The Road to Damascus by August Strindberg


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Page 3

Upon trying to define more closely what actual relation the play
has to those events of Strindberg's restless life, of which we have
given a rough outline, we find that for the most part the author
has undoubtedly made use of his own experiences, but has adapted,
combined and added to them still more, so that the result is a
mixture of real experience and imagination, all moulded into a
carefully worked out artistic form.

If to begin with, we dwell for a while on Part I it is evident that
the hurried wanderings of THE STRANGER and THE LADY between the
street corner, the room in the hotel, the sea and the Rose Room
with the mother-in-law, have their foundation--often in detail--in
Strindberg's rovings with Frida Uhl. I will give a few examples. In
a book by Frida Uhl about her marriage to the Swedish genius
(splendid in parts but not very reliable) she recalls that the

Kirchstrasse 1, in Berlin, facing a Gothic church in Dorotheenstrasse,
situated at the cross-roads between the post office in Dorotheenstrasse

environment appears to be almost exactly reproduced in the
introductory scene of Part I, where THE STRANGER and THE LADY meet

The happy scenes by the sea are, of course, pleasant recollections
from Heligoland, and the many discussions about money matters in
the midst of the honeymoon are quite explicable when we know how
the dramatist was continually haunted by money troubles, even if
occasionally he received a big fee, and that this very financial
insecurity was one of the chief reasons why Frida Uhl's father
opposed the marriage. Again, the country scenes which follow in
Part I, shift to the hilly country round the Danube, with their
Catholic Calvaries and expiation chapels, where Strindberg lived
with his parents-in-law in Mondsee and with his wife's grandparents
in Dornach and the neighbouring village Klam, with its mill, its
smithy, and its gloomy ravine. The Rose Room was the name he gave
to the room in which he lived during his stay with his mother-in-law
and his daughter Kerstin in Klam in the autumn of 1896, as he has
himself related in one of his autobiographical books _Inferno_.
In this way we could go on, showing how the localities which are
to be met with in the drama often correspond in detail to the
places Strindberg had visited in the course of his pilgrimage
during the years 1893-1898. Space prevents us, however, from
entering on a more detailed analysis in this respect.

That THE STRANGER represents Strindberg's _alter ego_ is evident in
many ways, even apart from the fact that THE STRANGER'S wanderings
from place to place, as we have already seen, bear a direct
relation to those of Strindberg himself. THE STRANGER is an author,
like Strindberg; his childhood of hate is Strindberg's own; other
details--such as for instance that THE STRANGER has refused to
attend his father's funeral, that the Parish Council has wanted to
take his child away from him, that on account of his writings he
has suffered lawsuits, illness, poverty, exile, divorce; that in
the police description he is characterised as a person without a
permanent situation, with uncertain income; married, but had
deserted his wife and left his children; known as entertaining
subversive opinions on social questions (by _The Red Room_, _The
New Realm_ and other works Strindberg became the great standard-bearer
of the Swedish Radicals in their campaign against conventionalism
and bureaucracy); that he gives the impression of not being in full
possession of his senses; that he is sought by his children's
guardian because of unpaid maintenance allowance--everything
corresponds to the experiences of the unfortunate Strindberg
himself, with all his bitter defeats in life and his triumphs in
the world of letters.

Those scenes where THE STRANGER is uncertain whether the people he
sees before him are real or not--he catches hold of THE BEGGAR'S
arm to feel whether he is a real, live person--or those occasions
when he appears as a visionary or thought-reader--he describes the
kitchen in his wife's parental home without ever having seen it,
and knows her thoughts before she has expressed them--have their
deep foundation in Strindberg's mental make-up, especially as it
was during the period of tension in the middle of the 1890's,
termed the Inferno period, because at that time Strindberg thought
that he lived in hell. Our most prominent student of Strindberg,
Professor Martin Lamm, wrote about this in his work on Strindberg's
dramas:

'In order to understand the first part of _The Road to Damascus_ we
must take into consideration that the author had not yet shaken off
his terrifying visions and persecutionary hallucinations. He can
play with them artistically, sometimes he feels tempted to make a
joke of them, but they still retain for him their "terrifying
semi-reality." It is this which makes the drama so bewildering,
but at the same time so vigorous and affecting. Later, when
depicting dream states, he creates an artful blend of reality and
poetry. He produces more exquisite works of art, but he no longer
gives the same anguished impression of a soul striving to free


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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Dec 2019, 21:34