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Miss Julie (Swedish: Fröken Julie) is a naturalistic play written in 1888 by August Strindberg. It is set on Midsummer's Eve on the estate of a Count in Sweden. The young woman of the title is drawn to a senior servant, a valet named Jean, who is particularly well-traveled, well-mannered and well-read. The action takes place in the kitchen of Miss Julie's father's manor, where Jean's fiancée, a servant named Christine, cooks and sometimes sleeps while Jean and Miss Julie talk.
On this night, the relationship between Miss Julie and Jean rapidly escalates to a love relationship and is fully consummated. Over the course of the play, Miss Julie and Jean battle until Jean convinces her that the only way to escape her predicament is to commit suicide.
The major theme of the play is Darwinism, a theory that was a significant influence on the author during his naturalistic period. It isn't explicitly stated in the script, but it is in the preface, where Strindberg describes his two lead characters, Miss Julie and Jean, as vying against each other in an evolutionary “life and death” battle for a survival of the fittest. The character, Miss Julie, represents the last of an old aristocratic breed about to die out. Whereas Jean represents one who is clambering upwards, and who is more fit to thrive because he is better able to adapt in terms of the “life roles” he can take on. The play contains a variety of themes, partly because Miss Julie’s actions are motivated by a range of factors and influences: Her class, her desires and impulsive nature, her father, and the dynamic traumas of her family histories. She is given a number of motivations because the author, in wanting to be naturalistic, realizes that in life people can be motivated in a number of ways, and also because the author is taking a stand against the dominant theatrical idea that says that characters should be written with only one primary motivation.
The play is preceded by a remarkable author’s preface, which concerns itself with Strindberg’s ideas of naturalism and how they apply to his play, Miss Julie.
Strindberg wrote this play with the intention of abiding by the theories of “naturalism” — both his own version, and also the version described by the French novelist and literary theoretician, Émile Zola. Zola’s term for naturalism is la nouvelle formule. The three primary principles of naturalism (faire vrai, faire grand and faire simple) are first, that the play should be realistic, and the result of a careful study of human behavior and psychology. The characters should be flesh and blood; their motivations and actions should be grounded in their heredity and environment. The presentation of the play in terms of the setting and performances should be realistic and not flamboyant or theatrical. The single setting of Miss Julie, for example, is a kitchen.
Second, the conflicts in the play should be issues of meaningful, life-altering significance — not small or petty.
And third, the play should be simple — not cluttered with complicated sub-plots or lengthy expositions.
Strindberg was keenly aware that the French playwrights had been unable to achieve naturalism, and he felt that he could do it. Miss Julie is not only successful as a naturalistic drama, but it is a play that has achieved the rare distinction of being performed on stages all over the world every year since it was written in 1888.
Origins of the play
The play was written as Strindberg was creating a new theatre of his own: The Scandinavian Naturalistic Theatre, which would be founded in Copenhagen. Miss Julie would be the premier offering. Strindberg’s wife, Siri von Essen, would star in the title role, and she would also be the artistic director. After Strindberg agreed to a small amount of censorship, the play was published a few weeks before the first production. (The first English translations also contain these censored excisions. For example, the first audiences were spared the shock of hearing Miss Julie, in an angry moment, compare making love to Jean to an act of bestiality.) With disastrous timing for the new theatre, the censors announced during the dress rehearsal, that Miss Julie would be forbidden. However, Strindberg managed to get around the censors by having Miss Julie premiered a few days later at the Copenhagen University Student Union.
Miss Julie: Strong-willed daughter of the count who owns the estate. Raised by her late mother to "think like and act like a man", she is a confused individual. She is aware of the power she holds, but switches between being above the servants and flirting with Jean. She longs to fall from her pillar.
Jean: Manservant to the Count. He tells a story of seeing Miss Julie many times as a child and loving her even then, but the truth of the story is later denied. There is good evidence both for and against its veracity. He left the town and traveled widely, working many different jobs as he went, before finally returning to work for the count. He has aspirations to rise from his station in life and manage his own hotel, and Miss Julie is part of his plan. He is alternately kind and callous. Despite his aspirations, he is rendered servile by the mere sight of the count's gloves and boots.
Christine: The cook in the Count's household. She is devoutly religious and apparently betrothed to Jean, although they refer to this marriage almost jokingly.
The Count: Miss Julie's father. He is never seen, but his gloves and his boots are on stage, serving as a reminder of his power. When the bell sounds, his presence is also noted more strongly.
The play opens with Jean walking onto the stage, the set being the kitchen of the manor. He drops the count's boots off to the side but still within view of the audience; his clothing shows that he is a valet. The playwright describes the set in detail in naturalistic style. Jean talks to Christine about Miss Julie's peculiar behavior. He considers her mad since she went to the barn dance, danced with the gamekeeper, and tried to waltz with Jean, a mere servant of the count. Christine delves into the background of Miss Julie, stating how, unable to face her family after the humiliation of breaking her engagement, she stayed behind to mingle with the servants at the dance instead of going with her father to the Midsummer's Eve celebrations. Miss Julie got rid of her fiancé seemingly because he refused her demand that he jump over a riding whip she was holding. The incident, apparently witnessed by Jean, was similar to training a dog to jump through a hoop.
Jean takes out a bottle of fine wine, a wine with a "yellow seal," and reveals, by the way he flirts with her, that he and Christine are engaged. Noticing a stench, Jean asks what Christine is cooking so late on Midsummer's Eve. The pungent mixture turns out to be an abortifacient for Miss Julie's dog, which was impregnated by the gatekeeper's mongrel. Jean calls Miss Julie "too stuck-up in some ways and not proud enough in others," traits apparently inherited from her mother. Despite her character flaws, Jean finds Miss Julie beautiful or perhaps simply a stepping stone to achieve his lifelong goal of owning an inn. When Miss Julie enters and asks Christine if the "meal" has finished cooking, Jean instantly shapes up, becoming charming and polite. Jokingly, he asks if the women are gossiping about secrets or making a witch's broth for seeing Miss Julie's future suitor. After more niceties, Miss Julie invites Jean once more to dance the waltz, at which point he hesitates, pointing out that he already promised Christine a dance and that the gossip generated by such an act would be savage. Almost offended by this response, she justifies her request by pulling rank: she is the lady of the house and must have the best dancer as her partner. Then, insisting that rank does not matter, she convinces Jean to waltz with her. When they return, Miss Julie recounts a dream of climbing up a pillar and being unable to get down. Jean responds with a story of creeping into her walled garden as a child—he sees it as "the Garden of Eden, guarded by angry angels with flaming swords"—and gazing at her longingly from under a pile of stinking weeds. He says he was so distraught with this unrequitable love that he tried to die beautifully and pleasantly by sleeping in a bin of oats.
At this point Jean and Miss Julie notice some servants heading up to the house, singing a song that mocks the pair of them. They hide in Jean's room. Although Jean swears he won't take advantage of her there, when they emerge later it becomes apparent that the two have had sex. Now they are forced to figure out how to deal with it, as Jean theorizes that they can no longer live together anymore — he feels they will be tempted to continue their relationship until they are caught. Now he confesses that he was only pretending when he said he had tried to commit suicide for love of her. Furiously, Miss Julie tells him of how her mother raised her to be submissive to no man. They then decide to run away together to start a hotel, with Jean running it and Miss Julie providing the capital. Miss Julie agrees and steals some of her father's money, but angers Jean when she insists on bringing her little bird along—she insists that it is the only creature that loves her, after her dog Diana was "unfaithful" to her. When Miss Julie insists that she would rather kill the bird than see it in the hands of strangers, Jean cuts off its head. In the midst of this confusion, Christine comes downstairs, prepared to go to church. She is shocked by Jean and Miss Julie's planning and unmoved when Miss Julie asks her to come along with them as head of the kitchen of the hotel. Christine explains to Miss Julie about God and forgiveness and heads off for church, telling them as she leaves that she will tell the stablemasters not to let them take out any horses so that they cannot run off. Shortly after, they receive word that Miss Julie's father, the Count, has returned. At this, both lose courage and find themselves unable to go through with their plans. Miss Julie realizes that she has nothing to her name, as her thoughts and emotions were taught to her by her mother and her father. She asks Jean if he knows of any way out for her. He takes a shaving razor and hands it to her and the play ends as she walks through the door with it, presumably to commit suicide.
Performances and adaptations
- In 1912, Anna Hofman-Uddgren directed a film version, based on her own and Gustaf Uddgren's screenplay; Manda Björling played Julie and August Falck played Jean (based in turn on the stage production in Stockholm in 1906).
- In 1913 with the title Countess Julia, it was produced on Broadway at the 48th Street for three performances.
- In 1950, Birgit Cullberg made a ballet version to music of Ture Rangström
- In 1951, Alf Sjöberg made a film version from his own screenplay.
- In 1962 it was produced on Broadway at The Cort Theatre for three performances.
- In 1965, it was adapted as an opera by Ned Rorem to an English libretto by Kenward Elmslie
- In 1972, John Glenister and Robin Phillips directed a television version, with Helen Mirren and Donal McCann as Julie and Jean.
- In 1973, Antonio Bibalo wrote an opera (revised in 1975) which has been performed over 160 times in Germany.
- In 1977, William Alwyn's opera, with an English libretto adapted from the play by the composer, was premiered as a BBC Radio 3 broadcast.
- In 1984, Garry Cooper played Jean, and Angelique Rockas played Miss Julie in the Internationalist Theatre production London. Directed by Alkis Kritikos.
- In 1986, Bob Heaney and Mikael Wahlforss directed a television adaptation, set in South Africa in the 1980s, in which the two main characters were separated by race as well as class and gender. It was based on a 1985 stage production at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. Sandra Prinsloo played Julie and John Kani played Jean.
- In 1987, Michael Simpson directed a television version, in which Patrick Malahide played Jean and Janet McTeer played Julie.
- In 1991, David Ponting directed a television version, in which Sean Galuszka played Jean and Eleanor Comegys played Julie.
- In 1995, Patrick Marber wrote and directed After Miss Julie, in which the events of the play were transposed to an English country house on the eve of the Labour Party's landslide 1945 General Election win. The play was staged in 2003.
- In 1999, Mike Figgis made a film version from a screenplay by Helen Cooper; Saffron Burrows played Julie and Peter Mullan played Jean.
- In July 2006, a new translation by Frank McGuinness was produced at the Theatre Royal, Bath by director Rachel O'Riordan. Set in 19th-century Northern Ireland; this version relies on the tension between the Roman Catholic Irish servant class and Anglo-Irish Protestant gentry to carry Strindberg's message to an English-speaking audience.
- In 2009 the Roundabout Theatre Company produced After Miss Julie in New York, directed by Mark Brokaw and starring Sienna Miller, Jonny Lee Miller and Marin Ireland (as Christine).
- In 2009, Toronto's CanStage staged a new version titled Miss Julie: Freedom Summer. Set in Mississippi in 1964, with Julie recontextualized as the daughter of a plantation owner and John as her father's African-American chauffeur, playwright Stephen Sachs wove in themes of racial violence and miscegeny against the backdrop of the American Civil Rights Movement. This production starred Caroline Cave and Kevin Hanchard.
- In June 2010 Scandinavian American Theater Company produced the Craig Lucas adaptation of "Miss Julie", directed by Henning Hegland and starring Lisa Pettersson as Miss Julie, Albert Bendix as Jean and Anette Norgaard as Christine.
- In 2011 on stage of Theatre of Nations (Moscow), directed by Thomas Ostermeier. The action of the play is set in contemporary Russia for which one of Russia's most called-for new generation playwrights Mikhail Durnenkov wrote specially for Theatre of Nations a new version of the play. All the main story lines are preserved while the dialogues have been rewritten in modern lexicon.
- In July 2012 Yael Farber's contemporary reworking set in South Africa, titled "Mies Julie", was premiered by Cape Town's Baxter Theatre Centre. The show was performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2012 as part of Assembly Festival's South African Season, then transferred to St. Ann's Warehouse in New York City and on 7 February 2014 opened at the Octagon Theatre in Perth (Western Australia) as part of the Perth International Arts Festival program.
- In July 2012, a Chinese version, directed by Ravel Luo, was put on stage at the Top-Drama Theatre in Beijing, China.
- In 2013, Liv Ullmann directed a film adaptation set in Ireland, with Jessica Chastain as the eponymous character and Colin Farrell as Jean.
- February 2014, Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Directed by Dominic Hill and updated by Zinnie Harris to be set in the 1920s. It also moves the story to Scotland but remains true to the original storyline and themes of Strindberg.
- Strindberg, August. Strindberg: Five Plays. Translator, Carlson, Harry G. University of California Press. 1983
- Strindberg, August. Carlson, Harry G. translator. Strindberg: Five Plays. University of California Press.1983. ISBN 0-520-04698-6.
- Lamm, Martin. Carlson, Harry G. translator and editor. August Strindberg. Benjamin Bloom, Inc. 1971
- Strindberg, August. Carlson, Harry G. translator. Strindberg: Five Plays. University of California Press.1983. ISBN 0-520-04698-6.
- Madsen, Borge Gedso. Strindberg’s Naturalistic Theatre. Russell & Russell.1962. ISBN 0-8462-1729-5
- Meyer, Michael. Strindberg. Random House. 1985. ISBN 0-394-50442-9
- Lagercrantz, Olof. August Strindberg. Farrar Straus Giroux. 1984
- Miss Julie (1912) at the Internet Movie Database
- Fröken Julie (1951) at the Internet Movie Database
- Miss Julie (1972) at the Internet Movie Database
- Miss Julie (1986) at the Internet Movie Database
- Miss Julie (1991) at the Internet Movie Database
- Guardian, 26 November 2003
- "Miss Julie: Freedom Summer". The Georgia Straight, January 21, 2009.
- Advertisement Mies Julie – Yael Farber's South African adaptation