Miss Julie

Miss Julie Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on August Strindberg's Miss Julie. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of August Strindberg

August Strindberg was a prolific Swedish playwright, poet, essayist and painter. Strindberg’s career spanned almost fifty years, during which time he wrote sixty plays, which often drew from his personal experiences. Strindberg experimented with a multitude of dramatic forms throughout his career. While Strindberg (along with his Norwegian contemporary Henrik Ibsen) is widely considered to be one of the fathers of Naturalistic Drama for plays like The Father and Miss Julie, he also turned to Expressionism and Surrealism is his later dramatic works like Dream Play and Ghost Sonata, which were inspired by his growing fascination with the occult and the workings of his own subconscious. Plagued by the poverty of his childhood and adolescence, Strindberg’s dramatic work is largely concerned with issues of class, property and capitalism. A series of nervous breakdowns between 1894 and 1896 (known as his “Inferno Period”) led Strindberg to focus more specifically on psychological and spiritual drama late in his career, asking broader questions about the nature of God and of the soul. In Sweden, Strindberg is considered to be the father of modern Swedish literature, and his novel The Red Room is frequently called the “first modern Swedish novel.” 
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Historical Context of Miss Julie

The 1880s in Europe saw the Second Industrial revolution, and an associated boom in mass culture and economy. The increased efficiency of new methods of transportation like the railroad connected parts of Europe to each other in ways that had never been possible before. The increased mobility and economic prosperity also contributed to the rise of a new class of wealthy Europeans, self-made men who earned their living through industry as opposed to inheriting it through titles or ties to nobility. Strindberg’s discussion of Jean as a “new man” relates to the fact that financial success had (at least theoretically) suddenly become available to anyone with the drive and ingenuity to claim it for himself. The economic revolution also fed Strindberg’s conviction that the European aristocracy would soon fall in favor of a meritocratic economy whose guiding principles would be personal drive and innovation—an idealistic sentiment which is reflected in the character of Jean and the death of the aristocratic and dysfunctional Miss Julie.

Other Books Related to Miss Julie

While Strindberg worked in many styles, Miss Julie is a naturalist drama. Naturalists were concerned with creating theater that was highly realistic, with characters who were complex and flawed. Strindberg’s work is often discussed alongside that of his naturalist contemporary, Henrik Ibsen. Both men wrote plays that aimed to accurately portray the dark side of the European aristocracy. Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House concern women who, like Miss Julie, feel constrained by the boundaries of their gender and social position. However, while Ibsen is largely sympathetic towards his central female characters, and has even been called an early feminist writer, Strindberg’s writing is overwhelmingly tinged with misogyny. His play The Father, which proceeded Miss Julie by just a year, also centers around a domineering and “unnatural” woman who succeeds in overpowering and bankrupting her virile, masculine husband. Strindberg’s work in the naturalist style was also largely influenced by the works of the French naturalist writer Emile Zola. Strindberg was acutely aware that French dramatists had been struggling and failing to write naturalist theater, and he was determined to succeed where they had not.
Key Facts about Miss Julie
  • Full Title: Miss Julie
  • When Written: 1888
  • Where Written: Stockholm, Sweden
  • When Published: 1889
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Play, Drama, Naturalist Drama
  • Setting: The kitchen of the Count’s estate
  • Climax: Jean ordering Miss Julie to slit her own throat, which she does
  • Antagonist: The outdated and stifling European aristocracy

Extra Credit for Miss Julie

The Show Must Go On. Due to the frank and salacious discussion of sex in Miss Julie, the play was initially forbidden from being performed several days before it was set to premier in Stockholm. Strindberg was able to get around censors, however, by premiering the play several days later at the Copenhagen University Student’s Union.  

All In the Family. The title role of Miss Julie was originally performed by Strindberg’s then wife, Siri von Essen, who also served as the artistic director of their theater company.

A Veritable Hit. Miss Julie is such a triumph of the Naturalist genre that it is one of the few plays ever written that boasts having had a production staged every year since its premiere in 1889.