moral and mental but of biological
inferiority. And though during his later life he has retracted
much and softened more of what he said in those years of rampant
masculine rebellion, he continues to this day to regard women as
an intermediary biological form, standing between the man and
the child.

With the publication, in 1887, of "The Father," a modern
three-act tragedy, Strindberg reached a double climax. That work
has been hailed as one of his greatest, if not the greatest,
as far as technical perfection is concerned. At the same time
it presents that duel of the sexes - which to him had taken the
place of love - in its most startling and hideous aspects. The
gloom of the play is almost unsurpassed. The ingeniousness of
its plot may well be called infernal. By throwing doubt on her
husband's rights as father of the child held to be theirs in
common, the woman in the play manages to undermine the reason of
a strong and well-balanced man until he becomes transformed into
a raving maniac.

"The Comrades," a modern four-act comedy, portrays the marriage
of two artists and shows the woman as a mental parasite, drawing
both her inspiration and her skill from the husband, whom she
tries to shake off when she thinks him no longer needed for her
success. Then came the play of his which is perhaps the most
widely known - I mean the realistic drama which, for want of a
better English equivalent, must be named here "Miss Juliet." It
embodied some startling experiments in form and has undoubtedly
exercised a distinct influence on the subsequent development
of dramatic technique. On the surface it appears to offer
little more than another version of the sex duel, but back of
the conflict between man and woman we discover another one,
less deep-going perhaps, but rendered more acute by existing
conditions. It is the conflict between the upper and partly
outlived elements of society and its still unrefined, but
vitally unimpaired, strata. And it is the stronger vitality,
here represented by the man, which carries the day.

The rest of Strindberg's dramatic productions during this
middle, naturalistic period, lasting from 1885 to 1894, included
eight more one-act plays, several of which rank very high, and
another fairy play, "The Keys to Heaven," which probably marks
his nearest approach to a purely negative conception of life.

Paralleling the plays, we find a series of novels and short
stories dealing with the people on those islands where
Strindberg fifteen years earlier had written his "Master
Olof." Two things make these works remarkable: first, the rare
understanding shown in them of the life led by the tough race
that exists, so to speak, between land and sea; and secondly,
their genuine humour, which at times, as in the little story
named "The Tailor Has a Dance," rises into almost epic
expression. The last of these novels, "At the Edge of the Sea,"
embodies Strindberg's farthest advance into Nietzschean dreams
of supermanhood. But led by his incorruptible logic, he is
forced to reduce those dreams to the absurdity which they are
sure to involve whenever the superman feels himself standing
apart from ordinary humanity.

Finally he wrote, during the earlier part of this marvellously
prolific period, five autobiographical novels. One of these was
not published until years later. Three others were collectively
known as "The Bondwoman's Son," and carried his revelations up
to the time of his marriage. The first volume in the series is
especially noteworthy because of its searching and sympathetic
study of child psychology. But all the novels in this series
are of high value because of the sharp light they throw on
social conditions. Strindberg's power as an acute and accurate
observer has never been questioned, and it has rarely been more
strikingly evidenced than in his autobiographical writings. A
place by itself, though belonging to the same series, is held by
"A Fool's Confession," wherein Strindberg laid bare the tragedy
of his first marriage. It is the book that has exposed him to
more serious criticism than any other. He wrote it in French and
consented to its publication only as a last means of escaping
unendurable financial straits. Against his vain protests,
unauthorised translations were brought out in German and Swedish.

The dissolution of his marriage occurred in 1891. The
circumstances surrounding that break were extremely painful
to Strindberg. Both the facts of the legal procedure and
the feelings it evoked within himself have been almost
photographically portrayed in the one-act play, "The Link,"
which forms part of this volume. The "link" which binds man and
woman together even when their love is gone and the law has
severed all external ties is the child - and it is always for the
offspring that Strindberg reserves his tenderest feelings and
greatest concern.

After the divorce Strindberg left for Germany, where his works
in the meantime had been making steady headway. A couple of
years later he was taken up in France, and there was a time
during the first half of the nineties, when he had plays running
simultaneously at half a dozen Parisian theatres. While at
Berlin, he met a young woman writer of Austrian birth who soon
after became his second wife. Their marriage lasted only a few
years, and while it was not as unhappy as the first one, it
helped to bring on the mental crisis for which Strindberg had
been heading ever since the prosecution of "Marriage," in 1884.

He ceased entirely to write and plunged instead into scientific
speculation and experimentation. Chemistry was the subject
that had the greatest fascination for him, and his dream was
to prove the transmutability of the elements. In the course
of a prolonged stay at Paris, where he shunned everybody and
risked both health and life in his improvised laboratory,
his mental state became more and more abnormal, without ever
reaching a point where he ceased to realise just what was going
on within himself. He began to have psychic experiences of a
character that to him appeared distinctly supernatural. At the
same time he was led by the reading of Balzac to the discovery
of Swedenborg. By quick degrees, though not without much
mental suffering, he rejected all that until then had to him
represented life's highest truths. From being a materialistic
sceptic, he became a believing mystic, to whom this world seemed
a mere transitory state of punishment, a "hell" created by his
own thoughts.

The crisis took him in the end to a private sanitarium kept by
an old friend in the southern part of Sweden, but it would be
far from safe to assume that he ever reached a state of actual
insanity. His return to health began in 1896 and was completed
in a year. In 1897 he resumed his work of artistic creation once
more, and with a new spirit that startled those who had held him
lost for ever. First of all a flood of personal experiences and
impressions needed expression. This he accomplished by his two
autobiographical novels, "Inferno" and "Legends," the former
of which must be counted one of the most remarkable studies in
abnormal psychology in the world's literature. Next came "The
Link" and another one-act play. In 1898 he produced the first
two parts of "To Damascus," a play that - in strikingly original
form, and with a depth of thought and feeling not before
achieved - embodied his own soul's long pilgrimage in search of
internal and external harmony. The last part of the trilogy was
not added until 1904.

Then followed ten years of production so amazing that it
surpassed his previous high-water mark during the middle
eighties, both in quality and quantity. Once for all the mood
and mode of his creation had been settled. He was still a
realist in so far as faithfulness to life was concerned, but
the reality for which he had now begun to strive was spiritual
rather than material. He can, during this final period, only be
classed as a symbolist, but of the kind typified by Ibsen in the
series of masterpieces beginning with "Rosmersholm" and ending
with "Little Eyolf."

More and more as he pushes on from one height to another, he
manages to fuse the two offices of artist and moralist without
injury to either of them. His view of life is still pessimistic,
but back of man's earthly disappointments and humiliations and
sufferings he glimpses a higher existence to which this one
serves merely as a preparation. Everything that happens to
himself and to others seems to reveal the persistent influence
of secret powers, pulling and pushing, rewarding and punishing,
but always urging and leading man to some goal not yet bared to
his conscious vision. Resignation, humility, kindness become
the main virtues of human existence. And the greatest tragedy
of that existence he sees in man's - that is, his own - failure
to make all his actions conform to those ideals. Thus, in the
closing line of his last play, "The Great Highway," he pleads
for mercy as one who has suffered more than most "from the
inability to be that which we will to be."

Among the earliest results of his autumnal renascence was a
five-act historical drama named "Gustavus Vasa." It proved the
first of a dozen big plays dealing with the main events in his
country's history from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century.
As a rule they were built about a monarch whose reign marked
some national crisis. Five stand out above the rest in artistic
value: "Gustavus Vasa," "Erie XIV," "Gustavus Adolphus,"
"Charles XII," and "The Last Knight." At once intensely
national and broadly human in their spirit, these plays won for
Strindberg a higher place in his countrymen's hearts than he
had ever before held - though notes of discord were not missing
on account of the freedom with which he exposed and demolished
false idols and outlived national ideals. As they stand to-day,

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