Monday, 28 January 2013

Strindberg and others: Strindberg's three foreign wives

Strindberg and others: Strindberg's three foreign wives: It is strange to think that Strindberg, who revolutionized the Swedish language, chose three wives who in different ways st...

Strindberg's three foreign wives

It is strange to think that Strindberg, who revolutionized the Swedish language, chose three wives who in different ways struggled with the language. Siri von Essen, his first wife, had grown up in Finland speaking French with her mother and Swedish with her father but since she had no formal education she never learnt to spell properly in Swedish and Strindberg often had to correct her spelling. Also, when she started working as an actress, she had a Finland-Swedish accent which was not acceptable on the Swedish stage at that time. She worked hard at trying to eradicate that accent and it is dubious whether she ever got rid of it altogether.

Frida Uhl, Strindberg’s second wife, set out to learn Swedish. She even suggested that Strindberg’s eldest daughter Karin should come and live with them in order to teach her Swedish. Frida’s letters from England in 1894 show that she made some attempts at least to pick up vocabulary but the marriage did not last long enough for her to make any serious progress. She was fluent in French and English, and German was her native tongue, so given the right circumstances she probably could have mastered Swedish well enough to translate Strindberg’s works into German, as was her intention.

Harriet Bosse, Strindberg’s third wife, was born in Norway and lived in Norway until her mid teens so when she arrived in Sweden she was told by various theatre producers that she needed to master ’King’s Swedish’ before she could hope for major parts.  When she auditioned at Dramaten the Artistic Director said that he would only employ her when she had learnt to speak like a normal person, i.e. without a Norwegian accent. Harriet spent two months with a voice coach, working intensively at her pronunciation and intonation and after that she was offered her first part at Dramaten. She continued to struggle with the language for a long time after that and complained that the Swedish language ’did not want to get into my head, which is understandable, because  I previously spoke the most beautiful language in the world.’ But Harriet was stubborn and ambitious and she felt sure that one day she would master the Swedish language and speak like a native. For a long time she conversed in Norwegian with her sisters but in the end she gave in and spoke Swedish in private as well.