The Road to Damascus by August Strindberg


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Page 1

In order fully to understand _The Road to Damascus_ it is therefore
essential to know at least the most important features of that
background of real life, out of which the drama has grown.

Parts I and II of the trilogy were written in 1898, while Part III
was added somewhat later, in the years 1900-1901. In 1898
Strindberg had only half emerged from what was by far the severest
of the many crises through which in his troubled life he had to
pass. He had overcome the worst period of terror, which had brought
him dangerously near the borders of sanity, and he felt as if he
could again open his eyes and breathe freely. He was not free from
that nervous pressure under which he had been working, but the
worst of the inner tension had relaxed and he felt the need of
taking a survey of what had happened, of summarising and trying to
fathom what could have been underlying his apparently unaccountable
experiences. The literary outcome of this settling of accounts with
the past was _The Road to Damascus_.

_The Road to Damascus_ might be termed a marriage drama, a mystery
drama, or a drama of penance and conversion, according as
preponderance is given to one or other of its characteristics. The
question then arises: what was it in the drama which was of deepest
significance to the author himself? The answer is to be found in
the title, with its allusion to the narrative in the Acts of the
Apostles of the journey of Saul, the persecutor, the scoffer, who,
on his way to Damascus, had an awe-inspiring vision, which
converted Saul, the hater of Christ, into Paul, the apostle of the
Gentiles. Strindberg's drama describes the progress of the author
right up to his conversion, shows how stage by stage he
relinquishes worldly things, scientific renown, and above all
woman, and finally, when nothing more binds him to this world,
takes the vows of a monk and enters a monastery where no dogmas or
theology, but only broadminded humanity and resignation hold sway.
What, however, in an inner sense, distinguishes Strindberg's drama
from the Bible narrative is that the conversion itself--although
what leads up to it is convincingly described, both logically and
psychologically--does not bear the character of a final and
irrevocable decision, but on the contrary is depicted with a
certain hesitancy and uncertainty. THE STRANGER'S entry into the
monastery consequently gives the impression of being a piece of
logical construction; the author's heart is not wholly in it. From
Strindberg's later works it also becomes evident that his severe
crisis had undoubtedly led to a complete reformation in that it
definitely caused him to turn from worldly things, of which indeed
he had tasted to the full, towards matters divine. But this did not
mean that then and there he accepted some specific religion,
whether Christian or other. One would undoubtedly come nearest to
the author's own interpretation in this respect by characterising
_The Road to Damascus_ not as a drama of conversion, but as a drama
of struggle, the story of a restless, arduous pilgrimage through
the chimeras of the world towards the border beyond which eternity
stretches in solemn peace, symbolised in the drama by a mountain,
the peaks of which reach high above the clouds.

In this final settling of accounts one subject is of dominating
importance, recurring again and again throughout the trilogy; it is
that of woman. Strindberg him, of course, become famous as a writer
about women; he has ruthlessly described the hatreds of love, the
hell that marriage can be, he is the creator of _Le Plaidoyer d'un
Fou_ and _The Dance of Death_, he had three divorces, yet was just
as much a worshipper of woman--and at the same time a diabolical
hater of her seducing qualities under which he suffered defeat
after defeat. Each time he fell in love afresh he would compare
himself to Hercules, the Titan, whose strength was vanquished by
Queen Omphale, who clothed herself in his lion's skin, while he had
to sit at the spinning wheel dressed in women's clothes. It can be
readily understood that to a man of Strindberg's self-conceit the
problem of his relations with women must become a vital issue on
the solution of which the whole Damascus pilgrimage depended.

In 1898, when Parts I and II of the trilogy were written,
Strindberg had been married twice; both marriages had ended
unhappily. In the year 1901, when the wedding scenes of Part III
were written, Strindberg had recently experienced the rapture of a
new love which, however, was soon to be clouded. It must not be
forgotten that in his entire emotional life Strindberg was an
artist and as such a man of impulse, with the spontaneity and
naivity and intensity of a child. For him love had nothing to do
with respectability and worldly calculations; he liked to think of
it as a thunderbolt striking mortals with a destructive force like
the lightning hurled by the almighty Zeus. It is easy to understand
that a man of such temperament would not be particularly suited for
married life, where self-sacrifice and strong-minded patience may
be severely tested. In addition his three wives were themselves
artists, one an authoress, the other two actresses, all of them
pronounced characters, endowed with a degree of will and
self-assertion, which, although it could not be matched against
Strindberg's, yet would have been capable of producing friction
with rather more pliant natures than that of the Swedish dramatist.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 23rd Jul 2024, 3:05