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Writing Daughters: August Strindberg's Other Voices (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 84, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 99-101 | 10.1353/scd.2012.0013

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So much has been written on Strindberg, many must despair of finding a new angle. Eszter Szalczer has come upon the fresh idea of looking at Strindberg through the lens of his daughters and his relationship to them. The book is divided into two parts. The first part offers readings of an assortment of Strindberg's works, and the second takes a biographical look at Strindberg's four daughters.

The first chapter is fascinating. Szalczer locates the presence of a feminine voice in Strindberg's writing by demonstrating how he viewed the process of writing as akin to spiritualist mediumship. Mediumship was generally viewed as a female undertaking in the nineteenth century in that the medium is inhabited by the voices of others. Compare this to the masculine view of authorship as "the singular and unified creative source of a self-assertive utterance" (19). Szalczer amply demonstrates that Strindberg described his own process like a "feverish trance state" (29) during which he is possessed by the characters to whom he gives a voice. She further concludes, "The attraction/repulsion of this feminine creative side of himself acts like an irritant in his writing: a grain of sand that produces the pearl in an oyster" (48).

The second chapter on the theme of child sacrifice in Strindberg's work is just as intriguing. As Szalczer lists example after example, the trope becomes one of those obvious things that no one seems to have noticed before. Szalczer performs readings of The Father, Miss Julie, The Ghost Sonata, Crimes and Crimes, Inferno, The Dance of Death, Easter, and A Dream Play, all of which are thought provoking. What is missing in this section, however, is an engagement with what others have said about the same texts. Szalczer discusses at some length Margaret Wirmark's reading of Easter, but that is the only substantial mention of another Strindberg scholar in this chapter. This would have been an especially good place to engage Ross Shideler's approach to Strindberg in Questioning the Father (1999). Although Shideler's book is listed in the bibliography, it is not mentioned once in the text itself, which is hard to understand, given the resonant focus on fathers. Szalczer has read a good many books on Strindberg, but her bibliography is far from exhaustive. Not a single book by Egil Törnqvist is listed, which is truly remarkable, since one can scarcely think of anyone who has written more on Strindberg than he. Generally, Szalczer seems to have an aversion to journal articles. If it is anthologized in a collection, then she has probably read it, but otherwise not. Göran Stockenström's article on The Ghost Sonata (Scandinavian Studies 50.2 [1978]: 133-49) might have been of interest to this chapter as well, but it too is not listed in the bibliography.

Chapter 3 consists of a "textual performance," a creative rewriting of A Dream Play form the Daughter's perspective placed in dialogue with excerpts from other Strindberg texts as well as Hélène Cixous's "The Laugh of the Medusa." I regret to say that this chapter did absolutely nothing for me. It should not have been included in the volume.

The fourth chapter is an instructive close reading of The Stronger. Szalzcer seems confident that Mrs. X is the titular stronger character in the play, a view bolstered by Strindberg's letter to Siri von Essen in which he declares Mrs. X the stronger because of her ability to be flexible. She claims, "Critics have often interpreted The Stronger as being centred on the absent male (X's husband and Y's lover) as the driving force of the action" (116). A footnote listing said critics and where they made these arguments would have been welcome. Here is where Szalczer has ignored Törnqvist at her peril. Back in an article from 1970 (Scandinavian Studies 42.3 [1970]: 297-308), Törnqvist performed a brilliant close reading of The Stronger inspired, in part, by a comment from Strindberg found by Gunnar Ollén in Politiken (January 24, 1889): "Deri optræder kun to Damer, af hvilke Heltinden ikke siger et Ord" [In it...

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