AN INTRODUCTION TO AUGUST STRINDBERG
Där hänger på boklådsfönstret
En tunnklädd liten bok.
Det är ett urtaget hjärta
Som dinglar där på sin krok.
book display window
then a hundred years after his death, Strindberg’s writing is more than a
literary heritage, his work is still engaged with and engaging a
worldwide audience. His plays are produced across the globe, new
essays and scholarship on his person and writing are published every
year, and while his contemporaries have returned to the shadows
whence they came, Strindberg’s name is still vivid in the public
His continuing influence stems not only from his own contributions - primarily as a playwright – to world literature, with works such as Fröken Julie, Fadren, Dödsdansen, Ett drömspel, etc.
(Miss Julie, The Father, The Dance of Death, A Dream Play, etc.). Nor can his position be explained by his influence on a number of the most important artists of the twentieth century; Antonin Artaud, Samuel Beckett, Ingmar Bergman, Franz Kafka, Eugene O’Neill, François Truffaut, and others.
Even the breadth of his artistry fails to explain Strindberg's importance in the contemporary literary world, although his paintings have received renewed attention in recent decades and his work commands seven digit price tags at international auctions. Indeed, Strindberg held the auction sales record for a work by a Swedish painter during twenty years from 1990, ahead of such established artists as Carl Larsson and Ernst Josephson. He was finally surpassed by Anders Zorn in the spring of 2010.
Strindberg’s writing continues to be important because it is more than a historical legacy. More than anything else, his work is present in our contemporary world because of the force with which he imbued it. He wrote quickly, intensely, and filled particularly his prose (novels, essays, and articles) with a restless energy and anxious pulse.
Sharp attacks and surprising reflextions are mixed with sections of exquisitely wrought metaphors. The narrative and the opinions may be entertaining, amusing, irritating, poignant; but never bland or indifferent. His books are an endless and commanding source of inspiration.
Strindberg’s impatience drove him to leave, to move, sometimes to foreign countries, for new places, new people and new relationships, always breaking social bonds. Whether his wandering was fuelled by longing or discontent, it perfectly reflected the time he lived in.This was a time that saw the beginning of modernity in Sweden. Society was in flux and Strindberg went with the flow. He participated in the debate on gender equality, although he alone claimed that men were the oppressed group. He was a vocal opponent of the lutheran state church’s control over people’s souls, and was put to trial for blasphemy. When a modern media industry was formed he wrote for one of the major new newspapers, Dagens Nyheter (the Daily News). As the labor movement developed, he sided with them and wrote, among other political pamphlets, August Strindbergs lilla katekes för underklassen (August Strindberg’s Small Catechism for the Working Class). Toward the end of his life, when he was portrayed as an icon of the labor movement, he had moved on again - always radical in the original sense of the word – leaving the political left wing behind and turned religious. Again he was a pioneer of sorts, leaving confrontation behind in search of peace and prosperity, beginning the new social order of the Swedish Welfare State, ”det svenska folkhemmet,” where employers and employees built peace and prosperity together.
It is perhaps appropriate that Strindberg died before that new order had been fully established. He was only 63, but the last photographs show him grey and worn. He had just sold the rights to his books to Bonniers for an impressive 200,000 SEK (which ended up being almost 300,000 SEK, over 12 million Swedish kronor in today’s value). The legacy he left behind was solid. Within the next 15 years the publisher had made almost 10 million on his Collected Works. Strindberg would not have enjoyed that success wholeheartedly; as Master Olof had exclaimed forty years earlier: ”It wasn’t the victory I wanted; it was the fight!”