1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Strindberg, August
STRINDBERG, AUGUST (1849-), Swedish author, was born at Stockholm on the 22nd of January 1849. He entered the university of Upsala in 1867, but was compelled by poverty to interrupt his studies, which were resumed in 1870. His gloomy experiences of student life are reflected in a series of sketches named after two districts of Upsala, Från Fjerdingen och Svartbäcken (1877), which aroused great indignation at the time. After various experiments as schoolmaster, private tutor and actor, he turned to journalism, and afterwards more than avenged himself for the triviality and narrowness of his new surroundings in his famous Röda rummet (“The Red Room,” 1879), described in the sub-title as sketches of literary and artistic life. The “red room” was the meeting-place in a small cafe in Stockholm of a society of needy journalists and artists, whose failure and despair are shown off against the prosperity of a typical bourgeois couple. In these stories Strindberg's fanatic hatred of womankind already makes its appearance, the disasters of the principal figures being precipitated by the selfishness and immorality of the women. In 1874 some friends procured him a place in the Royal library at Stockholm where he was employed until 1882. He was already an ardent student of physical science; he now gave proof of his versatility by learning Chinese in order to catalogue the Chinese MSS. in the library; and his French monograph on the early relations of Sweden with the Far East was read in 1879 before the Academy of Inscriptions in Paris. He continued to write for the newspapers and for the theatre. His first important drama, Mäster Olof, which had been refused in 1872 by the theatrical authorities, was produced after repeated revision in 1878. Although real historical personages — Gustavus Vasa, Olaus Petri the reformer and Gerdt the Anabaptist — figure as leading characters, they are made symbolic of the present-day forces of progress and reaction. The production of Mäster Olof marked the beginning of the new movement in Swedish literature, and the Red Room and the collection of satirical sketches entitled Del nya riket (“The New Kingdom,” 1882) increased the growing hostility to Strindberg. Two comedies drawn from medieval subjects, Gillets hemlighet (“The Secret of the Guild,” 1880) and herr Bengt's Hustru (“Bengt's Wife,” 1882), were followed by the legendary drama of Lycko Pers resa (“The Journal of Lucky Peter”), written in 1882 and produced with great success on the stage a year later.
In 1883 Strindberg left Sweden with his family, to travel in Germany, Italy, France and Denmark, writing for foreign reviews and producing various volumes of stories and articles. Meanwhile he had been developing his attack on the feminist movement, which had received a great stimulus in Scandinavia from the dramas of Ibsen. In Giftas (“Married,” 1884) he produced twelve stories of married life to support his view of the sex question; this was followed in 1886 by a second collection with the same title, which was written in a more violent tone and lacked some of the art of the earlier attack. He was prosecuted for assailing the dogma of the communion, but he returned to Sweden to defend himself, and was acquitted. Strindberg's mastery of the art of description is perhaps seen at its best in the novels of life in the Swedish archipelago, in Hemsobörna (“The Inhabitants of Hemso, 1887), one of the best existing novels of popular Swedish life, and Skärkarlslif (“Life of an Island Lad,” 1890). Tschaudala (1889) and I hafsbandet (“In the Bond of the Sea,” 1890) show the influence of a study of Nietzsche. In 1887 he returned to drama with the powerful tragedy Fadren, produced in Paris also as Le père; this was followed in 1888 by Fröken Julie, described as a naturalistic drama, to which he wrote a preface in the nature of a manifesto, directed against critics who had resented the gloom of Fadren. Kamraterna (“Comrades,” 1888), which belongs to the same group of six plays, was followed by Himmelriketsnycklar (“The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,” 1892), a legendary drama, and by the historical dramas of Erik XIV. (1899), Gustav Adolf (1900), and Gustav Vasa (1899); Till Damascus (1898) indicated a return in the direction of religion; Folkungasagan (1899) was represented in 1901; and the two plays Avent (“Advent”) and Brott och brott (“Crime for Crime”), printed together in 1899, were successfully represented in 1900, both in Sweden and Germany.
Strindberg has provided a quantity of what is really autobiographical material, with an account of the origin of his various books, in the form of a novel, Tjensteqvinnans son (“The Son of a Servant,” 1886-1887) . with the sub-title of “A Soul's Development.” The revelations of this book explain much of the bitterness of his work, and it was followed in 1893 by a fourth part in German, Die Beichte eines Thoren (“A Fool's Confession”), the printing of which was forbidden in Sweden. With these should be classed his Inferno (1897) and Sömngångarnätter (“The Nights of a Somnambulist,” 1900). Strindberg's first marriage was an unfortunate one, and was dissolved in 1893. He then married an Austrian lady, from whom he was separated in 1896. In 1901 he married the Swedish actress Harriet Bosse, from whom he was amicably separated soon afterwards. He suffered at different times from mental attacks, of which he gave analytic accounts on his recovery.