Class clash in Miss Julie
Compiled by John Millen
A dangerous woman
Miss Julie is the story of a wealthy count's daughter who, on the surface, seems like she has everything a woman could want. But, like a caged animal, she feels trapped by her social situation.
Julie is determined to break free from the trap, regardless of whether her actions harm or destroy others. Julie has recently broken off her engagement to her fiance, and now seems willing to do whatever it takes to escape the confines of her social position as an upper-class woman.
Her behaviour and choices may seem crazy, but she is desperate.
The play is set one midsummer's night towards the end of the 19th century on a nobleman's estate in northern Sweden. The servants who run the estate are in the middle of their annual party when something very strange happens. Julie, the nobleman's daughter, arrives at the celebration and joins in the festivities.
This is unheard of. Aristocrats never mix socially with their servants. What are Julie's motives? Does she understand what she is doing?
To make matters worse, Julie is attracted to Jean, the count's valet, who doesn't seem to like the other servants. He is well-travelled, intelligent and has dreams of opening a hotel.
When all the other servants have gone to bed, Julie and Jean spend the night planning their escape. They agree to settle down in another town and open a hotel.
Both see a use for the other: Julie knows the young valet can help her escape, while Jean hopes Julie's riches can help him turn his dream into reality. When dawn breaks, they have decided to leave Sweden together. Neither of them sees that their plan will only end in tragedy.
Social class is the motivating force in Miss Julie. Julie is Jean's superior in terms of social status because she is the daughter of nobility and he is a mere servant. Jean is superior to Julie because he is a man and is expected to have the upper hand in any relationship. Julie wants to escape from her social position because it restricts her, and Jean wants to climb out of his lower-class life.
At the end of the 19th century, and into much of the 20th, most of Europe was divided into upper and lower classes based on one's birth and wealth. The dividing line was fixed and it was seldom breached.
Miss Julie was written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg (1849-1912). It was first performed in Stockholm in 1906.
Since then, there have been many film versions, and the original stage play is still performed regularly all over the world.
There are only three characters in the play, and the success of the performance depends on the talents of the actress playing the title role. Even though Julie is not always an appealing character, the actress playing her has to gain the audience's sympathy if the performance is going to affect the audience. Like the roles of Shakespeare's heroines, the role is much sought-after by actresses, and has been played by some of theatre's biggest names.
Strindberg wrote more than 60 plays, but it is Miss Julie that has stood the test of the time.
Complete these sentences by choosing the correct option.
1 Miss Julie was first performed in (2006 / 1906).
2 It was written by August Strindberg, a playwright from (Norway/Sweden).
3 The major theme of the play is the power of (society / class).
4 Julie is an (aristocrat / actress) and Jean is a (nobleman / servant).
5 Jean wants to use Miss Julie to improve his (social / foreign) standing.
6 Julie finds her life as a nobleman's daughter (oppressive / worthwhile).
7 The play (still / rarely) appeals to modern audiences.
1. 1906, 2. Sweden, 3. class, 4. aristocrat; servant, 5. social, 6. oppressive, 7. still