Symbolism in the works of August Strindberg

Franchuk, Edward S. (1989) Symbolism in the works of August Strindberg. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In many ways, Strindberg's works are among the most paradoxical in modern literature. Violently misogynistic, they nevertheless reveal a man who worships Woman, cannot live without her, loathing her as Mistress but adoring her as Mother; almost brutal in the violence of their emotions, they are at the same time gentle in the irony of their humour; totally unorthodox in their theology, they are profoundly religious; even when most naturalistic (as in Froken Julie: Miss Julie), they are highly symbolic. The leading practitioner of naturalistic drama is also the father of the theatre of the absurd.
However unlike his works might appear to one another, and whatever the seeming contradictions and inconsistencies among the various ideas espoused and championed by Strindberg at different points in his career, his themes remained the same: his own life, the struggle for dominance between the sexes, psychological domination through the power of suggestion, the problem of the existence of evil and suffering in the world, and the influence of the supernatural on human life and history. And whatever his literary genre -- drama, poetry, novel, short story, satire, history, autobiography, scientific or philological treatise, political, philosophical, or religious essay -- these themes are expressed and developed through a rich and evocative symbolism drawn not only from the tribal treasury of archetypal images, but supplemented, shaped and refined by his own experience, imagination, and subconscious. An examination of his symbolism, then, will not only elucidate the works by making our interpretation of them surer, but should reveal a consistency and logical development in his writing not always apparent with other approaches.
Symbolism can be seen as a kind of shorthand: a way of enriching a text which, particularly in drama, poetry, and the short story, is often more or less severely constrained in terms of length: by drawing on universal or traditional symbols, the author can suggest levels of meaning, connections, and associations which extend his work beyond the limits imposed on it. In more extended literary genres, such as the novel, on the other hand, symbolism is often used only sparingly. Over the course of his career, an author also builds up a set of personal symbols, drawn from his experience, his reading, his interests, and, ultimately, his view of the world; his work cannot be fully understood without an awareness of these symbols. This study seeks to identify Strindberg's symbols, to search out their meanings, to relate them to each other, to the works in which they occur, and to the body of work as a whole, and to suggest, wherever possible, their sources.
The overwhelming tendency in Strindberg studies is to approach the works as biographical and/or psychological documents. His habits of working from living models (a practice he called vivisection), of fictionalizing his own experiences, and of meticulously documenting his life and his intellectual and spiritual development make this inevitable. This study does not ignore the author's biography (impossible in such an autobiographical writer), but seeks to place the emphasis elsewhere, on the more exclusively literary concern of meaning (as opposed to reference).
Strindberg always considered himself primarily a dramatist, and indeed it is almost exclusively as such that the non-Swedish world knows him. It is, therefore, with Strindberg's plays that this study is primarily concerned. He was, however, a prolific writer, covering most genres, and much of his non-dramatic writing expands upon, explains, or provides the source for, the symbolism of the plays. With two or three minor exceptions (noted in the text), I have therefore looked at all of Strindberg's published works; those not mentioned have been omitted because they do not contribute in any significant way to an understanding of his symbolism.
Preference has been given to the Swedish texts in the twenty-two volumes which have appeared so far in
the ongoing "National Edition" (Samlade verk: Collected Works); for works which have not yet appeared there, I have used, in the first instance Gunnar Brandell's Skrifter (Writings, the Swedish edition which Glasgow University Library possesses), and, for works that
appear in neither of those editions, John Landquist's monumental Samalade skrifter (Collected Writings). Although I have often consulted various English translations,
the translations of cited passages are my own, except where noted. Biblical quotations are cited from a variety of English translations, in an attempt to stay as close as possible to the Swedish wording cited by Strindberg; when it is a question of simply providing
a reference, I have preferred to cite The Jerusalem Bible. In a few instances, where no English translation could be found which corresponded satisfactorily to Strindberg's version (whether through an anomaly of the Swedish translation he used -- presumably the Karl XII
Bible -- or through his own deliberate or unconscious misquotation), I have translated the citation literally.
In quotations (and in their translations), underlined ellipses (...) are Strindberg's own; those not so distinguished (...) indicate an omission from the text. In a few instances, when scenes in the Swedish text are unnumbered, I have supplied numbers as an aid to locating cited passages in a translation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PA Classical philology
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities
Supervisor's Name: Arnott, Professor James, Røsegg, Miss Oddveig and Schumacher, Mr. Claude
Date of Award: 1989
Depositing User: Alastair Arthur
Unique ID: glathesis:1989-41056
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2019 14:33
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2019 14:56

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