Monday, May 14, 2012

H-t was with me

August Strindberg, considered by some to be the most celebrated Swedish author and playwright of all time, died a century ago today. Not known as a diarist, he did keep an intermittent journal - with very brief entries - for 10 years or so towards the end of his life. Parts of the journal were published in an English translation in 1965; and now, in celebration of the centenary, a Stockholm gallery has made the diary entries available online.

August was the third of seven children born to Carl Strindberg, a Stockholm shipping magnate, and his religious wife Ulrika, who died when August was 13. He attended the University of Uppsala for two years, but thereafter did various jobs including being a journalist, tutoring and accounting for some local theatres. In 1870, his first play was produced by the Royal Dramatic Theatre; other, mostly historical, plays followed to mixed reviews. In 1874, he took up a post at the Royal Library, a position he would keep until 1882.

In 1877, Strindberg married Siri Wrangel, who had been an officer’s wife but was avidly interested in the theatre. The couple had three children but the marriage was always under strain, partly because of Siri’s determination to be an actress. Strindberg’s first major success did not come until 1879 with publication of The Red Room, a satirical novel. In 1882 a short story collection, The New Kingdom, so scandalised Stockholm society that Strindberg left Sweden.

For much of the 1880s, Strindberg and his family lived in Paris and Switzerland. In 1887, the couple divorced and Strindberg moved to Denmark. It was also the year, he had his first major play, The Father, published and performed (in Copenhagen). The following year he wrote Miss Julie. Strindberg, not feeling appreciated in Scandinavia, moved to Berlin for a short period. He married his second wife, the young Austrian Frieda Uhl, and they had one daughter, but after a year or so, they too divorced. Around 1895, Strindberg appears to have become interested in occultism, which led to him writing The Inferno.

In 1897, Strindberg returned to Sweden and embarked on a productive period of his life, writing more plays. In 1901, he married for a third time, to Harriet Bosse, a young actress, but by the time the couple’s daughter was born in 1902, they were living apart. In 1907, he launched the Intima Teater, to show off his own plays. Although initially successful, it ran into financial problems and closed in 1910. Strindberg died on 14 May 1912. Further information in English is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica or the Theatre Database. The Strindberg Museum in Stockholm and the Stockholm Visitors Board both have listings of events connected with the centenary of Strindberg’s death.

Towards the end of his life, from 1896 to 1908, Strindberg kept a diary. The entries are usually very brief (sometimes only a single word) and intermittent, and many of them concern his relationship with Harriet Bosse. It was first published in Swedish in 1963, as Ur Ockulta Dagboken, and then it was translated into English by Mary Sandbach for publication in 1965 by Secker & Warburg as From an Occult Diary: Marriage with Harriet Bosse.

To coincide with the centenary, the City of Stockholm’s Liljevalchs art gallery is preparing a major Strindberg exhibition later this year; and, in connection with this, has launched the Strindberg2012 website to ‘let August himself do the talking’ by publishing the Occult Diary entries online - in Swedish and in English. The website cites as it sources the original manuscript, Mary Sandbach’s translation, and further translation by Hans Olsson. Annika Hansson Wretman of Liljevalchs and Mats Ingerdal of AGoodId (a communications agency) are credited with the website’s conception, transcription and realisation.

13 May 1897
‘Had horrible coffee in the morning, which ruined my nervous system and made me unable to work the whole day.’

22 January 1898
‘I’m turning 49 (7x7) years old. Last night: dreamt I found some occult books, black magic. Wanted out from a cowhouse but it was dark and I couldn’t find the exit. Woke with palpitations, and heard people above leaving. KlĂ©en arrived.’

3 January 1901
‘Have been plagued for a couple of months by a smell of Celery; everything tastes and smells of Celery. When I take off my shirt at night it smells of Celery. What can it be?’

1 March 1905
‘Awoke by seeing a bedbug on my quilt, which I killed.’

15 January 1906
‘Spent the evening with H-t. Poisonous, gloomy, so I had to leave. H-t told me she had had a terrible inferno day; absolutely indescribable.’

10 February 1908
‘Today, the eagle was removed, which Harriet and I bought for our home. (It was, however, an eagless.) At the same moment, I broke a Japanese vase; dry rose petals fell to the floor.’

20 April 1908
‘This evening she came again, like roses, loving and full of longing. Night came; she slept on my arm, but did not desire me until towards morning, then x x x’

21 April 1908
‘The whole morning, solely as roses. Later she disappeared! In the evening she returned, but went again. At night apathetic and calm until the morning,when she sought me x x x’

23 April 1908
‘A heavy day, spent in idleness. Slept much. H-t away, but towards evening could feel her stretching me below the chest. Went to bed, grew calmer. No contact with H-t during the night. I sought her but did not find her until 5 o’clock, x x’

24 April 1908
‘A glorious morning; H-t was with me all forenoon, gentle, loving, like flowers in my mouth! Now I believe that she is free, and that we are united! But no, she disappeared in the evening, when Axel came; and although I received a summons to go to bed at 10 o’clock, she was not there to meet me. Slept, and experienced faithlessness; had bad dreams but was left in peace until morning when she sought me with passion, but without love. I responded x x x.’

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