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The Inferno - August Strindberg Preview:
An American critic says "Strindberg is the greatest subjectivist of all time." Certainly neither Augustine, Rousseau, nor Tolstoy have laid bare their souls to the finest fibre with more ruthless sincerity than the great Swedish realist. He fulfilled to the letter the saying of Robertson of Brighton, "Woman and God are two rocks on which a man must either anchor or be wrecked." His four autobiographical works, The Son of a Servant, The Confessions of a Fool, Inferno, and Legends, are four segments of an immense curve tracing his progress from the childish pietism of his early years, through a period of atheism and rebellion, to the sombre faith in a "God that punishes" of the sexagenarian. In his spiritual wanderings he grazed the edge of madness, and madmen often see deeper into things than ordinary folk. At the close of the Inferno he thus sums up the lesson of his life's pilgrimage: "Such then is my life: a sign, an example to serve for the improvement of others; a proverb, to show the nothingness of fame and popularity; a proverb, to show young men how they ought not to live; a proverbÑbecause I who thought myself a prophet am now revealed as a braggart." It is strange that though the names of Ibsen and Nietzsche have long been familiar in England, Strindberg, whom Ibsen is reported to have called "One greater than I," as he pointed to his portrait, and with whom Nietzsche corresponded, is only just beginning to attract attention, though for a long time past most of his works have been accessible in German. Even now not much more is known about him than that he was a pessimist, a misogynist, and writer of Zolaesque novels. To quote a Persian proverb, "They see the mountain, but not the mine within it." No man admired a good wife and mother more than he did, but he certainly hated the Corybantic, "emancipated" women of the present time. No man had a keener appreciation of the gentle joys of domesticity, and the intensity of his misogyny was in strict proportion to the keenness of his disappointment. The Inferno relates how grateful and even reverential he was to the nurse who tended him in hospital, and to his mother-in-law. He felt profoundly the charm of innocent childhood, and paternal instincts were strong in him. All his life long he had to struggle with four terrible inner foesÑdoubt, suspicion, fear, sensuality. His doubts destroyed his early faith, his ceaseless suspicions made it impossible for him to be happy in friendship or love, his fear of the "invisible powers," as he calls them, robbed him of all peace of mind, and his sensuality dragged him repeatedly into the mire..