Cover image for Cruel banquet : the life and loves of Frida Strindberg
Cruel banquet : the life and loves of Frida Strindberg
Strauss, Monica J.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2000]

Physical Description:
xvi, 264 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PT9815 .S68 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Life is a cruel banquet, Frida Uhl Strindberg said. "You pay for food and board with your blood." Frida's banquet, in many ways, is the tale of her encounters with the seminal cultural figures of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: August Strindberg, Edward Munch, Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound, Augustus Johns. Her life embodied the fin-de-siècle generation, the contradiction in the relationships between men and women, between art and commerce. In 1893, one year out of convent school, Frida married the forty-three-year-old controversial Swedish playwright, August Strindberg. The marriage was an act of rebellion against her father-one of Austria's most important drama critics, a man preoccupied with his social and political standing, with concealing the family's marital discord and Jewish heritage. A divorceé by twenty-four, Frida successfully improvised a career as a cultural impresario. She saw herself as equal to men and made little distinction between her private and public lives. She never hesitated to draw on her feminine charms or maternal qualities to launch or hold a "discovery," nor did she spare her lovers or her children the calculations of a businesswoman. Monica Strauss fashions a complex and captivating look at Frida Strindberg's stubborn pursuit of a cultural role and her continuing struggle with the aftermath of her youthful marriage, truly a cruel banquet and an extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Best known for her short, tempestuous marriage to misogynist Swedish playwright August Strindberg, Frida Strindberg had the misfortune of living in a transitional age for women. She was caught in the cultural crossfire between accepting the conventional life her father wanted for her and seeking outlets for her burning, restless intellect. Despite the obstacles society threw in her path, she remained remarkably true to herself. Ambitious, sensual, and defiant, Frida isn't always likable, yet Strauss makes her more than sympathetic as she describes, in almost equal measure, Frida's peripatetic career and her often messy personal life, from her marriage to her founding of London's first cabaret. Ironically, after Strindberg's death, she became his greatest defender. Later, she would reinvent herself in America, as a public speaker after the outbreak of World War I and then as a screenwriter in the fledgling film industy. Although Strauss vividly portrays the bohemian circles of the 1890s through 1920s in Berlin, Munich, Vienna, London, and New York, the haunting depiction of a maddeningly enigmatic woman is her most resonant achievement. --June Sawyers

Publisher's Weekly Review

This is a thoroughly engrossing biography of Frida Uhl Strindberg (1872-1943), the famous playwright's second wife, whom Strauss portrays as a kind of feminist heroine, a woman of independence and sensuality in an era when these qualities were not admired in women. Frida, then in her early 20s, and August, 20 years her senior, were wed less than two years, but, Strauss, an independent scholar who lives in New York City, argues that this brief and largely painful period in Frida's life would come to epitomize the most basic psychological struggles that drove her in her remaining 40 (unmarried) years. Her marriage to the "enfant terrible" of the theater world flew in the face of Frida's father's wishes; August was cruel to Frida, indulging in verbal abuse, both public and private, and incessant attacks of jealousy. Perhaps most notably, Frida struggled with conflicting impulses. Her father encouraged her to think of herself "as a man," that is, to pursue her ambition to write (she was a journalist), to forge connections with some of the most prominent artists of her period (mostly avant-gardists such as Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis) and to express her opinions strongly. But she was criticized for doing so by those in her worldÄand by her husband. Strauss's sympathies clearly lie with Frida, but her sympathy seems to blind her to Frida's flaws, which include her tendency to be stubborn and manipulative. Strauss has done impressive research, requiring considerable mastery of four languages, and she gained access to valuable sources housed by her subject's direct relations. Frida's personal archive, only one of numerous primary materials that Strauss has tracked down, adds richness and authenticity to this portrait of a woman who saw life as a "cruel banquet." (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

At age 20, Frida Uhl (1872-1943) became the second wife of the 43-year-old Swedish playwright August Strindberg. The marriage lasted just two years. Very intelligent and inclined to rebel against the strictures of her upper-middle-class Viennese parents, she was a poor fit for one of the most misogynistic of all writers. Before the divorce was final, she had borne a son with German playwright Franz Wedekind; among other numerous lovers was English painter Augustus John. Although Strauss, a cultural journalist, ultimately fails to convince us that Strindberg's life, beyond her liaisons with famous artistic men, requires full-length biographical treatment, she does provide a fascinating cultural history. On the one hand, Strindberg's is the not uncommon tragedy of the fin-de-sicle liberated woman discovering that even bohemian men often abused independent-minded, sexually liberated women. On the other, her attraction to emotionally abusive men seems almost willful, her virtual abandonment of her two children irresponsible, and her lectures on and 1935 memoir of August Strindberg delusional and self-serving. Strauss has combed several European archives and writes clearly, and her book belongs in most collections of 19th-century German culture and literature, Strindberg, and women's biography. (Photographs and index not seen.)DRobert W. Melton, Univ. of Kansas Libs., Lawrence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.