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Miss Julie and Its Preface: The Foundation of a Critical Conflict

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    From its first publication and performance, August Strindberg's play "Miss Julie" has been the source of critical controversy and debate. Written in the span of little more than one month in the summer of 1888, the play was banned or censored throughout Europe in the late Nineteenth Century. Because it dealt with situations and attitudes deemed morally or socially offensive (the daughter of an aristocrat seduces her father's valet, and he, in turn, coerces her to commit suicide) the initial negative reaction to the play was rooted in generalized, fanatical, self righteous outrage and did not seek to deal with or engage the text in any specific manner. Instead, "Miss Julie" was a convenient target, symptomatic of all that was corrupting and dangerous in an increasingly progressive world. By the early Twentieth Century, however, more focused moral and artistic critiques were leveled at Strindberg's self proclaimed naturalistic tragedy, a discussion that continues to thrive even today. Though some of the moral and social issues may have lost their radical edge in later decades, there is still an ongoing, lively, and deeply divided debate.


            This is not to suggest that these modern critical concerns have forged superior or even different links with the past or to this piece of literature. On the contrary, I would submit that Strindberg himself, as a literary critic of his own work, established (consciously or unconsciously) the fundamental guidelines and ground rules for the interpretive controversies that have followed.  By creating a dynamic tension between his theoretical, essentially pragmatic intentions in his "Preface to Miss Julie" and his creative achievements in " Miss Julie" itself, Strindberg's e...

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...wledge our inquiry provides centers around the critical orientation of each voice sounded in the debate.


Works Cited

Henderson Archibald. European Dramatists. Cincinnati: Stewart and Kidd Co., 1913.

Heller, Otto. Prophets of Dissent. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1918.

Sprinchorn, Evert. Strindberg as Dramatist. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982.

Strindberg, August. "Preface to Miss Julie". Michael Meyer trans., 1888. Rpt. in Strindberg Plays: One. Michael Meyer trans.

Reading, UK: Cox and Wyman Ltd., 1993.

---. "Miss Julie". Michael Meyer trans., 1888. Rpt. in Strindberg Plays: One. Michael Meyer trans. Reading, UK: Cox and Wyman Ltd., 1993.

Tornqvist, Egil and Jacobs, Barry. Strindberg's Miss Julie: A Play and Its Transpositions. Norwich: Norvik, 1988.

Williams, Raymond. Drama: From Ibsen to Brecht. New York: Oxford UP, 1968.

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