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From this collection, this review covers The Father.
August Strindberg is among the most influential dramatists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, an influence you can see in Eugene O'Neill, Edward Albee, and others. Strindberg strove to portray life on stage as he saw it, in the most real and natural ways he could manage. While probably best known for Miss Julie (staged, adapted, and filmed numerous times since its first production in 1889, with the latest a film by Liv Ullmann starring Jessica Chastain), Strindberg authored scores of plays, as well as a long list of commentary, novels, and poetry. Among them is The Father, appearing one year before Miss Julie.
You'll find The Father a tightly focused example of the naturalistic style that employs some keen psychological insights, as well as exhibiting Darwinian influences that were prominent among 19th century writers and thinkers. You'll also see why many regard Strindberg as a misogynist, as the entire play spins around this utterance by the Captain's wife Laura: "Love between a man and woman is war." (Act 2, Carlson translation) This comes as he bares his soul to her and she drives him into extreme mental distress. It might be useful to know that Strindberg tormented himself with thoughts of his own unhappy childhood, and was going through a divorce from his first wife, Siri von Essen, with whom he had two daughters and a son (one of three marriages that produced five children in total, four girls and a boy), at the time he wrote The Father.
In summary, the play in three acts shows how Laura proves her superiority over her husband, the Captain, by convincing every one around them, including his childhood nurse who lives with them (that in itself makes a statement), that he is mad. Of course, the word "superiority" perhaps isn't quite what Strindberg had in mind; more like how conniving, duplicitous, and untrustworthy women are. Not to mention unscrupulous, as Laura leverages the question of their daughter Bertha's paternity to drive the Captain into violent apoplexy. It's really quite stunning.
Now, if the idea of misogyny puts you off, consider the other truth about Strindberg. He was a rebel of sorts, a man who saw and excoriated in his writing the hypocrisy of the times with regard to many things, including women. This is why in the same play about a wife waging war with her husband over the control of their child, you'll find both ideas expressed:
Captain (speaking of daughter Bertha): "Don't think I want to make her into some sort of prodigy or copy of myself. The fact is, I don't want to be a pimp for my own daughter by raising her to be fit for nothing but marriage...." (Act 1, Carlson)
Later, after Laura has thoroughly crushed him (responding to Laura's line, "Do you think I'm your enemy?): "Yes, I do. I think you're all my enemies. First, there was my mother, who didn't want me because my birth would cause her pain, and so she starved herself and I was born half crippled....The first woman I slept with was my enemy when she gave me ten years of illness in return for the love I gave her. My daughter became my enemy when she had to choose between you and me. And you, my wife, were my mortal enemy, because you wouldn't leave me alone until you had me lying here dead!" (Act 3, Carlson)
The Father, though written more than a century ago, still holds up well today and is worthy of your attention, especially if you have an interest in theater and literature. A more current translation, such as Carlson, is preferable to something older (such as the Olands) because of currency of modern expression.