CRUEL BANQUET by Monica Strauss
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The Life and Loves of Frida Strindberg
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A dynamic portrait of a flawed, masochistic woman (in the thrall of “literary-erotic curiosity”) who embodied the contradictions and seductions of modern literary history.

Frida Strindberg, née Uhl, spent most of her adulthood astutely promoting the careers’ of the men at the center of Europe’s literary avant-garde. When she was 20 she met August Strindberg, an impoverished literary celebrity unable to cope with the gritty realities of publishing and theatre. Frida was fascinated. Intent on being useful, she began promoting Strindberg’s work even before they were married; later on, Frida became romantically involved with the playwright Frank Wedekind (who was to father her illegitimate second child) and introduced him to Berlin’s cultural elite. Neither man supported Frida or their offspring. Just as unorthodox, Frida left her children in the care of her mother to pursue her career as cultural journalist. Well-educated and multilingual, she produced a wide variety of work. In Vienna she arranged for the German publication of Oscar Wilde; in London she established a cabaret; in New York she lectured, produced plays, and wrote scripts for the cinema. Throughout, she continued to choose relationships with hostile men (after her divorce, even the bohemians in her circle regarded her as ruined, sexually available but not marriage material). Almost comically, Strindberg and Wedekind authored many articles on women’s mental inferiority. Strauss’s conjecture that Frida was attracted to such men because they reminded her on some level of her father is a bit simplistic; after all, Frida’s intensely religious mother openly attacked her daughter’s character and appeared to believe that her children were wicked—and surely this, along with her father’s conservatism, contributed to Frida’s distorted sense of self. In the end, Frida’s refusal to live as the ideal female of the bourgeoisie or the radical left was the life she chose, all on her own.

A fresh and illuminating study. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-15-100290-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2000