Read FOREWORD of Plays: Comrades Facing Death Pariah Easter, free online book, by August Strindberg, on ReadCentral.com.

August Strindberg died at Stockholm On May 14, 1912, just ten days after the first of his plays given in English in the United States had completed a month’s engagement. This play was “The Father,” which, on April 9, 1912, was produced at the Berkeley Theatre in New York, the same little theatre that witnessed in 1894 the first performance in this country of Ibsen’s “Ghosts.”

It happened that August Lindberg, the eminent Swedish actor and friend of Strindberg [who, by the way, was the first producer of “Ghosts” in any language], was visiting this country and came to see a performance of “The Father.” His enthusiasm over the interpretation given Strindberg, in the English rendering of the play as well as in the acting, led him to cable a congratulatory message to Strindberg; and upon departing for Stockholm, he asked for some of the many letters of appreciation from significant sources which the production of “The Father” had called forth. These he wished to give to Strindberg as further assurance “that he has,” to use Herr Lindberg’s words, “the right representatives in this country.” It is gratifying to those who esteem it a rare privilege to be the introducers of Strindberg’s powerful dramatic art to the American stage to know that he finally found his genius recognized on this side of the ocean.

“Comrades,” the first play in the present volume, belongs to the same momentous creative period as “The Father” and “Countess Julie,” although there is little anecdotic history attaching to this vigorous comedy. It was written in Denmark, where Strindberg, after finishing “The Father” in Switzerland in 1887, went with his family to live for two years, and was published March 21, 1888.

Although the scene of the comedy is laid in Paris, all the characters are Swedish, which may be accounted for by the fact that the feminist movement, of which “Comrades” is a delicious, stinging satire, had been more agitated at that time in Scandinavia than elsewhere. That Paris was chosen as a background for this group of young artists and writers was probably reminiscent of the time, the early eighties, when Strindberg with his wife and children left Sweden and, after spending some time with a colony of artists not far from Fontainebleau, came to Paris, where there were many friends of other days, and established themselves in that “sad, silent Passy,” as Strindberg’s own chronicle of those times reads. There he took his walks in the deserted arcades of the empty Trocadero Palace, back of which he lived; went to the Theatre Francais, where he saw the great success of the day, and was startled that “an undramatic bagatelle with threadbare scenery, stale intrigues and superannuated theatrical tricks, could be playing on the foremost stage of the world;” saw at the Palais de l’Industrie the triennial exhibition of art works, “the crème de la crème of three salons, and found not one work of consequence.” After some time he came to the conclusion that “the big city is not the heart that drives the pulses,” but that it is “the boil that corrupts and poisons,” and so betook himself and his family to Switzerland, where they lived in the vicinity of Lake Leman, which environment was made use of years later in the moving one-act play, “Facing Death,” presented herewith.

“Pariah,” the other one-act play appearing in this volume, is the generally recognized masterpiece of all the short one-act plays. The dialogue is so concentrated that it seems as if not one line could be cut without the whole structure falling to pieces, and in these terse speeches a genius is revealed that, with something of the divine touch, sounds the depths of the human heart and reveals its inmost thoughts. “Pariah” was published in 1890 and “Facing Death” in 1898.

The period of Strindberg’s sojourn in Switzerland, 1884-87, was most important in the evolution of the character and work of the man who, throughout his career, was to engage himself so penetratingly and passionately in the psychology of woman, and love, and the problems of marriage, as to acquire the reputation, undeserved though it was, of woman-hater. That this observation and analysis of woman was not induced by natural antipathy to the sex, nor by unhappiness in his own married experience, is made clear by the facts of his life up to the time when such investigation was undertaken. What, then, did sway him to such a choice of theme? Examination of the data of this period from Strindberg’s own annals reveals the following influences: Ibsen from his Norwegian throne had hailed woman and the laborer as the two rising ranks of nobility, and Strindberg asked himself if this was ironic, as usual, or prophetic. Feminine individualism was the cult of the hour. The younger generation had, through the doctrines of evolution, become atheistic. Strindberg tells of asking a young writer how he could get along without God. “We have woman instead,” was the reply. This was the last stage of Madonna worship! And how had it happened that the new generation had replaced God with woman? “God was the remotest source; when he failed they grasped at the next, the mother. But then they should at least choose the real mother, the real woman, before whom, no matter how strong his spirit, man will always bow when she appears with her life-giving attributes. But the younger generation had pronounced contempt for the mother, and in her place had set up the loathsome, sterile, degenerate amazon-the blue-stocking!”

Earnestly pondering these matters, Strindberg at length decided to write a book about woman, a subject, he declares, which up to this time he had not wanted to think about, as he himself “lived in a happy erotic state, ennobled and beautified by the rejuvenating and expiatory arrival of children.” But nevertheless he decided to write such a book, and so with sympathy and much old-fashioned veneration for motherhood the task was undertaken.

Regarding the mother as down-trodden, he wanted to think out a means for her deliverance. To obtain a clear vision he chose as a method the delineation of as large a number as possible of marriage cases that he had seen-and he had seen many, as most of his contemporary friends were married. Of these he chose twelve, the most characteristic, and then he went to work. When he had written about half that number, he stopped and reviewed the collection. The result was entirely different from what he had expected.

Then chance came to his aid, for in the pension where he was living, thirty women were stopping. He saw them at all meals, between meals, and all about, idle, gossiping, pretentious, longing for pleasure. “There were learned ladies who left the Saturday Review behind them on the chairs; there were literary ladies, young ladies, beautiful ladies.” When he saw their care-free, idle life, with concern he asked himself: “Whom do these parasites and their children live on?” Then he discovered the bread-winners. “The husband sat in his dark office far away in London; the husband was far away with a detachment in Tonkin; the husband was at work in his bureau in Paris; the husband had gone on a business trip to Australia.” And the three men who were there gave him occasion to reflect about the so-called female slave. “There was a husband who had a fiercely hot attic room, while the wife and daughter had a room with a balcony on the first floor. An elderly man passed by, who, although himself a brisk walker, was now leading his sickly wife step by step, his hand supporting her back when making an ascent; he carried her shawls, chair, and other little necessities, reverently, lovingly, as if he had become her son when she had ceased to be his wife. And there sat King Lear with his daughter,-it was terrible to see. He was over sixty, had had eight children, six of whom were daughters, and who, in his days of affluence, he had allowed to manage his house and, no doubt, the economy thereof. Now he was poor, had nothing, and they had all deserted him except one daughter who had inherited a small income from an aunt. And the former giant, who had been able to work for a household of twelve, crushed by the disgrace of bankruptcy, was forced to feel the humiliation of accepting support from his daughter, who went about with her twenty-nine women friends, receiving their comfort and condolence, weeping over her fate, and sometimes actually wishing the life out of her father.”

The immediate result of all this observation and consequent analysis was the collection of short stories in two volumes called “Marriages,” the first of which, published in 1884, gave rise to Strindberg’s reputation of being a pessimist, and the second, two years later, to that of woman-hater, which became confirmed by the portrayals of women in his realistic dramas that soon followed, notably that of Laura in “The Father.” That part of the woman-hater legend which one encounters most often is that Strindberg was revealing his own marital miseries in the sex conflicts of these dramas, particularly in “The Father,” notwithstanding the fact that this play was written five years before his first marriage was dissolved, and little more than two years after his avowed hesitancy to undertake the dissection of womankind on account of the “happy erotic state” in which he was living.

And that his analytical labors and personal experiences, far from bringing about an acquired aversion for woman, never even let him be warned, is attested by the fact of his having founded three families. One is forced to suspect that instead of being a woman-hater, he was rather a disguised and indefatigable lover of woman, and that his wars on woman and his fruitless endeavors to get into harmony with the other half of the race were, fundamentally, a warring within himself of his own many-sided, rich nature. He said of himself that he had been sentenced by his nature to be the faultfinder, to see the other side of things. He hated the Don Juans among men as intensely as he did the lazy parasites among women-the rich and spoiled ones who declaimed loudest about woman’s holy duties as wife and mother, but whose time was given up to being hysterical and thinking out foolish acts,-these women enraged him.

However, the psychology of woman represents but one phase of Strindberg. In a book called “The Author,” styled by him “a self-evolutionary history,” which was written during the germinating period of the realistic dramas, but was not given out for publication until 1909, there is a foreword which contains the following significant avowal from the Strindberg of the last years: “The author had not arrived in 1886; perhaps only came into being then. The book presented herewith is consequently only of secondary interest as constituting a fragment; and the reader should bear in mind that it was written over twenty years ago. The personality of the author is consequently as unfamiliar to me as to the reader-and as unsympathetic. As he no longer exists, I can no longer assume any responsibility for him, and as I took part in his execution I believe I have the right to regard the past as expiated and stricken out of the Big Book.” The “execution” in 1898 referred to was the spiritual crisis through which Strindberg passed when he emerged from the abysmal pessimism of “The Inferno;” then began the gradual return to spiritual faith which, in the end, caused him to declare himself a Swedenborgian.

The play, “Easter,” included in the present collection, belongs to this period; it is a strange mingling of symbolism and realism, bearing the spiritual message of the resurrection. It was the most popular play produced at the Intimate Theatre in Stockholm, having been given there over two hundred times; and in Germany, also, it has been one of the plays most appreciated. That “Easter” is representative of the last phase, spiritually, of the great man is evidenced by the closing incident of his life. His favorite daughter, Kirtlin, was in the room as death approached. Strindberg called to her, and asked for the Bible; receiving the book, he opened it, and placing it across his breast, said, “This is the best book of all,” and then, with his last breath, “Now everything personal is obliterated.”

E. O. and W. O.