Dave Rice 12:38 p.m., May 21
In his famous preface to Miss Julie, August Strindberg lambastes women's liberation. Those who try to break from male dominance and assert themselves he calls "half-women." "She signifies degeneration."
Then, with a huff you can year 100 years away, he adds that "degenerate men seem instinctively to choose mates among half-women, so that they increase in number, bring into being creatures of uncertain sex who are tortured by life."
One of the most liberated women of the late 19th century was Dagney Juel (1867-1901). Among the first to advocate women's rights in Norway, she wrote on many subjects but most of all about feminism.
In the early 1890s, she met Edvard Munch (famous for "The Scream") and often posed for his paintings (though many concluded they were lovers, Munch never discussed their relationship, even in his explicit diaries).
The red-haired Juel was tall and thin. "She drank quantities of absinthe without noticeable effect," writes Strindberg's biographer, Michael Meyer, "and was an exponent of free love; she rapidly acquired the nickname Aspasia, after the famous mistress of Pericles."
"She was by no means beautiful," an unnamed man noted after her death, "yet few women were more seductive...She needed only to look at a man, and put her hand on his arm, and he at once found himself able to express something he had long carried within him without previously having been able to give it form."
Strindberg wrote Miss Julie in 1888. In the play, countess Julie has sex with a servant. She becomes so ashamed of the deed - and the drop in social class - she commits suicide (in Ion Theatre's current reimagining, Julia, she's an aristocrat from Mexico vowing revenge on a philandering husband).
Around 1893, Strindberg became miss Julie.
According to his ex-wife, Frida Uhl, Strindberg had been talking about her to Juel, whom he'd just met, "for hours and hours. They had been drinking beer, wine, toddy, Swedish punch, absinthe."
He swore he wasn't drunk. When he escorted her to her hotel, she invited him in.
Frida: "When his senses had cooled, he became conscious. He suddenly found himself in bed in an unknown, untidy room. He caught sight of hairpins on the carpet and ugly powder spots on the drab red plush sofa. Disgust rose in him."
Then he noticed Juel next to him.
Frida: "He was unable to reason. He obeyed an urge which ordered him to break away from the vulgar situation."
He had become the "degenerate" man he decried. Revulsion consumed him.
"He dragged Aspasia out of bed and pushed her out of the room and bolted the door," forgetting that this was not his hotel room but hers. "Physically and morally relieved, he had again gone to bed and slept until late in the day."
Strindberg vowed to Frida it was just a one night stand for which he felt profoundly humiliated (he complained/boasted to others that the affair lasted at least three weeks).
Two years later, Strindberg divorced Frida: she was too liberated, he said, and meddled too much in his affairs (in 1912, Frida opened a nightclub in London, the Cave of the Golden Calf: regulars included Wyndham Lewis, Katherine Mansfield, Ford Mattox Ford, and Ezra Pound, who admired her sophistication).
Juel was murdered at a hotel in Tiblisi - shot in the head by an ex-lover named Emeryk. Her former husband, Stanislaw Przybyszewski may also have conspired.
A Norwegian company made a movie about her, Dagney, in 1977.