Adult, Classics, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: Miss Julie by August Strindberg

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(this review will contain spoilers for the entire play)

As a woman, as a feminist and as a believer in equality it truly pains me to have to admit I find some of the themes from this play still in existence today. The play was originally written over a hundred years ago by a man I can´t say had much of an idea of equality between the sexes and yet women getting are still shamed for having sex while men see it as “scoring”.

Now, I´m aware – and very much thankful – this doesn´t exist to the same extent today as it did in the 19th century, but I think we can all agree it´s getting old.

This very sad play is about a man called Jean, a woman named Julie, their midsummer’s night spent together and how it leads to the downfall of Julie. It´s a play about the battle of the sexes as well as the battle between the upper class and lower class and after reading and analyzing and watching it, I can´t say more than that I feel for Julie.

To be honest, the play might as well be called Jean. It´s named Miss Julie since it revolves a lot around her but after reading the foreword by August Strindberg himself, you get the feeling he is on Jean’s side. I wanted to believe Strindberg wrote it because he wanted to give a representation of how hard it can be to be a woman and have desire, I wanted to believe he showing the possibility of there being a woman in a position above a man, not that he was trying to stop the possibility of this kind of woman that Ibsen presented in A Doll House. But the foreword – it feels like denying his view on women is just desperate after reading it. He even says something along the lines of “How is a woman supposed to be equal to a man when he runs at 100 km/h and a woman at 60?” and I think giving him a pass just because he is one of our great and treasured authors is just wrong.

In the play, we start with Julie being clearly above Jean as she is the daughter of the landlord and he is the servant – even if she is a woman. She is able to walk around and do as she likes (kinda) while Jean feels his obligation to the landlord at the mere mention of him or as soon as he sees his riding boots that he is supposed to polish. When Julie has danced with Jean twice on the midsummer´s evening and they´ve both flirted with each other (even if Jean has a fiancé) it seems like they are both game as they “hide from the other folks around the estate” (have sex) – although some interpret it as being catalyzed by Julie´s desire.

Reading this today, I think – and I hope – most people would see this as perfectly fine, maybe except for the part of Jean cheating on his betrothed.

Julie and Jean are attracted. It´s a warm summer night with lots of emotions. They felt like having sex, so they did.

That should be the end of the story, shouldn´t it?

But, no. Instead, it leads to a kind of battle between Jean and Julie where Julie, who has been on top until now, tries to fight back but is beaten down over and over until ultimately she walks out with a razor blade in hand after Jean whispered in her ear “Go out. It´s tragic, but there is no other way.”

It´s tragic, but there is always another way.

I wanted so badly for this to be a representation or a kind of example of how wrong this kind of misogyny and inequality is, but that foreword doesn´t leave my mind and I can´t deny I think Strindberg truly means what he says with “I hope people one day will be happy reading about Julie” just because it was the demise of a woman in charge, of a woman who dared to say she would refuse to become a man´s slave. His writing is still beautiful to me and the language is much the same as in A Dream Play which I also loved a lot, but I can´t get myself to add him to my list of favorite authors because of this. Call it silly if you want, but it feels wrong to me.

The play, even if upsetting, is a play worth reading. Even if it´s not what Strindberg intended, maybe at least we can now use Julie as an example. Maybe we can highlight how she is the victim and Jean the disgusting coward, rather than Julie the mentally insane and Jean the achiever.

The first words of the play are “Tonight Miss Julie is insane again, completely insane!”.

I think many see this as an example of Jean’s wisdom, of Julies mental health issues and suicidal thoughts, as a foreshadowing for what many interpret is the end for Julie. But I hope some can come to see that it´s not. That while Julie might have become mentally unstable by the end of it all – it was never her fault.

She was just a woman who didn´t want to be enslaved and who happened to have desires.

Is that really too much to ask for?

3/5 stars.

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