The dilemma of naturalistic tragedy: Strindberg's Miss Julie.
When Strindberg had finished Miss Julie in the first week of August 1888, he promptly mailed it to his publisher, to whom he presented the contents of his play as a modern psychological drama and defined its form as a tragedy that fulfilled the ideals of the classical tradition: "By this I take the liberty to offer the first Naturalistic Tragedy in Swedish Drama, and I ask you not to refuse it rashly so that you may regret it later, for ... this play will be recorded in the annals." (1) The play was refused, but his prophecy proved to be true.
Its plot, a count's daughter who goes to bed with her servant and then commits suicide, is a banal story of the woman from nobility and the man from the people. The kitchen below, the place for Jean and Julie's meeting, is connected to the servants' sleeping quarters but with no access to the rooms above where the count and his daughter, Lady Julie, live in the stately manor house. The dialectic of class conflict is built into the set, a kitchen with its only exit opening onto the feudal park with its Cupid fountain and Lombardy poplars. The only connecting link between the classes is through a big old-fashioned bell and speaking tube by which the orders of the master are communicated to their servants.
Even the giving of the French name, Jean (originally Johan), originates from above, and at one heated point Julie even asks: "What is your name? I've never heard how you are addressed." (2) Her taunting but revealing remarks lay bare the subtext of class in their power struggle. The intoxication of the Midsummer night, the music, and dance are the treacherous means that unite the two worlds during the fleeting hours from evening to morning, but this only underscores the tragic impossibility of the two doomed lovers.
In the play's preface, an important document in theater history that defines the aesthetic precepts of naturalism from the perspective of the theatrical staging, Strindberg attempts to position Miss Julie in the avant-garde of Emile Zola's movement and to counter his earlier criticism of The Father as a naturalistic tragedy. (3) The drawing of modern characters and their representation on the stage are set within the context of contemporary science, which is seen as the key to replacing the study of abstract, metaphysical man by the study of natural man, subject to physiochemical laws and determined by the effects of his milieu. La bete humaine as the helpless victim of heredity, social and animal instinct, locked in a battle of life and death, is discussed from the perspective of scientific causality as the only means to grasp the multiplicity of physical and psychic events that determine his psychological characterization: "As modern characters, living in a time of transition, more hectic and hysterical than the preceding period at any rate, I have drawn my characters vacillating, disintegrated, a blend of old and new.... My souls (characters) are conglomerations of past and present stages of civilization, bits from books and newspapers, pieces of human beings, rags and tatters of fine clothing, patched together like the human soul." By absorbing this plural viewpoint of the human consciousness as splintered in a multiplicity of complexes, Strindberg also rejects classical humanism's view of man as a unity of self in its health and validity. This is a radically modern conception of character in conflict with that of classical tragedy, in which the dramatist had affirmed his belief in human dignity and worth, giving the hero the opportunity to exert his free will, make a moral choice, and thus gain redemption.
In his critique of the naturalistic drama from the perspective of historical evolution in La loi du theatre (1894), the influential critic Ferdinand Bruntiere explained why the positivistic assumptions of the late nineteenth century were inherently unsuited to drama: "The general law of the theater is defined by the action of a will conscious of itself; and the dramatic species are distinguished by the nature of the obstacles encountered by this will." (4) If these particular obstacles against which the will struggles are recognized to be insurmountable (e.g., the decrees of Fate in the eyes of the ancient Greeks or the internal fatality that constitutes the tragic flaw of a Phaedra or a Hamlet), then it is tragedy. Bruntiere distinguishes between epic and dramatic representation and notes that the central character of a novel is presented as a character that is acted upon by outside forces, while the tragic hero must act and in so doing make a choice to face the truth of his fate. An important distinction that follows from Bruntiere's discourse concerns the representation of time in the naturalistic novel and drama. The former's ability to analyze with a minuteness of detail the multiple causes and pressures, social and psychological, being exerted upon the characters and evolving as conditioning factors over time, is denied the theatrical representation, which takes place entirely in the dramatic present. The notion of free will essential to drama, not least tragedy, is inherently alien to the naturalistic belief in determinism.
To emphasize his scientific perspective, Zola described the naturalistic stage as "the theater of observation" to distinguish it from what he called "the theater of fabrication," la piece bien faite with its contrived plot, conventional types, and scenic fireworks. (5) Zola's statement seems to imply a distinction between a theater operating on the precepts of science and the traditional conventions of the illusionistic theater. Naturalism, however revolutionary in theory, was generally conservative in questions of dramaturgy and staging and nevertheless continued as such the classical tradition. In Strindberg's view the contemporary theater was in crisis and had lost its representability, which made reforms aimed at strengthening the illusionary aspects rather than weakening them paramount. His skepticism concerning tragedy in particular as "a dying form for whose apprehension we lack the necessary conditions" related to this lack of cultural affirmation and therefore cast doubt on its human validity, implausible and morally inadequate for the mainstay of the late-nineteenth-century theater audiences, the "semi-educated" and the "middle classes." What the playwright could do in Miss Julie was simply "to modernize the form" with "up-to-date contents" and thereby to use the naturalistic stage with its locus in a kitchen surrounded by the familiar household objects as a frame to mask the ancient conventions of tragedy. Strindberg adhered to many of the theatrical reforms her-alded by Zola in Le Naturalisme au Theatre and introduced by Antoine at the Theatre Libre. (6) He also stressed the necessity of a natural acting style reflected in speech, gesture, mime, and improvisation, and demanded a realistic blocking of the action, natural makeup and costuming, as well as the abolishing of footlights in favor of sidelighting techniques to harmonize with the realistic style of production he envisioned. His fight against intermissions between acts, which he felt endangered the illusion, made him favor the tight structure of a single act without intervals that would be staged by a small cast on a small stage in a small house. The kind of history an audience experiences in this concentrated psychodrama is determined by Strindberg's strict adherence to the classical unities, the temporal and spatial compression creating an image of the past as essentially a moment of crisis. In this respect there are similarities with the neoclassical conventions of French seventeenth-century tragedy.
Since Strindberg found many of the inherited techniques of realistic representation inadequate, he was determined to experiment with new forms of theatrical expressionism in Miss Julie. The codes and conventions for the realistic set are drastically changed in the unitary set for this play. In his stage directions Strindberg describes the diagonal back wall of the kitchen cutting across the stage from right to left and opening up into the vaulted entry to the garden. The latter can only be seen partially, which is also true for the oven and the table situated on the borderline between stage and offstage, replacing the side walls of the traditional box set in the realistic theater with curtains. Strindberg explains: "As to the scenography I have borrowed from the impressionistic painting the idea of the asymmetrical, the incomplete, and by that have succeeded in creating the illusion. By not being able to see the whole room and all the furniture, the opportunity for intuition--i.e., imagination--to create and complete is made possible." This partial angle of the kitchen denied the spectators a fixed visual focal point, a rejection of the practice in realistic theater of showing the whole room as part of a house that in turn is part of the larger social world. (7) The incompleteness of the impressionistic composition is what draws the dramatist and the spectator into personal contact; this places the spectator within the scene and compels her/him into identification with the dramatist at a certain moment of the action. (8) Strindberg's scenography allowed the "author-magnetist" to direct the way an event is perceived when the stage action is presented from either partial or changing angles, and in this respect his play is a radical departure from the realistic tradition.
Strindberg's subjective style necessitated a dramaturgy based on surface action and subtext that force lean and Julie to interact and take a stance in their mutual attempts to influence, convince, and manipulate one another. It is on the fringe of their social roles as mistress of the house and servant that Julie and lean transgress the boundaries of a patriarchal order. It is at those recurring breaking points that their role-playing becomes a means to power, making the hidden meaning and context manifest to an audience. (9) In his preface Strindberg, arguing against the symmetry and inherent artificiality of the contemporary theater dialogue, called for a new dialogue in which the associations would flow as quickly and naturally onstage as in life: "I have avoided the symmetrical, mathematical in the fabricated French dialogue and let the minds work irregularly as they do in reality, where in a conversation no topic is ever concluded but one mind finds in the other a chance cog to engage in. And this is why the dialogue must also wander about, gathering material in the opening scenes that is later worked over, picked up, repeated, digressed, expounded like the theme of a musical composition."
Similar to French classical tragedy, the absence of physical action places the entire burden of meaning on language. In a letter to Edvard Brandes on 4 October 1888, Strindberg noted: "Like Nietzsche I do not believe in action in the drama! Only occurrences! That is correct!" (10) To prove the accuracy of his interpretation of the word drama Strindberg points to its Doric origin, meaning "occur" not "act." (11) The words of the dialogue represent the action of the play; pronounced at a specific juncture, in a specific position on the stage at a specific moment in a special way directed to another person, their purpose is to reveal the mental states of speaker and recipient in the underlying power struggle. This is particularly true when Jean and Julie force one another to tell and retell their stories of the past, their lengthy reminiscences from childhood, their intertwined dreams of climbing and falling, their pipe dreams of escape or nostalgic remembrances of things past, self-reflection creating new awareness, revelations to themselves and others. There remains a lack of certainty about a past residing in the private memories of Jean and Julie, and in this respect Miss Julie differs from the realistic tradition, in which the past tends to be objectively verified through the affirmations of a number of characters. The dramatist also introduced the old conventions of monologue, ballet, and music, "now condemned by our realists," and pointed to their "origins in classic tragedy, monody having become monologue and the chorus ballet."
In his preface Strindberg had positioned Miss Julie in the avant-garde of naturalism, identifying its genre as tragedy. In his characterization of the play the dramatist uses the Swedish term sorgespel, a translation of the German Trauerspiel, which was used by Schelling to describe contemporary bourgeois dramas. Sorgespel points to the tradition of domestic tragedy as exemplified, for example, by Schiller's Kabale und Liebe, Hebbel's Maria Magdalene, or, more recently, Ibsen's Ghosts, plays concerned with issues such as the conflict of classes within society and the pressures of the public order on the individual will. (12) The dramatist defines "the subject of tragedy" as one of reversal of fortune, Miss Julie's fall and the demise of the feudal world. Tragedy as a narrative of the life and fall of an illustrious ruler has ancient roots but does not imply dramatic form per se. Strindberg's interpretation in the context of the play relates less to the moral than to the political context of class struggle as the foundation for the dramatic action. The servant Jean is dramaturgically the pretender to a new order. Described as a "racebuilder," he has evolved in a process of growth and development, "hence his dual indeterminate character vacilliating [sic] between hatred and love for those above." When he refers to Miss Julie as a tragic "heroine that arouses pity" and creates fear within the consciousness of the spectators, his words paraphrase the Aristotelian definition of tragic catharsis as the purification of these emotions.
Even if Strindberg's point of comparison is the classical tragedies, it is thus obvious that Miss Julie is not a tragedy within the Aristotelian tradition, in which plot is primary to character and catharsis the major means of persuasion. What Strindberg calls tragic destiny with reference to Miss Julie is, moreover, set in the larger nontragic perspective of history: "When we have grown strong as the first French revolutionaries, we shall be happy and relieved to see the national parks cleared of ancient rotting trees that have stood too long in the way of others equally entitled to a period of growth--as relieved as we are when an incurable invalid dies." From this Nietzsche-inspired perspective, the character of Miss Julie seems to represent at best an unfortunate individual for whom one will feel sorry, but she is hardly the tragic character and fate in its classical understanding.
Nevertheless, the distancing and magnification of tragedy afforded the dramatist vision and form to make sense of the chaotic and conflicting events of the nineteenth-century naturalistic case study he addressed with such vigor in his preface. The central argument that the dramatist makes for the genre of tragedy pertains to his conception of character and social order at a moment of historical transition. Miss Julie is described as a heroine representing a feudal order, dispossessed--"a relic of the old warrior nobility, ... a victim of the disharmony which a mother's crime has produced in a family, a victim of today's delusions, of circumstances, of her own defective constitution, all together corresponding to the ancient Fate or Universal Law." Miss Julie's tragedy is seized directly within the historical process of change, the fundamental transition from the established patriarchal order to a society divided by class at a time when the first signs of change from an agrarian to an industrialized society threatened the old value systems.
In the Swedish parliamentary reorganization of 1866 the nobility as a political class had de facto been abolished, but the Royal Proclamation of 1 October 1858 still retained the right of the master of the house physically to chastise and correct his wife and children, servants and animals, the property he owned as the pater familias. The patriarchal order in the Western world ever since the Old Testament had been founded and justified on the principle of the father of the family responsible for the members of the familia to God as the sole authority of obedience. (13) According to this theory the master is a loving father, and his servants are like the children who gratefully receive their daily bread. That reality often turned out differently, as both Ibsen and Strindberg bore witness in A Doll House and The Father
The servants in the house of the count fight their own class struggle with the means available to the oppressed. (14) Both lean and Kristin cheat and steal, and Strindberg makes a point of lean drinking the count's wine that he has taken from the wine cellar. In his defense when found out, lean takes recourse to the patriarchal order, a system that no longer seems to function. He is a thief, but so what? "And by the way," he says, "when I am a servant in a house, I regard myself in a special way as a member of the family, as a child in the house, and you don't call it stealing, when children pinch a berry from overladen bushes." Kristin, on the other hand, lives safely within the value systems of the patriarchal order, thus her revulsion at finding out that lean has slept with the mistress of the house. It is not jealousy or anger caused by her fiance's unfaithfulness but the horrendous breach of the social and natural order that their intercourse poses: "No, that was nasty!" Even to imagine the two of them together seems somehow unnatural, incestuous. This is why Kristin can no longer work in the cursed house of the count and refuses to address Miss Julie with the patriarchal greeting, "matmor," referring to the mother of the house in her role as a loving mother and provider of the sacred bread. (15)
In terms of tragedy it is crucial to differentiate dramaturgically between patriarchy as a system of order and myth and its actual embodiment in the dramatic text. For Sophocles and his followers, the shared myth between audience and stage was reaffirmed when Oedipus tore out his eyes to be blinded at the moment of insight. The tragic action was a shared ritual in the present, but the Athenian spectator already knew the myth. It did not have to be acted out. It is Oedipus himself who has to experience it after the myth has become his life. In his Theory of Modern Drama Peter Szondi draws on this example to illustrate the gulf separating ancient and modern tragedy:
Exposition is unnecessary here, and the analysis is synonymous with the action. Oedipus, blind though seeing, creates, so to speak, the empty center of a world that already knows his fate. Step by step the messengers who come from this world invade his inner being and fill it with their horrible truth. It is not a truth that belongs to the past, however. The present, not the past is revealed. (16)
For Strindberg there was no such shared myth to re-enact, and the question of free will was in conflict with the naturalistic, doctrine he advocated. In Miss Julie the patriarchal order is first and foremost used as the frame for his tragedy; it thus takes on the status of myth in relation to an audience's willingness to accept its ideological assumptions. Reality or, rather, verisimilitude, abidance by the theatrical codes, not least the conventions of tragedy, the sense of historical continuity with its movement toward catastrophe were the key elements designed to make his reality plausible and relevant within the consciousness of his spectators. (17)
Strindberg's tight structure, compressing three original "acts" into one long act without any intermission, using the same scenery, simplifying the plot but complicating characters, emphasizing the theme, falls within the general conventions of tragedy, strictly adhering to the unities of time/space with a rising action of forty minutes, culminating in a peripety followed by the falling reaction of fifty minutes to conclude with Miss Julie's suicide.
The culmination of the action in Miss Julie's fall separates the first and the second halves of the play; this is marked off in time by the chorus of farmhands carousing with dance and song in the kitchen to accompany the offstage action. Julie has slept with Jean--a violation of the sacred relation between master and servant in the existing order. Jean is now the one to give orders, Julie the one to obey. Regardless of Jean's hesitation to take on this role, the reversal of fortune is a fact. The psychological subtext from the first part, when both had succeeded in masking their roles within the patriarchal order, has from this point on become transparently manifest. The crucial recognition of what is from what has been is expressed in the dialogue, in which both Julie and Jean are speaking past one another like two Chekovian characters, at all costs avoiding the truth they know all too well. Julie shields herself in the romantic myth of love in her recurring plea--"Tell me that you love me!"--while Jean falls back on a pipe dream he has rehearsed so many times, to escape, start a hotel, and gain the world. The only thing that he has to back up this would-be success story is a worn train timetable, in itself a telling fact. The tragic peripety falls in this exchange: "Miss?--Call me Julie! There are no barriers between us now.--Call me Julie." The shock of revelation lies in the shift from the formal Swedish ni to the intimate du. An identical shift from vous to tu marks in Racine's Phedre a similar point of no return, when the queen confesses her love to Hippolyte, who "shies back in horror." (18) In both cases decorum of class is broken and with it all possibility of retreat. The subtle and decisive shift invested in the change of pronouns for address remains in both cases impossible to translate into English. In Jean's inability to respond to Julie's urgent plea, the tragic peripety is revealed as one of social class, and this illuminates Strindberg's choice of title for his tragedy, Froken Julie in Swedish, referring to her state of being a member of the aristocracy. This perspective, reflecting their breach of the moral order, is expressed in Jean's response:
I can not!--There are still barriers between us, as long as we stay in this house--there is the past, there is the Count--and I have never met anyone that I have had such respect for--I have only to see his gloves on a chair to feel small--I have only to hear his bell from above to shy away like a frightened horse--and now when I look at his boots standing there so high and mighty, I feel my back beginning to bend. [Kicks the boots.] Superstition and prejudice that has been instilled in us as children.
His tragic monologue affirms the impossible dream of freedom in a patriarchal world incarnate in the absent but ever present count. The revolt of the boots is a visual expression of this determinism, the boots to which Jean had earlier fled each time Miss Julie had threatened his social domain by transgressing its boundaries. Like the ghost of Hamlet's father, the count represents the paternal authority in the play's social microcosm but also "the father within" who commands both Jean and Julie through a conscience rooted in patriarchal society. (19)
From the peripety Miss Julie knows the imperative that she must take her own life, however much she has tried to escape that very insight. In her weakness and indecisiveness Miss Julie tells Jean the complicated story of her childhood, her upbringing like a man "with all those ideas of sex equality and women's right," her mother's crime, trying to institute a matriarchy on the estate, her father's ensuing revolt and the return to patriarchal order, her mother's revenge, burning the house down and plotting with her lover further to humiliate the count. The paralysis of will and accompanying suicidal feelings caused by the warring gender roles in the innermost being of her tormented soul are integral parts of Strindberg's deterministic discourse. This central motif is introduced early when Julie desperately tries to communicate to Jean what being alive is like in the dream sequence of Strindberg's exposition: "For that matter everything is strange. Life, human beings, everything, just scum drifting on the water until it sinks, sinks!" While the dream tells about her fear and longing to come down and join the people, its subtext is one of despair and destruction: "And if I did get to earth, I'd long to be down under." Her desire to die is introduced long before her actual fall as a reflection of her existential alienation, from the naturalistic perspective a product of nature and nurture.
More importantly Miss Julie's self-reflection creates a new awareness, and in that process reveals to the audience ambivalent feelings of which she herself was unaware. Her initial perspective on the past is that of the count, her very words reflecting his system of values, a story of oppression seen through the oppressor's eyes. She identifies her tragic flaw as the syndrome of love/hatred toward men that she had learned from her mother. Her tragic monologue in the final scene begins with her assurance of how deeply she loved her father:
Yes, boundlessly, but I must have hated him too! I must have done that without knowing it. But it is he who brought me up to despise my own sex, to become halfwoman and halfman! Whose is the fault for what has happened? My father's, my mother's, or my own! My own? I have no own? I have not one thought that I didn't get from my father, not one passion that I didn't get from my mother, and the last thing--that about all people being equal--that I got from him, my fiance--that is why I call him a scoundrel! How can it be my own fault?
In Miss Julie's reflections on her tragic fate, the heroine makes her final and most significant discovery. Unconsciously she had hated the father she had loved with such passion. This places her tragedy at the heart of the patriarchy and indicates the psychological depth structure of her character. In this way the patriarchal order as the frame for the action becomes the cohering myth embodied in the tragedy of all the characters in the mimetic as well as in the diegetic time/space. In the tradition of many classical heroes before her, Miss Julie affirms her willingness to take on the blame and accept the consequences: "Whose fault is it? What does it matter whose fault it is! Still, it is I who must bear the guilt, bear the consequences...." Her argument, guilty but not responsible, points instead to the dictates of determinism, in so doing rejecting any notion of free will. What justifies the suffering of the doomed tragic hero in classical tragedy is the audience's awareness that he/she has responsibility for his/her own fate. On Agamemnon's return in the first part of The Oresteia, the chorus echoes this understanding of the gods' shaping presence in the affairs of men: "The Gods do not fail to punish those who trample upon holy things." (20) This would allow for the collective process of recognition, affirmation, and sharing that are embodied in classical tragedy.
Strindberg's dilemma of coming to a close is reflected in the extant manuscript, where there are annotations pointing to different alternatives to end the tragedy. (21) As such they represent conflicting ideas at different points of time and none are developed. In one annotation the arrival of the count seems to be followed by Jean's exit with Kristin to go to communion, which would leave Miss Julie alone on the stage. Whether her intended suicide was then to take place onstage is not clear from Strindberg's notes in the margin to his manuscript. This idea follows in general the traditional spirit and form of tragedy in its elevation of the action to allow for that space of calmness and grandeur necessary to the audience's release of tension in face of the inevitable. Another idea notes that the suicide should take place in full view of the audience, with Miss Julie slitting her throat--here changed to her arteries--and directing a final line to Jean: "Look, you peasant, you couldn't die!" This solution is melodramatic and sensational, not least the final theatrical repartee, pointing to the abyss between "the nobleman's hara-kiri and the farm labourer's son." Difficult, if not impossible to stage, this ending transfers the infinite perspective from tragedy to the continuity of history, pointing to the imminent class struggle.
From a close reading of the play it is, nevertheless, undeniable that Strindberg had come to identify strongly with his heroine and sought to provide her redemption. This desire strongly conflicts with the determinism that characterizes his deterministic analysis of Miss Julie's character in the play as well as the historical arguments he was later to present in his preface. The dilemma reflected in his difficulty in finding a satisfactory ending that would do justice to these conflicting perspectives is illuminated by his attempt to reconcile them in the final version of his play.
The concluding sequence in Miss Julie begins with a moment of prolonged silence onstage, finally to be broken by the bell's ringing. At that instant Jean, immediately transformed into his servant role and taking on his livery, stands in absolute attention before the speaking tube. The commands of fate are heard only by Jean but re-enacted according to the social codes of patriarchy. The count's order for his boots re-establishes in that manner the moral order which has been broken at the same time that it forces Jean and Julie to act. By arresting the action at this juncture, Strindberg heightened the tension of the audience's desire and fear for the long-expected tragic resolution. It allowed the dramatist to illuminate both Jean's frozen fear--"if the Count came down now and ordered me to slit my throat, I would do it on the spot"--and Julie's stasis, masking a growing terror--"Oh, I'm so tired; I can't do anything, can't regret, can't flee, can't stay, can't live--can't die!"
The distance between the hero of the tragic world and Strindberg's Miss Julie originates in this emphasis on deterministic causality. The naturalistic perspective is further strengthened by the introduction of hypnotism on the stage. In a response to Edvard Brandes's objection to this ending as contrived, a romantic and theatrical way out of the underlying tragical dilemma, Strindberg pointed to its grounding in contemporary science, "altogether modern with hypnotism in a state of wakened consciousness (the struggle of the brains)." (22) The latter refers to his view of suggestion as a Darwinian struggle for existence in the mind of the highly evolved brain mechanisms of Homo sapiens. As such it is the continuation of the power struggle between Jean and Julie contextualized in evolutionary terms in the differences between the social classes. (23) In the preface, Miss Julie's origins are seen in relation to pre-existing types, relics of the old feudal order in "the unfolding movement of change into the new nerve-or-great-brain-nobility." As a type, the "halfwoman, manhater" is "tragic in her desperate struggle against nature" and "tragic in her romantic inheritance dispersed by naturalism." The differentiation in "the dual and indeterminate character" of the servant Jean originates in a similar way from his uprootedness and displacement "in the process of evolution from crofter's son to a gentleman."
The hypnosis sequence takes as its starting point Julie's paralysis of will, begging the frightened Jean to do her bidding: "Do this last service for me, to save my honor, to save his name!" Directing him this last time in what to say and do, Miss Julie speaks ecstatically: "I am already asleep--the whole room appears in a smoke to me ... and you look like an iron stove ... that resembles a man dressed in black with a top hat--and your eyes glow like coals, when the fire is out--and your face is a white patch like the ashes." Through an intricate series of images, the dramatist conjures up Miss Julie's feelings and thoughts as she is preparing herself for committing suicide. The codes of stage realism were not sufficient for the dramatist's aesthetic intentions. To allow the spectators to experience a tragic heroine torn between being in this world and out of this world at the same time, Strindberg needed to remove the focus on the realistic set. (24) In his stage directions he has only Jean's face illuminated by the sun, while Julie remains in the shadows where she projects her subconscious feelings onto his face in a chain of complex images within images. (25) The sunlit face of lean transforms into a fire and becomes the final point of departure for her fear and longings: "[I]t feels so warm and good--She rubs her hands, as if she warmed them before a fire--and so light--and so calm!" In this state of ecstasy illuminating her whole being, Miss Julie accepts the razor from Jean and "exits through the glass door with firm steps": "Thank you! I am going now--to rest!" To judge from Strindberg's changes in the manuscript, this seems to have been the original ending, followed by Jean's last line on an empty stage: "It is horrible!--But there was no other end!" (26)
The intense absorption of Julie in this state of trance creates the psychological motivation for her acceptance of suicide as the only possible solution. The expressive nature of Strindberg's stagecraft directs the audience's attention to a realm of consciousness beyond the temporal world and to be shared at that moment by the tragic protagonist and the audience. The dramaturgy abides by the aesthetics of tragedy but fails to do justice to the humanistic belief in tragedy as an expression of human worth and dignity. Miss Julie has fallen victim to her passions and committed moral errors, but the use of hypnotism and suggestion to make her suicide scientifically plausible denies her the opportunity to exert her free will and to make a choice. Insofar as Strindberg sought to give her an end that provided atonement and redemption, this ending failed to do justice to the inherent tragedy he perceived in Miss Julie's destiny, the conflict between naturalism and humanism, determinism and free will. (27)
In his final solution the dramatist was to address this dilemma in an attempt to create a scenic image that balanced both aspects at the same time that it brought out the underlying tragedy of his protagonist. To the very end Miss Julie is a modern fragmented character riddled by doubts and torn by conflicts in a world that seems devoid of God, if not guilt. This is why she needs Jean to affirm to her that the mercy of God, if not his justice, can also be hers. Taking of one's life was after all incompatible with Christianity. Her desperate need is revealed in the afterthought: "But do tell me--that the first can receive the gift of grace. Tell me, even if you too can't believe in it." She refers to the parable of the first and the last (Matt. 20:27) that she had rejected a few moments ago in her final monologue. Repeating it over and over to convince herself--"I am one of the very last. I am the last.... The last shall be the first"--she still remains paralyzed, unable to act, utterly alone.
To reinforce the concluding perspective, Strindberg in the final scenic image of the play juxtaposes Julie with the knife in her hand and Jean in frozen terror before the bell and speaking tube:
To be so afraid of a bell!--Yes, but it is not simply a bell--there is somebody behind it--a hand moving it--and something else puts that hand in motion--but stop your ears only--stop your ears! Yes, then he rings still louder! Rings and rings until you answer--and then it is too late! Then the police come and ... and.... (28)
Jean's words reaffirm the dominant theme of determinism, but its subtext opens up to the infinite perspective of tragedy, inherent in humanism's view of man and the world. Beyond the bell, the count, but beyond this incarnation of the patriarchal order another form of systematization is felt, a divine order the fear of which resides in the depth of the human being. A world disintegrates, human life returns to Earth, but beyond is a glimmer of spiritual truth. The count as the voice of destiny makes his presence felt a last time through the loud ringing of the bell, over and over, until Jean recoils, straightens up, and speaks the last line of the play: "It is horrible! But there is no other end!--Go!" The stage direction reads: "JULIE walks resolutely out through the door."
Miss Julie's moral consciousness, which has roots deep in the traditions of her past, dictates her action and death offstage. From the perspective of determinism, the inescapable forces of the dead traditions of patriarchy have perverted her view of life and now claim her. At the same time, her death entails an element of choice, to sacrifice herself for something in which she no longer believes; as such her act is an expression of free will, however limited. To preserve her dignity and worth rather than to live in circumstances of disgrace, Miss Julie takes her own life. In both the classical and also Scandinavian traditions there was a high value placed on atonement by the virtue of suicide. (29)
Many critics have found the ending confusing and artistically unsatisfying, in many ways similar to the ambiguity at the end of Ibsen's Rosmersholm. (30) It is true that Strindberg has not been able to reconcile the humanism of tragedy with the naturalistic discourse of determinism. Naturalism after all did not represent a culture of the tragic in the tradition of the ancient writers of tragedy or Shakespeare. The classical as well as the early modern audiences were well aware from the start of the divine order, linking the world of men and the world of the gods or God, even if the Elizabethans may have qualified the ultimate validity of the system of order and authority that Shakespeare's histories and tragedies espoused. (31) In that respect Strindberg is closer to Racine's handling of myth, ritual and action taking place without the necessary condition of belief. (32) With Racine's ideal tragedy as an image of what life may be on a plane of high decorum, the ancient symbolic universes retained authority only in and through the conventions of tragedy. What remained for Strindberg after the decline of these universes were laws of a more limited scope to impose order on the tangled affairs of human beings. The naturalistic determinism in Miss Julie is such a system applying the laws of cause and effect on the conditions of modern characters whose identity is anchored in a specific time and space. Under these conditions tragedy could only exist insofar as a particular audience was willing to suspend its disbelief. This is precisely why the tragic ending constitutes such a crucial problem. In contrast to Racine who moved from public drama to private performance and then to silence, Strindberg's close relation to the stage had convinced him that it was only through the sensuous elements of the drama--the craft of the theater and the collected experiences of the actors or actresses--that the battle could be won. History was in time to make the feudal/patriarchal system as a moral order obsolete, an obsolescence casting further doubt on the validity of his play as a tragedy. Suffice it to say that modern productions of Miss Julie with few exceptions view her character as a soul in extremis, as such representing the sick, suffering, abnormal, and fantastic conditions of the psyche, a tragic view of life at best. It is no coincidence that tragedy has become obsolete, casting doubt on its ultimate human validity in the twenty-first century regardless of the succession of apologias in its defense.
University of Minnesota
(1) Letter to Karl Otto Bonnier, 10 Aug. 1888, in August Strindbergs Brev, 22 vols. (Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Forlag, 1948-2001), 7:104; henceforth referred to as Brev (translations are my own).
(2) Froken Julie is included in the volume entitled in Naturalistiska Sorgespel, in Samlade Skrifter av August Strindberg, 55 vols. (Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Forlag, 1914), 23:99-114 (preface) and 115-87 (play); citations in my text are to this edition. Italics in citations are Strindberg's; translations are my own.
(3) For a detailed discussion, see Lennart Josephson, Strindbergs Drama Froken Julie (Uppsala: Almqwist & Wiksell, 1965), 33-55.
(4) Ferdinand Bruntiere, La Loi du theatre (1894), as cited in Barrett H. Clark, European Theories of the Drama (New York: Crown Publishers, 1969), 384. Cf. Egil Tornqvist and Barry Jacobs, Strindberg's Miss Julie: A Play and Its Transpositions (Norwich: Norwik Press, 1988), 35-36.
(5) Ibid., 29-30.
(6) See Gosta M. Bergman, Den Moderna Teaterns Genombrott 1890-1925 (Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Forlag, 1966), 11-44.
(7) See Freddie Rokem, "The Camera and the Aesthetics of Repetition: Strindberg's Use of Space and Scenography in Miss Julie, A Dream Play, and The Ghost Sonata," in Strindberg's Dramaturgy, ed. Goran Stockenstrom (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 113-15.
(8) Evert Sprinchorn, Strindberg as Dramatist (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928), 28.
(9) Cf. Thomas Bredsdorff, Magtspil: Samtalen i Teatret--Samtalen med Teatret (Aarhus: Dansklaererforeningen, 1998), 66-72.
(10) Letter to Edvard Brandes, 4 Oct. 1888, in Brev, 7:130.
(11) Ibid., 7:131, n. 7:"Es ist ein wahres Ungluck dass man das Wort Drama i mmer mit'Handlung' ubersetzt hat--Das Wort Drama ist dorischer Herkunft: und nach dorischem Sprachgebruch bedeutet es 'Ereigniss', 'Geschichte'--also kein Thun, sondern ein Geschehen ..."; quoted from Friederick Niezsche, Der Fall Wagner, which Brandes had sent to Strindberg earlier.
(12) See Herbert Lindenberger, Historical Drama: The Relation of Literature and Reality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 73.
(13) Ct. Erich Fromm, For the Love of Life (New York: Free Press, 1986), 20-26.
(14) See Sven Delblanc, Stormhatten (Stockholm: Alba, 1979), 42-47.
(15) Ibid., 47.
(16) Peter Szondi, Theory of Modern Drama (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 13.
(17) Cf. Lindenberger, Historical Drama, 1-14.
(18) Cf. George Steiner, The Death of Tragedy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961), 102-05.
(19) See Bredsdorff, Magtspil, 84-86.
(20) H. D. F. Kitto, Greek Tragedy (1939; reprint, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954), 71.
(21) See "Kommentarer till Froken Julie" in August Strindbergs Drainer, ed. Carl Reinhold Smedmark (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1964), 3:494-511. Cf. Josephson, Strindbergs Drama Froken Julie, 11-16.
(22) Letter to Edvard Brandes, 4 Oct. 1888, in Brev 7:130: "The ending is not romantic; on the contrary altogether modern with hypnotism in a state of waking consciousness (the struggle of the brains)."
(23) See Bredsdorff, Magtspil, 71-72.
(24) Cf. Evert Sprinchorn, "Slutet i Froken Juliet," in Perspektiv pa Froken Julie. Dokument och studier, ed. Ulla-Britta Lagerroth and Goran Lindstrom (Uddevalla: Raben & Sjogren Bokforlag, 1972), 64-66.
(25) See Rokem, "The Camera and the Aesthetics of Repetition," 116.
(26) Cf. Tornqvist and Jacobs Strindberg's Miss Julie, 107-08.
(27) See Sven Delblanc, "Strindberg and Humanism," in Strindberg's Dramaturgy, ed. Stockenstrom, 8-9.
(28) Note Strindberg's subtle shift of the personal pronoun "han" (he) instead of the grammatically correct "den" (it) in reference to "klockan" (the bell). In dialectical usage "hon" (she) can sometimes be used to refer to "klocka." Strindberg's choice of personal pronoun underscores the message of the subtext.
(29) Cf. Delblanc, "Strindberg and Humanism," 8.
(30) Cf. Szondi, Theory of Modern Drama, 12-18; cf. also Tornqvist and Jacobs, Strindberg's Miss Julie, 110-13; and Sprinchorn, "Slutet i Froken Julie," 64-66. Delblanc reflects: "There are contradictory impulses contending for power at the end of this drama, not to the benefit of the play's aesthetic effect. Strindberg the naturalist enlists the aid of all types of contemporary psychological explanations, including hazy ideas about hypnotism and suggestion, to make the suicide scientifically plausible, but the play does not gain by the attempt. The conclusion of Miss Julie remains confused and artistically unsatisfying. The playwright has not been able to choose sides; the humanist and the naturalist fight an indecisive battle right to the final curtain" ("Strindberg and Humanism," 8-9).
(31) See Lindenberger, Historical Drama, 12-14.
(32) See Steiner, The Death of Tragedy, 81-84.
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|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
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