Was Strindberg a Proto Feminist

Creditors at Shakespeare & Company Provokes Questions

By: - Jul 25, 2018

The character Tekla (played by Kristin Wold) in the production of Creditors, by August Strindberg, at Shakespeare & Company is a strong and complex woman. The writing of Strindberg allows for reasonable doubt about her motivation and moral compass.

As a divorced woman, and successful author of a roman a clef focused on an inadequate husband and failed marriage, one might consider her as anticipating aspects of feminism.

In a review of the production I wrote “Given progressive changes that were to follow it is usual for critics to dissect Strindberg and his fellow artists as proto feminists.”

My bad.

While reading the catalogue for the exhibition “Women Artists in Paris 1850-1900” (now at the Clark Art Institute) I encountered a disturbing quote from the Swedish playwright known as a champion of realism and naturalism in theatre.

“It is the fate of our age to discover, among other things, that a woman is a scaled down man, a form whose development was arrested between adolescence and full manhood,” Strindberg stated. “This discovery, already anticipated by philosophers from Aristotle to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Schopenhauer, has been confirmed by scientists such as Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Mill, Haeckel, Virchow, Eduard von Hartmann, Friedrich Nietzsche, the craniologist Welcker, the biologist Letourneau, the psychologist Robin, and the anthropologist Topinard. Woman is inferior to man.”

Even the exception proves the rule as he wrote about the success of the salon painter of animals Rosa Bonheur. “The most common flaws to be condemned in woman’s logic are…that they conclude on the basis of a special case the invalidation of the rule, that is, of what is usually the case. For example, Rosa Bonheur painted good animal paintings, so clearly woman is not inferior to man (but how about in philosophy, in science, in business, in industry, in engineering.)”

As to other women “A few, by way of exception, rise above the common lot, they do so almost always on the condition that we judge them as ‘qua women,’ and that they are always found in fields of secondary value, in art or in literature, never in science! Further, in such cases the constant role of paternal inheritance or some other strong male influence is to be noted.”

Quoted from “De la justification de sa situation de subordonnée selon les données dernières de la science” (1895) in La revue blanche.

Regarding the production of Creditors at Shakespeare & Company, if you have seen it or plan to, this text suggests another way to approach and evaluate Strindberg.