Biography & Memoir august-strindberg-portrait

Published on February 7th, 2013


Strindberg: A Life by Sue Prideaux

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Novelist, satirist, poet, photographer, painter, alchemist, and hellraiser – August Strindberg was all these, and yet he is principally known, in Arthur Miller’s words, as “the mad inventor of modern theater” who led playwriting out of the polite drawing room into the snakepit of psychological warfare. This biography, supported by extensive new research, describes the eventful and complicated life of one of the great literary figures in world literature.

(Yale University Press, 2012)

Sam Leith, The Spectator

What an absolutely extraordinary man August Strindberg was, and what a tormented, demented life he led! I haven’t read such a fascinating biography for ages … Prideaux contends that if only he hadn’t been writing in Swedish he’d be regarded as one of the founders of modern literature, and by the end — though this isn’t a critical biography — you’re more than ready to believe her … [A] marvellous book

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Irving Wardle, The Literary Review

Deeply researched and engrossing … To his friend Carl Larsson, Strindberg’s life resembled a cyclone, which seems as close as you can get to a last word. Strindberg’s own term for it was la multiplicité de moi. To get purchase on what this means you have to retreat from the many-sided individual and locate him in his history and his times, a job Prideaux carries out with unfailing flair.

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Tim Auld, The Daily Telegraph

In Prideaux’s hands, Strindberg, a vulnerable but also naively determined man, with striking chaotic hair like a combed back walnut whip, comes vividly to life. Indeed, the joy of her book is in the detail, from quoted letters and diaries and some stunning photography. Strindberg’s personal writings are at times full of the most intimate sexual revelations … This is by no means a definitive literary biography (the misogyny of Strindberg’s startling preface to Miss Julie is, rather frustratingly, glossed over), but Prideaux does manage to tell an extraordinarily weird story with some panache.

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Claudia Fitzherbert, The Sunday Telegraph

Prideaux is a deft guide to the absinthe-heavy bohemian underworlds of Berlin and Paris which Strindberg inhabited for much of the 1890s. As for the misogyny, she deals with the charge by avoiding the label as she describes her subject’s transformation from passionate emancipator to paranoid would-be jailer.

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John Carey, The Sunday Times 

Writing the biography of a frenzied, unstable genius like Strindberg is an enormous challenge, and Prideaux rises to it with fine authority. My one complaint is that she does not give us enough of Strindberg’s writing. She makes big claims for little known works: The People of Hemso (1887) is “the great comic novel of Swedish literature”, his history plays have earned him the title of “the Swedish Shakespeare”. But she never quotes a sentence of Strindberg’s that sets the imagination aflame, and her own translations of his poetry can be close to doggerel. What she does, though, is make him human.

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Scotland on Sunday

This key revelation [a sex scandal which may have inspired Miss Julie gives the first part of Prideaux’s exhaustively researched biography its shape, and is a deft piece of detective work. Unfortunately, in the very next chapter we are taken back to the very beginning of Strindberg’s life. The dramatic material here is promising. Strindberg’s childhood was disrupted by his father’s bankruptcy and his mother’s death, and the young Strindberg became the focus of his father’s disappointments. All of this, however, struggles to emerge from pages of detail about Sweden’s role in the Napoleonic War, the unique constitutional arrangement of Sweden’s Four Estates and the fecklessness of the Swedish monarchy. Prideaux is surprisingly leaden when it comes to bringing the historical background to life.

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