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.
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Monica Strauss was born in London and received a Ph.D. in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She works as an independent curator and cultural journalist and lives in New York City.From Publishers Weekly:
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 worldAand 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)
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