August Strindberg Biography


Who is August Strindberg? Information on August Strindberg biography, life story, works and plays.

August StrindbergAugust Strindberg; (1849-1912), Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist, who is regarded as the greatest writer in the literature of Sweden.

Early Years. Johan August Strindberg was born in Stockholm on Jan. 22, 1849. After passing through a number of parochial and preparatory schools, the tortures of which he described in Tjanstekvinnans son (1886; Eng. tr., The Son of a Servant, 1913), he went, in 1867, to the University of Uppsala. He attended the university erratically, finally leaving without a degree in 1872. His first’plays were 1 Rom (1871), a tragedy dealing with experiences in the life of the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, and Den fred-lose (1871), a one-act tragedy on a Viking subject.

Strindberg’s first important play, written after he had turned to literature and left the university, is Master Olof (written 1872; Eng. tr., 1915), a prose drama of the Swedish Reformation (a version in verse was written in 1878), full of youthful rebellion and pessimism. The play was written in the skerries of the Swedish Baltic, which were to remain a source of stimulus and inspiration to Strindberg for many years. A collection of sketches of student life at the university, Fran Fjardingen och Svartbcicken (1877), is extremely realistic and boisterous. These qualities are emphasized in Strindberg’s great satirical novel of Swedish society, Roda rummet (1879; Eng. tr., The Red Room, 1913), which, in spite of its warmth of narration, is an icy and supercilious tirade of skepticism, doubt, and agnosticism. Nya Riket (1881; The New Kingdom) is a criticism of Swedish social life after the parliamentary reforms of 1865.

Middle Years. From 1880 to 1885, Strindberg lived in Switzerland much of the time and was active as a socialist with revolutionary tendencies. The most striking expressions of this attitude are his collection of propagandist material called Upper and Lower Class (written 1880; first published 1884) and the four short stories published under the title Utopier i Verkligheten (1885; Utopias on Earth). Samvetskval (Pangs of Conscience; two translations, 1915 and 1916) is the best of these stories. It is a powerful antimilitaristic tale of the Franco-Prussian War.

Strindberg’s writings after 1885 display a growing conservative, even, on occasion, fanatically reactionary tendency. This evinced itself in his violent hatred of women in general, although he was by no means inaccessible to their charms, and, toward the end of his life, in a predilection for mystical and occult study. His later plays contain mystic and supernatural elements. In 1885, when he published a collection of 30 short stories, Married (Eng. tr., 1912), his attitude toward women was not that of a misogynist. However, in his introduction to the work, he indicated his belief that the economic and social conditions of the age were constantly driving women into an increasingly selfish and immoral position. His most delicate and human touches are to be found in this collection.

In the dramas written about 1890, misogyny is already a dangerous obsession with Strindberg. This obsession led him to produce such brilliant and, at the same time, perverse plays as The Father (see Father, The), Miss Julie, and Creditors. By 1890, Strindberg had completely passed out of his socialistic stage and into that of anarchic individualism, in which he was strongly influenced by Nietzsche. In that year appeared his novel of fishermen’s life: I hafs-bandet (two English translations: By the Open Sea, 1913; On the Seaboard, 1913). In this work the hostility between the educated and the lower classes is concentrated into a conflict with a tragic outcome, with the woman taking the side of the lower classes against the intellectual aristocrat.

Last Years. Throughout his life Strindberg was a diligent scholar and undertook painstaking though not always original research in many fields, particularly cultural history, philology, chemistry, sociology, and ethnology. His great historic work on the history of the Swedish people (Svenska Folket) appeared in 1880. The studies for it are the basis of the collections of historical short stories Svenska Öden och Även-tyr (1880-1890) and of a long series of historical dramas, including Folkungasaga, Gustaf Vasa, Erik XIV, Gustaf Adolf, Charles XII, Engel-brekt, Christina, and Gustaf III. His last plays were peculiarly resigned and gloomy studies of city life, among them Oväder, Brända Tomten, Spöksonaten, and Pelikanen (all 1907) and Stora landsvägen (1909). He attempted to gather all his disjointed opinions, with strong reminiscences of Swedenborg, Goethe, Peladan, and others, in short articles of a page or two each, in the Blue Books (1907, 1908, 1912), selections from which are found in Zones of the Spirit (1913).

Strindberg was married three times. His first wife was the Swedish actress Siri von Essen (married 1878; divorced in the 1880’s); his second wife was the Austrian author Frida Uhl (married 1893; divorced 1896); his third wife was the Swedish actress, Harriet Bosse (married 1901; divorced 1904). Three children also survived him. Strindberg died in Stockholm on May 14, 1912.

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