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By August Strindberg

The Inferno
The Bondwoman's Son









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Introduction 1


T. The Hand of the Invisible ... 9

II. St. Louis Leads Me to Orfila . . 26

III, Paradise Kegained 33

IV. The Fall and Paradise Lost , . 37

V. Purgatory 43

VL Hell 102

VII. Beatrice . , 135

VIII. Swbdenborg 146

IX. Extracts from the Diary of a Damned

Soul 166

X. The Eternal has Spoken . . . 183

XI. Hell Let Loose 188

XII. Pilgrimage and Penance . . . 199

XIII. The Deliverer 206


iv Contents


XIV. Tribulations 213

XV. Whither? 220

Epilogue 228




An American critic says " Strindberg is the
greatest subjectivist of all time." Certainly
neither Augustine, Rousseau, nor Tolstoy have
laid bare their souls to the finest fibre with
more ruthless sincerity than the great Swedish
realist. He fulfilled to the letter the saying of
Robertson of Brighton, " Woman and God are
two rocks on which a man must either anchor
or be wrecked." His four autobiographical
works, The Son of a Servant, The Confessions
of a Fool, Inferno, and Legends, are four seg-
ments of an immense curve tracing his progress
from the childish pietism of his early years,
through a period of atheism and rebellion, to
the sombre faith in a " God that punishes "of
the sexagenarian. In his spiritual wanderings
he grazed the edge of madness, and madmen
often see deeper into things than ordinary folk.

^ Reprinted by permission from The Spectator.


2 XKe Inferno

At the close of the Inferno he thus sums up the
lesson of his life's pilgrimage : " Such then is
my life: a sign, an example to serve for the
improvement of others; a proverb, to show the
nothingness of fame and popularity; a proverb,
to show young men how they ought not to live;
a proverb — because I who thought myself a
prophet am now revealed as a braggart."

It is strange that though the names of Ibsen
and Nietzsche have long been familiar in Eng-
land, Strindberg, whom Ibsen is reported to have
called " One greater than I," as he pointed to
his portrait, and with whom Nietzsche corre-
sponded, is only just beginning to attract atten-
tion, though for a long time past most of his
works have been accessible in German. Even
now not much more is known about him than
that he was a pessimist, a misogynist, and writer
of Zolaesque novels. To quote a Persian pro-
verb, " They see the mountain, but not the mine
within it." No man admired a good wife and
mother more than he did, but he certainly hated
the Corybantic, " emancipated " women of the
present time. No man had a keener apprecia-
tion of the gentle joys of domesticity, and the
intensity of his misogyny was in strict propor-
tion to the keenness of his disappointment. The

Introdviction 3

Inferno relates how grateful aud eveu reverential
he was to the nurse who tended him in hospital,
and to his mother-in-law. He felt profoundly
the charm of innocent childhood, and paternal
instincts were strong in him. All his life long
he had to struggle with four terrible inner foes
— doubt, suspicion, fear, sensuality. His doubts
destroyed his early faith, his ceaseless suspicions
made it impossible for him to be happy in friend-
ship or love, his fear of the " invisible powers,"
as he calls them, robbed him of all peace of
mind, and his sensuality dragged him repeat-
edly into the mire. A " strange mixture of a
man " indeed, whose soul was the scene of an
internecine life-long warfare between diametri-
cally-opposed forces! Yet he never ceased to
struggle blindly upwards, and Goethe's words
were verified in him:

" Wer immer strebeud sich bemtiht
Den Konnen wir erlosen." ^

He never relapsed into the stagnant cynicism
of the out-worn debauchee, nor did he with
Nietzsche try to explain away conscience as an
old wife's tale. Conscience persistently tor-

1 " Who never ceases still to strive,
'T is him we can deliver."

4 TKe Inferno

mented him, and finally drove him back to be-
lief in God, not the collective Karma of the
Theosophists, which he expressly repudiated,
nor to any new god expounded in New Thought
magazines, but to the transcendent God who
judges and requites, though not at the end of
every week. It seems almost as if there were
lurking an old Hebrew vein in him, so fre-
quently in his later works does he express him-
self in the language of psalmists and prophets.
" The psalms of David express my feelings best,
and Jehovah is my God," he says in the Inferno.

At one time he seems to have been nearly
entering the Koman Catholic Church, but, even
after he had recovered his belief, his inborn in-
dependence of spirit would not let him attach
himself to any religious body. His fellow-
countryman, Swedenborg, seems to have in-
fluenced him more deeply than anyone else, and
to him he attributes his escape from madness.

His work Inferno may certainly serve a useful
purpose in calling attention to the fact, that,
whatever may be the case hereafter, there are
certainly hells on earth, hells into which the
persistently selfish inevitably come. Because
our fathers dealt with exaggerated emphasis on
unextinguishable fires and insatiable worms, in

Introduction 5

some remote future, some good folk seem to
suppose that tliere is no such thing as retri-
bution, or that we may sow thorns and reap
wheat. Strindberg knew better. He had reaped
the whirlwind, and we seem to feel it some-
times blowing through his pages.

In the Blue Books, or collections of thoughts
which he wrote towards the end of his life,
the storm has subsided. The sun shines and the
sea is calm, though strewn with wreckage. He
uses some very strong language towards his
former comrades, the free-thinkers, whom he
calls "denizens of the dunghill." One bitter-
ness remains. He cannot forgive woman. She
has injured him too deeply. All his life long
she has been " a cleaving mischief in his way
to virtue." He married three times, and each
marriage was a failure. His first wife was a
baroness separated from her husband, whom
he accuses of having repeatedly betrayed him.
His second wife was an Austrian. In the
Inferno he calls her " my beautiful jaileress who
kept incessant watch over my secret thoughts."
His third was an actress from whom he parted
by mutual consent. All his attempts to set up
a home had failed, and he found himself finally
relegated to solitude. One of his later works

6 THe Inferno

bears the title Lonely. His solitude was re-
lieved by visits from his children, and he was
especially fond of his younger daughter, giving
her free use of his library. On May 14, 1912,
he died in Stockholm, after a lingering illness,
of cancer, an added touch of tragedy being the
fact that his first wife died, not far away,
shortly before him.

He was an enormous reader, and seems to have
possessed a knowledge almost as encyclopaedic
as Browning's. While assistant librarian in the
Royal Library at Stockholm he studied Chinese ;
he was a skilled chemist and botanist, and wrote
treatises on both these sciences. He was a mys-
tic, but had a certain dislike of occultism and
theosophy. A German critic, comparing him
with Ibsen, says that, whereas Ibsen is a spent
force, Strindberg's writings contain germs which
are still undeveloped. He is a lurid and men-
acing planet in the literary sky, and some time
must elapse before his true position is fixed. To
the present writer his career seems best summed
up in the words of Mrs. Browning:

" He testified this solemn truth, by frenzy desolated,
Nor man nor natnre satisfies whom only God
created '' ;

Introdviction 7

or in those of Augustine : " Fecisti nos ad Te,
Domine, et irrequietum est cor nostrum donee
requiescat in Te."

C. F.

" Courbe la tete fier Segambre; adore ce qui tu as brule;
brule ce qui tu as adore! "



With a feeling of wild joy I returned from
the northern railway station, where I had said
good-bye to my wife. She was going to our
child, who was ill in a distant place. The sac-
rifice of my heart was then fulfilled. Her last
words, " When shall we meet again? " and my
answer, " Soon ! " echoed in my ears, like false-
hoods which one is unwilling to confess. A fore-
boding said to me " Never ! " And, as a matter
of fact, these parting words which we exchanged
in November, 1894, were our last, for to this
present time. May, 1897, I have not seen my
dear wife again.

As I entered the Cafe de la Regence, I placed
myself at the table where I used to sit with my
wife, my beautiful jail-keeper, who watched my
soul day and night, guessed my secret thoughts,
marked the course of my ideas, and was jealous
of my investigations into the unknown.



10 THe Inferno

My newly-won freedom gave me a feeling of
expansion and elevation above the petty cares
of life in the great capital. In this arena of
intellectual warfare I had just gained a victory,
which, although worthless in itself, signified a
great deal to me. It was the fulfilment of a
youthful dream which all my countrymen had
dreamed, but which had been realised by me
alone, to have a play of one's OAvn performed
in a Paris theatre. 'Now the theatre repelled
me, as everything does when one has reached
it, and science attracted me. Obliged to
choose between love and knowledge, I had de-
cided to strive for the highest knowledge; and
as I myself sacrificed my love, I forgot the
other innocent sacrifice to my ambition or my

As soon as I returned to my poor student's
room in the Latin Quarter, I rummaged in my
chest and drew out of their hiding-place six
saucepans of fine porcelain. I had bought them
a Icmg time ago, although they were too dear
for my means. A pair of tongs and a packet
of pure sulphur completed the apparatus of my
laboratory. I kindled a smelting-furnace in the
fireplace, closed the door, and drew down the
blinds, for onlv three mcmths after the execution

XKe Hand of tKe Invisible ii

of Caserio it was not prudent to make chemical
experiments in Paris.

The night comes on, the sulphur burns luridly,
and towards morning I have ascertained the
presence of carbon in what has been before
considered an elementary substance. With this
I believe I have solved the great problem, upset
the ruling chemical theories, and won the im-
mortality grudged to mortals.

But the skin of my hands, nearly roasted by
the strong fire, peels off in scales, and the pain
they cause me when undressing shows me what
a price I have paid for my victory. But, as I
lie alone in bed, I feel happy, and I am sorry
I have no one whom I can thank for my deliver-
ance from the marital fetters which have been
broken without much ado. For in the course
of years I have become an atheist, since the
unknown powers have left the world to itself
without giving a sign of themselves.

Someone to thank ! There is no one there, and
my involuntary ingratitude depresses me.

Feeling jealous about my discovery, I take no
steps to make it known. In my modesty I turn
neither to authorities nor to universities. While
I continue my experiments, the cracked skin of
my hands becomes worse, the fissures gape and

12 The Inferno

become full of coal-dust; blood oozes out, and
the pains become so intolerable that I can under-
take nothing more. I am inclined to attribute
these pains which drive me wild to the unknown
powers which have persecuted me for years, and
frustrate my endeavours. I avoid people, neg-
lect societv, refuse invitations, and make mvself
inaccessible to friends. I am surrounded by
silence and loneliness. It is the solemn and
terrible silence of the desert in which I de-
fiantly challenge the unknown, in order to
wrestle with him, body with body, and soul with
soul. I have proved that sulphur contains car-
bon; now I intend to discover hydrogen and
oxygen in it, for they must be also present.
But my apparatus is insufficient, I need money,
my hands are black and bleeding, black as
misery, bleeding as my heart. For, during this
time, I continue to correspond with my wife. I
tell her of my successes in chemical experiments ;
she answers with news about the illness of our
child, and here and there drops hints that my
science is futile, and that it is foolish to waste
money on it.

In a fit of righteous pride, in the passionate
desire to do myself an injury, I commit moral
suicide by repudiating my wife and child in an

TKe Hand of tKe Invisible 13

unworthy, unpardonable letter. I give her to un-
derstand that I am involved in a new love-affair.

The blow goes home. My wife answers with
a demand for separation.

Solitary, guiltv of suicide and assassination,
I forget my crime under the weight of sorrow
and care. No one visits me, and I can see no
one, since I have alienated all. I drift alone
over the surface of the sea; I have hoisted my
anchor, but have no sail.

Necessity, however, in the shape of an un-
paid bill, interrupts my scientific tasks and
metaphysical speculations, and calls me back to

Christmas approaches. I have abruptly re-
fused the invitation of a Scandinavian family,
the atmosphere of which makes me uncomfort-
able because of their moral irregularities. But,
when evening comes and I am alone, I repent,
and go there all the same.

They sit down to table, and the evening meal
begins with a great deal of noise and outbursts
of hilarity, for the young artists who are pre-
sent feel themselves at home here. A certain
familiarity of gestures and attitudes, a tone
which is anything but domestic, repels and de-
presses me indescribably. In the middle of the

14 TKe Inferno

orgy my sadness calls up to my inner vision a
picture of the peaceful home of my wife: the
Christmas tree, the mistletoe, my little daughter,
her deserted mother. Pangs of conscience seize
me; I stand up, plead ill-health as an excuse,
and depart.

I go down the dreadful Eue de la Gaiete in
which the artificial mirth of the crowd annoys
me; then down the gloomy silent Rue Delajnbre,
which is more conducive to despair than any
other street of the Quarter. I turn into the
Boulevard Montparnasse, and let myself fall on
a seat on the terrace of the Lilas brewery.

A glass of good absinthe comforts me for

some minutes. Then there fall on me a set of

cocottes and students who strike me on the face

wdth switches. As though driven by furies, I

leave my glass of absinthe standing, and hasten

to seek for another in the Cafe Francois Premier

on the Boulevard St. Michel. Out of the frying-
pan into the fire ! A second troop shouts at me,

^' There is the hermit ! " Driven forth again I

fly home, accompanied by the unnerving tones

of the mirliton pipes.

The thought that it might be a chastisement,

the result of a crime, does not occur to me. In

my own mind I feel guiltless, and consider my-

TKe Hand of the Invisible 15

self the object of an unjust persecution. The
unknown powers have hindered me from con-
tinuing my great work. The hindrances must
be broken through before I obtain the victor's

I have been wrong, and at the same time I
am right, and will maintain it.

That Christmas night I slept badly. A cold
draught several times blew on my face, and from
time to time the sound of a jew's-harp awoke me.

An increasing prostration comes over me. My
black and bleeding hands prevent my dressing
myself and taking care of my outer appearance.
Anxiety about my unpaid hotel bill leaves me
no peace, and I pace up and down my room like
a wild beast in a cage. I eat no longer, and
the hotel manager advises me to go to a hospital.
But that is no help to me, for it is too dear,
and I must pay my bill here first.

The veins in my arm begin to swell visibly;
it is a sign of blood-poisoning. This is the
finishing stroke. The news spreads among my
countrymen, and one evening there comes the
kind-hearted woman, whose Christmas dinner I

l6 XHe Inferno

had so abruptly left, who was antipathetic to
me, and whom I almost despised. She finds
me out, asks how I am, and tells me with tears
that the hospital is my only hope.

One can understand how helpless and humil-
iated I feel, as my eloquent silence shows her
that I am penniless. She is seized with sym-
pathy at seeing me so prostrate. Poor herself,
and oppressed with daily anxieties, she resolves
to make a collection among the Scandinavian
colony, and to go to the pastor of the com-

A sinful woman has pity on the man who has
deserted his lawful wife!

Once more a beggar, asking for alms by means
of a woman, I begin to suspect that there is an
invisible hand which guides the irresistible logic
of events. I bow before the storm, determined
to rise again at the first opportunity.

The carriage brings me to the hospital of St.
Louis. On the way, in the Rue de Rennes, I
get out in order to buy two white shirts. The
winding-sheet for the last hour ! I really expect
a speedy death, without being able to say why.

In the hospital I am forbidden to go out with-
out leave ; besides, my hands are so wrapped up
that all occupation is impossible to me; I feel

THe Hand of tKe Invisible 17

therefore like a prisoner. My room is bare, con-
tains only the most necessary things, and has
nothing attractive about it. It lies near the
public sitting-room, where from morning to even-
ing they smoke and play cards. The bell rings
for breakfast. As I sit down at the table I find
myself in a frightful company of death's-heads.
Here a nose is wanting, there an eye; there the
lips hang down, here the cheek is ulcered. Two
of them do not look sick, but show in their
faces gloom and despair. These are "klepto-
maniacs " of high social rank, who, because of
their powerful connections, have escaped prison
by being declared irresponsible.

An unpleasant smell of iodoform takes away
my appetite. Since my hands are muffled I must
ask the help of my neighbour for cutting bread
and pouring out wine. Round this banquet of
criminals and those condemned to death goes
the good Mother, the Superintendent, in her
severe black and white dress, and gives each of
us his poisonous medicine. With a glass holding
arsenic I drink to a death's-head who pledges
me in digitalis. That is gruesome, and yet one
must be thankful! That makes me wild. To
have to be thankful for something so petty and
unpleasant !

1 8 XKe Inferno

They dress me, and undress me, and look after
me like a child. The kind sister takes a fancy
to me, treats me like a baby, calls me " my
child," while I call her " mother."

But it does me good to be able to say this
word "mother," which has not passed my lips
for thirty years. The old lady, an Augustine
nun, who wears the garb of the dead, because
vhe has never lived, is mild as resignation itself,
and teaches us to smile at our sufferings as
though they were joys, for she knows the bene-
ficial effects of pain. She does not utter a word
of reproof nor admonition nor sermonising.

She knows the regulations of the ordinary
hospitals so well that she can allow small
liberties to the patients, though not to herself.
She permits me to smoke in my room, and offers
to make my cigarettes herself; this, however, I
decline. She procures for me permission to go
out beyond the regulated limits of time. When
she discovers that I am actively interested in
chemistry, she takes me to the learned apothe-
cary; of the hospital. He lends me books, and
invites me, when I acquaint him with my theory
of the composite character of so-called simple
bodies, to work in his laboratory. This nun has
had a great influence on my life. I begin to

XHe Hand of tHe Invisible 19

reconcile myself again to my lot, and value the
happy mischance which has brought me under
this kindly roof.

The first book which I take out of the apothe-
cary's library opens of itself, and my glance
fastens like a falcon's on a line in the chapter
headed " Phosphorus." The author states briefly
that the scientific chemist, Lockyer, has demon-
strated by spectral analysis that phosphorus is
not a simple body, and that his report of his
experiments has been submitted to the Parisian
Academy of Science, which has not been able to
refute his proofs.

Encouraged by this unexpected support, I take
my saucepans with the not completely consumed
remains of sulphur, and submit them to a bureau
for chemical analysis, which promises to give
me their rej)ort the next morning.

It is my birthday. When I return to the hos-
pital I find a letter from my wife. She laments
my misfortune, and she wants to join me, to look
after me and love me.

The happiness of feeling myself loved in spite
of everything awakes in me the need of thank-
fulness. But to whom? To the Unknown, who
has remained hidden for so many years?

My heart smites me, I confess the unworthv

20 XKe Inferno

falsehood of my supposed infidelity, I ask for
forgiveness, and before I am aware of it, I write
again a love-letter to my wife. But I postpone
our meeting to a more favourable time.

The next morning I hasten to my chemist on
the Boulevard Magenta, and bring his analysis
of my powder in a closed cover back to the hos-
pital. When I come to the statue of St. Louis
in the courtyard of the institution, I think of
the Quinze-Vingt,^ the Sorbonne, and the Sainte
Chapelle, these three buildings founded by the
Saint, which I interpret to mean — " From suf-
fering, through knowledge, to repentance."

Arrived at my room, I shut the doors care-
fully, and at last open the paper which is to
decide my destiny. The contents are as fol-
lows : " The powder submitted to our analysis
has three properties — Colour: grey-black,, leaves
marks on paper. Density: very great, greater
than the average density of graphite; it seems
to be a harder kind of graphite. The powder
burns easily, releasing oxide of carbon and
carbonic acid. It therefore contains carbon."

Pure sulphur contains carbon!

I am saved. From henceforth I can prove to
my friends and relaticms that I am no fool. I

1 Hospital for the Blind.

XKe Hand of tKe Invisible 21

can establish the theories which I propounded a
year ago in my Antibarharus, a work which the
reviews treated as that of a charlatan or madman,
making my family consequently thrust me out
as a good-for-nothing, or Cagliostro. My oppo-
nents are pulverised! My heart beats in right-
eous pride; I will leave the hospital, shout
in the streets, bellow before the Institute, pull
down the Sorbonne ! . . . But my hands remain
wrapped up, and when I stand outside in the
courtyard, the high encircling walls counsel me
— patience.

When I tell the apothecary the result of the
analysis, he proposes to me to summon a com-
mission before whom I should demonstrate the
solution of the problem by experiment publicly.
I, however, from dislike to publicity, write in-
stead an essay on the subject, and send it to
the Temps, where it appears after two days.

The password is given. I am answered from
all sides; I find adherents, am asked to con-
tribute to a scientific paper, and am involved
in a correspondence which necessitates the con-
tinuance of my experiments.

One Sunday, the last of my stay in the pur-
gatory of St. Louis, I watch the courtyard from

22 XKe Inferno

the window. The two thieves walk up and down
with their wives and children, and embrace each
other from time to time with joyful faces, like
men whom misfortune draws together in closer

My loneliness depresses me; I curse my lot
and regard it as unjust, without considering that
my crime surpasses theirs in meanness. The
postman brings a letter from my wife, which
is of an icy coldness. My success has annoyed
her, and she pretends that she will not believe
it till I have consulted a chemical specialist.
Moreover, she warns me against all illusions
which may produce disturbance of the brain.
And, after all, she asks. What do I gain by all
this? Can I feed a family with my chemistry?

Here is the alternative again : Love or Sci-

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