Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Taking it out on Strindberg

It is quite remarkable that Strindberg still manages to create such a stir and that so many people are outraged at what he wrote or said over a hundred years ago.
What is often forgotten is that he was such a multi-faceted person that you can find almost anything in his character. When people choose to highlight only his less attractive features and make a huge mountain of them it says more about the people criticizing Strindberg than it says about Strindberg. I have come across many people in my life who, after a heavy drinking session, may lash out in an uncharacteristic, venomous fashion. Feelings of suppressed anger, frustration and hatred rise to the surface and lands on unsuspecting bystanders. The devil drink doth stoke up fires in hell, indeed. Strindberg drank a lot, almost all his life. He also imbibed absinthe which could bring about symptoms similar to those associated with drugs. He was poisoning his brain with alcohol over the years and he never tried rehab, unlike his friend Edvard Munch.
I truly believe that the worst aspects of Strindberg were due to two things: his intake of alcohol and his fear of financial ruin. The daytime August, the Strindberg who played shops with his little daughter or her friends was the gentlest of creatures. The man who tended his garden and wrote lovingly of birds and plants was a harmless Strindberg. I don't deny that he sometimes said some awful things to people, some of whom had previously been his friends, but at least he wasn't hypocritical. He certainly didn't elevate himself. His last play, The Great Highway, is an important testament to his humility before God or 'the powers'.
Bless me, your poor mankind
Who suffers, suffers from your gift of life!
Me first whos suffered most
Whos suffered most and grieved
Because I couldnt be the man Id hoped to be!

He admitted that The Madman's Defence was a terrible book. He fell out with von Heidenstam but who wouldn't after he had revealed his true colours. He was disenchanted with Carl Larsson after he had met with success and become conservative. He was very close to his siblings, Anna and Axel, most of his life, but he also managed to fall out with them on some occasions. He adored his mentally fragile sister Elizabeth and he missed his late mother terribly.
Tor Aulin, the composer, stood by him right up to the end and so did several of his other friends.
Honesty hurts. Strindberg could be ruthlessly honest, not only to others but also to himself. Yes, it is uncomfortable, yes, he must have been jolly difficult to live with, but he possessed the fire, the greatest fire in Sweden, as he so boastfully put it. And thank God for that commitment and that passion which still engages people. He gave us a language that sparkles and burns and for that we are truly grateful.