In the last season of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the popular lowbrow comedienne Sophie Lennon, played by Jane Lynch, wants to prove her acting chops by starring in a theatre play of Miss Julie. Despite rehearsal performances that are nuanced, in the actual performance Lennon plays Miss Julie as a variation on her lowbrow alter ego, to crushing reviews. It turns out that this highbrow/lowbrow collision is one of the main themes of Miss Julie, so Lennon’s portrayal might actually have been a novel approach.
Miss Julie is a tragedy that was hailed as one of the first ‘realistic’ plays, as opposed to the romanticism that came before it. There are only three characters: Miss Julie, the Count’s daughter; Jean, the Count’s valet; and Kristin, the cook. The plot is equally spare: set amidst the revelry of a single long night, Midsomer’s Eve, Julie and Jean sleep together. Julie’s fall from grace and Jean’s dreams of upward social mobility lead the two of them to plot potential escapes (running a hotel in Italy). Ultimately their dreams lead to nothing and when morning appears on the horizon and the Count’s footfalls are heard, Jean falls back into his servant role and Julie walks offstage into likely self-harm.
I hated it. I didn’t like any of the characters and I really disliked Strindberg’s characterization of (and motivations for) women characters. It seems like the 1800s equivalent of writing a play about the downfall of bra-burning feminists (their own flaws will destroy them!), and it’s a trite mansplain of all the reasons a woman might be unhappy with/ feel constricted by social mores. Strindberg is earnestly trying to combine a commentary on gender, social class and psychology, and maybe his particular commentary flew when he wrote it, but in this age it just seems sad and dated- another white man trying to explain the world to everyone else.
I also disliked that all the attached commentary (5 essays!), all of which focused on the ‘realistic’ theatre that Strindberg had created. This version was published in the 1970s, and all of the essays were by men, which together explain the omission of a feminist critique- I was unsurprised but still disappointed.