Strindberg, Johann August
First name:
Johann August
19th century
20th century
Field of expertise:
Fine arts
Place of birth:
Stockholm (SWE)
* 22.01.1849
† 14.05.1912
Biography print

Swedish playwright, novelist and poet.


August Strindberg (1849-1912) was born in Stockholm as the fourth of the eight children of a shipping agent and a former serving maid. His mother died when he was 13 years old. His father remarried less than a year later and the relationship between father and son became ever more difficult. After graduating from school in 1867, he enrolled at Uppsala University but soon abandoned his studies in medicine. He worked as a teacher and private tutor, failed to establish himself as an actor and turned to writing instead while making his living as a journalist and librarian. In 1877, he married Siri von Essen, an actress at the Royal Theatre, with whom he had three children. Strindberg’s first novel, Röda Rummet (The Red Room) was published in 1879. Several more works followed in rapid succession, all of them highly critical of the Swedish society and its institutions, especially the church, which raised harsh criticism at home. As a consequence, Strindberg and his wife emigrated to France in 1883. He also lived in Switzerland, Germany and Denmark. He became famous for his stage plays Fadren (1887, The Father) and Fröken Julie (1889, Miss Julie) but also for his alleged misogyny. He divorced von Essen in 1891 and married twenty-year-old Maria Friederike Uhl in 1893. The couple separated in 1894, shortly after the birth of their daughter.


The Inferno crisis

Having moved from Berlin to Paris, Strindberg fell into an existential crisis around 1895. He sought to come to terms with this experience in his 1897 novella Inferno, which was based on his Occult Diaries (Ockulta dagboken, 1963). He describes that in autumn of 1894 he moved in the circles of the Parisian bohemia and developed an interest in alchemistic experiments. The real Inferno crisis started in February 1896 at the Hôtel Orfila (Brückner 2007: 203 ff.) where he perceived undefined metaphysical forces, felt persecuted by unknown room neighbours and controlled by a “magnetic fluidum” emanating from an “electrifying device”. In his literary report, he writes: “In the evening, I dare not remain sitting at my table for fear of a new attack, and lie on the bed without venturing to go to sleep. The night comes and my lamp is lit. Then I see outside, on the wall opposite to my window, the shadow of a human shape, whether a man or a woman, I cannot say, but it seems to be a woman. When I stand up, to ascertain which it is, the blind is noisily pulled down; then I hear the Unknown enter the room, which is near my bed, and all is silent. For three hours I lie awake with open eyes to which sleep refuses to come; then a feeling of uneasiness takes possession of me; I am exposed to an electric current which passes to and fro between the two adjoining rooms. The nervous tension increases, and, in spite of my resistance, I cannot remain in bed, so strong is my conviction: ‘They are murdering me; I will not let myself be murdered.’ I go out in order to seek the attendant in his box at the end of the corridor, but alas! he is not there. They have got him to go away; he is a silent accomplice, and I am betrayed!”(1897a, VI: 81). In July 1896, after a six months’ ordeal, Strindberg fled to Lund in southern Sweden. Some of the doctors he consulted there suggested that he was suffering from “paranoia”. Strindberg himself engaged in a literary interpretation of his experiences in which he admitted to his failure but also presented a perspective on the events that was influenced by natural philosophy, alchemy, occultism and mesmerism, and an “unshakeable belief” in Swedenborg’s spiritistic theology.


Interpretations and late work

Strindberg explicitly labelled his novella as autobiographical. Over the years, the text and the experiences described therein have been interpreted by many authors: as a case of paranoid delusion (Binswanger 1965: 170–211; Lidz 1964; Jaspers 1922), as fictional exaggeration, as an example of early expressionism or as a testimony of religious conversion (Falgas-Ravry 2011; Stounbjerg 1999; Schütze 1990), while Peter Weiss (1962) firmly rejected any pathological interpretation of the experiences portrayed in Inferno.


Strindberg recovered after 1897 and created a rich late oeuvre. He is now acknowledged as one of the most important Swedish writers (Faust 1987: 221; Carlson 1996). He finally returned to Sweden in 1899, married his third wife, the actress Harriet Bosse, founded the Intimate Theatre in Stockholm in 1907 and wrote on political issues from a social democratic perspective. August Strindberg died in 1912, at age 63.



Binswanger, L. (1965): Wahn. Beiträge zu seiner phänomenologischen und daseinsanalytischen Erforschung. Pfullingen: Neske.

Brandell, G. (1950): Strindbergs Infernokris. Stockholm: Bonniers.

Brückner, B. (2007): Delirium und Wahn. Geschichte, Selbstzeugnisse und Theorien von der Antike bis 1900. Vol. 2. Das 19. Jahrhundert – Deutschland. (Schriften zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte Vol. XXIV). Hürtgenwald: Guido Pressler Verlag.

Burnham, D. L. (1973): Restitutional functions of symbol and myth in Strindberg’s inferno. In: Psychiatry – Interpersonal and Biological Processes 36, (3), pp. 229-243.

Carlson, H. G. (1996): Out of inferno. Strindberg's reawakening as an artist. Washington: University of Washington Press.

Falgas-Ravry, C. A. (2011): The riddle of inferno: Strindberg, madness, and the problem of interpretation. In: Modern Language Review 106, (4), pp. 988-1000.

Faust, H. (1987): Die Hölle wörtlich. In: A. Strindberg: Inferno. Frankfurt am Main: Basis, pp. 186-221.

Grewe, C. V. (1984): August Strindberg und die Chemie. In: Sudhoffs Archiv 68, (1), pp. 21-42.

Jaspers, K. (1922): Strindberg und van Gogh. Versuch einer pathographischen Analyse unter vergleichender Analyse von Swedenborg und Hölderlin. Leipzig: Bircher.

Lidz, T. (1964): August Strindberg – Eine Untersuchung über die Beziehung zwischen seiner Schöpferkraft und seiner Schizophrenie. In: A. Mitscherlich (ed.): Psycho-Pathographien I – Schriftsteller und Psychoanalyse. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1982, pp. 53-70.

Marcuse, L. (1922): Strindberg. Das Leben der tragischen Seele. Berlin: Schneider.

Robinson, M. (ed.) (2009): The Cambridge companion to August Strindberg. Cambridge: University Press.

Schütze, P. (1990): August Strindberg. Mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. Hamburg: Rowohlt.

Storch, A. (1921): August Strindberg im Lichte seiner Selbstbiographie. Eine psychopathologische Persönlichkeitsanalyse. Munich, Wiesbaden: Bergmann.

Stounbjerg, P. (1999): A modernist hell. On August Strindbergs’s Inferno. In: Scandinavica 38, (1), pp. 35-59.

Strindberg, A. (1893): Plaidoyer d’un fou. Paris: Langen 1895.

Strindberg, A. (1897): Inferno. Stockholm: Gernandt.

Strindberg, A. (1897a): Inferno from an Occult Diary. London: Penguin 1979.

Strindberg, A. (1908-1923): Strindbergs Werke. Deutsche Gesamtausgabe. Munich: Müller.

Strindberg, A. (1963): Okkultes Tagebuch. Die Ehe mit Harriet Bosse. Hamburg: Claassen 1964.

Strindberg, A. (1981-2013): August Strindbergs Samlade Verk. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wisell.

Strindberg, F. (1933/34): Liebe, Leid und Zeit. Eine unvergessliche Ehe. Hamburg, Leipzig: Goverts 1936.

Weiss, P. (1962): Gegen die Gesetze der Normalität. In: R. v. Bleibtreu (ed.): August Strindberg – Ich dichte nie. Hamburg:  Rogner und Bernhard 1999, pp. 15-23.


Burkhart Brückner


Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis / Scanpix / Source: Wikimedia / [public domain].


Referencing format
Burkhart Brückner (2016): Strindberg, Johann August .
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:24.05.2024)