His Servant by August Strindberg


Mr. Blackwood was a wharfinger at Brooklyn and had married Miss Dankward, who brought him a dowry of modern ideas. To avoid seeing his beloved wife playing the part of his servant, Mr. Blackwood had taken rooms in a boarding house.

The wife, who had nothing whatever to do, spent the day in playing billiards and practising the piano, and half the night in discussing Women’s Rights and drinking whiskies and sodas.

The husband had a salary of five thousand dollars. He handed over his money regularly to his wife who took charge of it. She had, moreover, a dress allowance of five hundred dollars with which she did as she liked.

Then a baby arrived. A nurse was engaged who, for a hundred dollars, took upon her shoulders the sacred duties of the mother.

Two more children were born.

They grew up and the two eldest went to school. But Mrs. Blackwood was bored and had nothing with which to occupy her mind.

One morning she appeared at the breakfast table, slightly intoxicated.

The husband ventured to tell her that her behaviour was unseemly.

She had hysterics and went to bed, and all the other ladies in the house called on her and brought her flowers.

“Why do you drink so much whisky?” asked her husband, as kindly as possible. “Is there anything which troubles you?”

“How could I be happy when my whole life is wasted!”

“What do you mean by wasted? You are the mother of three children and you might spend your time in educating them.”

“I can’t be bothered with children.”

“Then you ought to be bothered with them! You would be benefiting the whole community and have a splendid object in life, a far more honourable one, for instance, than that of being a wharfinger.”

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“Yes, if I were free!”

“You are freer than I am. I am under your rule. You decide how my earnings are to be spent. You have five hundred dollars pin money to spend as you like; but I have no pin money. I have to make an application to the cash-box, in other words, to you, whenever I want to buy tobacco. Don’t you think that you are freer than I am?”

She made no reply; she tried to think the question out.

The upshot of it was that they decided to have a home of their own. And they set up house-keeping.

“My dear friend,” Mrs. Blackwood wrote a little later on to a friend of hers, “I am ill and tired to death. But I must go on suffering, for there is no solace for an unhappy woman who has no object in life. I will show the world that I am not the sort of woman who is content to live on her husband’s bounty, and therefore I shall work myself to death….”

On the first day she rose at nine o’clock and turned out her husband’s room. Then she dismissed the cook and at eleven o’clock she went out to do the catering for the day.

When the husband came home at one o’clock, lunch was not ready. It was the maid’s fault.

Mrs. Blackwood was dreadfully tired and in tears. The husband could not find it in his heart to complain. He ate a burnt cutlet and went back to his work.

“Don’t work so hard, darling,” he said, as he was leaving.

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In the evening his wife was so tired that she could not finish her work and went to bed at ten o’clock.

On the following morning, as Mr. Blackwood went into his wife’s room to say good morning to her, he was amazed at her healthy complexion.

“Have you slept well?” he asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because you are looking so well.”


“Yes, a little occupation seems to agree with you.”

“A little occupation? You call it little? I should like to know what you would call much.”

“Never mind, I didn’t mean to annoy you.”

“Yes, you did. You meant to imply that I wasn’t working hard enough. And yet I turned out your room yesterday, just as if I were a house-maid, and stood in the kitchen like a cook. Can you deny that I am your servant?”

In going out the husband said to the maid:

“You had better get up at seven in future and do my room. Your mistress shouldn’t have to do your work.”

In the evening Mr. Blackwood came home in high spirits but his wife was angry with him.

“Why am I not to do your room?” she asked.

“Because I object to your being my servant.”

“Why do you object?”

“The thought of it makes me unhappy.”

“But it doesn’t make you unhappy to think of me cooking your dinner and attending to your children?”

This remark set him thinking.

He pondered the question during the whole of his tram journey to Brooklyn.

When he came home in the evening, he had done a good deal of thinking.

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“Now, listen to me, my love,” he began, “I’ve thought a lot about your position in the house and, of course, I am far from wishing that you should be my servant. I think the best thing to do is this: You must look upon me as your boarder and I’ll pay for myself. Then you’ll be mistress in the house, and I’ll pay you for my dinner.”

“What do you mean?” asked his wife, a little uneasy.

“What I say. Let’s pretend that you keep a boarding-house and that I’m your boarder. We’ll only pretend it, of course.”

“Very well! And what are you going to pay me?”

“Enough to prevent me from being under an obligation to you. It will improve my position, too, for then I shall not feel that I am kept out of kindness.”

“Out of kindness?”

“Yes; you give me a dinner which is only half-cooked, and then you go on repeating that you are my servant, that is to say, that you are working yourself to death for me.”

“What are you driving at?”

“Is three dollars a day enough for my board? Any boarding-house will take me for two.”

“Three dollars ought to be plenty.”

“Very well! Let’s say a thousand dollars per annum. Here’s the money in advance!”

He laid a bill on the table.

It was made out as follows:

Rent 500 dollars
Nurse's wages 100 "
Cook's wages 150 "
Wife's maintenance 500 "
Wife's pin money 500 "
Nurse's maintenance 300 "
Cook's maintenance 300 "
Children's maintenance 700 "
Children's clothes 500 "
Wood, light, assistance 500 "

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4.500 dollars

“Divide this sum by two, since we share expenses equally, that leaves 2025 dollars. Deduct my thousand dollars and give me 1025 dollars. If you have got the money by you, all the better.”

“Share expenses equally?” was all the wife could say. “Do you expect me to pay you, then?”

“Yes, of course, if we are to be on a footing of equality. I pay for half of your and the children’s support. Or do you want me to pay the whole? Very well, that would mean that I should have to pay you 4050 dollars plus 1000 dollars for my board. But I pay separately for rent, food, light, wood and servants’ wages. What do I get for my three dollars a day for board? The preparation of the food? Nothing else but that for 4050 dollars? Now, if I subtract really half of this sum, that is to say, my share of the expenses, 2025 dollars, then the preparation of my food costs me 2025 dollars. But I have already paid the cook for doing it; how, then, can I be expected to pay 2025 dollars, plus 1000 dollars for food?”

“I don’t know.”

“Neither do I. But I know that I owe you nothing after paying for the whole of your support, the children’s support and the servants’ support; the servants who do your work, which, in your opinion, is equal, or superior, to mine. But even if your work should really be worth more, you must remember that you have another five hundred dollars in addition to the household expenses, while I have nothing.”

“I repeat that I don’t understand your figures!”

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“Neither do I. Perhaps we had better abandon the idea of the boarding-house. Let’s put down the debit and credit of the establishment. Here’s the account, if you’d like to see it.”

To Mrs. Blackwood for assistance in the house, and to Mrs. Blackwood’s cook and nursemaid:

Rent and maintenance 1000 dollars
Clothes 500 "
Amusements 100 "
Pin money (by cash) 500 "
Her children's maintenance 1200 "
Her children's education 600 "
On account of the maids who do her
work 850 "

4570 dollars

Paid M. Blackwood, Wharfinger

“Oh! It’s too bad of you to worry your wife with bills!”

“With counter-bills! And even that one you need not pay, for I pay all bills.”

The wife crumpled up the paper.

“Am I to pay for your children’s education, too?”

“No, I will, and I shall, and I will also pay for your children’s education. You shall not pay one single farthing for mine. Is that being on a footing of equality? But I shall deduct the sum for the maintenance of my children and servants: then you will still have 2100 dollars for the assistance you give to my servants. Do you want any more bills?”

She wanted no more; never again.

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