Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What's in a name?

What’s in a name?

About twelve years ago I came across an attractive, young-looking woman who could have been in her mid forties. She introduced herself as Madeleine Strindberg, August Strindberg’s granddaughter.
‘Hello, hello,’ I thought. ‘Something funny here.’ She can’t be one of Siri von Essen’s granddaughters. Karin only had one daughter, also called Karin and she married her cousin, Hans’ adopted son, Erik. They didn’t have any children so there were no grandchildren from Strindberg’s eldest daughter, or only son for that matter. Greta, the second daughter, died in a train crash just a month after August’s death. She was pregnant at the time but the child did not survive either.  Anne-Marie, Strindberg’s daughter by Harriet Bosse, only had two sons, so Madeleine could not belong to that family either. Who was she then? Could it have been one of Frida Uhl’s offspring? Frida had one daughter by Strindberg, Kerstin, who in turn had one son, Kristoffer Sulzbach. 
‘Ah!’ But Frida had an affair with another well-known playwright, Franz Wedekind, and managed to produce a son before her divorce from Strindberg was made absolute. In other words, Madame Strindberg, as she called herself for the rest of her life, had given birth to another Strindberg who could legitimately keep the name and who, because of that name, got Swedish citizenship and helped thousands of Jews  flee from Germany during the  Second World War. He became a journalist and writer and wrote a very interesting novel about life in Berlin during the war. The German title was Die Juden in Berlin. Wie sie leben, lieben und sterben. When the book was published in Sweden the Strindberg family were not pleased to have this ‘bastard’ Strindberg in their midst so he published the Swedish version under another name, Fredrik Uhlson.
The book was reissued by Bonniers a few years ago with an afterword by Jan Myrdal. So it was this Friedrich Strindberg, August’s legitimate (since he was born in wedlock) but not biological son who had a daughter in the 1950s called Madeleine. She is a well-known artist, based in London and she has won the prestigious Jerwood Prize for her art. In a way, of course, Madeleine was right. She is August Strindberg’s granddaughter, even if his blood is not running through her veins.
I bought one of her expressive paintings at an exhibition, signed in flamboyant handwriting: Madeleine Strindberg. So now I can boast that I have a Strindberg painting in my collection.