Sunday, 30 September 2012

Talking about Strindberg

August has followed me everywhere this year so far and if things work out we shall stick together until the end of the year, like an old couple. Maybe it is time to live apart for a while after that. We shall see.
 I am amazed at how many people are jumping on the bandwagon this centenary year and holding forth about the most incredible aspects of him. Is there any Swedish writer who has been so thoroughly examined and dissected even after his death, I wonder? In many cases he did a better job himself in his autobiographical or semi-autobiographical books and I can't help wondering whether some of the new Strindberg 'experts' may have exploited  this centenary without any real research or depth behind them. I have just come back  from the Gothenburg Book Fair and wherever you turned  there was someone  speaking with great conviction but not always matched by knowledge about August Strindberg.
I remember Mary Sandbach, a chain-smoking grande dame who translated some prose works by Strindberg in the seventies. When my first volume of Strindberg plays came out she was obviously very suspicious of me and wondered where I was coming from and who I was to enter her field, so to speak. Since I rarely touched the prose she forgave me but after that I had Michael Meyer to contend with. He was the drama translator par preference when it came to Scandinavian authors from the sixties onwards. His Swedish was not perfect but at least he had lived in the country and he spoke the language - albeit with a strong accent and with many linguistic mistakes. However, we locked horns on one occasion, but since I realised I couldnt afford to have him as an enemy I told him straightaway that he would never find any of his phrases or expressions in my translations. I also told him that I never look at another translators work when I am translating and he could rest assured that I would only work from the original. He gave me one long look and after that we were friends.
This year will see me travelling all over the place, giving talks on a number of subjects related to Strindberg: Translation problems from Swedish to English, How to teach Strindberg to teenagers, Strindberg productions that my husband and I have been involved in, Strindberg and his women - of course, Strindberg and drama, Strindberg in my life, Faith and doubt in Strindbergs work, etc. Some are in English and some in Swedish. Several talks are written in both languages.
So what has this year taught me? I will have given more than a dozen talks in all by the time I return from my last trip in December. Most audiences have been very attentive, appreciative and grateful, but there have been quite small gatherings. People havent exactly been bending over backwards to listen or buy the book, Strindberg and Love or the Swedish version, Lite djävul, lite ängel, Strindberg och hans kvinnor. We cant compete with self-revelatory books, feel good books or Cookery and Gardening books.  There may be slightly more interest in him after this year of celebrations but do not let us be deceived by that. He is still an oddball, viewed with suspicion by the young.  And it is going to be very hard to change his image. To many he will remain the madman and the misogynist.