August Strindberg

August Strindberg books and biography


August Strindberg

August Strindberg
August Strindberg
Portrait of August Strindberg by Richard Bergh
Portrait of August Strindberg by Richard Bergh

Johan August Strindberg  (January 22, 1849 – May 14, 1912) was a Swedish writer, playwright, and painter. Along with Henrik Ibsen he is arguably the most influential and most important of all Scandinavian authors. Strindberg is known as one of the fathers of modern theatre. His work falls into two major literary movements, Naturalism and Expressionism.


Early years

lived in Stockholm, Strindberg was the third son of Carl Oscar Strindberg, a shipping agent from a bourgeois family, and Ulrika Eleonora (Nora) Norling, twelve years his junior of humble origin, called a "servant woman" in the title of Strindberg's autobiographical novel, Tjänstekvinnans son (The Son of a Servant). His paternal grandfather Zacharias was born in 1758 to a clergyman in Jämtland and settled in Stockholm, where he became a well-to-do spice tradesman and a major in the Burghers' Military Corps. Strindberg's aunt Lisette was married to the English-born inventor and industrialist Samuel Owen. Carl Oscar Strindberg's older brother Johan Ludvig Strindberg was a successful businessman, the model for protagonist Arvid Falk's wealthy and socially ambitious uncle in August Strindberg's novel Röda rummet (The Red Room).

Strindberg's own version of his childhood, as he wanted it to be perceived by others, is available to his readers in his novel The Son of a Servant, but at least one of his biographers, Olof Lagercrantz, warns against its use as a biographical source. Much of what Strindberg wrote has an autobiographical character, but Lagercrantz points out Strindberg's "talent to make us believe what he wants us to believe" and his unwillingness, already in his own lifetime, to accept any characterization of his person other than his own.

From the age of seven, Strindberg grew up in the Norrtull area on the northern, almost-rural periphery of Stockholm, not far from the park where Carl Eldh's Strindberg statue was later placed (Tegnérlunden). He went to the elementary schools of Klara and Jakob parishes, continuing to the Stockholms Lyceum, a progressive private school for boys from upper and upper middle class families. He completed his graduation exams studentexamen on May 25, 1867, and matriculated at the University of Uppsala in the fall.

Adult years

August Strindberg at the RÃ¥dmansgatan subway station
August Strindberg at the Rådmansgatan subway station

Strindberg would spend the next several years between Uppsala and Stockholm, alternately studying for exams and trying his hand at non-academic pursuits. He first left Uppsala in 1868 to work as a schoolteacher, but then studied chemistry for some time at the Institute of Technology in Stockholm in preparation for medical studies, later working as a private tutor before becoming an extra at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm. He returned to Uppsala in January 1870 to study and work on a set of plays, the first of which opened at the Royal Theatre in September 1870, a biography of the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. In Uppsala, he started Runa, a small literary club with friends who all took pseudonyms from Nordic mythology; Strindberg called himself Frö after the god of fertility. He spent a few more semesters in Uppsala, finally leaving in March 1872 without graduating. He would often ridicule Uppsala and its professors, as when he published Från Fjerdingen och Svartbäcken ("From Fjerdingen and Svartbäcken", 1877), short stories depicting Uppsala student life. After leaving university for the last time, he embarked on his career as a journalist and critic for newspapers in Stockholm.

Strindberg was married three times, to Siri von Essen (1850-1912), Frida Uhl (1872-1943), and Harriet Bosse (1878-1961). He had children with all his wives, but his hypersensitive, neurotic character led to bitter divorces. Late in his life he met the young actress and painter Fanny Falkner (1890-1963), whose book illuminates his last years, but the exact nature of their relationship is debated. He had a brief affair in Berlin with Dagny Juel before his marriage to Frida; and it has been suggested that the shocking news of her murder was the reason he cancelled his honeymoon with his third wife, Harriet.

Strindberg's relationship with women was troubled and have often been interpreted as misogynist by contemporaries and modern readers. Most acknowledge, however, that he had uncommon insight into the hypocrisy of his society's gender roles and sexual morality. Marriage and the family were under stress in Strindberg's lifetime as Sweden industrialized and urbanized at a rapid pace. Problems of prostitution and poverty were debated heatedly amongst writers and critics as well as politicians. His early writing often dealt with the traditional roles of the sexes imposed by society, which he criticized as unjust.

Strindberg was admired by the working classes as a radical writer. He was a Socialist (or maybe more of an Anarchist) and his daughter Karin Strindberg married Vladimir Smirnov, one of the leading Russian Bolsheviks. As for his political standpoints, Strindberg has been heavily promoted in socialist countries, such as the Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe and in Cuba.

He was a multi-faceted author; often extreme. His novel The Red Room (Röda rummet) (1879) brought him fame. His early plays were written in the Naturalistic style, and his works from this time are often compared with the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Strindberg's best-known play from this period is Miss Julie (Fröken Julie).

Later, he underwent a time of inner turmoil known as the Inferno Period, which culminated in the production of a book written in French, Inferno.

Afterwards he broke with Naturalism and began to produce works informed by Symbolism. He is considered one of the pioneers of the Modern European stage and Expressionism. The Dance of Death (Dödsdansen), A Dream Play (Ett drömspel) and The Ghost Sonata (Spöksonaten) are well-known plays from this period.

It is not so widely known that he also was a telegrapher, painter, photographer and alchemist.

As a young student, before he became a writer, August Strindberg worked for a while as an assistant in a chemist's shop in the university town of Lund in southern Sweden.

One year before his death, his main book publisher Albert Bonniers förlag bought the rights to all his writings for 200 000 Swedish crowns, a fortune at that time, which Strindberg quickly shared with his children. On his death in 1912 from cancer at the age of 63, Strindberg was interred in the Norra begravningsplatsen in Stockholm. There are several statues and busts erected of him in Stockholm, most prominently one by Carl Eldh.

Carl Eldh's grand statue of Strindberg in Stockholm
Carl Eldh's grand statue of Strindberg in Stockholm


  • "When is revolution legal? When it succeeds!"
  • "What is economics? A science invented by the upper class in order to acquire the fruits of the labour of the underclass."
  • "I loathe people who keep dogs. They are cowards who haven't got the guts to bite people themselves."
  • "When they say Christ descended into Hell, they mean that he descended to earth, this penitentiary, this madhouse and morgue of a world."


In Woody Allen's 1979 Academy Award nominated film Manhattan, the protagonist (played by Allen) says to a friend, "...You shouldn't ask me for advice. When it comes to relationships with women, I'm the winner of the August Strindberg Award."

Strindberg's play The Father was referenced in "The West Coast Delay", an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, in a discussion between Nate Corddry and Matthew Perry. Corddry calls it the "scariest play I ever read" and used it to give advice on Perry's relationship troubles.[1] Coincidentally, Strindberg was also referenced on 30 Rock, NBC's other show dealing with the behind the scenes drama at an SNL-esque show.[citation needed]

Partial bibliography

He wrote 58 plays, an autobiography (9 volumes, A Soul's Advance, 1886-1903)

  • The Outlaw, 1871
  • From Fjerdingen and Svartbäcken, short stories, 1877
  • Master Olof, drama, 1872
  • The Red Room, novel, 1879
  • Swedish People at Work and Play, social history, 1881-1882
  • The New Country, novel, 1882
  • Lucky Pehr, drama, 1883
  • Swedish Destiny and Adventure, I-IV, short stories, 1882-1891
  • Poetry in Verse and Prose, 1883
  • Sleepwalker Awakens to the Day, fiction, 1884
  • Married I-II, short stories, 1884-1886
  • Utopian on Reality, short stories, 1885
  • Son of a Servant, I-V, autobiography, 1886-1909
  • Natives of Hemsö, novel, 1887
  • The Defense's Speech of a Fool, 1887-1895
  • The Father, drama, 1887
  • Miss Julie, drama, 1888
  • The Comrades, drama, 1888
  • Life of an Island Lad, short story, 1888
  • Pariah, 1889
  • Among French Peasants, 1889
  • Creditors, drama, 1888-1889
  • Inferno, novel/autobiography, 1897
  • The Way to Damascus, dramatic trilogy, 1898-1902
  • Gustavus Vasa, drama, 1899
  • Erik XIV, drama, 1899
  • The Dance of Death, 1900
  • Easter, drama, 1900
  • Engelbrekt, drama, 1901
  • A Dream Play, drama, 1902
  • Swan Blood, drama, 1902
  • The Camara Plays: The Storm, The Burned House, The Pelican, The Ghost Sonata, 1907
  • Merry Christmas!, a verse drama, 1909
  • The great Highway, drama, 1909


  1. ^ "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. NBC. 2006-10-09.

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