Sue Prideaux at the Times Literary Supplement:
In 1887–8, August Strindberg wrote the experimental autobiographical novel Le Plaidoyer d’un fou; but only now is it available in a translation taken directly from the author’s original manuscript, lost shortly after its first publication in Paris in 1895. The manuscript resurfaced in 1973 in the safe of the Anatomy department of Oslo University – a curious location rendered curiouser when you remember that Strindberg, a Swede, never visited Norway.
Throughout his life, Strindberg wrote a series of autobiographies that shared no common style or language, each aiming at “an analysis of the soul or psychological anatomy” that was truthful to himself at the particular moment of writing. The whole was deliberately designed to display the discontinuity of his “evolution as a human being” and as a writer. Plaidoyer was written as Strindberg was approaching forty. He wrote it in French, hoping Paris would be receptive to a new form of literature “more realistic than Flaubert, more experimental than Zola”. It was to be the opposite of the French tradition of the novelist-observer reporting elegantly on the human condition, the reverse of a neat encapsulation of experience. Written in the first person, it recorded his tortured ambivalence during the thirteen years of his adoring passion for his first wife, Siri von Essen.