Johan August Strindberg (1849-1912) – dramatist, theatre practitioner, novelist, painter, and essayist – was above all one of the most radical innovators of the modern theatre. His writing, including some sixty plays written between 1869 and 1909, takes up some seventy volumes in the current Swedish national edition of his collected works. But in spite of countless attempts to grasp the person behind his extensive creative output, Strindberg remains a theatre artist whose image persistently overshadows our perception of his work, and he keeps eluding us behind the personae assumed by or projected on his ever-antagonising figure. In his native country,Sweden, for example, he earned the reputation of rebel and troublemaker, while at the same time he was hailed by the new wave of modernist writers as a great innovator and renewer of the Swedish language. He appears simultaneously as a fervent social critic rebelling against any given political, religious, or cultural authority and as a reactionary ideologue in regard to women’s liberation. One of the more immediate motivating forces behind Strindberg’s efforts to reform and renew drama and theatre was his profound dissatisfaction with the commercial theatre of his time. But in a wider context, the common denominator to his often contradictory views and diverse activities emerges from a restless drive to find adequate expression for his sense of an elusive reality and changing culture as fin-de-siècle Europe entered the era of modernity. The third child among seven of shipping merchant Carl Oscar

Strindberg and former waitress Ulrika Eleonora Norling, August

Strindberg was born in a moderately well-to-do upper-middle-class family on 22 January 1849 in Stockholm, Sweden. But the circumstances of his childhood were shrouded in myth that Strindberg constructed in numerous texts. His autobiographical novel, The Maidservant’s Son (1886), for example, presents Johan, its plebeian protagonist, as an unwanted child born in the midst of the father’s bankruptcy (Strindberg 1966b: 15). This legend of his youth underpins the entire oeuvre, which in several versions elaborates the role of the playwright as a seeker of truth, an outcast and a scapegoat. Ishmael, Job, and the Flying Dutchman are but a few of those roles in which the author casts himself in the pages of his autobiographical writings. But Strindberg research, including the classic works of Swedish scholars Martin Lamm and Gunnar Brandell, has paid much attention to unravelling factual information about the author’s life, which today is still often seen as the basis of his writing. In contrast to an uncomplicated biographical approach, this volume explores the complex and often deliberately ambiguous interplay between life and fiction, the person and his personae, which infiltrates Strindberg’s texts. Rather than vainly attempting to uncover the biographical individual behind the author’s masks, the present study proposes to understand him as a metamorphic character in his own ubiquitous play. Such all-encompassing theatricality, as we shall see in the fol-

lowing chapters, is the most characteristic expression of Strindberg’s modernity. As he experienced the dissolution of conventional class, gender, and family-roles, he introduced the notion of the ‘characterless’ character in the preface to his play Miss Julie (1888). Here he claims that the figures of his drama are modern ‘souls’ because they are split, vacillating, and lack stable identities. Thus the ‘multiplicity of motives’ that Strindberg deploys to support the actions of his characters is ‘in keeping with the times’ in its departure from the

middle-class expression for an automaton, so that an individual whose nature had once and for all set firm or adapted to a certain role in life, who had stopped growing, in short, was called a character, whereas someone who goes on developing,

the skilful navigator on the river of life … was called characterless.