Did Strindberg denounce Miss Julie’s actions himself ? How is Miss Julie relavant to India today ?

Has the west finally achieved the egalitarian society it boasts about? Does the class and gender war only exist in Asia and Africa? In that context, is a 19th century Swedish play, relevant to 21st century India?

 Social preoccupations and prejudices find a place in August Strindberg’s most popular play, Miss Julie. The daughter of a count, living in a morally upright society,  has an affair with one of her servants. I wonder how many of us Indian women would be able to stomach a one night stand with the khansama and then face the family squarely, the following morning? Bizarre….certainly. Possible? Eminently. And we are not talking khap panchayats here. It goes way beyond. Which is why it becomes all the more important to stage plays like Miss Julie, which force us to introspect and come face to face with our own insecurities and hypocrisy.


–Sohaila Kapur, theatre director.


25 thoughts on “Did Strindberg denounce Miss Julie’s actions himself ? How is Miss Julie relavant to India today ?

  1. today everything, everywher is wieghed on the introspective scales of the pageant social and cultural morality. where is benevolence towards humanity?
    people are hypocratic because they want to live in the socity. the socity which is more dread drived then mutual affection.

  2. but without introspection there is no reprieve. mutual affection, benevolence, that too is a result of introspection. Perhaps if Strindberg’s Julie had introspected, she may not have fallen into the trap she did. A fall that nevertheless required courage. The question now is, are introspection and spontaneous courage, mutually exclusive?

  3. Does introspection happen with or without involvement of mind, because if it is with the mind , then wouldn’t layers of conditioning built on it , from the morals and values of the society that one lives in, impact the outcome? Spontaneous courage , would probably come from the heart…

  4. Bravo.

    I was going to point to Vidur, and the story we all know. But no, in all honesty a Miss Julie-like incident would be gossip fodder, the woman ostracized.

  5. We can relate stories to any place in the world. For ex: is love confined to only one place? Similarly, other emotions too can be found in any nook and corner of the world. If emotions are universal, how can the West be declared as an “egalitarian society”? Socities are nothing, but emotions en masse.

  6. I can’t quite equate emotions with egalitarianism here. Societies have rigid hierarchies despite the universality of emotions. A woman always has to capitulate to the prevailing morality, whether she is royalty or a bandit. And she is the one who ultimately suffers for trying to be her own person. So whether it’s a fictional Miss Julie, based on a flesh and blood character from Strindberg’s time, Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth or Phoolan Devi…they’ve all had to reign in their passion in deference to the code of conduct laid out for them by patriarchy. Makes me wonder if March 8 will also become just another hollow celebration? Would like your take on that Shekhar, since you made Elizabeth and Bandit Queen, films about strong women who were forced to compromise.

  7. It is the identification with our bodies that makes this messy. In who we really are, our bodies male or female are mere distinctions. To see discrimination and struggle as a female reality comes from our popular culture today. We have been brought up to recognize those patterns and fed on those divisions, and surely enough we observe them as such and believe them deeply. There is nothing universal about them. As long as our identification are with our body types seems true, the stories attached with them will also seem true, irrefutable and relevant.

    Trying to fight with or against female discrimination is not going get us anywhere. To free our own selves from the mistaken identification surely will. Too many a women (and some men) are engaged in holding a flag for the feminine identity. This activist trap needs to be seen through. Our real freedom is not from the patriarchy – It is from the false identity of our ownselves.

  8. Morality? Immorality ?”
    ,a woman goes through many emotional journeys in life, the worst is being ignored.She suffers a sort of ignonimity
    .From Bandit Queen to Princess Di, to any other present day woman , they give of themselves for reasons beyond a mans comprehension.These are not “fallen women” Who are we to judge.
    So, passion in royalty is no different than passion of those from another’ class.’ An emotion. Maybe incorrect, maybe gossip fodder to some, but that’s the reality.So Khansamma or driver, so what?.But she does suffer due to her decisions taken,a moment in time when she gives in to her desires and becomes the fallen woman. Never mind the person who made her “fall” .I think Princess Di and bandit Queen are still admired for their tennacity, lets not deny them that . For me they were strong women fighting for what they wanted, good bad indifferent, I dont care. They were courageous.
    What is cultural morality? I do not know.
    I think humanity has too many gossip mongerers with nothing to do but point fingers without introspection.
    So Dear Sohaila, I think Miss Julie is pertinent to Indian society. You have always believed in what you do, so continue to do so, don’t fail yourself, be the woman you are and want to be, someone with the courage of your convictions. I know that!

  9. I play ‘miss Julie’ in Director’s Sohaila Kapur’s version of the classic by Strindberg… Having gone inside Miss Julie’s head I see no difference in the Julie of the 19th century and the Julie of today. Miss Julie is a perfect representation of a strong, empowered yet defenseless woman at the hands of an extremely complex, complicated scenario. A woman’s inner conflicts come alive here in this play… her yearning for love, bearing her soul selflessly and being the giver to humanity , home, children are just how women are construed to be. It’s sad that in a society like ours in India or even on a global stage, expectations of basic requirements of women don’t change. We categorize the gender well give them nomenclature rules however we stop in our tracks believing we’re all just human beings who crave love, lust, passion, compassion, desires etc. Yes the gender in itself is designed to feel differently and experience emotions differently. However one gender trespasses the outer or even the inner emotional layer it becomes unfathomable for either woman or man to cope. In the play Miss julie is the one with a direct clear heart, but she uses her appeal, strength, weakness and at times bravado to conquer Jean. She is a complex individual who’s understanding of love is selfless.

  10. How do we ‘judg’e that she was wrong in falling in love with hired help? When we say, all are equal, then where do we draw the line? At the same time, when certain sects of societies in our very culture, hide behind closed doors and fornicate with their valets/cooks/secys….then are we coming out and saying what kunwaraani sahiba did was wrong or Mrs. ABC of errant husband fame should not have run away with anyone? When do feelings come? Who are the moral police?

    I am not saying its ok..pls do not get me wrong. i am saying, the frustration of not being able to say that u fell in love with someone so beneath u in social status+equality measure, is bad enough, to top it with soceity labelling you as an outcaste. Better than being gangraped by 5 in gurgaon or no??

  11. The play was set in different times. I have not read it and will be away when it is staged. I must say Suhaila, u choose fabulous topics to search for the woman’s inner self. I dont care what anyone else says anymore. If I were you, which I am not, I would do exactly what you are doing.
    To say that it is wrong or right, is not the answer here. The question is, here is a woman who slept with someone, or fell in lust/love. It is her body, what she chose to do with it, is no one else’s concern. No asks anyone when they start doing wierd stuff, which is kinky, or plain sick or perverse.
    Here is a woman who chose to do something out of her choice, fairly, did not hurt anyone, use anyone, beat anyone, torture anyone, victimise anyone. In my eyes, its not a cardinal sin. Its ok.

    In my eyes, staring at a woman’s body parts is odd. Telling a woman how to dress is odd. Telling her to be servile is wrong. I rest my case.

  12. “…..wonder if March 8 will also become just another hollow celebration?”

    Women’s Day, Mothers Day, Father’s day, Valentine’s Day…..hmm, if everyday is special, isn’t the need to celebrate A special day so superfluous? Ever thought about why there’s no such thing as International Men’s Day and a celebratory spirit rallied around it? Men either feel special all year round, or don’t for even just one day (sorry to come into this space created by a man and say this!) — so, which one is it ?! Ah, another business opportunity-in-waiting for the Hallmarks of the world, who wouldn’t care either way 🙂

    Never mind these toxic *special* days — “None of us belong here. But we are here. There’s not enough time. Cut the BS. Just love”


  13. What Miss Julie the play about? Is it about Sex? Is it about Power? What Strindberg wants to say in this play? What Miss Julie wants? I think it’s very simple and well written play about women’s right, that they are not less than men in any field.Or she just wanted to have a little fun, dances at the servants annual midsummer party.

    Being a muslim i want to tell even islam gives women the equal right as compare to men, YES PRE MARITAL SEX is HARAM in islam and in other religion too, but what i am trying to say in this blog is that the women and men are equal in every way…………..

    The Islam states that both men and women are equal,neither the Quran nor Hadith mention women have to be housewives. Majority Muslim countries give women varying degrees of rights with regards to marriage, divorce, civil rights, legal status, dress code, and education based on different interpretations.

    Islam states that men and women are created from a single soul. One person does not come before the other, one is not superior to the other, and one is not the derivative of the other. A woman is not created for the purpose of a man. Rather, they are both created for the mutual benefit of each other.

    Also in the islam it’s indicated that all of mankind is made from a single soul. Also, they were equal in destiny when they were ordered by God not to eat from the forbidden tree, which resulted in their exile from heaven because of the temptations of the devil, and not by the temptation of Eve.

    PLEASE DO COME WATCH OUR PLAY on March 23@ Epicentre, Gurgaon and March 24@ India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road. 7 p.m. Tickets available at venue.

    Tarique Hassan.

  14. Miss Julie is a tragic story of a woman born of aristocracy looking for love and acceptance. She was not addicted, but indeed often resented the impositions of the constricting moral and ethical code of the aristocracy. In that sense it is a play that is relevant to all times.

    This was a strange play from Strindberg who was a bit of a misogynist. Having created what could have been a great surge of hope for a heroine like Miss Julie, he preferred to give it a tragic end. Was that an expression of despair for the social structures of those times, or was that a hidden resentment within the playwright himself for the actions of Miss Julie.

    Did he in the end denounce Miss Julie himself ?

    Where do you, as Director, stand Sohaila ?

  15. Its a tricky territory to explore whether Strindberg himself denounced Julie’s actions or not. He is often said to draw from his own personal experiences. His own relationships with women have been tumultuous so how non-subjective his thinking may be, might be questioned. But having said that, he saw the hypocrisy of gender discrimination. Men were allowed free reign to live and act as they pleased, but women till date live with snapped wings.

    Ms. Julie is certainly relevant in today’s times, though society has progressed to some extent, every time “women have tried to express themselves” they have met with immense resistance. It has taken decades to reach where we are today. Still women are objectified, if they are resistance to sex and desire, they are considered prude, if they allow themselves to follow their heart and delve and experience that desire they are considered “loose” judged every step of the way…

    Why must following ones most primal instincts be considered a taboo for women, as a crime? Lust, desire, freedom to love, is as natural as the air we breathe. Yet society is filled with moral guardians who draw lines and definitions of whats right and wrong. Whether in the lower strata or higher strata of society, human emotions remain the same…

    Ms. Julie tried breaking through the shackles society had held her down with, she saw freedom in her man-servant, saw a rawness in his expression and a thought process so different from hers, that she could not help but be drawn to him… he denoted everything she didn’t have and wanted to live as…and therein lay the tug of war between the head and the heart…whats right & whats wrong..and her fight with herself…that finally led to her end….

  16. Hi Tarique

    How nice to hear from you! And what good fortune that I will be in Delhi on 23rd and 24th to attend a discourse by the Dalai Lama. I plan to come to the play with my friend Vivek Mansukhani. Will have to keep that biryani pending as I hardly have any free time. I will be staying with Vivek.
    So do you come to Mumbai at all? Yes I am in SoBo now and I know I have to make that fish curry for you someday.
    In the meantime, good luck with the play. It is a great play and I am sure Sohaila and you guys are doing a great job of it.
    See you soon!

    Mahesh Dattani

  17. To answer your question, Shekhar, I think Strindberg had a grudging admiration for Miss Julie’s character. Perhaps she was based on one of his own lovers’/partner’s/wives. He gave her lines that would frustrate any man, to which Jean, her servant-lover responds, `What do you want from me Miss Julie? Do you want me to jump over your riding whip?…..we make love in our spare time, for fun….we don’t have time for it all day long, like you do..” A statement that brings out the gender and class differentiation. For me, Julie is a strong woman, who, if she hadn’t had such a warped upbringing (her mother taught her to hate all men and made all the men do the women’s work and vice-versa at their farm, “till everything went to rack and ruin”) would have been a sensible businesswoman and an enlightened feminist. She had the seeds in her, but her loveless life ultimately saw her ruin. Isn’t that a universal story? And I think Strindberg’s sympathies, never really with his female characters, were entirely with Julie. I think he must have wept for her when he wrote the last scene.

  18. Is Miss Julie relevant to india today?

    The most important part is the fact that we share our perspective and philosophy of the play and yes indeed it is relevant to India today…..The play as any classic is and should be relevant globally at any time and age….it is a play about human nature and central in that human nature, is the human relationships between people … Regardless how ‘ different’ the Scandinavian and the Indian societies and culture are nowadays or back in the 19th century the global psychology of the human brain is essentially the same, and this is the key moment of where the investigation of the human nature and relationship should start and be open for interpretations without being judgmental and yet viewed with a constructively critical eye and let each individual in the audience conclude on their own of what, how, why, when and the rest is ‘ SILENCE ‘ 


    PLEASE DO COME WATCH OUR PLAY on March 23@ Epicentre, Gurgaon and March 24@ India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road. 7 p.m. Tickets available at venue.

    Tarique Hassan.

  19. Want to re-ask the question I have asked you earlier, Shekhar. Do you feel Phoolan Devi (Bandit Queen) and Elizabeth (Elizabeth, Golden Age) fall into the same category as Julie, as strong women who were forced to compromise? What do you feel as the director of their biopics?

  20. No they were not feminist. It’s like saying Four Feathers was masculanist. That’s simplifying story telling

    They were humanist. Yes they looked at fundamental issues from the point of view of being a woman, yes. But the issues were far deeper and universal. One took on the caste system and took an extreme example. It took on the use of rape as a tool of oppression and humiliation and tries to show that it is not a sexual act but a perverse way to exhibit power.

    Elizabeth was as much the story of Indira Gandhi. The idea of virginity being embedded into purity. Indira also gradually dropped any garb of femininity to Rule. Elizabeth did so too. But into those was embedded ideas of the meaning of Virgin Mary and why the immaculate conception is such a big thing in Christianity

    In Miss Julie, a Countess has an affair with her servant. That, I am sure, is a very normal occurrence in India. Hindi cinema is full of romanticised versions of that. I am not sure of the broader issues beyond the right of a woman to have sex with a servant, if it is o.k. for the man to do so. I am sure they exist, for the play to be so popular and even read as a textbook in India.


  21. is miss julie relevant?

    we only have to read all those reports of so-called honour killings to realise how very relevant it is.

  22. Miss Julie is essentially about power. The power struggle, both class and gender, that see- saws between the protagonists till the very end. It leaves us pondering about and questioning society. Have we progressed at all? Or is progress a delusion? And are we willing to stake the very human emotions of love, desire and security and sacrifice them so as to fit into societal norms? We, in the name of God, accept circumstances that we cannot control as our destiny. Is that also a way of society to keep us in check?

    Kristin, whom I play in Miss Julie, emerges as the strongest character, I feel, because she adheres to the rules of society and attempts to make the best of what she has. Is happiness found in sticking to society’s rules?

    Julie herself breaks these shackles in the hope of freedom. In our life we do come across characters like Miss Julie, who exemplify courage, strength and power. Are these qualities the essence of our being? And are we enlightened enough to distinguish the right from the wrong, which, in themselves, are relative. That can be another debate!

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