Novelist, satirist, poet, photographer, painter, alchemist and hellraiser – August Strindberg was all these, and yet he is principally known, in Arthur Miller’s words, as ‘the mad inventor of modern theater’, who led playwriting out of the drawing room into the snakepit of psychological warfare. To coincide with the shortlisting of Yale’s biography Strindberg: A Life for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Yale Books Blog presents a conversation with author Sue Prideaux. The discussion explores the enduring significance of August Strindberg’s work, some of the more surprising aspects of his life and why female actors love his plays.
Strindberg: A Life describes the eventful and complicated life of one of the great literary figures in world literature, it’s an excavation of a unique character, supported by extensive new research. The author organizes Strindberg’s story into a gripping and highly readable narrative that both illuminates his work and restores humour and humanity to a man often shrugged off as too difficult. Best known for his play Miss Julie, Strindberg was a prolific writer amassing sixty plays, three books of poetry, eighteen novels and nine autobiographies. Prideaux describes a man of obsessions; in Paris he was gripped by a burning fascination with alchemy and the occult, believing the hounds of the underworld to be stalking Edvard Munch’s corridors, yet previously he had been a realist and atheist indebted to Zola. Strindberg was also at one time a womaniser and heavy absinthe drinker, yet was still prepared to remain at home with his children to enable his first wife Siri to pursue her acting career.
Prideaux explores Strindberg’s many art–life connections, revealing for the first time the originals who inspired the characters Miss Julie and her servant Jean, the bizarre circumstances in which the play was written and the real suicide that inspired the shattering ending of the play. Recounting the playwright’s journey through the ‘real’ world as well as the world of belief and ideas, Prideaux marks the centenary of Strindberg’s death in 1912 with a biography worthy of the man who laid the foundations for Western drama through the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first.