Strindberg’s Inferno is in many respects a crucial text for the development of modernist drama and narrative in Scandinavia and Germany. The depiction of Paris, in particular, proved to be a potent model both for later writers such as Rilke and also for his own plays, such as To Damascus and A Dream Play, which represent flâneur-like characters on the fin-de-siècle stage. The Paris of Inferno is not only the mythic site of Strindberg’s rebirth as a modernist writer but also the origin of a new poetics and perhaps also of new theories of the city as a model for understanding transformations in European culture during the last 150 years, as exemplified by Walter Benjamin’s texts on the French capital.
But Paris is hardly the only city to figure prominently in the texts of Scandinavian writers at the turn of the last century. Strindberg scholars have noted the importance of Berlin and Stockholm for his development, but most, like Strindberg himself, are eerily silent regarding his short stay in London in 1893. His second wife Frida Uhl, however, gives a vivid account of the pair’s stay in the English capital that not only emphasizes its hellish aspects but also suggests that London represented Strindberg’s first and perhaps most important encounter with a modern European city. Frida Uhl also stayed on in London after Strindberg fled and chronicled her own experiences there.
This paper will discuss Uhl’s representation of London in her book on her marriage to Strindberg in relation both to Inferno and to the work of Strindberg’s rival, Anne Charlotte Leffler, who visited London in 1884 and published accounts of her experiences there in Lösa blad från det moderna London, a series of articles published in Stockholms Dagblad in 1885, as well as other texts. Leffler’s visit to London marked a turning point in her own writing: in particular, there are clear parallels between Lösa blad and her 1885 play, Hur man gör godt. But the article series also suggests how the experience of the largest city in Europe informs a new poetics.
Juxtaposing Inferno to the accounts of London by Uhl and Leffler brings into focus the extent to which Strindberg’s Paris is haunted by his experiences in a far more hostile and impersonal city. But on a more positive note, London also emerges as the site for the transformation of the writing of Anne Charlotte Leffler, who in the years following her visit produced a series of novels, novellas, and plays that reflected the newest developments in European literature and aimed at an international audience.
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