The Road to Damascus by August Strindberg

Produced by Nicole Apostola AUGUST STRINDBERG THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS A TRILOGY ENGLISH VERSION BY GRAHAM RAWSON WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY GUNNAR OLLEN CONTENTS INTRODUCTION PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE INTRODUCTION Strindberg’s great trilogy _The Road to Damascus_ presents many mysteries to the uninitiated. Its peculiar changes of mood, its gallery of half unreal
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  • 1898
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Produced by Nicole Apostola









Strindberg’s great trilogy _The Road to Damascus_ presents many mysteries to the uninitiated. Its peculiar changes of mood, its gallery of half unreal characters, its bizarre episodes combine to make it a bewilderingly rich but rather ‘difficult’ work. It cannot be recommended to the lover of light drama or the seeker of momentary distraction. _The Road to Damascus_ does not deal with the superficial strata of human life, but probes into those depths where the problems of God, and death, and eternity become terrifying realities.

Many authors have, of course, dealt with the profoundest problems of humanity without, on that account, having been able to evoke our interest. There may have been too much philosophy and too little art in the presentation of the subject, too little reality and too much soaring into the heights. That is not so with Strindberg’s drama. It is a trenchant settling of accounts between a complex and fascinating individual–the author–and his past, and the realistic scenes have often been transplanted in detail from his own changeful life.

In order fully to understand _The Road to Damascus_ it is therefore essential to know at least the most important features of that background of real life, out of which the drama has grown.

Parts I and II of the trilogy were written in 1898, while Part III was added somewhat later, in the years 1900-1901. In 1898 Strindberg had only half emerged from what was by far the severest of the many crises through which in his troubled life he had to pass. He had overcome the worst period of terror, which had brought him dangerously near the borders of sanity, and he felt as if he could again open his eyes and breathe freely. He was not free from that nervous pressure under which he had been working, but the worst of the inner tension had relaxed and he felt the need of taking a survey of what had happened, of summarising and trying to fathom what could have been underlying his apparently unaccountable experiences. The literary outcome of this settling of accounts with the past was _The Road to Damascus_.

_The Road to Damascus_ might be termed a marriage drama, a mystery drama, or a drama of penance and conversion, according as preponderance is given to one or other of its characteristics. The question then arises: what was it in the drama which was of deepest significance to the author himself? The answer is to be found in the title, with its allusion to the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles of the journey of Saul, the persecutor, the scoffer, who, on his way to Damascus, had an awe-inspiring vision, which converted Saul, the hater of Christ, into Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. Strindberg’s drama describes the progress of the author right up to his conversion, shows how stage by stage he relinquishes worldly things, scientific renown, and above all woman, and finally, when nothing more binds him to this world, takes the vows of a monk and enters a monastery where no dogmas or theology, but only broadminded humanity and resignation hold sway. What, however, in an inner sense, distinguishes Strindberg’s drama from the Bible narrative is that the conversion itself–although what leads up to it is convincingly described, both logically and psychologically–does not bear the character of a final and irrevocable decision, but on the contrary is depicted with a certain hesitancy and uncertainty. THE STRANGER’S entry into the monastery consequently gives the impression of being a piece of logical construction; the author’s heart is not wholly in it. From Strindberg’s later works it also becomes evident that his severe crisis had undoubtedly led to a complete reformation in that it definitely caused him to turn from worldly things, of which indeed he had tasted to the full, towards matters divine. But this did not mean that then and there he accepted some specific religion, whether Christian or other. One would undoubtedly come nearest to the author’s own interpretation in this respect by characterising _The Road to Damascus_ not as a drama of conversion, but as a drama of struggle, the story of a restless, arduous pilgrimage through the chimeras of the world towards the border beyond which eternity stretches in solemn peace, symbolised in the drama by a mountain, the peaks of which reach high above the clouds.

In this final settling of accounts one subject is of dominating importance, recurring again and again throughout the trilogy; it is that of woman. Strindberg him, of course, become famous as a writer about women; he has ruthlessly described the hatreds of love, the hell that marriage can be, he is the creator of _Le Plaidoyer d’un Fou_ and _The Dance of Death_, he had three divorces, yet was just as much a worshipper of woman–and at the same time a diabolical hater of her seducing qualities under which he suffered defeat after defeat. Each time he fell in love afresh he would compare himself to Hercules, the Titan, whose strength was vanquished by Queen Omphale, who clothed herself in his lion’s skin, while he had to sit at the spinning wheel dressed in women’s clothes. It can be readily understood that to a man of Strindberg’s self-conceit the problem of his relations with women must become a vital issue on the solution of which the whole Damascus pilgrimage depended.

In 1898, when Parts I and II of the trilogy were written, Strindberg had been married twice; both marriages had ended unhappily. In the year 1901, when the wedding scenes of Part III were written, Strindberg had recently experienced the rapture of a new love which, however, was soon to be clouded. It must not be forgotten that in his entire emotional life Strindberg was an artist and as such a man of impulse, with the spontaneity and naivity and intensity of a child. For him love had nothing to do with respectability and worldly calculations; he liked to think of it as a thunderbolt striking mortals with a destructive force like the lightning hurled by the almighty Zeus. It is easy to understand that a man of such temperament would not be particularly suited for married life, where self-sacrifice and strong-minded patience may be severely tested. In addition his three wives were themselves artists, one an authoress, the other two actresses, all of them pronounced characters, endowed with a degree of will and self-assertion, which, although it could not be matched against Strindberg’s, yet would have been capable of producing friction with rather more pliant natures than that of the Swedish dramatist.

In the trilogy Strindberg’s first wife, Siri von Essen, his marriage to whom was happiest and lasted longest (1877-1891), and more especially his second wife, the Austrian authoress Frida Uhl (married to him 1893-1897) have supplied the subject matter for his picture of THE LADY. In the happy marriage scenes of Part III we recognise reminiscences from the wedding of Strindberg, then fifty-two, and the twenty-three-year-old actress Harriet Bosse, whose marriage to him lasted from 1901 until 1904.

The character of THE LADY in Parts I and II is chiefly drawn from recollections–fairly recent when the drama was written–of Frida Uhl and his life with her. From the very beginning her marriage to Strindberg had been most troublous. In the autumn of 1892 Strindberg moved from the Stockholm skerries to Berlin, where he lived a rather hectic Bohemian life among the artists collecting in the little tavern ‘Zum Schwarzen Ferkel.’ He made the acquaintance of Frida Uhl in the beginning of the year 1893, and after a good many difficulties was able to arrange for a marriage on the 2nd May on Heligoland Island, where English marriage laws, less rigorous than the German, applied. Strindberg’s nervous temperament would not tolerate a quiet and peaceful honeymoon; quite soon the couple departed to Gravesend via Hamburg. Strindberg was too restless to stay there and moved on to London. There he left his wife to try to negotiate for the production of his plays, and journeyed alone to Sellin, on the island of Ruegen, after having first been compelled to stop in Hamburg owing to lack of money. Strindberg stayed on Ruegen during the month of July, and then left for the home of his parents-in-law at Mondsee, near Salzburg in Austria, where he was to meet his wife. But when she was delayed a few days on the journey from London, Strindberg impatiently departed for Berlin, where Frida Uhl followed shortly after. About the same time an action was brought for the suppression of the German version of _Le Plaidoyer d’un Fou_ as being immoral. This book gives an undisguised, intensely personal picture of Strindberg’s first marriage, and was intended by him for publication only after his death as a defence against accusations directed against him for his behaviour towards Siri von Essen. Strindberg was acquitted after a time, but before that his easily fired imagination had given him a thorough shake-up, which could only hasten the crisis which seemed to be approaching. After a trip to Bruenn, where Strindberg wrote his scientific work _Antibarbarus_, the couple arrived in November at the home of Frida Uhl’s grandparents in the little village of Dornach, by the Upper Danube; here the wanderings of 1893 at last came to an end. For a few months comparative peace reigned in the artists’ little home, but the birth of a daughter, Kerstin, in May, brought this tranquillity to a sudden end. Strindberg, who had lived in a state of nervous depression since the 1880’s, felt himself put on one side by the child, and felt ill at ease in an environment of, as he put it in the autobiographical _The Quarantine Master_, ‘articles of food, excrements, wet-nurses treated like milch-cows, cooks and decaying vegetables.’ He longed for cleanliness and peace, and in letters to an artist friend he spoke of entering a monastery. He even thought of founding one himself in the Ardennes and drew up detailed schemes for rules, dress, and food. The longing to get away and common interests with his Parisian friend (a musician named Leopold Littmansson) attracted Strindberg to Paris, where he settled down in the beginning of the autumn 1894. His wife joined him, but left again at the close of the autumn. In reality Strindberg was at this time almost impossible to live with. Persecution mania and hallucinations took possession of him and his morbid suspicions knew no bounds. In spite of this he was half conscious that there was something wrong with his mental faculties, and in the beginning of 1895, assisted by the Swedish Minister, he went by his own consent to the St. Louis Hospital in Paris. During his chemical experiments, in which among other things he tried to produce gold, he had burnt his hands, so that he had to seek medical attention on that account also. He wrote about this in a letter:

‘I am going to hospital because I am ill, because my doctor has sent me there, and because I need to be looked after like a child, because I am ruined. … And it torments me and grieves me, my nervous system is rotten, paralytic, hysterical. …’

Never before had Strindberg lived in such distress as at this period, both physically and mentally. With shattered nerves, sometimes over the verge of insanity, without any means of existence other than what friends managed to scrape together, separated from his second wife, who had opened proceedings for divorce, far from his native land and without any prospects for the future, he was brought to a profound religious crisis. With almost incredible fortitude he succeeded in fighting his way through this difficult period, with the remarkable result that the former Bohemian, atheist, and scoffer was gradually able to emerge with the firm assurance of a prophet, and even enter a new creative period, perhaps mightier than before. One cannot help reflecting that a man capable of overcoming a crisis of such a formidable character and of several years’ duration, as this one of Strindberg’s had been, with reason intact and even with increased creative power, in reality, in spite of his hypersensitive nervous system, must have been an unusually strong man both physically and mentally.

Upon trying to define more closely what actual relation the play has to those events of Strindberg’s restless life, of which we have given a rough outline, we find that for the most part the author has undoubtedly made use of his own experiences, but has adapted, combined and added to them still more, so that the result is a mixture of real experience and imagination, all moulded into a carefully worked out artistic form.

If to begin with, we dwell for a while on Part I it is evident that the hurried wanderings of THE STRANGER and THE LADY between the street corner, the room in the hotel, the sea and the Rose Room with the mother-in-law, have their foundation–often in detail–in Strindberg’s rovings with Frida Uhl. I will give a few examples. In a book by Frida Uhl about her marriage to the Swedish genius (splendid in parts but not very reliable) she recalls that the month before her marriage she took rooms at Neustaedtische Kirchstrasse 1, in Berlin, facing a Gothic church in Dorotheenstrasse, situated at the cross-roads between the post office in Dorotheenstrasse and the cafe ‘Zum Schwarzen Ferkel’ in Wilhelmstrasse. This Berlin environment appears to be almost exactly reproduced in the introductory scene of Part I, where THE STRANGER and THE LADY meet outside a little Gothic church with a post office and cafe adjoining. The happy scenes by the sea are, of course, pleasant recollections from Heligoland, and the many discussions about money matters in the midst of the honeymoon are quite explicable when we know how the dramatist was continually haunted by money troubles, even if occasionally he received a big fee, and that this very financial insecurity was one of the chief reasons why Frida Uhl’s father opposed the marriage. Again, the country scenes which follow in Part I, shift to the hilly country round the Danube, with their Catholic Calvaries and expiation chapels, where Strindberg lived with his parents-in-law in Mondsee and with his wife’s grandparents in Dornach and the neighbouring village Klam, with its mill, its smithy, and its gloomy ravine. The Rose Room was the name he gave to the room in which he lived during his stay with his mother-in-law and his daughter Kerstin in Klam in the autumn of 1896, as he has himself related in one of his autobiographical books _Inferno_. In this way we could go on, showing how the localities which are to be met with in the drama often correspond in detail to the places Strindberg had visited in the course of his pilgrimage during the years 1893-1898. Space prevents us, however, from entering on a more detailed analysis in this respect.

That THE STRANGER represents Strindberg’s _alter ego_ is evident in many ways, even apart from the fact that THE STRANGER’S wanderings from place to place, as we have already seen, bear a direct relation to those of Strindberg himself. THE STRANGER is an author, like Strindberg; his childhood of hate is Strindberg’s own; other details–such as for instance that THE STRANGER has refused to attend his father’s funeral, that the Parish Council has wanted to take his child away from him, that on account of his writings he has suffered lawsuits, illness, poverty, exile, divorce; that in the police description he is characterised as a person without a permanent situation, with uncertain income; married, but had deserted his wife and left his children; known as entertaining subversive opinions on social questions (by _The Red Room_, _The New Realm_ and other works Strindberg became the great standard-bearer of the Swedish Radicals in their campaign against conventionalism and bureaucracy); that he gives the impression of not being in full possession of his senses; that he is sought by his children’s guardian because of unpaid maintenance allowance–everything corresponds to the experiences of the unfortunate Strindberg himself, with all his bitter defeats in life and his triumphs in the world of letters.

Those scenes where THE STRANGER is uncertain whether the people he sees before him are real or not–he catches hold of THE BEGGAR’S arm to feel whether he is a real, live person–or those occasions when he appears as a visionary or thought-reader–he describes the kitchen in his wife’s parental home without ever having seen it, and knows her thoughts before she has expressed them–have their deep foundation in Strindberg’s mental make-up, especially as it was during the period of tension in the middle of the 1890’s, termed the Inferno period, because at that time Strindberg thought that he lived in hell. Our most prominent student of Strindberg, Professor Martin Lamm, wrote about this in his work on Strindberg’s dramas:

‘In order to understand the first part of _The Road to Damascus_ we must take into consideration that the author had not yet shaken off his terrifying visions and persecutionary hallucinations. He can play with them artistically, sometimes he feels tempted to make a joke of them, but they still retain for him their “terrifying semi-reality.” It is this which makes the drama so bewildering, but at the same time so vigorous and affecting. Later, when depicting dream states, he creates an artful blend of reality and poetry. He produces more exquisite works of art, but he no longer gives the same anguished impression of a soul striving to free itself from the meshes of his _idees fixes_.’

With his hypersensitive nervous system Strindberg, like THE STRANGER, really gives the impression of having been a visionary. For instance, his author friend Albert Engstroem, has told how one evening during a stay far out in the Stockholm skerries, far from all civilisation, Strindberg suddenly had a feeling that his little daughter was ill, and wanted to return to town at once. True enough, it turned out that the girl had fallen ill just at the time when Strindberg had felt the warning. As regards thought-reading, it appears that at the slightest change in expression and often for no perceptible reason at all, Strindberg would draw the most definite conclusions, as definite as from an uttered word or an action. This we have to keep in mind, for instance, when judging Strindberg’s accusations against his wife in _Le Plaidoyer d’un Fou_, the book which THE LADY in _The Road to Damascus_ is tempted to read, in spite of having been forbidden by THE STRANGER, with tragic results. In Part III of the drama Strindberg lets THE STRANGER discuss this thought-reading problem with his first wife. THE STRANGER says:

‘We made a mistake when we were living together, because we accused each other of wicked thoughts before they’d become actions; and lived in mental reservations instead of realities. For instance, I once noticed how you enjoyed the defiling gaze of a strange man, and I accused you of unfaithfulness’;

to which THE LADY, to Strindberg’s satisfaction, has to reply:

‘You were wrong to do it, and right. Because my thoughts were sinful.’

As regards the other figures in the gallery of characters in Part I, we have already shown THE LADY as the identical counterpart in all essentials of Strindberg’s second wife, Frida Uhl. Like the latter THE LADY is a Catholic, has a grandfather, Dr. Cornelius Reisch–called THE OLD MAN in the drama–whose passion is shooting; and a mother, Maria Uhl, with a predilection for religious discourses in Strindberg’s own style; another detail, the fact that she was eighteen years old before she crossed to the other shore to see what had shimmered dimly in the distant haze, corresponds with Frida Uhl’s statement that she had been confined in a convent until she was eighteen and a half years old. On the other hand, the chief female character of the drama does not correspond to her real life counterpart in that she is supposed to have been married to a doctor before eloping with THE STRANGER, Strindberg. Here reminiscences from Strindberg’s first marriage play a part. Siri von Essen, Strindberg’s first wife, was married to an officer, Baron Wrangel, and both the Wrangels received Strindberg kindly in their home as a friend. Love quickly flared up between Siri von Essen-Wrangel and Strlndberg. She obtained a divorce from her husband and married Strindberg. Baron von Wrangel shortly afterwards married again, a cousin of Siri von Essen. Knowing these matrimonial complications we understand how Strindberg must have felt when, on the point of leaving for Heligoland to marry Frida Uhl, he met his former wife’s (Siri von Essen) first husband, Baron Wrangel, on Lehrter Station in Berlin, and found that, like Strindberg himself, he was on a lover’s errand. Knowing all this we need not be surprised at the extremely complicated matrimonial relations in _The Road to Damascus_, where, for example, for the sake of THE STRANGER, THE DOCTOR obtains a divorce from THE LADY in order to marry THE STRANGER’S first wife. In addition to Baron Wrangel a doctor in the town of Ystad, in the south of Sweden–Dr. Eliasson who attended Strindberg during his most difficult period– has stood as a model for THE DOCTOR. We note in particular that the description of the doctor’s house enclosing a courtyard on three sides, tallies with a type of building which is characteristic of the south of Sweden. When THE DOCTOR ruthlessly explains to THE STRANGER that the asylum, ‘The Good Help,’ was not a hospital but a lunatic asylum, he expresses Strindberg’s own misgivings that the St. Louis Hospital, of which, as mentioned above, Strindberg was an inmate in the beginning of the year 1895, was really to be regarded as a lunatic asylum.

Even minor characters, such as CAESAR and THE BEGGAR have their counterparts in real life, even though in the main they are fantastic creations of his imagination. The guardian of his daughter, Kerstin, a relative of Frida Uhl’s, was called Dr. Caesar R. v. Weyr. Regarding THE BEGGAR it may be enough to quote Strindberg’s feelings when confronted with the collections made by his Paris friends:

‘I am a beggar who has no right to go to cafes. Beggar! That is the right word; it rings in my ears and brings a burning blush to my cheeks, the blush of shame, humiliation, and rage!

‘To think that six weeks ago I sat at this table! My theatre manager addressed me as Dear Master; journalists strove to interview me, the photographer begged to be allowed to sell my portrait. And now: a beggar, a branded man, an outcast from society!’

After this we can understand why Strindberg in _The Road to Damascus_ apparently in such surprising manner is seized by the suspicion that he is himself the beggar.

We have thus seen that Part I of _The Road to Damascus_ is at the same time a free creation of fantasy and a drama of portrayal. The elements of realism are starkly manifest, but they are moulded and hammered into a work of art by a force of combinative imagination rising far above the task of mere descriptive realism. The scenes unroll themselves in calculated sequence up to the central asylum picture, from there to return in reverse order through the second half of the drama, thus symbolising life’s continuous repetition of itself, Kierkegaard’s _Gentagelse_. The first part of _The Road to Damascus_ is the one most frequently produced on the stage. This is understandable, having regard to its firm structure and the consistency of its faith in a Providence directing the fortunes and misfortunes of man, whether the individual rages in revolt or submits in quiet resignation.

The second part of _The Road to Damascus_ is dominated by the scenes of the great alchemist banquet which, in all its fantastic oddity, is one of the most suggestive ever created on the ancient theme of the fickleness of fortune. It was suggested above that there were two factors beyond all others binding Strindberg to the world and making him hesitate before the monastery; one was woman, from whom he sets himself free in Part II, after the birth of a child–precisely as in his marriage to Frida Uhl–the other was scientific honour, in its highest phase equivalent, to Strindberg, to the power to produce gold. Countless were the experiments for this purpose made by Strindberg in his primitive laboratories, and countless his failures. To the world-famous author, literary honour meant little as opposed to the slightest prospect of being acknowledged as a prominent scientist. Harriet Bosse has told me that Strindberg seldom said anything about his literary work, never was interested in what other people thought of them, or troubled to read the reviews; but on the other hand he would often, with sparkling eyes and childish pride, show her strips of paper, stained at one end with some golden-brown substance. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘this is pure gold, and I have made it!’ In face of the stubborn scepticism of scientific experts Strindberg was, however, driven to despair as to his ability, and felt his dreams of fortune shattered, as did THE STRANGER at the macabre banquet given in his honour–a banquet which was, as a matter of fact, planned by his Paris friends, not, as Strindberg would have liked to believe, in honour of the great scientist, but to the great author.

In Part I of _The Road to Damascus_, THE STRANGER replies with a hesitating ‘Perhaps’ when THE LADY wants to lead him to the protecting Church; and at the end of Part II he exclaims: ‘Come, priest, before I change my mind’; but in Part III his decision is final, he enters the monastery. The reason is that not even THE LADY in her third incarnation had shown herself capable of reconciling him to life. The wedding day scenes just before, between Harriet Bosse and the ageing author, form, however, the climax of Part III and are among the most poetically moving that Strindberg has ever written.

Besides having his belief in the rapture of love shattered, THE STRANGER also suffers disappointment at seeing his child fall short of expectations. The meeting between the daughter Sylvia and THE STRANGER probably refers to an episode from the summer of 1899, when Strindberg, after long years of suffering in foreign countries, saw his beloved Swedish skerries again, and also his favourite daughter Greta, who had come over from Finland to meet him. Contrary to the version given in the drama, the reunion of father and daughter seems to have been very happy and cordial. However, it is typical of the fate-oppressed Strindberg that in his work even the happiest summer memories become tinged with black. Once and for all the dark colours on his palette were the most intense.

The final entry into the monastery was more a symbol for the struggling author’s dream of peace and atonement than a real thing in his life. It is true he visited the Benedictine monastery, Maredsous, in Belgium in 1898, and its well stocked library came to play a certain part In the drama, but already he realised, after one night’s sojourn there, that he had no call for the monastic life.

Seen as a whole the trilogy marks a turning point in Strindberg’s dramatic production. The logical, calculated concentration of his naturalistic work of the 1880’s has given way to a freer form of composition, in which the atmosphere has come to mean more than the dialogue, the musical and dreamlike qualities more than conciseness. _The Road to Damascus_ abounds with details from real life, reproduced in sharply naturalistic manner, but these are not, as things were in his earlier works viewed by the author _a priori_ as reality but become wrapped in dreamlike mystery. Just as with _Lady Julia_ and _The Father_ Strindberg ushered in the naturalistic drama of the 1880’s, so in the years around the turn of the century he was, with his symbolist cycle _The Road to Damascus_, to break new ground for European drama which had gradually become stuck in fixed formulas. _The Road to Damascus_ became a landmark in world literature both as a brilliant work of art and as bearer of new stage technique.


Translated by




less important figures



SCENE II Doctor’s House SCENE XVI SCENE III Room in an Hotel SCENE XV



English Version by

First Performance in England by the Stage Society at the Westminster Theatre, 2nd May 1937


THE STRANGER Francis James
THE LADY Wanda Rotha
THE BEGGAR Alexander Sarner
FIRST MOURNER George Cormack
SIXTH MOURNER Stephen Patrick
THE DOCTOR Neil Porter
HIS SISTER Olga Martin
CAESAR Peter Land
A WAITER Peter Bennett
AN OLD MAN A. Corney Grain
A MOTHER Frances Waring
THE SMITH Norman Thomas
AN ABBESS Natalia Moya
A CONFESSOR Tristan Rawson

PRODUCER Carl H. Jaffe



[Street Corner with a seat under a tree; the side-door of a small Gothic Church nearby; also a post office and a cafe with chairs outside it. Both post office and cafe are shut. A funeral march is heard off, growing louder sand then fainter. A STRANGER is standing on the edge of the pavement and seems uncertain which way to go. A church clock strikes: first the four quarters and then the hour. It is three o’clock. A LADY enters and greets the STRANGER. She is about to pass him, but stops.]

STRANGER. It’s you! I almost knew you’d come.

LADY. You wanted me: I felt it. But why are you waiting here?

STRANGER. I don’t know. I must wait somewhere.

LADY. Who are you waiting for?

STRANGER. I wish I could tell you! For forty years I’ve been waiting for something: I believe they call it happiness; or the end of unhappiness. (Pause.) There’s that terrible music again. Listen! But don’t go, I beg you. I’ll feel afraid, if you do.

LADY. We met yesterday for the first time; and talked for four hours. You roused my sympathy, but you mustn’t abuse my kindness on that account.

STRANGER. I know that well enough. But I beg you not to leave me. I’m a stranger here, without friends; and my few acquaintances seem more like enemies.

LADY. You have enemies everywhere. You’re lonely everywhere. Why did you leave your wife and children?

STRANGER. I wish I knew. I wish I knew why I still live; why I’m here now; where I should go and what I should do! Do you believe that the living can be damned already?


STRANGER. Look at me.

LADY. Hasn’t life brought you a single pleasure?

STRANGER. Not one! If at any time I thought so, it was merely a trap to tempt me to prolong my miseries. If ripe fruit fell into my hand, it was poisoned or rotten at the core.

LADY. What is your religion–if you’ll forgive the question?

STRANGER. Only this: that when I can bear things no longer, I shall go.

LADY. Where?

STRANGER. Into annihilation. If I don’t hold life in my hand, at least I hold death. … It gives me an amazing feeling of power.

LADY. You’re playing with death!

STRANGER. As I’ve played with life. (Pause.) I was a writer. But in spite of my melancholy temperament I’ve never been able to take anything seriously–not even my worst troubles. Sometimes I even doubt whether life itself has had any more reality than my books. (A De Profundis is heard from the funeral procession.) They’re coming back. Why must they process up and down these streets?

LADY. Do you fear them?

STRANGER. They annoy me. The place might be bewitched. No, it’s not death I fear, but solitude; for then one’s not alone. I don’t know who’s there, I or another, but in solitude one’s not alone. The air grows heavy and seems to engender invisible beings, who have life and whose presence can be felt.

LADY. You’ve noticed that?

STRANGER. For some time I’ve noticed a great deal; but not as I used to. Once I merely saw objects and events, forms and colours, whilst now I perceive ideas and meanings. Life, that once had no meaning, has begun to have one. Now I discern intention where I used to see nothing but chance. (Pause.) When I met you yesterday it struck me you’d been sent across my path, either to save me, or destroy me.

LADY. Why should I destroy you?

STRANGER. Because it may be your destiny.

LADY. No such idea ever crossed my mind; it was largely sympathy I felt for you. … Never, in all my life, have I met anyone like you. I have only to look at you for the tears to start to my eyes. Tell me, what have you on your conscience? Have you done something wrong, that’s never been discovered or punished?

STRANGER. You may well ask! No, I’ve no more sins on my conscience than other free men. Except this: I determined that life should never make a fool of me.

LADY. You must let yourself be fooled, more or less, to live at all.

STRANGER. That would seem a kind of duty; but one I wanted to get out of. (Pause.) I’ve another secret. It’s whispered in the family that I’m a changeling.

LADY. What’s that?

STRANGER. A child substituted by the elves for the baby that was born.

LADY. Do you believe in such things?

STRANGER. No. But, as a parable, there’s something to be said for it. (Pause.) As a child I was always crying and didn’t seem to take to life in this world. I hated my parents, as they hated me. I brooked no constraint, no conventions, no laws, and my longing was for the woods and the sea.

LADY. Did you ever see visions?

STRANGER. Never. But I’ve often thought that two beings were guiding my destiny. One offers me all I desire; but the other’s ever at hand to bespatter the gifts with filth, so that they’re useless to me and I can’t touch them. It’s true that life has given me all I asked of it–but everything’s turned out worthless to me.

LADY. You’ve had everything and yet are not content?

STRANGER. That is the curse. …

LADY. Don’t say that! But why haven’t you desired things that transcend this life, that can never be sullied?

STRANGER. Because I doubt if there is a beyond.

LADY. But the elves?

STRANGER. Are merely a fairy story. (Pointing to a seat.) Shall we sit down?

LADY. Yes. Who are you waiting for?

STRANGER. Really, for the post office to open. There’s a letter for me–it’s been forwarded on but hasn’t reached me. (They sit down.) But tell me something of yourself now. (The Lady takes up her crochet work.)

LADY. There’s nothing to tell.

STRANGER. Strangely enough, I should prefer to think of you like that. Impersonal, nameless–I only do know one of your names. I’d like to christen you myself–let me see, what ought you to be called? I’ve got it. Eve! (With a gesture towards the wings.) Trumpets! (The funeral march is heard again.) There it is again! Now I must invent your age, for I don’t know how old you are. From now on you are thirty-four–so you were born in sixty-four. (Pause.) Now your character, for I don’t know that either. I shall give you a good character, your voice reminds me of my mother–I mean the idea of a mother, for my mother never caressed me, though I can remember her striking me. You see, I was brought up in hate! An eye for an eye–a tooth for a tooth. You see this scar on my forehead? That comes from a blow my brother gave me with an axe, after I’d struck him with a stone. I never went to my father’s funeral, because he turned me out of the house when my sister married. I was born out of wedlock, when my family were bankrupt and in mourning for an uncle who had taken his life. Now you know my family! That’s the stock I come from. Once I narrowly escaped fourteen years’ hard labour–so I’ve every reason to thank the elves, though I can’t be altogether pleased with what they’ve done.

LADY. I like to hear you talk. But don’t speak of the elves: it makes me sad.

STRANGER. Frankly, I don’t believe in them; yet they’re always making themselves felt. Are these elves the souls of the unhappy, who still await redemption? If so, I am the child of an evil spirit. Once I believed I was near redemption–through a woman. But no mistake could have been greater: I was plunged into the seventh hell.

LADY. You must be unhappy. But this won’t go on always.

STRANGER. Do you think church bells and Holy Water could comfort me? I’ve tried them; they only made things worse. I felt like the Devil when he sees the sign of the cross. (Pause.) Let’s talk about you now.

LADY. There’s no need. (Pause.) Have you been blamed for misusing your gifts?

STRANGER. I’ve been blamed for everything. In the town I lived in no one was so hated as I. Lonely I came in and lonely I went out. If I entered a public place people avoided me. If I wanted to rent a room, it would be let. The priests laid a ban on me from the pulpit, teachers from their desks and parents in their homes. The church committee wanted to take my children from me. Then I blasphemously shook my fist … at heaven!

LADY. Why did they hate you so?

STRANGER. How should I know! Yet I do! I couldn’t endure to see men suffer. So I kept on saying, and writing, too: free yourselves, I will help you. And to the poor I said: do not let the rich exploit you. And to the women: do not allow yourselves to be enslaved by the men. And–worst of all–to the children: do not obey your parents, if they are unjust. What followed was impossible to foresee. I found that everyone was against me: rich and poor, men and women, parents and children. And then came sickness and poverty, beggary and shame, divorce, law-suits, exile, solitude, and now. … Tell me, do you think me mad?


STRANGER. You must be the only one. But I’m all the more grateful.

LADY (rising). I must leave you now.

STRANGER. You, too?

LADY. And you mustn’t stay here.

STRANGER. Where should I go?

LADY. Home. To your work.

STRANGER. But I’m no worker. I’m a writer.

LADY. I know. But I didn’t want to hurt you. Creative power is something given you, that can also taken away. See you don’t forfeit yours.

STRANGER. Where are you going?

LADY. Only to a shop.

STRANGER (after a pause). Tell me, are you a believer?

LADY. I am nothing.

STRANGER. All the better: you have a future. How I wish I were your old blind father, whom you could lead to the market place to sing for his bread. My tragedy is I cannot grow old that’s what happens to children of the elves, they have big heads and never only cry. I wish I were someone’s dog. I could follow him and never be alone again. I’d get a meal sometimes, a kick now and then, a pat perhaps, a blow often. …

LADY. Now I must go. Good-bye. (She goes out.)

STRANGER (absent-mindedly). Good-bye. (He remains on the seat. He takes off his hat and wipes his forehead. Then he draws on the ground with his stick. A BEGGAR enters. He has a strange look and is collecting objects from the gutter.) White are you picking up, beggar?

BEGGAR. Why call me that? I’m no beggar. Have I asked you for anything?

STRANGER. I beg your pardon. It’s so hard to judge men from appearances.

BEGGAR. That’s true. For instance, can you guess who I am?

STRANGER. I don’t intend to try. It doesn’t interest me.

BEGGAR. No one can know that in advance. Interest commonly comes afterwards–when it’s too late. Virtus post nummos!

STRANGER. What? Do beggars know Latin?

BEGGAR. You see, you’re interested already. Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci. I have always succeeded in everything I’ve undertaken, because I’ve never attempted anything. I should like to call myself Polycrates, who found the gold ring in the fish’s stomach. Life has given me all I asked of it. But I never asked anything; I grew tired of success and threw the ring away. Yet, now I’ve grown old I regret it. I search for it in the gutters; but as the search takes time, in default of my gold ring I don’t disdain a few cigar stumps. …

STRANGER. I don’t know whether this beggar’s cynical or mad.

BEGGAR. I don’t know either.

STRANGER. Do you know who I am?

BEGGAR. No. And it doesn’t interest me.

STRANGER. Well, interest commonly comes afterwards. … You see you tempt me to take the words out of your mouth. And that’s the same thing as picking up other people’s cigars.

BEGGAR. So you won’t follow my example?

STRANGER. What’s that scar on your forehead?

BEGGAR. I got it from a near relation.

STRANGER. Now you frighten me! Are you real? May I touch you? (He touches his arm.) There’s no doubt of it. … Would you deign to accept a small coin in return for a promise to seek Polycrates’ ring in another part of the town? (He hands him a coin.) Post nummos virtus. … Another echo. You must go at once.

BEGGAR. I will. But you’ve given me far too much. I’ll return three-quarters of it. Now we owe one another nothing but friendship.

STRANGER. Friendship! Am I a friend of yours?

BEGGAR. Well, I am of yours. When one’s alone in the world one can’t be particular.

STRANGER. Then let me tell you you forget yourself…

BEGGAR. Only too pleased! But when we meet again I’ll have a word of welcome for you. (Exit.)

STRANGER (sitting down again and drawing in the dust with his stick). Sunday afternoon! A long, dank, sad time, after the usual Sunday dinner of roast beef, cabbage and watery potatoes. Now the older people are testing, the younger playing chess and smoking. The servants have gone to church and the shops are shut. This frightful afternoon, this day of rest, when there’s nothing to engage the soul, when it’s as hard to meet a friend as to get into a wine shop. (The LADY comes back again, she is noun wearing a flower at her breast.) Strange! I can’t speak without being contradicted at once!

LADY. So you’re still here?

STRANGER. Whether I sit here, or elsewhere, and write in the sand doesn’t seem to me to matter–as long so I write in the sand.

LADY. What are you writing? May I see?

STRANGER. I think you’ll find: Eve 1864. … No, don’t step on it.

LADY. What happens then?

STRANGER. A disaster for you … and for me.

LADY. You know that?

STRANGER. Yes, and more. That the Christmas rose you’re wearing is a mandragora. Its symbolical meaning is malice and calumny; but it was once used in medicine for the healing of madness. Will you give it me?

LADY (hesitating). As medicine?

STRANGER. Of course. (Pause.) Have you read my books?

LADY. You know I have. And that it’s you I have to thank for giving me freedom and a belief in human rights and human dignity.

STRANGER. Then you haven’t read the recent ones?

LADY. No. And if they’re not like the earlier ones I don’t want to.

STRANGER. Then promise never to open another book of mine.

LADY. Let me think that over. Very well, I promise.

STRANGER. Good! But see you keep your promise. Remember what happened to Bluebeard’s wife when curiosity tempted her into the forbidden chamber. …

LADY. You see, already you make demands like those of a Bluebeard. What you don’t see, or have long since forgotten, is that I’m married, and that my husband’s a doctor, and that he admires your work. So that his house is open to you, if you wish to be made welcome there.

STRANGER. I’ve done all I can to forget it. I’ve expunged it from my memory so that it no longer has any reality for me.

LADY. If that’s so, will you come home with me to-night?

STRANGER. No. Will you come with me?

LADY. Where?

STRANGER. Anywhere! I have no home, only a trunk. Money I sometimes have–though not often. It’s the one thing life has capriciously refused me, perhaps because I never desired it intensely enough. (The LADY shakes her head.) Well? What are you thinking?

LADY. I’m surprised I’m not angry with you. But you’re not serious.

STRANGER. Whether I am or not’s all one to me. Ah! There’s the organ! It won’t be long now before the drink shops open.

LADY. Is it true _you_ drink?

STRANGER. Yes. A great deal! Wine makes my soul from her prison, up into the firmament, where she what has never yet been seen, and hears what men never yet heard. …

LADY. And the day after?

STRANGER. I have the most delightful scruples of conscience! I experience the purifying emotions of guilt and repentance. I enjoy the sufferings of the body, whilst my soul hovers like smoke about my head. It is as if one were suspended between Life and Death, when the spirit feels that she has already opened her pinions and could fly aloft, if she would.

LADY. Come into the church for a moment. You’ll hear no sermon, only the beautiful music of vespers.

STRANGER. No. Not into church! It depresses me because I feel I don’t belong there. … That I’m an unhappy soul and that it’s as impossible for me to re-enter as to become a child again.

LADY. You feel all that … already?

STRANGER. Yes. I’ve got that far. I feel as if I lay hacked in pieces and were being slowly melted in Medea’s cauldron. Either I shall be sent to the soap-boilers, or arise renewed from my own dripping! It depends on Medea’s skill!

LADY. That sounds like the word of an oracle. We must see if you can’t become a child again.

STRANGER. We should have to start with the cradle; and this time with the right child.

LADY. Exactly! Wait here for me whilst I go into the church. If the cafe were open I’d ask you please not to drink. But luckily it’s shut.

(The LADY exits. The STRANGER sits down again and draws in the sand. Enter six funeral attendants in brown with some mourners. One of them carries a banner with the insignia of the Carpenters, draped in brown crepe; another a large axe decorated with spruce, a third a cushion with a chairman’s mallet. They stop outside the cafe and wait.)

STRANGER. Excuse me, whose funeral have you been attending?

FIRST MOURNER. A house-breaker’s. (He imitates the ticking of a clock.)

STRANGER. A real house-breaker? Or the insect sort, that lodges in the woodwork and goes ‘tick-tick’?

FIRST MOURNER. Both–but mainly the insect sort. What do they call them?

STRANGER (to himself). He wants to fool me into saying the death-watch beetle. So I won’t. You mean a burglar?

SECOND MOURNER. No. (The clock is again heard ticking.)

STRANGER. Are you trying to frighten me? Or does the dead man work miracles? In that case I’d better explain that my nerves are good, and that I don’t believe in miracles. But I do find it strange that the mourners wear brown. Why not black? It’s cheap and suitable.

THIRD MOURNER. To us, in our simplicity, it looks black; but if Your Honour wishes it, it shall look brown to you.

STRANGER. A queer company! They give me an uneasy feeling I’d like to ascribe to the wine I drank yesterday. If I were to ask if that were spruce, you’d probably say–well what?

FIRST MOURNER. Vine leaves.

STRANGER. I thought it would not be spruce! The cafe’s opening, at last! (The Cafe opens, the STRANGER sits at a table and is served with wine. The MOURNERS sit at the other tables.) They must have been glad to be rid of him, if the mourners start drinking as soon as the funeral’s over.

FIRST MOURNER. He was a good-for-nothing, who couldn’t take life seriously.

STRANGER. And who probably drank?


THIRD MOURNER. And let others support his wife and children.

STRANGER. He shouldn’t have done so. Is that why his friends speak so well of him now? Please don’t shake my table when I’m drinking.

SECOND MOURNER. When I’m drinking, I don’t mind.

STRANGER. Well, I do. There’s a great difference between us! (The MOURNERS whisper together. The BEGGAR comes back.) Here’s the beggar again!

BEGGAR (sitting down at a table). Wine. Moselle!

LANDLORD (consulting a police last). I can’t serve you: you’ve not paid your taxes. Here’s your name, age and profession, and the decision of the court.

BEGGAR. Omnia serviliter pro dominatione! I’m a free man with a university education. I refused to pay taxes because I didn’t want to become a member of parliament. Moselle!

LANDLORD. You’ll get free transport to the poor house, if you don’t get out.

STRANGER. Couldn’t you gentlemen settle this somewhere else. You’re disturbing your patrons.

LANDLORD. You can witness I’m in the right.

STRANGER. No. The whole thing’s too distressing. Even without paying taxes he has the right to enjoy life’s small pleasures.

LANDLORD. So you’re the kind who’d absolve vagabonds from their duties?

STRANGER. This is too much! I’d have you know that I’m a famous man. (The LANDLORD and MOURNERS laugh.)

LANDLORD. Infamous, probably! Let me look at the police list, and see if the description tallies: thirty-eight, brown hair, moustache, blue eyes; no settled employment, means unknown; married, but has deserted his wife and children; well known for revolutionary views on social questions: gives impression he is not in full possession of his faculties. … It fits!

STRANGER (rising, pale and taken aback). What?

LANDLORD. Yes. It fits all right.

BEGGAR. Perhaps he’s on the list. And not me!

LANDLORD. It looks like it. In any case, both of you had better clear out.

BEGGAR (to the STRANGER). Shall we?

STRANGER. We? This begins to look like a conspiracy.

(The church bells are heard. The sun comes out and illuminates the coloured rose window above the church door, which is now opened, disclosing the interior. The organ is heard and the choir singing Ave Maris Stella.)

LADY (coming from the church). Where are you? What are you doing? Why did you call me? Must you hang on a woman’s skirts like a child?

STRANGER. I’m afraid now. Things are happening that have no natural explanation.

LADY. But you were afraid of nothing. Not even death!

STRANGER. Death … no. But of something else, the unknown.

LADY. Listen. Give me your hand. You’re ill, I’ll take you to a doctor. Come!

STRANGER. If you like. But tell me: is this carnival, or … reality?

LADY. It’s real enough.

STRANGER. This beggar must be a wretched fellow. Is it true he resembles me?

LADY. He will, if you go on drinking. Now go to the post office and get your letter. And then come with me.

STRANGER. No, I won’t. It’ll only be about lawsuits.

LADY. If not?

STRANGER. Malicious gossip.

LADY. Well, do as you wish. No one can escape his fate. At this moment I feel a higher power is sitting in judgment on us and has made a decision.

STRANGER. You feel that, too! I heard the hammer fall just now; and the chairs being pushed back. The clerk’s being sent to find me! Oh, the suspense! No, I can’t follow you.

LADY. Tell me, what have you done to me? In the church I found I couldn’t pray. A light on the altar was extinguished and an icy wind blew in my face when I heard you call me.

STRANGER. I didn’t call you. But I wanted you.

LADY. You’re not as weak as you pretend. You have great strength; and I’m afraid of you. …

STRANGER. When I’m alone I’ve no strength at all; but if I can find a single companion I grow strong. I shall be strong now; and so I’ll follow you.

LADY. Perhaps you can free me from the werewolf.

STRANGER. Who’s he?

LADY. That’s what I call him.

STRANGER. Count on me. Killing dragons, freeing princesses, defeating werewolves–that is Life!

LADY. Then come, my liberator!

(She draws her veil over her face, kisses him on the mouth and hurries out. The STRANGER stands where he is for a moment, surprised and stunned. A loud chord sung by women’s voices, rather like a cry, is heard from the church. The rose window suddenly grows dark and the tree above the seat is shaken by the wind. The MOURNERS rise and look at the sky, as if they could see something terrifying. The STRANGER hurries out after the LADY.)



[Courtyard enclosed on three sides by a single-storied house with a tiled roof. Small windows in all three facades. Right, verandah with glass doors. Left, climbing roses and bee-hives outside the windows. In the middle of the courtyard a woodpile in the form of a cupola. A well beside it. The top of a walnut tree is seen above the central facade of the house. In the corner, right, a garden gate. By the well a large tortoise. On right, entrance below to a wine-cellar. An ice-chest and dust-bin. The DOCTOR’S SISTER enters from the verandah with a telegram.]

SISTER. Now misfortune will fall on your house.

DOCTOR. When has it not, my dear sister?

SISTER. This time. … Ingeborg’s coming and bringing … guess whom?

DOCTOR. Wait! I know, because I’ve long foreseen this, even desired it, for he’s a writer I’ve always admired. I’ve learnt much from him and often wished to meet him. Now he’s coming, you say. Where did Ingeborg meet him?

SISTER. In town, it seems. Probably in some literary _salon_.

DOCTOR. I’ve often wondered whether this man was the boy of the same name who was my friend at school. I hope not; for he seemed one that fortune would treat harshly. And in a life-time he’ll have given his unhappy tendencies full scope.

SISTER. Don’t let him come here. Go out. Say you’re engaged.

DOCTOR. No. One can’t escape one’s fate.

SISTER. But you’ve never bowed your head to anyone! Why crawl before this spectre, and call him fate?

DOCTOR. Life has taught me to. I’ve wasted time and energy in fighting the inevitable.

SISTER. But why allow your wife to behave like this? She’ll compromise you both.

DOCTOR. You think so? Because, when I made her break off her engagement I held out false hopes to her of a life of freedom, instead of the slavery she’d known. Besides, I could never love her if I were in a position to give her orders.

SISTER. You’d be friends with your enemy?


SISTER. Will you let her bring someone into the house who’ll destroy you? If you only knew how I hate that man.

DOCTOR. I do. His last book’s terrible; and shows a certain lack of mental balance.

SISTER. They ought to shut him up.

DOCTOR. Many people have said so, but I don’t think him bad enough.

SISTER. Because you’re eccentric yourself, and live in daily contact with a woman who’s mad.

DOCTOR. I admit abnormality has always had a strong attraction for me, and originality is at least not commonplace. (The syren of a steamer is heard.) What was that?

SISTER. Your nerves are on edge. It’s only the steamer. (Pause.) Now, I implore you, go away!

DOCTOR. I ought to want to; but I’m held fast. (Pause.) From here I can see his portrait in my study. The sunlight throws a shadow on it that changes it completely. It makes him look like. … Horrible! You see what I mean?

HATER. The devil! Come away!

DOCTOR. I can’t.

SISTER. Then at least defend yourself.

DOCTOR. I always do. But this time I feel a thunder storm gathering. How often have I tried to fly, and not been able to. It’s as if the earth were iron and I a compass needle. If misfortune comes, it’s not of my fee choice. They’ve come in at the door.

SISTER. I heard nothing.

DOCTOR. I did! Now I can see them, too! He _is_ the friend of my boyhood. He got into trouble at school; but I was blamed and punished. He was nick-named Caesar, I don’t know why.

SISTER. And this man. …

DOCTOR. That’s what always happens. Caesar! (The LADY comes in.)

LADY. I’ve brought a visitor.

DOCTOR. I know, and he’s welcome.

LADY. I left him in the house, to wash.

DOCTOR. Well, are you satisfied with your conquest?

LADY. I think he’s the unhappiest man I ever met.

DOCTOR. That’s saying a great deal.

LADY. Yes, there’s enough unhappiness for all of us.

DOCTOR. There is! (To his SISTER.) Would you ask him to come out here? (His SISTER goes out.) Have you had an interesting time?

LADY. Yes. I met a number of strange people. Have you had many patients?

DOCTOR. No. The consulting room’s empty this morning. I think the practice is going down.

LADY (kindly). I’m sorry. Tell me, oughtn’t that woodpile to be taken into the house? It only draws the damp.

DOCTOR (without reproach). Yes, and the bees should be killed, too; and the fruit in the garden picked. But I’ve no time to do it.

LADY. You’re tired.

DOCTOR. Tired of everything.

LADY (without bitterness). And you’ve a wife who can’t even help you.

DOCTOR (kindly). You mustn’t say that, if I don’t think so.

LADY (turning towards the verandah). Here he is!

(The STRANGER comes in through the verandah, dressed in a way that makes him look younger than before. He has an air of forced candour. He seems to recognise the doctor, and shrinks back, but recovers himself.)

DOCTOR. You’re very welcome.

STRANGER. It’s kind of you.

DOCTOR. You bring good weather with you. And we need it; for it’s rained for six weeks.

STRANGER. Not for seven? It usually rains for seven if it rains on St. Swithin’s. But that’s later on–how foolish of me!

DOCTOR. As you’re used to town life I’m afraid you’ll find the country dull.

STRANGER. Oh no. I’m no more at home there than here. Excuse me asking, but haven’t we met before–when we were boys?

DOCTOR. Never.

(The LADY has sat down at the table and is crocheting.)

STRANGER. Are you sure?

DOCTOR. Perfectly. I’ve followed your literary career from the first with great interest; as I know my wife has told you. So that if we _had_ met I’d certainly have remembered your name. (Pause.) Well, now you can see how a country doctor lives!

STRANGER. If you could guess what the life of a so-called liberator’s like, you wouldn’t envy him.

DOCTOR. I can imagine it; for I’ve seen how men love their chains. Perhaps that’s as it should be.

STRANGER (listening). Strange. Who’s playing in the village?

DOCTOR. I don’t know. Do you, Ingeborg?


STRANGER. Mendelssohn’s Funeral March! It pursues me. I never know whether I’ve heard it or not.

DOCTOR. Do you suffer from hallucinations?

STRANGER. No. But I’m pursued by trivial incidents. Can’t you hear anyone playing?


LADY. Someone _is_ playing. Mendelssohn.

DOCTOR. Not surprising.

STRANGER. No. But that it should be played precisely at the right place, at the right time . … (He gets up.)

DOCTOR. To reassure you, I’ll ask my sister. (Exit through the verandah.)

STRANGER (to the LADY). I’m stifling here. I can’t pass a night under this roof. Your husband looks like a werewolf and in his presence you turn into a pillar of salt. Murder has been done in this house; the place is haunted. I shall escape as soon as I can find an excuse.

(The DOCTOR comes back.)

DOCTOR. It’s the girl at the post office.

STRANGER (nervously). Good. That’s all right. You’ve an original house. That pile of wood, for instance.

DOCTOR. Yes. It’s been struck by lightning twice.

STRANGER. Terrible! And you still keep it?

DOCTOR. That’s why. I’ve made it higher out of defiance; and to give shade in summer. It’s like the prophet’s gourd. But in the autumn it must go into the wood shed.

STRANGER (looking round). Christmas roses, too! Where did you get them? They’re flowering in summer! Everything’s upside down here.

DOCTOR. They were given me by a patient. He’s not quite sane.

STRANGER. Is he staying in the house?

DOCTOR. Yes. He’s a quiet soul, who ponders on the purposelessness of nature. He thinks it foolish for hellebore to grow in the snow and freeze; so he puts the plants in the cellar and beds them out in the spring.

STRANGER. But a madman … in the house. Most unpleasant!

DOCTOR. He’s very harmless.

STRANGER. How did he lose his wits?

DOCTOR. Who can tell. It’s a disease of the mind, not the body.

STRANGER. Tell me–is he here–now?

DOCTOR. Yes. He’s free to wander in the garden and arrange creation. But if his presence disquiets you, we can shut him up.

STRANGER. Why aren’t such poor devils put out of–their misery?

DOCTOR. It’s hard to know whether they’re ripe. …

STRANGER. What for?

DOCTOR. For what’s to come.

STRANGER. There _is_ nothing. (Pause.)

DOCTOR. Who knows!

STRANGER. I feel strangely uneasy. Have you medical material … specimens … dead bodies?

DOCTOR. Oh yes. In the ice-box–for the authorities, you know. (He pulls out an arm and leg.) Look here.

STRANGER. No. Too much like Bluebeard!

DOCTOR (sharply). What do you mean by that? (Looking at the LADY.) Do you think I kill my wives?

STRANGER. Oh no. It’s clear you don’t. Is this house haunted, too?

DOCTOR. Oh yes. Ask my wife.(He disappears behind the wood pile where neither the STRANGER nor the LADY can see him.)

LADY. You needn’t whisper, my husband’s deaf. Though he can lip read.

STRANGER. Then let me say that I’ve never known a more painful half-hour. We exchange the merest commonplaces, because none of us has the courage to say what he thinks. I suffered so that the idea came to me of opening my veins to get relief. But now I’d like to tell him the truth and have done with it. Shall we say to his face that we mean to go away, and that you’ve had enough of his foolishness?

LADY. If you talk like that I’ll begin to hate you. You must behave under any circumstances.

STRANGER. How well brought up you are! (The DOCTOR now becomes visible to the STRANGER and the LADY, who continue their conversation.) Come away with me, before the sun goes down. (Pause.) Tell me, why did you kiss me yesterday?

LADY. But. …

STRANGER. Supposing he could hear what we say! I don’t trust him.

DOCTOR. What shall we do to amuse our guest?

LADY. He doesn’t care much for amusement. His life’s not been happy.

(The DOCTOR blows a whistle. The MADMAN comes into the garden. He wears a laurel wreath and his clothes are curious.)

DOCTOR. Come here, Caesar.

STRANGER (displeased). What? Is he called Caesar?

DOCTOR. No. It’s a nickname I gave him, to remind me of a boy I was at school with.

STRANGER (disturbed). Oh?

DOCTOR. He was involved in a strange incident, and I got all the blame.

LADY (to the STRANGER). You’d never believe a boy could have been so corrupt.

(The STRANGER looks distressed. The MADMAN comes nearer.)

DOCTOR. Caesar, come and make your bow to our famous writer.

CAESAR. Is this the great man?

LADY (to the DOCTOR). Why did you let him come, if it annoys our guest?

DOCTOR. Caesar, you must behave. Or I shall have to whip you.

CAESAR. Yes. He is Caesar, but he’s not great. He doesn’t even know which came first, the hen or the egg. But I do.

STRANGER (to the LADY). I shall go. Is this a trap? What am I to think? In a minute he’ll unloose his bees to amuse me.

LADY. Trust me … whatever happens! And turn your face away when you speak.

STRANGER. This werewolf never leaves us.

DOCTOR (looking at his watch). You must excuse me for about an hour. I’ve a patient to visit. I hope the time won’t hang on your hands.

STRANGER. I’m used to waiting, for what never comes. …

DOCTOR (to the MADMAN). Come along, Caesar. I must lock you up in the cellar. (He goes out with the MADMAN.)

STRANGER (to the LADY). What does that mean? Someone’s pursuing me! You told me your husband was well disposed towards me, and I believed you. But he can’t open his mouth without wounding me. Every word pricks like a goad. Then this funeral march … it’s really being played! And here, once more, Christmas roses! Why does everything follow in an eternal round? Dead bodies, beggars, madmen, human destinies and childhood memories? Come away. Let me free you from this hell.

LADY. That’s why I brought you here. Also that it could never be said you’d stolen the wife of another. But one thing I must ask you: can I put my trust in you?

STRANGER. You mean in my feelings?

LADY. I don’t speak of them. We’re taking them for granted. They’ll endure as long as they’ll endure.

STRANGER. You mean in my position? Large sums are owed me. All I have to do is to write or telegraph. …

LADY. Then I will trust you. (Putting away her work.) Now go straight out of that door. Follow the syringa hedge till you find a gate. We’ll meet in the next village.

STRANGER (hesitating). I don’t like leaving the back way. I’d rather have fought it out with him here.

LADY. Quick!

STRANGER. Won’t you come with me?

LADY. Yes. But then I must go first. (She turns and blows a kiss towards the verandah.) My poor werewolf!



[The STRANGER enters followed by the LADY. A WAITER.]

STRANGER (who is carrying a suitcase). Is no other room free?


STRANGER. I don’t want this one.

LADY. But it’s the only one: the other hotels are all full.

STRANGER (to the WAITER). You can go. (The LADY sinks on to a chair without taking off her hat and coat.) What is it you want?

LADY. I wish you’d kill me.

STRANGER. I don’t wonder! Thrown out of hotels, because we’re not married, and pestered by the police, we’re forced to come to this place, the last I’d have wished. To this very room, number eight. … Someone must be against me!

LADY. Is this eight?

STRANGER. What? Have you been here before?

LADY. Have you?


LADY. Then let’s get away. Onto the road, into the woods. It doesn’t matter where.

STRANGER. I should like to. But after this terrible time I’m as tired as you are. I felt this was to be our journey’s end. I resisted, I tried to go in the opposite direction, but trains were late, or we missed them, and we had to come here. To this room! The devil’s in it–at least what I call the devil. But I’ll be even with him yet.

LADY. It seems we’ll never find peace on earth again.

STRANGER. Nothing’s been changed. The dying Christmas roses. (Looking at two pictures.) There he is again. And that’s the Hotel Breuer in Montreux. I’ve stayed there, too.

LADY. Did you go to the post office?

STRANGER. I thought you’d ask me that. I did. And as an answer to five letters and three telegrams I found a telegram saying that my publisher had gone away for a fortnight.

LADY. Then we’re lost.

STRANGER. Very nearly.

LADY. The waiter will be back in five minutes and ask for our passports. Then the landlord will come up and tell us to go.

STRANGER. Then only one course remains.

LADY. Two.

STRANGER. The second’s impossible.

LADY. What is the second?

STRANGER. To go to your parents in the country.

LADY. You’re beginning to read my thoughts.

STRANGER. We no longer have any secrets from one another.

LADY. Then the whole dream’s at an end.

STRANGER. It maybe.

LADY. You must telegraph again.

STRANGER. I ought to, I know. But I can’t stir from here. I no longer believe that what I do can succeed. Someone’s paralysed me.

LADY. And me! We decided never to speak of the past and yet we drag it with us. Look at this carpet. Those flowers seem to form. …

STRANGER. Him! It’s him. He’s everywhere. How many hundred times has he. … Yet I see someone else in the pattern of the table cloth. No, it’s an illusion! Any moment now I’ll hear my funeral march–then everything will be complete. (Listening.) There!

LADY. I hear nothing.

STRANGER. Am I … am I. …

LADY. Shall we go home?

STRANGER. The last place. The worst of all! To arrive like an adventurer, a beggar. Impossible!

LADY. Yes, I know, but. … No, it would be too much. To bring shame, disgrace and sorrow to the old people, and to see you humiliated, and you me! We could never respect one another again.

STRANGER. It would be worse than death. Yet I feel it’s inevitable, and I begin to long for it, to get it over quickly, if it must be.

LADY (taking out her work). But I don’t want to be reviled in your presence. We must find another way. If only we were married–and divorce would be easy, because my former marriage isn’t recognised by the laws of the country in which it was contracted. … All we need do is to go away and be married by the same priest … but that would be wounding for you!

STRANGER. It would match the rest! For this honeymoon’s becoming a pilgrimage!

LADY. You’re right! The landlord will be here in five minutes to turn us out. There’s only one way to end such humiliations. Of our own free will we must accept the worst. … I can hear footsteps!

STRANGER. I’ve foreseen this and am ready. Ready for everything. If I can’t overcome the unseen, I can show you how much I can endure. … You must pawn your jewellery. I can buy it back when my publisher gets home, if he’s not drowned bathing or killed in a railway accident. A man as ambitious as I must be ready to sacrifice his honour first of all.

LADY. As we’re agreed, wouldn’t it be better to give up this room? Oh, God! He’s coming now.

STRANGER. Let’s go. We’ll run the gauntlet of waiters, maids and servants. Red with shame and pale with indignation. Animals have their lairs to hide in, but we are forced to flaunt our shame. (Pause.) Let down your veil.

LADY. So this is freedom!

STRANGER. And I … am the liberator. (Exeunt.)



[A hut on a cliff by the sea. Outside it a table with chairs. The STRANGER and the LADY are dressed in less sombre clothing and look younger than in the previous scene. The LADY is doing crochet work.]

STRANGER. Three peaceful happy days at my wife’s side, and anxiety returns!

LADY. What do you fear?

STRANGER. That this will not last long.

LADY. Why do you think so?

STRANGER. I don’t know. I believe it must end suddenly, terribly. There’s something deceptive even the sunshine and the stillness. I feel that happiness if not part of my destiny.

LADY. But it’s all over! My parents are resigned to what we’ve done. My husband understands and has written a kind letter.

STRANGER. What does that matter? Fate spins the web; once more I hear the mallet fall and the chairs being pushed back from the table–judgment has been pronounced. Yet that must have happened before I was born, because even in childhood I began to serve my sentence. There’s no moment in my life on which can look back with happiness.

LADY. Unfortunate man! Yet you’ve had everything you wished from life!

STRANGER. Everything. Unluckily I forgot to wish for money.

LADY. You’re thinking of that again.

STRANGER. Are you surprised?

LADY. Quiet!

STRANGER. What is it you’re always working at? You sit there like one of the Fates and draw the threads through your fingers. But go on. The most beautiful of sights is a woman bending over her work, or over her child. What are you making?

LADY. Nothing. Crochet work.

STRANGER. It looks like a network of nerves and knots on which you’ve fixed your thoughts. The brain must look like that–from within.

LADY. If only I thought of half the things you imagine. … But I think of nothing.

STRANGER. Perhaps that’s why I feel so contented when I’m with you. Why, I find you so perfect that I can no longer imagine life without you! Now the clouds have blown away. Now the sky is clear! The wind soft–feel how it caresses us! This is Life! Yes, now I live. And I feel my spirit growing, spreading, becoming tenuous, infinite. I am everywhere, in the ocean which is my blood, in the rocks that are my bones, in the trees, in the flowers; and my head reaches up to the heavens. I can survey the whole universe. I _am_ the universe. And I feel the power of the Creator within me, for I am He! I wish I could grasp the all in my hand and refashion it into something more perfect, more lasting, more beautiful. I want all creation and created beings to be happy, to be born without pain, live without suffering, and die in quiet content. Eve! Die with me now! This moment, for the next will bring sorrow again.

LADY. I’m not ready to die.

STRANGER. Why not?

LADY. I believe there are things I’ve not yet done. Perhaps I’ve not suffered enough.

STRANGER. Is that the purpose of life?

LADY. It seems to be. (Pause.) Now I want to ask one thing of you.


LADY. Don’t blaspheme against heaven again, or compare yourself with the Creator, for then you remind me of Caesar at home.

STRANGER (excitedly). Caesar! How can you say that …?

LADY. I’m sorry if I’ve said anything I shouldn’t. It was foolish of me to say ‘at home.’ Forgive me.

STRANGER. You were thinking that Caesar and I resemble one another in our blasphemies?

LADY. Of course not.

STRANGER. Strange. I believe you when you say you don’t mean to hurt me; yet you _do_ hurt me, as all the others do. Why?

LADY. Because you’re over-sensitive.

STRANGER. You say that again! Do you think I’ve sensitive hidden places?

LADY. No. I didn’t mean that. And now the spirits of suspicion and discord are coming between us. Drive them away–at once.

STRANGER. You mustn’t say I blaspheme if I use the well-known words: See, we are like unto the gods.

LADY. But if that’s so, why can’t you help yourself, or us?

STRANGER. Can’t I? Wait. As yet we’ve only seen the beginning.

LADY. If the end is like it, heaven help us!

STRANGER. I know what you fear; and I meant to hold back a pleasant surprise. But now I won’t torment you longer. (He takes out a registered letter, not yet opened.) Look!

LADY. The money’s come!

STRANGER. This morning. Who can destroy me now?

LADY. Don’t speak like that. You know who could.


LADY. He who punishes the arrogance of men.

STRANGER. And their courage. That especially. This was my Achilles’ heel; I bore with everything, except this fearful lack of money.

LADY. May I ask how much they’ve sent?

STRANGER. I don’t know. I’ve not opened the letter. But I do know about how much to expect. I’d better look and see. (He opens the letter.) What? Only an account showing I’m owed nothing! There’s something uncanny in this.

LADY. I begin to think so, too.

STRANGER. I know I’m damned. But I’m ready to hurl the curse back at him who so nobly cursed me. … (He throws up the letter.) With a curse of my own.

LADY. Don’t. You frighten me.

STRANGER. Fear me, so long as you don’t despise me! The challenge has been thrown down; now you shall see a conflict between two great opponents. (He opens his coat and waistcoat and looks threateningly aloft.) Strike me with your lightning if you dare! Frighten me with your thunder if you can!

LADY. Don’t speak like that.

STRANGER. I will. Who dares break in on my dream of love? Who tears the cup from my lips; and the woman from my arms? Those who envy me, be they gods or devils! Little bourgeois gods who parry sword thrusts with pin-pricks from behind, who won’t stand up to their man, but strike at him with unpaid bills. A backstairs way of discrediting a master before his servants. They never attack, never draw, merely soil and decry! Powers, lords and masters! All are the same!

LADY. May heaven not punish you.

STRANGER. Heaven’s blue and silent. The ocean’s silent and stupid. Listen, I can hear a poem–that’s what I call it when an idea begins to germinate in my mind. First the rhythm; this time like the thunder of hooves and the jingle of spurs and accoutrements. But there’s a fluttering too, like a sail flapping. … Banners!

LADY. No. It’s the wind. Can’t you hear it in the trees?

STRANGER. Quiet! They’re riding over a bridge, a wooden bridge. There’s no water in the brook, only pebbles. Wait! Now I can hear them, men and women, saying a rosary. The angels’ greeting. Now I can see–on what you’re working–a large kitchen, with white-washed walls, it has three small latticed windows, with flowers in them. In the left-hand corner a hearth, on the right a table with wooden seats. And above the table, in the corner, hangs a crucifix, with a lamp burning below. The ceiling’s of blackened beams, and dried mistletoe hangs on the wall.

LADY (frightened). Where can you see all that?

STRANGER. On your work.

LADY. Can you see people there?

STRANGER. A very old man’s sitting at the table, bent over a game bag, his hands clasped in prayer. A woman, so longer young, kneels on the floor. Now once more I hear the angels’ greeting, as if far away. But those two in the kitchen are as motionless as figures of wax. A veil shrouds everything. … No, that was no poem! (Waking.) It was something else.

LADY. It was reality! The kitchen at home, where you’ve never set foot. That old man was my grandfather, the forester, and the woman my mother! They were praying for us! It was six o’clock and the servants were saying a rosary outside, as they always do.

STRANGER. You make me uneasy. Is this the beginning of second sight? Still, it was beautiful. A snow-white room, with flowers and mistletoe. But why should they pray for us?

LADY. Why indeed! Have we done wrong?

STRANGER. What is wrong?

LADY. I’ve read there’s no such thing. And yet … I long to see my mother; not my father, for he turned me out as he did her.

STRANGER. Why should he have turned your mother out?

LADY. Who can say? The children least of all. Let us go to my home. I long to.

STRANGER. To the lion’s den, the snake pit? One more or less makes no matter. I’ll do it for you, but not like the Prodigal Son. No, you shall see that I can go through fire and water for your sake.

LADY. How do you know …?

STRANGER. I can guess.

LADY. And can you guess that the path to where my parents live in the mountains is too steep for carts to use?

STRANGER. It sounds extraordinary, but I read or dreamed something of the kind.

LADY. You may have. But you’ll see nothing that’s not natural, though perhaps unusual, for men and women are a strange race. Are you ready to follow me?

STRANGER. I’m ready–for anything!

(The LADY kisses him on the forehead and makes the sign of the cross simply, timidly and without gestures.)

LADY. Then come!