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Swedish Literary Bad Boy, August Strindberg Posted by on Nov 20, 2020 in Culture, Swedish Language, The Swedish blog team, Vocabulary, Working in Sweden

Renowned Swedish dramatist and literary bad boy August Strindberg is one of the greatest contributors to modern Swedish literature. This week, we’ll learn a little bit about the Strindberg legacy, what’s behind his tormented artist persona, and read one of his poems, “Högsommar i vinter.

Self Portrait, August Strindberg Photo: Nordiska museet

August Strindberg (1849-1912) was a författare (writer), dramatiker (dramatist), and bildkonstnär (visual artist). He was born and raised in Stockholm, and went on to study at Uppsala where he was known for pushing boundaries and challenging his teachers. His first writing job was for the Swedish morning newspaper Dagens nyheter as a journalist, but he went on to international fame with pieces like Fröken Julie (Miss Julie), and Ett drömspel (A Dream Play).

Strindberg som banbrytare / Strindberg as a Trailblazer

Photo: Wikipedia, Self-portrait of August Strindberg at Värmdö-Brevik, Tyresö, in 1891.

A lot of Strindberg’s work was auto-biographical, critiquing makt (power) and hierarki (hierarchy), samhällsnormer (societal norms), and äktenskap (marriage). His literary breakthrough came in 1879 with the satire Röda rummet (The Red Room), an introspective, yet relatable piece where Strindberg draws from his bohemian lifestyle in Stockholm, mocking the social class structure. Shortly thereafter, the not-as-successful satire Det nya riket (The New Kingdom) earned him criticism so harsh, that he fled Sweden with his family. 

Skillsmässor och infernokrisen / Divorces and The Inferno Crisis
Strindberg struggled in familial relations. He was estranged from his father and all three of his marriages ended in divorce. During his exile from Sweden, Strindberg saw the end of his passionate, but tumultuous relationship with his first wife Siri von Essen. Soon after, he had yet another failed marriage that pushed him into a livskris (life crisis) and psykos (psychosis). He hallucinated, had vivid dreams, and struggled with demons, he called infernokrisen (the inferno crisis). 

Kvinnorörelsen och Strindberg / Women’s Movement and StrindbergInterestingly enough, the divorce of his first wife Siri von Essen in 1891 coalesced with the rise of the Women’s Movement in Europe. Strindberg wrote that he felt persecuted and wrote Woman’s Inferiority to Man in 1890 to international audiences. Strindberg is widely seen as a misogynist, and anti-feminist still today. 

Sin egen största fan / His own biggest fan
Strindberg is quoted as saying ”Min eld är den största i Sverige / My fire is the largest in Sweden.” This sentiment is best characterized in Strindberg’s work as a photographer. Fotografiska’s 2012 exhibit The Image of Strindberg is a series of photos, mostly self-portraits by Strindberg. He was good at building his personal brand, before that was even a concept, and as Fotografiska put it “he was always his favourite motif.”

Why do his pieces stand the test of time?
Strindberg was not interested in writing classic pieces of prose, mirroring the literary masters that came before him. He was a rule-breaker, and this carried over into the over 120 pieces of prose and drama. His language was considered to be extremely approachable and modern then, making it digestible for today’s audiences as well.

Högsommar i vinter / High Summer in Winter

Portrait by August Strindberg by Edvard Munch

I chose this poem because as the winter nights grow darker, people create their own worlds inside their homes. In this case, there’s a bit of irony in thinking of “high summer” in the middle of winter, but that’s the kind of juxtaposition Strindberg does best.

Högsommar i vinter

Ute braskar vinterkvällen,
gatan ligger tyst och mörk,
draget skakar kaklugnsspjällen,
och av porten höres skrällen
när som vinden går i durk.

Enkel kvällsvard är till ända,
flickan dukar av vårt bord;
låt oss ljus i kronan tända
natten uti dag att vända,
natten är till nöjet gjord!

Jag skall fälla ner gardinen
att ej grannen här oss ser;
jag slår vin på karaffinen,
och med vackra solskensminen
sätt dig vid pianot ner.

Sjung om sommarn, sjung om skogen,
sjung om havet helst ändå!
Jämt till stormar redobogen
vresig vän, men alltid trogen,
svarta djup och böljor blå.

Nu vid dina friska toner
och pianots harmoni
växa mina pelargoner,
födda under heta zoner,
och till lummig lövskog bli.

På din eldskärm syns regattan,
vita segel, blåa berg;
och på palln sefirgarnskattan
spinner på den varma mattan;
blekta blommorna få färg.

I trymån jag ser vår lilla
våning i ett perspektiv
fast det är en optisk villa,
vinet målar icke illa,
ger den verklighetens liv.

Fjärran arbetsbordet vilar
under böckers tunga rad,
halvsläckt lampa dåsigt smilar
mot de svarta skaft och pilar
vid ett bläckigt pappersblad.

Till ditt rum jag sen kan titta,
ljusgrön möbel i creton;
hushållsboken kan jag hitta,
i din sykorg syns den sitta
mellan roller i kartong.

Men igenom dörrens springa
jag ditt lilla huvud ser,
blicken som en blåsmidd klinga
värjer hugg, men vill ej stinga,
nu i spegeln mot mig ler.

Och jag ser ditt ljusa änne,
blekt blir lampans röda sken,
blixten ifrån bröstets spänne
slår en ljungeld mellan tvenne
blickar som förgås i en.

Tyst! Det ringer i tamburen!
Ah, jag vet nog vem det är,
det är posten, sista turen;
men var tyst, min vän, som muren,
öppna ej, jag dig besvär!

Låt dem ligga i sin låda
kalla brev och korrektur,
friden blott hos oss får råda,
orostiftare de båda
stanna inom vällåst bur!

Sjung, min vigda älskarinna,
ingen ringning mer oss når,
sjung ännu, låt vinet rinna,
nöjets timmar snart försvinna,
nu är hela natten vår!

 

Vill du läsa mer om Strindberg? Want to read more about Strinberg?

August Strindberg from www.sweden.se

www.strindberg.se – The Strindberg Society

www.strindbergsmuseet.se – The Strindberg Museum

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About the Author: Chelsea B

Chelsea is a Swedish language instructor and translator living in Minnesota, U.S. She has a degree in Scandinavian Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and has experience living and working in Sweden from north to south! In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, listening to music, and practicing slöjd, the Swedish word for handcraft.


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