Miss Julie

Miss Julie

This article is about the play by Strindberg, for other works see Miss Julie (disambiguation).

Miss Julie (Fröken Julie) is a naturalistic play written in 1888 by August Strindberg dealing with class, love/lust, the battle of the sexes, and the interaction among them. Set on midsummer night of 1894 in a small town in Sweden, the young woman of the title, attempting to escape an existence cramped by social mores and have a little fun, dances at the servants' annual midsummer party, where she is drawn to a senior servant, a footman 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; here Jean's fiancée, a servant named Kristin, cooks and sometimes sleeps while Jean and Miss Julie talk.

The plot is primarily concerned with power in its various forms. Miss Julie has power over Jean because she is upper-class. Jean has power over Miss Julie because he is more wise in the ways of the world and male. The count, Miss Julie's father (an unseen character), has power over both of them since he is a nobleman, an employer, and a father.

On this night, previously only flirtatious behavior between Miss Julie and Jean roughly but rapidly escalates to a love relationship—or is it just lust?—that is fully consummated. Over the course of the play, Miss Julie and Jean battle for control, which swings back and forth between them until Jean convinces her that the only way to escape her predicament is to kill herself.

Characters

Miss Julie: Daughter of the count who owns the estate. She is very strong-willed. Raised by her late mother to "think like and act like a man", she is a rather confused individual. She is aware of the power she holds, but switches between being above the servants and flirting with them. She longs to fall from her social standing.

Jean: Manservant to the count. When he was a child, he had seen Miss Julie many times at a distance and thought of her. 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, with Miss Julie being 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.

Kristin: The cook in the count's household. She is devoutly religious and apparently betrothed to Jean, although they refer to this marriage almost jokingly. She is the antagonist of the play since she represents what Strindberg hated: peasants satisfied with their situation.

The Count: Never seen, but his gloves and his boots are on stage, constantly serving as a reminder of his presence and power. When the bell sounds, his presence is also noted more strongly.

Summary

The play opens with Jean walking onto the stage, the stage being the kitchen of the manor. He drops his boots off to the side but still within view of the audience; his clothing shows that he is a valet. The author/playwright, at this point, goes into great detail about the kitchen. Jean then begins to talk to Kristin about Miss Julie's peculiar behavior. He considers her mad since she went to the barn dance and constantly tried to waltz with Jean, a mere servant of the count. Kristin 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 exceedingly similar to training and commanding a dog to jump through a hoop.)

Jean takes a bottle of fine wine out, a wine with a "yellow seal," and then reveals that he and Kristin are engaged in the way he flirts with her. Noticing a stench, Jean asks what Kristin 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. When Miss Julie enters and asks Kristin 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 Kristin to 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. The scene ends with the two leaving for the barn and Kristin going about her business, tidying up and preparing for her own dance with Jean.

Following the dancing, Kristin goes to bed and 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 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). Jean begins to woo Miss Julie by telling her stories about how he saw her as a child and how he dreams of marrying her. Shortly after, he confesses that he was only pretending. 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 she has left, after he 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, Kristin comes downstairs, prepared to go to church. She is shocked by Jean and Miss Julie's planning and unmoved when Miss Julie offers for her to come along with them as head of the kitchen of the hotel. Kristin explains to Miss Julie about God and forgiveness and heads off for church, telling them as she leaves that she will tell the stablemasters to not 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 kill herself.

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. It was based on the stage production in Stockholm in 1906.
  • In 1951, Alf Sjöberg made a film version, Miss Julie, from his own screenplay.
  • In 1972, John Glenister and Robin Phillips directed a television version, with Helen Mirren as Julie and Donal McCann as Jean.
  • 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 Prinslo played Julie and John Kahi 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 1999, Mike Figgis made a film version, Miss Julie, from a screenplay by Helen Cooper. Saffron Burrows played Julie and Peter Mullan played Jean.
  • In July 2006, a new translation of Miss Julie 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 Irish servant class and Ascendancy landowners to carry Strindberg's message to an Anglophone audience.

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