Miss Julie by August Strindberg.

Miss Julie (Fröken Julie) is a tragic play by August Strindberg, written in 1888 and first performed in 1889. It's my second Strindberg, and I must say I do like this author!

It's set on Midsummer's Eve and tells the story of Miss Julie (or Miss Julia depending on the translation) who is, as the stage directions tell us, 25 years old, and Jean, a valet of 30 years old. It begins with Jean telling the cook how wild Julie had been that evening dancing at a local barn dance, and indeed he danced with her. We learn her engagement has recently been broken off and it's surmised that her wildness is a reaction to it, and that she had attempted to "train" her fiance with little success. Miss Julie returns and invites Jean to re-join her, which he does, and on their return back to the house they become very flirtatious and Jean confesses his love for her, telling her of how he spent much of his life in fact lovesick, even attempting suicide. As some of the peasants return from the dance Julie and Jean leave, and when we see them again it's implied that they slept together. Julie then tells Jean she is in love with him, but there everything changes: Jean behaves coldly, and tells her his story of his being lovesick for her was a lie. But, then, he changes again: tells her they should leave together. They talk of her parents, and we see how Julie's dysfunctional behaviour towards men stems from her mother's treatment of her father. Jean then continues to manipulate her, raising and lowering her hopes, until ultimately he encourages her to kill herself.

It's a remarkably disturbing play, and so brief, again, as with The Father, reminding me of some of the Greek tragedies I've read, especially with the reference to hypnotism later in the play that reminded me of the Fates. The battle of the sexes is the major theme in this, and Julie's apparent mental instability exploited by Jean. This idea of imbalance is also reflected not only in gender but in class: Julie is Jean's superior in class, but he is a man, and he is a man with something over her - that she is now a fallen woman. It's a deeply uncomfortable play, very Zola-esque in fact, very disturbing as I say. but very forceful and impressive. Strindberg is a great writer and I admire this play very much, but because it such an emotionally draining play I'm unlikely to read it again. That's not to say I don't recommend it though!

And that was my 45th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next time - Politics and the English Language by George Orwell.

Comments

  1. The play sounds very powerful but also very disturbing. I will have read it, but actions like Jean's make no sense to me, yet such acts are common. I have never read Strindberg, but seems to be a powerful author! Thank You for a great review and an introduction! :)

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    Replies
    1. It is very powerful. Not an easy read either, I think it would be much better to see it performed. All the same, it's a great play! May try and get the DVD at some point.... :)

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