Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Other gods and Gravesend

Between 1907 and until his death in 1912 Strindberg wrote down reflections and ideas in a book which he called A Blue Book. In this book he writes about love, jealousy, religion, philosophy. One entry caught my eye recently because it could have been written today. Like so many other authors around the end of the 19th century he studied Buddhism and  even incorporated Buddhist ideas into at least two of his later works. He was fascinated by Buddhism for a while, but he also saw the funny side of this appetite for new religions and the way the grass is always greener on the other side. In A Blue Book he writes: 'When Buddhism became fashionable in 1890 all renegades rushed in and tried to fill their religious vacuum. Six thousand new gods were acclaimed at once; the new trinity, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva did not raise any objections; spirits, ghosts, genies, fairies were natural phenomenons; Gautama's hells and heavens were part of the parcel; a little asceticism also belonged to the story. Those who recently had denied the resurrection found the reincarnation unproblematic. But the favourite, however, was Krishna. He was the god Vishnu who had been sent down to earth, and was born by human parents in order to save mankind. His arrival was prophesied and feared so that Bethlehem-like child murders were instigated on new-born children, but without success. Krishna fulfilled his mission and fought against evil, and he suffered and died voluntarily.
That was acceptable. The trinity Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva was alright, but The Father- The Son - The Holy Ghost was not. Krishna was acceptable but not Christ. How funny!'

Strindberg was never fond of England. He admired Dickens, Shakespeare and Turner and his paintings show quite clearly the influence by Turner, but during his brief visit to England in 1893 he couldn't wait to leave London and go back to the island of Rügen in North Germany where several of his friends were then staying. It didn't help that he and his second wife, Frida Uhl, arrived in Gravesend after a stormy crossing that had taken forty-eight hours.  Frida suffered terrible sea-sickness so they had to stay in Gravesend for a few days for her to recover.
When they reached London it was hot and stifling and he didn't know the language so he was miserable and wanted to leave at once. After ten days Frida pawned her lace and jewellery, including her wedding ring, and  managed to raise £5 which was enough for Strindberg's travelling expenses so he set off, leaving his new wife behind. Frida had been to a convent school in London and she knew the city well. She was hoping to make some contacts in the theatre or secure some contracts for Strindberg. At least that was her excuse. She found a small Swedish colony in Putney and suggested in a letter that they might settle down there. But Strindberg never returned to England. However, Frida's son, Friedrich Strindberg, lived there for some years, but despite having the same surname as August and consequently being his legal son, he was the offspring of an extra-marital relationship between Frida and Frank Wedekind. But more of that anon.