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August Strindberg was one of Sweden's most famous writers, known for more than 70 plays, novels, short stories and studies of Swedish history. He was also a painter, but only as a diversion during part of his life. As a writer,
he was a source of inspiration to the German expressionists, and as a painter, he adopted that style.
Strindberg was born in Stockholm, where his father, Carl Oscar Strindberg, proud of a trace of aristocratic blood, was a shipping agent, but his business success was relatively modest. Strindberg's mother, Ulrika Eleanora Norling, had a proletarian background. She was a tailor's daughter, who had been a domestic servant and become Carl Oscar's mistress. August was their third son; the couple had nine more children. Strindberg's childhood was poor and miserable – he was shy and family tensions depressed him. His mother died when he was 13 years old. After his father remarried, Strindberg came to hate his stepmother. To underline his sympathies with the lower-classes, Strindberg entitled his autobiography The Son of a Servant (1886).
In 1867 Strindberg entered the University of Uppsala, where he failed to pass the preliminary examination in chemistry. He worked for a short time at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, and wrote for the stage three plays that were rejected. Strindberg returned to his studies in Uppsala and completed in 1872 a senior candidacy. Back in Stockholm, Strindberg worked as a journalist and wrote the historical drama Master Olof about the introspective Swedish Protestant reformer Olaus Petri.
In 1874, Strindberg became an assistant librarian at the Royal Library, serving until his resignation in 1882. He married in 1877 Baroness Siri von Essen, who had been wife of Baron Carl Gustaf Wrangel, and was a member of the Swedish aristocracy in Finland. By the time of the marriage Siri was seven months pregnant; the child died and they had later three more children.
Strinberg´s first published novel, Roda Rummet (1879, The Red Room) was a satirical story about early capitalism and corruption in Stockholm and made him nationally famous and started his career as one of the most prominent figures in Nordic literature and culture. However, far from trying to establish himself as Sweden's national writer, Strindberg attacked the nation's central values, official history writing, and made himself unpopular among academic historians.
To escape the uproar which he had stirred up, and partly to follow the example of many other Scandinavian writers, Strindberg decided to travel abroad. He first moved in 1883 to France with his family and between the years 1884 and 1887 he lived with short interruptions in Switzerland. During this time he corresponded with Friedrich Nietzsche, and became interested of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Under financial and marital difficulties, Strindberg started to show symptoms of emotional crisis. Feelings of persecution were suppressed by heavy drinking of absinthe. Eventually he started to believe his wife wanted to have him locked away in a mental institution.
Living a complicated life of getting much attention for his writing, being attacked by literary critics, divorcing and remarrying, he became haunted by guilt, especially from deserting his children, and became possessed of a persecution mania. He also suffered from insomnia and psoriasis, and spent some weeks in the St. Louis Hospital in Paris. Between the years 1892 and 1897 Strindberg experienced several psychotic episodes, and recorded his tormented thoughts later in Inferno.
Turning to painting during this period, Strindberg created seascapes, which have been compared to the works of J.M.W. Turner. His favorite motifs included a vision from a cave toward the outside world and a wave breaking in open sea. With the help of Swedenborgian studies, and adopting the idea that certain people are destined to suffer, he emerged from the crisis. While spending the summer of 1892 on Dalaro, he produced about thirty paintings. His first exhibition held in the same year was not a success; only two canvases were sold.
Alone in Paris in the mid-1890s, Strindberg became interested in alchemy and tried to prove that it is possible to make gold. For his neighbor, Paul Gauguin he wrote an insightful letter which Gauguin uses as a preface to his catalog. "I cannot grasp your art and I cannot like it," Strindberg said. "But I know that this confession will neither surprise nor injure you, for you seem to me to be thoroughly fortified by the hatred of others; in its desire to be left alone, your character takes pleasure in the antipathy that it provokes." After stopping painting in 1905, Strindberg built with the photographer Herman Andersson the "Wunderkamera", with which he made photographic portraits.
Strindberg moved to Stockholm and focusing on religion and philosophy, he wrote thirty-six plays during the following productive years, 1898 to 1909. In 1908 he settled into a house he called "the Blue Tower". Faithful to his role as an iconoclast, Strindberg
fueled controversies with a
series of newspaper articles on social, literary, and political issues.
He died from stomach cancer on May 14, 1912. According to his wish, Strindberg was buried beneath wooden crucifixes with the inscription O Crux Ave Spes Unica.
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