Dramaten, Nybroplan, Stockholm, Sweden
August Strindberg’s death at the age of 63 in May 1912 made headlines throughout his native Sweden and beyond, with obituaries published in newspapers, magazines and periodicals that had once criticized him. It’s thought that some 60,000 people turned up to his funeral. A strange end for a man who’d spent his life standing up against the establishment. His first novel, Röda Rummet (The Red Room) was published in 1879, when August was 30. It depicted Swedish society as being riddled with fraud and utterly shambolic. Five years on, in 1884, he published a collection of short stories called Giftas (Getting Married). The stories seemed to promote women’s rights, which was something the more conservative elements in Swedish society didn’t like at all. The publication, and its second volume in which August Strindberg went so far as to deal with other, less traditional forms of union like that between two women, landed him in court. The charge was blasphemy. In the end, August was acquitted. But his experiences had left their mark. My view now, he wrote soon after, is that everything is shit. The plays he started to write in the years following were in revolt against contemporary social conventions. And they were made all the more shocking by their realistic settings and stark, unaffected dialogue. It was nothing like the overblown, heroic dramas the Swedish theatre-going public was used to seeing. Strindberg became a star. By the 1890s, however, Strindberg was battling addiction to alcohol. He was also struggling with mental health issues and loneliness. And the instability of his romantic life seemed to underpin it all. His last plays appeared in 1909, although he continued to publish poetry until 1912 when he died from pneumonia, brought on by stomach cancer. Some people seem born to suffer, Strindberg had written in his 1901 play, Påsk (Easter). He may have counted himself amongst them.