Review of Getting Married (1884)
August Strindberg (writer).
Read in 2016.
A mixed bag. The foreword to the first volume of this anthology is hilarious, especially the framing “interview” of the author by the author. His jealous critique of Ibsen is followed by a radical socialist agenda which is surprisingly modern, including feminist. I wonder what old Strindberg would think of current Swedish schools.
“Dygdens lön” is a classic bit of atheist satire, weaving Strindberg’s love of jargon into its comic apex: “fallet hade skäggat sig”. “Måste” is the best story in here. “Kärlek och spannmål”, “Ersättning”, “Slitningar” and “Fågel Fenix” are all good and nuanced dark spirals. “Reformförsök” captures the progressive spirit of the foreword, and is only readable as patronizing in the larger context of the other stories, like “Ett dockhem”, which repeats the author’s own railing critique of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879) in an implausible plot of a sailor seducing the shrew who has misled his wife into Christianity and feminism, in order to drive off that shrew and patch things up with the wife.
The second volume, from 1885, is much more misogynistic. The foreword is hateful and humourless. “Höst” is a good melancholy piece, but it’s mostly down hill from there. “Utan vigsel och med“ is a breezy series of clever understatements, “De ideala kraven” is mildly interesting for its more overt philosophizing but reads like a diary entry in favour of religion. “Affär” ends on two interesting little notes of metafiction, continued in “Övertro”: “Det är dygdens lön, säga de, utan att ha läst förra delen av Giftas.” An autobiographical reading is irresistible. The trend toward self-consciousness and the Inferno crisis culminates in the final short story, “Familjeförsörjaren”, about a stand-in for the author dying in misery; it’s seemingly written as a paranoid attack on Strindberg’s own wife Siri von Essen in their contemporary Swiss exile, prefiguring his breakdown a few years later.
The stories I’ve not mentioned by name here are forgettable, some even dully written. Darwin and Malthus are generally misunderstood in the manner of social Darwinism. Very little is ever said of the working class, despite and because of Strindberg’s critique of feminism as a folly of the upper. Non-heterosexual love is viewed as a predatory perversion, in at least one case—“Dygdens lön”—stemming from abstinence.