Ibsen and Strindberg - Hedda Gabler and Miss Julie

"Compare and contrast the characters of Hedda Gabler and Miss Julie in the plays by Ibsen and Strindberg. Support your findings with comments on the writers attitudes to their characters."

August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen were both great playwrights of the 19th century, and both played a large role in the evolution of modern day naturalism/ realism. The plays I will be discussing are Ibsen?s Hedda Gabler, (1890) and Strindberg?s Miss Julie (1888). In Karen?s lecture on Strindberg, she told how the two playwrights were rivals in a sense, mainly caused by Strindberg?s attitudes on social issues- Namely his thoughts and theory on the role of women in society. Thus, I am lead to believe that Hedda Gabler was written by Ibsen as a direct retaliation to Strindberg?s Miss Julie, just as Karen believes that Strindberg?s The Father was written as a reply to Ibsen?s Ghosts. Although both plays end with the suicide of the leading character, the circumstances by which they occur are very different.

In order to take these plays in their full context, it is important to examine the lives of the playwrights and see just how much of their own thoughts, beliefs and feelings are reflected in their plays. I feel this is particularly important in the case of Strindberg. I was intrigued by Karen?s lecture on Strindberg, in particular the rise of his misogynist attitudes and his state of mental health. His attitudes are reflected in Miss Julie quite clearly. Strindberg believed that Women were a secondary form, which can be seen through reading his preface to the play. The translation of the play I examined was from the "Drama Classics" (D.C) Series. I found a very interesting piece of writing in this version of the play; In an editors note, it is explained that the translation was based on the original text, and contained some rants which were not included in most published versions. The most interesting of these was a part in the preface which was not in the other versions, it reads as follows;

[There?s a view, current at the moment even among quite sensible people,
that women, that secondary form humanity (second to men, the lords and
shapers of human civilisation) should in some way become equal with men,
or could so be; this is leading to a struggle which is both bizarre and doomed.
It?s bizarre because a secondary form, by the laws of science, is always going
to be a secondary form........the proposition is as impossible as that two
parallel lines should ever meet.]

I find these comments quite astounding, and there are no shortage of similar comments in his preface. Karen explained how Strindberg also believed that when a woman was menstruating, it meant she was in an altered state of mind. In his preface, Strindberg gives this as one of the possible reasons behind Julie?s suicide. An understanding of these attitudes is vital to fully understand Miss Julie and make the connection between Julie and Hedda.

As I touched on earlier, Strindberg developed a hate towards Ibsen, as he saw him as a promoter of feminism. Karen spoke of Ibsen?s Ghosts, in which a woman spoke out against a dead man. Strindberg did not like this, as the male had no chance to defend himself. As a result, he wrote The Father. In this play, Strindberg makes all the female characters out to be dislikeable and narky. It is this which leads me to believe that Hedda Gabler was written by Ibsen as a reply to Miss Julie. I will attempt to display my reasoning behind this theory, analysing the title characters from both plays and demonstrating the writers attitudes being displayed throughout the play.

To me, Miss Julie seems to be a true ?Battle of the sexes? play, in which the male inevitably wins. Throughout the play, a power game is being played by Jean and Julie. The character of Julie is what Strindberg would describe as a ?half-woman?- that is, she does not know her place in society and tries to dominate a male. Strindberg?s preface touches on this issue;

"Modern feminists thrust themselves forward, selling themselves for
power, honours, distinctions and diplomas as women once did for
money."

She is socially superior to Jean in that she is from an aristocratic family and Jean is her fathers servant. She tries to assert herself