Roberto Alonge
Between Marx and Freud, “Fröken Julie”
The title of my paper may seem provocative, but it is not. In fact, all major
nineteenth-century drama is under the aegis of Marx and Freud. On the one hand, a
careful attention to the problems of society, to class conflicts, to the issues of work, of
career emerge; on the other hand, the probing of the vital instincts, of the deepest
desires, of the violence of the unconscious appears. In Ibsen’s theatre – the theatre of
the greatest playwright of the century – we find the self-made man, the vigorous
protagonist of the capitalistic economy, but also, at the same time, the monsters of the
unconscious. The incest fantasy is an obsessive theme in Ibsen’s work, from
Rosmersholm to Hedda Gabler, not to mention The Master Builder, where
paedophilia emerges in the sequence of the passionate kiss between Solness, an
elderly man, and Hilde, a twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl.
Strindberg must be read in this context. In Fröken Julie, on a Midsummer night
– a ritual occasion of orgiastic outburst – Julie and her servant Jean clash. The popular
dance rages off-stage, and Julie, excited by the atmosphere of disorder and
transgression, invites the servant to dance, in spite of Kristin, the cook, who is having
a love affair with Jean. What immediately strikes us is Julie’s attitude, which appears
to be very active, dynamic, vigorous, masculine. She is the one to enter the feminine
area represented by the kitchen (where Jean is, together with Kristin). She goes in and
out, coming from the external haystack area, where a riot of popular dancing is going
on, to ask Jean to dance with her. Jean cannot refuse her twice-repeated invitation, but
each time flees to Kristin’s kitchen at the end of the dance. And twice Julie hunts him
down, pursues him. Julie is the only character who takes initiatives, who uses her
hands, who touches, who affects her surroundings: she hits Jean in the face with her
scented handkerchief (to hurt and seduce at the same time); she grasps Kristin’s nose
when the latter falls asleep on a chair; she strikes Jean’s eye with her hand. On a
Midsummer night, rich – à la Shakespeare – in orgiastic drives, Julie is visibly excited
and her period (which she is having at the moment) heightens her lust. We may say
that Julie is lusting as if she was a bitch on heat. And, interestingly, her pet dog
Diana, her mistress’s doppelganger, is pregnant by the caretaker’s dog (but Julie has
quickly ordered her cook to prepare a concoction which will cause her to have an
abortion). Julie’s sexuality is totally estranged from any fertility issue, and is rather
characterised by typically aggressive, brutal, very masculine overtones, with
essentially sadistic connotations. In Kristin’s opinion, the woman is so crazy because
fifteen days earlier her engagement was broken; but let us listen to Jean when he
relates the engagement-breaking scene (which he secretly watched, with a voyeuristic
De hölls på stallgårn en afton och fröken trånerade honom som kon kallade det - vet du hur det gick
till? Jo, hon lät honom springa över ridspöet som en hund man lär hoppa. Han sprang två gångern
och fick ett rapp för var gång; men tredje tog han ridspöet ur handen på henne, bröt det I tusen bitar;
och så gick han. (p. 120)1
They were out in the stable yard one evening and she was ‘training’ him, as she called it. Do you
know what happened? She made him leap over her riding whip, the way you teach a dog to jump.
He jumped it twice and got a lash each time; but the third time he snatched the whip from her hand
and broke it into pieces. And then he vanished.
The mention of the “dog” (hund) is interesting. Julie is a bitch on heat who wants a
faithful dog as a partner, a submissive lover, eager to wag his tail like a puppy. There
may be a reference to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Helena
proclaims herself her beloved Demetrius’s faithful spaniel, begging to be used as his
dog, despised, ready to be struck2. Julie’s problem is that all her dogs are unfaithful to
her (her fiancé, but also her pet dog Diana, which betrayed her with the caretaker’s
cur). Even Jean keeps evading her, in his gestures and words.
At the second invitation, Jean begins by replying that he is engaged with Kristin
for that dance; then, more explicitly, he goes on to say that it is not proper for the
Count’s daughter to dance with the same partner twice in a row. The expression “två
gånger efter verann” (“twice in a row”) implies that, after Jean left her at the end of
the first dance, Julie did not dance with anyone else, but immediately ran after him.
Finally, Jean states that it is not proper for her to show preference for an employee
over so many others. A climax is brought about by the variation in the manners of
speech employed. Jean begins with a polite expression: “Jag vill inte vara oartig mot
någon” (p. 124), “I don’t wish to be impolite to anyone”, while the stage direction
indicates a “dröjande”, “hesitant” Jean. But he then goes on to employ a clearer and
more explicit expression: “Uppriktigt talat, men utan att vilja såra, så undrar jag ändå
om […]” (“Well said, but not wishing any offence, I wonder if […]”). Lastly, he
becomes definitely rude, almost harsh: “Efter fröken inte vill förstå, så måste jag tala
tydligare” (“Since Miss Julie does not understand I must speak plainly”). But Julie
imposes herself, she deals with Kristin directly, man to man, so to speak: “Var inte
orolig Kristin! Jag ska inte ta din fästman ifrån dig!” (p. 125), “Don’t be alarmed,
Kristin, I shall not take your sweetheart away from you”.
Jean’s behaviour is really that of a young virgin harassed by her master. As I
have said, there is a second invitation to dance and a second flight by Jean, who again
takes refuge in the kitchen, with Kristin. The idea of repetition is expressed by the
language of the text, which employs the same terms. After the first dance, Jean stated,
entering the kitchen: “Miss Julie is crazy again tonight; absolutely crazy!” (“I kväll är
fröken Julie galen igen; komplett galen!”, p. 119). And now, when he comes in after
the second flight: “But she is crazy! To dance like that! And people stand grinning at
her behind the doors” (“Ja men hon är galen! Ett sådant sätt att dansa! Och folket står
och grinar åt henne bakom dörrarne”, p. 127). He uses the same adjective, “galen”
(“crazy”), but also the same verb, which significantly – the second time – is italicised:
not just a mistress who “is crazy tonight”, but a mistress who “is crazy”,
unconditionally so, who is always crazy, and not just tonight. It is worth noticing that
the Ibsenian universe made of half-closed doors beyond which someone is always
eavesdropping emerges even in Fröken Julie. The Ibsenian verb is lytte, and the
Swedish one is the cognate “lyssna”. At the end of the Pantomime (which shows
Kristin alone on stage, while the two have gone off to dance), Kristin “goes to the
door at the back and eavesdrops” (“Därpå ut i dörren och lyssnar”, p. 126). We have
also heard Jean’s statement: “And people stand grinning at her behind the doors”. And
earlier he had already related how he had secretly watched the engagement-breaking
scene between Julie and her fiancé. I think it is even likely – in this context – that
Jean, perfectly knowing that (because of his second flight) the young mistress will
soon appear again, may be striking a pose, so as to be provocatively found in a
suitable attitude, with his arm around Kristin’s waist, while he is whispering sweet
words to her:
JEAN (lägger handen om hennes liv) Du är en förståndig flicka Kristin och du skulle bli en bra
FRÖKEN (in; obehagligt överraskad; med tvungen skämtsamhet) Ni är just en charmant kavaljer
som springer ifrån er dam.
JEAN Tvärtom, fröken Julie, som ni ser har jag skyndat uppsöka min övergivna ! (p. 127)
JEAN (puts his arm around her waist) You’re a pretty smart girl, Kristin, and you should make a
good wife.
MISS (enters; disagreeably surprised, but with forced gaiety) You’re a charming escort to run away
from your Lady.
JEAN On the contrary, Miss Julie, I have hastened to my neglected one, as you see.
It is perfectly clear that this is a charade. We are faced with the only superficially kind
gesture and words Jean offers Kristin, who literally hangs upon his lips, and who also
is his social inferior (she employs a formal style of address in talking to him, while he
addresses her informally). Note how he normally treats her when he is alone with her,
tête-à-tête. In other words, Jean uses Kristin to provoke Julie, to tease her, always
within the poor harassed virgin strategic plan, a virgin who can however count on a
partner at his own level, Kristin. Julie upbraids him for leaving his lady on her own,
and Jean replies that, on the contrary, he has quite properly gone back to regain his
true neglected lady, i.e. Kristin.
The game between seducer and harassed victim continues for the whole first
part of the play. Note Jean’s virginal demureness when he changes his jacket: “Then I
have to beg milady to withdraw a little, because my jacket hangs there” (“Då måste
jag be fröken avlägsna sig ett ögonblick, för min svarta rock hänger här…”, p. 127).
Or consider his irritated prudery: “But this mustn’t go any further, Miss Julie. What if
someone should come in and see us?” (“Detta går inte an längre! fröken; någon skulle
kunna komma och se oss!”, p. 132). The scene in which Julie undertakes to remove a
speck from Jean’s eye, which she caused when she accidentally hurt him with her
sleeve, is another amusing upside-down situation (she, the rough and at the same time
attentive man; and he, the delicate, slightly crumpled maid...). The mistress-servant
relationship is employed to cover up a turbid dynamic of gender inversions: the
mistress is always a master, always masculine, active, violent; the male servant is
always a female servant, a prey, passive, subjugated. Jean continues complying: he
goes on his knees and kisses her foot; and this is what really sets Julie on fire (“she
gazes intently at him” – the stage-direction says – “hon ruvar honom med ögonen”, p.
135), inflaming her desire for him: she hits him on the hand, she touches his arms, she
wants him to kiss her hand, she insults him calling him Joseph (the chaste Joseph
whom Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce in the Old Testament).
At this moment, however, comes the turning point. Every sadistic behaviour is
at the same time a masochistic behaviour, and vice versa. Once the climax of
humiliation is reached, and he is treated as a little virgin, Jean rebels, embraces the
woman, tries to kiss her. Julie slaps him, but thus the inversion of roles is started. The
apogee of the masochistic humiliation innervates the violence of reprisal. The
passage, however, is neither rough nor automatic; rather, it is gradual, mediated by a
white area of tenderness, of sentimental sweetness. Jean talks about his childhood
love, playing on the woman’s eternal propensity to be carried away by a captivating
power of speech. Jean conquers Julie in the way women are always conquered,
talking continually, cynically and thoroughly playing on emotions, on reassuring (and
of course false) promises: he goes down on his knees, he swears he will never show a
lack of respect for her. He again offers the stereotypical image of himself as a faithful
dog, (“a dog may lie on the sofa of a Countess”, “En hund kan få ligga I grevinnans
soffa”, p. 141), but along a new line, that of affection, instead of the erotic-ferine line:
just enough to allow Jean to get control of the situation. When Julie agrees to enter the
servant’s room, Jean “follows her violently” (“häftigt efter”, p. 146). It is the first hint
of an inversion of roles which takes place off-stage.
The juncture embodying the transition from the first to the second part of the
plot is nonetheless dramatic, and Strindberg, in fact, invents a strong sign of this, the
peasants’ irruption. The orgiastic subtext of the play, which has been exorcised,
restrained until now, finally explodes. The wild Saint John revelry bursts into the
master’s space; it cannot be confined any longer to the marginal space (which is also
the servant’s space) of the granary. Licence and chaos break social barriers into pieces
and overflow into the Count’s kitchen. The stage direction for this intermezzo is brief,
but the peasants’ mimed action – they dance, sing, and drink – cannot be too short,
and anyway must be significant and forceful. After this peasant assault the kitchen
will not be the same any longer: it will be soiled, filthy, ravaged (as first Julie’s and
later Kristin’s reaction will reveal). On the other hand this subversive inversion
accompanies and redoubles the violence which is continuing off-stage. The peasants
conquer their master’s kitchen at the same time as Jean physically conquers his
mistress’s body. The rustics’ sudden protagonism prepares for and foreruns Jean’s
new face.
In the second segment of Fröken Julie, in fact, Jean reacquires his male self, and
Julie recovers her female self. As the former is rational, lucid, self-assured, so the latter
is the prey of emotions, confused, insecure, even scared. The bewitching influence of
Saint John’s night, however, still allows for some further liberating metamorphoses: the
servant experiences the gestures of power, of rule, and the master those of subjection
and obedience. While earlier it was Jean who kneeled, it is Julie who does so now
(during the lines in which Jean shouts «a whore is a whore» at her). Needless to persist
in remembering all Jean’s cruel and despotic words and actions. Rather, it is more
important to realise the consistency and constancy of his plan. If Julie is a wretched
lost female, forlorn, with no reference point left, Jean has a plan of his own, which he
puts forward several times over, firmly but also with an elastic flexibility. Julie cannot
accept living in that house as her servant’s mistress, competing for the man with her
own cook. She asks him to flee, but, in fact, if we read the text carefully, we discover
that it is Jean who proposes fleeing as a solution. Jean “in; exalterad” (p. 148), “enters
excited”. Why excited? Because he is the lover of the lady, of his superior. But the
male chauvinist satisfaction does not last long, and is supplanted by the plan of the
proletarian who wants to become a master:
JEAN [...] Anser ni det möjligt att stanna här?
FRÖKEN Nej! Det anser jag inte! Men vad skola vi så göra!
JEAN Fly, resa, långt härifrån !
FRÖKEN Resa? Ja, men vart?
JEAN Till Schweiz, till Italienska sjöarna; – där har ni aldrig varit?
FRÖKEN Nej! Är det vackert där?
JEAN Åh, en evig sommar, oranger, lagrar, åh !
FRÖKEN Men vad ska vi sedan göra där?
JEAN Där sätter jag opp ett hotell med första klassens varor och första klassens kunder.
FRÖKEN Hotell?
JEAN Det är ett liv skall ni tro; oupphörligt nya ansikten, nya språk; inte en minuts ledighet till
grubbel eller nerver; intet letande efter sysselsättning, då arbetet ger sig själv; natt och dag klockan
som ringer, tåget som blåser, omnibussen som kommer och går; under det guldstyckena rulla på
byrån. Det är ett liv!
FRÖKEN Ja, det är att leva! Och jag?
JEAN Husets härskarinna; firmans prydnad. […]
(pp. 148-149)
JEAN [...] Do you think it's possible for us to remain here any longer?
MISS No, I don't! But what's to be done!
JEAN Flee, travel, far from here!
MISS Travel? Yes, but where to?
JEAN To Switzerland, to the Italian lakes - have you never been there?
MISS No! Is it beautiful?
JEAN Oh, an eternal summer, oranges, laurels, oh!
MISS But what shall we do there?
JEAN I'll open a first-class hotel for first-class customers.
MISS Hotel?
JEAN That is life, you shall see; new faces constantly, new languages. Not a moment for troubles
or nerves; always something to do; night and day the bell ringing, the trains whistling, the omnibus
coming and going; all the time the gold pieces rolling into the till. That is life!
MISS Yes, that is life! And I?
JEAN The queen of the house; the pride of the firm. [...]
Jean plans to rise socially; he belongs to a class of people who have been humiliated
and injured, to the lowest class, and therefore he wishes to participate in high-society
life. We must observe the repetition of the adjective “första” (“first”): “first-class
hotel”, “first-class customers”. Jean does not dream of an idle life in high society.
Jean is a proletarian who has the character of the self-made man. The blood of the
bourgeois runs in his veins. He is fulfilled in his work. There is an epic overtone in his
words: “night and day the bell ringing, the trains whistling, the omnibus coming and
going; all the time the gold pieces rolling into the till”. The hotel is the appropriate
image of non-stop work, without pause, night and day – a frenetic rhythm of work, of
railway and road traffic which ends with the rolling of the money into the till (“på
byrån”). Work is money. Note the construction of the speech, which begins and ends
with the same expression, in a circular way: “Det är ett liv”, “That is life”. Obviously,
Julie is not persuaded by this prospect. She repeats Jean’s emphatic expression, but
she marks a difference: “Det är att leva! Och jag?”, “Yes, that is life! And I?”. Julie’s
ego does not feel at ease in that furious dimension of work and profit. Jean’s answer is
only partially reassuring: “Husets härskarinna; firmans prydnad”, “The queen of the
house, the pride of the firm”. Jean does not neglect to pay tribute to the high status of
his interlocutor, the Count’s daughter, whom he calls “Queen”, but, in fact, he is more
interested in the economic success of the “firm” (he says: “the pride of the firm”). His
language moves between the aristocratic and the bourgeois level. The capitalist
system is Jean’s obsession: the firm, but also the job, discipline, professional
competence. Julie affirms that his plan needs “stort kapital” (p. 152), “a large capital”,
and she asks whether he has it, but Jean replies quietly:
Jag! Helt visst! Jag har mina fackkunskaper, min oerhörda erfarenhet, min språkkännedom! Det är
kapital som duger vill jag tro! (p. 152).
I! To be sure! I have my professional experience, my vast practice, my knowledge of different
languages! Such capital counts, I should say!
Jean cannot understand that Julie’s point of view is completely different. Julie
is not interested in money, and in noble blood. She wants love, passion. “Allt det där
är bra! Men Jean – du skall ge mig mod – Säg att du älskar mig!” (p. 149), “That’s all
very well! But Jean – you must give me courage – Tell me that you love me!”. The
dialogue, here, is between two people who do not listen to each other. Jean is unable
to simulate love, or, at least, to hide his target. He is very brutal in confessing his plan
as a social climber. Jean comes on stage again, after the night of love, and “tar upp en
kommunikationstabell ur fickan” (p. 149), “takes a timetable from his pocket”. He has
already studied the route and he has checked the connections: “vi äro i Malmö
klockan sex och trettio; Hamburg åtta och fyrtio i morgon tidigt; Frankfurt – Basel en
dag och i Como genom Gotthardbanan om, låt mig se, tre dar! Tre dar!” (p. 149), “We
can be at Malmö at half past six, at Hamburg at twenty to nine tomorrow morning, at
Frankfurt - Basel the day after, and at Como by the Saint Gothard route in about, let
me see, three days! Three days!”. He does not even have the money for the railway
ticket, but he thinks that the Count’s daughter is “en förlagsman, som kan försträcka
fonderna” (p. 152), “a backer who can furnish the funds”.
Here appears the first break. Julie confesses she has no money. This revelation
introduces a hard element of tension between the two characters. Sex united them on
the legendary Midsummer night, but now, when the project of a joint venture, of the
harmonious life in the first-class hotel does not work, social differences and
resentments emerge again. Not even the intimacy of sex allowed Jean to be on firstname terms with Julie: “Ni! – Säg du! Mellan oss finns inga skrankor mer ! – Säg du !
” (p. 150); we can translate in English, as closely as possible: “Don’t call me Lady! –
Call me Julie! Between us there can be no more barriers! Call me Julie!”. But it is
very interesting to find the first time that Julie too – talking to Jean – uses the formal
Swedish ni again. It happens exactly here, when the Swiss hotel dream fails, because
of Julie’s lack of money:
FRÖKEN Det kan jag inte, och jag äger intet själv.
JEAN Då förfaller hela saken – – –
FRÖKEN Och – – –
JEAN Det blir som det är!
FRÖKEN Tror ni att jag stannar under detta tak som er frilla? Tror ni att jag vill låta folket peka
finger åt mig; tänker ni att jag kan se min far i ansiktet efter detta? [...]
(pp. 152-153)
MISS I can’t at all, as I have nothing myself.
A pause.
JEAN Then the whole matter drops – – –
MISS And – – –
JEAN Things remain as they are!
MISS Do you believe I could stay under this roof as your mistress? Do you believe I will allow
people to point at me in scorn? Do you think I can ever look my father in the face again after that?
When Jean re-establishes a distance, and thinks everything will go back as it was, then
Julie goes back to a formal address, employing the Swedish ni again. But going back
is impossible, as Julie correctly observes. Their former life cannot be recovered, after
the night the lady and her servant spent together. Julie cannot look her father in the
face any longer, or the cook, whose partner she stole. In this situation, which is
formally back to its former shape, Jean is the triumphant class enemy who humiliated
the Lady he serves. And it is exactly this difference, this inversion, that Strindberg
renders through the exhausting first-name game. In the very instant Julie goes back to
a formal address in speaking to the servant, the servant – for the first time in the
whole play – adopts an informal address. At the height of erotic passion, of deep
physical intimacy, Jean did not dare to call her simply “Julie”, but he dares familiarity
now, in the middle of the conflict:
JEAN [...] Var nu inte nervös och spela inte fin, för nu äro vi lika goda kålsupare! – Se så min flicka
lilla, kom så ska jag bjuda dig på ett glas extra! (p. 153)
JEAN [...] Don’t be nervous, don’t act the lady: now we are at the same level! – Look here, my
chick, I’ll offer you a glass of first-rate stuff!
When the servant appropriates one of the Count’s bottles of Bourgogne, the
Lady labels Jean as a thief. Insults follow insults, and the clash develops as a vortex:
FRÖKEN […] Nej dräng är dräng…
JEAN Och hora är hora!
FRÖKEN Lakej, domestik, stig upp när jag talar!
JEAN Lakej-frilla, domestik-pyscha, håll mun och gå ut här-ifrån. Skall du komma och förehålla
mig att jag är rå? […] Tror du att någon piga antastar manfolk som du; har du sett någon flicka av
min klass bjuda ut sig på det sättet? Sådant har jag bara sett bland djur och fallna kvinnor!
(p. 155-157)
MISS […] A servant is a servant…
JEAN And a whore is a whore!
MISS Lackey, servant, stand up when I speak!
JEAN Mistress of a lackey, slut of a servant, shut up and go away. Should I be reproved for
grossness by you? […] Do you think female servants harass men as you do? Have you ever seen any
girl of my class offering herself as you did? I’ve seen such things only among beasts and prostitutes!
In the very moment they violently clash, and only then, the two characters agree in
employing the familiar, informal style of address. Not love, but class hate leads to
intimacy, and to an equal standing in the relationship.
Among the last insults Jean utters, the reference to “beasts” is remarkable. Julie
has behaved as a “beast”. A little later it is Julie who returns the accusation, using it
against Jean.
FRÖKEN […] Jag skulle vilja låta döda er som ett djur…
JEAN “Den brottslige dömes till två års straffarbete och djuret dödas!” Inte så?
(p. 164)
MISS […] I would like to have you killed as a beast...
JEAN “Let the criminal be convicted to hard labour for two years, and the beast be killed”. Isn’t it
In these lines the same noun returns (“beast”) and the same funereal outcome
(“killed”). Jean is quoting an article of the contemporary Swedish penal code against
sexual intercourse with animals. Jean is the “beast” to be “killed”, being involved in
man’s sexual practice. The master is to the servant what the man is to the beast. Julie
is the man, the seducer, and Jean is the female, the seduced. But it is worth noticing
that in those times zoophily was prosecuted because it was a sterile sexual practice,
producing no offspring, and therefore against nature. Homosexuality too was
perceived as a crime, for the same reason. The shadow of against-nature sterility
penetrates the nocturnal love meeting between the two characters. No doubt, Julie is
driven by a deep rejection of fertility. She forces an abortion on her bitch, which was
But let us go back a little. In the first part of the play, Jean says that, as a child,
he wished to see the world of his noble and powerful masters, but he could not see
them: “Som hökar och falkar, dem man sällan får se på ryggen för att de mest svävar
däroppe!” (p. 140), “One seldom sees the backs of sparrow-hawks and falcons, for
they mostly soar up above”. But in the second part of the play, after the two characters
have had sex, we find this dialogue:
FRÖKEN Och nu har ni sett höken på ryggen – – –
JEAN Inte precis på ryggen – – –
(p. 156)
MISS Now you have seen the back of the sparrow-hawk – – –
JEAN Not exactly the back – – –
Strindberg uses italics when Jean repeats “back”. An allusion can be perceived: back
alludes to the other side, the arse. Another shadow seems to emerge, that of anal
intercourse. Is it a feature of the sexual outburst in the magic night or, rather, an erotic
alternative to a type of intercourse Julie’s period made problematic? In fact,
Strindberg gives us an apparently uncalled-for piece of information, that Julie has her
period. Is this a way to highlight the passionate nature of Julie, who desires to have
sex in spite of her period? Or is another meaning, a deeper meaning, implied?
We will come back to this issue. For the moment, let us reflect on the fact that
Jean seems to be gratuitously provocative. Why does he take the Count’s Burgundy,
thus showing himself as a squalid wine thief? How comes it that he – who was so
fastidious and refined earlier, when he was drinking in front of Kristin, and he
demanded a wine-glass, and took care to warm the glass with his hand – why does
he choose to fill two glasses which have already been used? In fact, he is pursuing a
dim although precise purpose. He deliberately aims at humiliating the woman, at
mortifying her, in order for her to understand that there is no way out for her, except
at his side, as joint manager of the first-class hotel. In more suggestive terms: Jean
induces her to call him a thief so that she may be compelled to become a thief. It is
Jean who is leading the game, who enforces the next step, robbing the Count’s coffer:
“Gå opp och kläd er; förse er med respengar och kom så ner!” (p. 169), “Go up and get
dressed; take the travelling money and then come down”. Therefore, somehow Julie
manages to find the money to start the hotel enterprise. Jean is still ready to flee, but he
cautiously requires proofs, he subjects her to trials to be overcome, so as to test her
actual and genuine willingness. He wants to be sure that she is persuaded, that she is
aware of the need to create ruptures, to enforce breaks. The beheading of the little bird
specifically carries this emblematic value. But Julie cannot succeed. The trial of blood
breaks her, drives her to renounce any intention of fleeing. Julie is crushed, shattered,
and drunk as well. She goes back to her delirium, she deludes herself that she could reinvent a male role for herself, she shouts, she commands, she swears, she calls him a
“dog” again (“du hund som bär mitt halsband, du dräng som bär mitt bomärke i dina
knappar”, p. 178; “You dog, with my collar on, you lackey, with my father’s
hallmark on your buttons”), without realizing that she does not fit the part any
longer, that these lines were appropriate before, not now.
The obsessive metaphor of the second part of Fröken Julie is not that of the dog
but that of blood, the wound, the cut, the cæsura. After the highest point of the peasants’
profanation, the appeal for forgiveness ripens. Orgy always contains in itself the moment
of expiation. Disorder is reconverted into order. After the dancing, the singing, and the
wine (and the sexual intercourse) the time of the religious service, of Mass approaches (at
dawn, as is usual in Scandinavia for main religious holidays, as we have seen in
Bergman’s film, Fanny and Alexander). But the Gospels for June 24 will talk about the
beheading of John the Baptist: blood and wounds everywhere. There is a continuous and
massive system, a flux pervading, inundating this last dramatic portion above all, and it is
the sacrificial blood that Jean wants to impose on Julie as a trial, but in vain. The blood,
which nonetheless runs out, does not join, but rather divides them: “jag hatar och avskyr
er; det är blod emellan oss!” (p. 178) – Julie exclaims – “I hate and detest you; there is
blood between us”. No doubt, blood entertains a deep and obsessive relation with the
characters of Julie and Jean. It is a recurring motif in the whole text, from beginning
to end: Julie’s menstrual blood, first mentioned by Kristin at the very beginning of the
piece, and recalled later; then the realistic blood – exhibited on stage – of the little
bird beheaded on the kitchen chopping block; but also the blood of John the Baptist’s
decapitation, recalled by the Gospels in the religious function on June 24, the feast of
St. John the Baptist. The decapitation of the little bird, and of the saint, but also of
Julie, at the end, when she cuts her throat with Jean’s razor – three decapitations, but
beheading – Freud explained – is a substitutive symbol for castration. And this is what
violently emerges at the end of the play, in Julie’s scream, when she sees her little
bird decapitated: “åh – jag skulle vilja se ditt blod, din hjärna på en träkubbe – jag
skulle vilja se hela ditt kön simma i en sjö som den där – – –” (p. 178), “oh – I should
like to see your blood, your brain on the chopping block – I should like to see all your
sex swimming in such a lake– – –”.
A mysterious and perverse plot unfolds before our eyes: zoophily, anal
intercourse, castration. Maybe Fröken Julie is the story of a double male-female
mutation: the female turning into male (Julie), and the male turning into female
(Jean), as we can verify in the first part of the play. I believe that we have always to
keep in mind the Freudian postulate of bisexuality, i.e. the fact that – as propounded in
Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie – every individual shows a combination of his
own biological characteristics with those of the opposite sex, and a mixture of active
and passive qualities. But Freud’s observations in Die Disposition zur Zwangsneurose
are also precious regarding the double opposition, male/female and active/passive,
with the specification that anal erotism furthers passivity, as well as those on the
complex network anal erotism/eviration complex/homosexuality Freud propounds in
Aus der Geschichte einer infantilen Neurose. In the light of Freudian indications
Fröken Julie emerges as a perfect exemplum of a man’s yearning to be a woman: a
delirious wish to be a woman, with castration as a passage towards womanhood or to
a more hidden male homosexuality drive. The play is split in a first and second part,
almost like an apple: in the first part Jean experiences his female dimension (while
Julie experiences her male self); in the second part the characters regain their
respective identities, but Jean visibly projects himself into Julie, an object of a
metaphorical rite of castration, which is persistently varied (as we have said: the
beheading of the little bird and of the Baptist, Julie cutting her throat).
The wild dream of breaking roles, both sexual and social, of experiencing the
different, the other than the self, consummated in the ritual night of the infringement,
but also by constantly facing the framework of rules and laws which persists
throughout the process of insubordination. Note the icon of the Count’s spurred boots
which impend at the beginning and at the end, thus drawing the circular image of the
eternal return, of the fixed and untouchable space which it is not possible to leave.
But not only at the beginning and at the end, but even in the very heart of the play,
and repeatedly (they are recalled twice by Jean and once by Kristin while she is
talking in her sleep). Kristin herself is worthy of a little critical attention. She is not a
marginal character, but, rather, an unbalancing one, almost an appendix to Jean, such,
in other words, as to call the centrality of the Jean-Julie couple into question. As a
matter of fact Kristin is not beside the two protagonists, but above them, because she
plays the role of the substitute for the far-away but overwhelming figure of the Count.
Even when she is sleeping, the language of her unconscious preaches about carrying
out duties: “Grevens stövlar är borstade – sätta på kaffet – straxt, straxt, straxt” (p.
133), “The Count’s boots are polished – put on the coffee – soon, soon, soon”. She
may be a peasant by birth and as regards her social position, but now she is perfectly
integrated in the power system, she had been employed long ago in a priestly function
in relation to the Ordo. That is why the two wordless intermezzi oppose Kristin’s
pantomime (she clears the table, washes the dishes, tidies up the kitchen) to the
peasants’ wild dancing (they make the same kitchen filthy and disarrange it). She it is
who is at the centre of the essential dramatic turning-points. Her absence, her
sleeping, allow the double wild metamorphosis of Jean and Julie to be carried out in
full, but her presence stops any development, irremediably represses every plan of
infringement. She is the voice of reality and order against the voice of delirium and
disorder. Three times Julie sketches the possibility of fleeing, and even the third time,
after two traumatic denials, Jean is still ready to approve the plan. He says, in fact, to
Kristin: “Du hörde ju frökens projekt […] kan det projekt mycket väl utföras!” (p. 182),
“You heard Miss Julie’s project […] I think it might be carried out”. But it is Kristin
herself who coldly dismisses Julie’s final quivers of enthusiasm. At the end of the play
she acts with the decisiveness and the resoluteness of someone who feels she embodies
the reasons of authority and legality. She states that she will tell the stableman not to let
anyone take the horses, in case someone wished to leave before the Count comes back.
And soon after she goes off-stage, the Count’s bell rings. It is the intensity of Kristin’s
desire which brings about the Count’s return. Even before, after perceiving Jean’s
annoyed indifference regarding a matrimonial solution between them, she slyly
introduced some suspicions: “Vem är det som vandrar däroppe? […] Det kan väl aldrig
greven heller som kommit hem så ingen hört honom!” (p. 174), “Who’s that walking
upstairs? […] It could never be the Count who has come home without anyone hearing
him?”. We could even suspect that it is she, Kristin, who imitates the Count’s voice
through the speaking-tube. As a matter of fact, there is a curious parenthesis in the
stage-direction concerning Jean’s speaking in the tube:
JEAN Det är Jean! herr greve ! – Lyss. (Obs.: åskådaren hör icke vad greven talar.) – Ja, herr
greven! (p. 187)
JEAN It is Jean, my Lord! – Listens. (NB: the audience cannot hear what the Count says) – Yes,
my Lord!
What is the meaning of that nota bene? What else if not that the audience must not
hear because it must not understand? As for Jean, he is always so upset whenever he
has to deal with his master, that he can easily be duped by the deception Kristin
However, all this is a minor issue, whatever its worth. What matters is the
general overall plan, an isosceles triangle in which Kristin is the vertex and Julie and
Jean are the base angles. One last thing is worth pointing out regarding precisely
these two characters. Fröken Julie is the phantasmatic fulguration of a double
transversal immersion in the male and in the female, as we have said. But, still, we have
to admit, in the end, that the balance between the two terms does not hold beyond a
certain limit, and that the stronger drive is that of the male aiming at rediscovering
himself as female, at freeing himself from the enveloping bonds of virility. That is why
the title is not Julie and Jean, but only Julie, or rather, Miss Julie. What is pressing,
urgent – albeit hidden, concealed, unavowed because unavowable – is the voluptuous
pleasure of being a woman. The most convincing images, significantly, are those of
female Jean in the first part of the play, with his subtle game of resistance and refusals,
and that of Julie as a woman in the second part, a bewildered, humiliated, insulted,
crushed woman. But it must be noted that, in the finale, Jean projects himself on Julie.
He uses his razor to shave his beard, but he gives it to Julie for her to cut her throat in his
place. Beard, throat (Julie’s), Saint John’s head, the head of the bird... It is a triumph of
beheadings, of the wildest self-injury; expressional ghosts chasing one another in order
to occult the wild dream of emasculation, of castration (more overt in the image of the
beheaded bird, as it is an obvious phallic metaphor). The capital blood theme signifies
precisely this: the blood of mutilation, of castration, but spilled to find again a kind of
blood (i.e. menstrual blood) which is exclusively the woman’s own, characterising and
identifying the human being as female sex3.
1. I quote from August Strindberg, Fadren – Fröken Julie – Fordringsägsre, texten
redigerad och kommenterad av Gunnar Ollén, Almqvist & Wiksell Förlag, Stockholm
2. “I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius, / the more you beat me I will fawn on you. /
Use me but as your spaniel: spurn me, strike me […] What worser place can I beg in
your love – / and yet a place of high respect with me – / than to be usèd as you use
your dog?” (II. i. 203-205, 208-210).
3. I have partially re-used, in these pages, my earlier essay, “Il sogno maschile di
essere donna”, in August Strindberg, La contessina Julie, Edizioni del Teatro di
Genova, Genova 1986, pp. 19-30, newly published in Franco Perrelli (ed.), “La
signorina Julie” di Strindberg: studi e prospettive, Edizioni del DAMS di Torino,
Torino 2001, pp. 55-63.