Unmarried And Married by August Strindberg

The young barrister was strolling on a lovely spring evening through the old Stockholm Hop-Garden. Snatches of song and music came from the pavilion; light streamed through the large windows and lit up the shadows cast by the great lime trees which were just bursting into leaf.

He went in, sat down at a vacant table near the platform and asked for a glass of punch.

A young comedian was singing a pathetic ballad of a Dead Rat. Then a young girl, dressed in pink, appeared and sang the Danish song: There is nothing so charming as a moonshine ride. She was comparatively innocent looking and she addressed her song to our innocent barrister. He felt flattered by this mark of distinction, and at once started negotiations which began with a bottle of wine and ended in a furnished flat, containing two rooms, a kitchen and all the usual conveniences.

It is not within the scope of this little story to analyse the feelings of the young man, or give a description of the furniture and the other conveniences. It must suffice if I say that they were very good friends.

But, imbued with the socialistic tendencies of our time, and desirous of having his lady-love always under his eyes, the young man decided to live in the flat himself and make his little friend his house keeper. She was delighted at the suggestion.

But the young man had a family, that is to say, his family looked upon him as one of its members, and since in their opinion he was committing an offence against morality, and casting a slur on their good name, he was summoned to appear before the assembled parents, brothers and sisters in order to be censured. He considered that he was too old for such treatment and the family tie was ruptured.

This made him all the more fond of his own little home, and he developed into a very domesticated husband, excuse me, lover. They were happy, for they loved one another, and no fetters bound them. They lived in the happy dread of losing one another and therefore they did their utmost to keep each other’s love. They were indeed one.

But there was one thing which they lacked: they had no friends. Society displayed no wish to know them, and the young man was not asked to the houses of the “Upper Ten.”

It was Christmas Eve, a day of sadness for all those who once had a family. As he was sitting at breakfast, he received a letter. It was from his sister, who implored him to spend Christmas at home, with his parents. The letter touched upon the strings of old feelings and put him in a bad temper. Was he to leave his little friend alone on Christmas Eve? Certainly not! Should his place in the house of his parents remain vacant for the first time on a Christmas Eve? H’m! This was the position of affairs when he went to the Law Courts.

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During the interval for lunch a colleague came up to him and asked him as discreetly as possible:

“Are you going to spend Christmas Eve with your family?”

He flared up at once. Was his friend aware of his position? Or what did he mean?

The other man saw that he had stepped on a corn, and added hastily, without waiting for a reply:

“Because if you are not, you might spend it with us. You know, perhaps, that I have a little friend, a dear little soul.”

It sounded all right and he accepted the invitation on condition that they should both be invited. Well, but of course, what else did he think? And this settled the problem of friends and Christmas Eve.

They met at six o’clock at the friend’s flat, and while the two “old men” had a glass of punch, the women went into the kitchen.

All four helped to lay the table. The two “old men” knelt on the floor and tried to lengthen the table by means of boards and wedges. The women were on the best of terms at once, for they felt bound together by that very obvious tie which bears the great name of “public opinion.” They respected one another and saved one another’s feelings. They avoided those innuendoes in which husbands and wives are so fond of indulging when their children are not listening, just as if they wanted to say: “We have a right to say these things now we are married.”

When they had eaten the pudding, the barrister made a speech praising the delights of one’s own fireside, that refuge from the world and from all men: that harbour where one spends one’s happiest hours in the company of one’s real friends.

Mary-Louisa began to cry, and when he urged her to tell him the cause of her distress, and the reason of her unhappiness, she told him in a voice broken by sobs that she could see that he was missing his mother and sisters.

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He replied that he did not miss them in the least, and that he should wish them far away if they happened to turn up now.

“But why couldn’t he marry her?”

“Weren’t they as good as married?”

“No, they weren’t married properly.”

“By a clergyman? In his opinion a clergyman was nothing but a student who had passed his examinations, and his incantations were pure mythology.”

“That was beyond her, but she knew that something was wrong, and the other people in the house pointed their fingers at her.”

“Let them point!”

Sophy joined in the conversation. She said she knew that they were not good enough for his relations; but she didn’t mind. Let everybody keep his own place and be content.

Anyhow, they had friends now, and lived together in harmony, which is more than could be said of many properly constituted families. The tie which held them together remained intact, but they were otherwise unfettered. They continued being lovers without contracting any bad matrimonial habits, as, for example, the habit of being rude to one another.

After a year or two their union was blest with a son. The mistress had thereby risen to the rank of a mother, and everything else was forgotten. The pangs which she had endured at the birth of the baby, and her care for the newly born infant, had purged her of her old selfish claims to all the good things of the earth, including the monopoly of her husband’s love.

In her new role as mother she gave herself superior little airs with her friend, and showed a little more assurance in her intercourse with her lover.

One day the latter came home with a great piece of news. He had met his eldest sister in the street and had found her well informed on all their private affairs. She was very anxious to see her little nephew and had promised to pay them a call.

Mary-Louisa was surprised, and at once began to sweep and dust the flat; in addition she insisted on a new dress for the occasion. And then she waited for a whole week. The curtains were sent to the laundry, the brass knobs on the doors of the stoves were made to shine, the furniture was polished. The sister should see that her brother was living with a decent person.

And then she made coffee, one morning at eleven o’clock, the time when the sister would call.

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She came, straight as if she had swallowed a poker, and gave Mary-Louisa a hand which was as stiff as a batting staff. She examined the bed-room furniture, but refused to drink coffee, and never once looked her sister-in-law in the face. But she showed a faint, though genuine, interest in the baby. Then she went away again.

Mary-Louisa in the meantime had carefully examined her coat, priced the material of her dress and conceived a new idea of doing her hair. She had not expected any great display of cordiality. As a start, the fact of the visit was quite sufficient in itself, and she soon let the house know that her sister-in-law had called.

The boy grew up and by and by a baby sister arrived. Now Mary-Louisa began to show the most tender solicitude for the future of the children, and not a day passed but she tried to convince their father that nothing but a legal marriage with her would safeguard their interests.

In addition to this his sister gave him a very plain hint to the effect that a reconciliation with his parents was within the scope of possibility, if he would but legalise his liaison.

After having fought against it day and night for two years, he consented at last, and resolved that for the children’s sake the mythological ceremony should be allowed to take place.

But whom should they ask to the wedding? Mary-Louisa insisted on being married in church. In this case Sophy could not be invited. That was an impossibility. A girl like her! Mary-Louisa had already learnt to pronounce the word “girl” with a decidedly moral accent. He reminded her that Sophy had been a good friend to her, and that ingratitude was not a very fine quality. Mary-Louisa, however, pointed out that parents must be prepared to sacrifice private sympathies at the altar of their children’s prospects; and she carried the day.

The wedding took place.

The wedding was over. No invitation arrived from his parents, but a furious letter from Sophy which resulted in a complete rupture.

Mary-Louisa was a wedded wife, now. But she was more lonely than she had been before. Embittered by her disappointment, sure of her husband who was now legally tied to her, she began to take all those liberties which married people look upon as their right. What she had once regarded in the light of a voluntary gift, she now considered a tribute due to her. She entrenched herself behind the honourable title of “the mother of his children,” and from there she made her sallies.

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Simple-minded, as all duped husbands are, he could never grasp what constituted the sacredness in the fact that she was the mother of his children. Why his children should be different from other children, and from himself, was a riddle to him.

But, with an easy conscience, because his children had a legal mother now, he commenced to take again an interest in the world which he had to a certain extent forgotten in the first ecstasy of his love-dream, and which later on he had neglected because he hated to leave his wife and children alone.

These liberties displeased his wife, and since there was no necessity for her to mince matters now, and she was of an outspoken disposition, she made no secrets of her thoughts.

But he had all the lawyer’s tricks at his fingers’ ends, and was never at a loss for a reply.

“Do you think it right,” she asked, “to leave the mother of your children alone at home with them, while you spend your time at a public house?”

“I don’t believe you missed me,” he answered by way of a preliminary.

“Missed you? If the husband spends the housekeeping money on drink, the wife will miss a great many things in the house.”

“To start with I don’t drink, for I merely have a mouthful of food and drink a cup of coffee; secondly, I don’t spend the housekeeping money on drink, for you keep it locked up: I have other funds which I spend ‘on drink.’”

Unfortunately women cannot stand satire, and the noose, made in fun, was at once thrown round his neck.

“You do admit, then, that you drink?”

“No, I don’t, I used your expression in fun.”

“In fun? You are making fun of your wife? You never used to do that!”

“You wanted the marriage ceremony. Why are things so different now?”

“Because we are married, of course.”

“Partly because of that, and partly because intoxication has the quality of passing off.”

“It was only intoxication in your case, then?”

“Not only in my case; in your case, too, and in all others as well. It passes off more or less quickly.”

“And so love is nothing but intoxication as far as a man is concerned!”

“As far as a woman is concerned too!”

“Nothing but intoxication!”

“Quite so! But there is no reason why one shouldn’t remain friends.”

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“One need not get married for that!”

“No; and that’s exactly what I meant to point out.”

“You? Wasn’t it you who insisted on our marriage?”

“Only because you worried me about it day and night three long years.”

“But it was your wish, too!”

“Only because you wished it. Be grateful to me now that you’ve got it!”

“Shall I be grateful because you leave the mother of your children alone with them while you spend your time at the public-house?”

“No, not for that, but because I married you!” “You really think I ought to be grateful for that?”

“Yes, like all decent people who have got their way!”

“Well, there is no happiness in a marriage like ours. Your family doesn’t acknowledge me!”

“What have you got to do with my family? I haven’t married yours?”

“Because you didn’t think it good enough!”

“But mine was good enough for you. If they had been shoemakers, you wouldn’t mind so much.”

“You talk of shoemakers as if they were beneath your notice. Aren’t they human beings like everybody else?”

“Of course they are, but I don’t think you would have run after them.”

“All right! Have your own way.”

But it was not all right, and it was never again all right. Was it due to the fact of their being married, or was it due to something else? Mary-Louisa could not help admitting in her heart that the old times had been better times; they had been “jollier” she said.

He did not think that it was only owing to the fact that their marriage had been legalised for he had observed that other marriages, too, were not happy. And the worst of it all was this: when one day he went to see his old friend and Sophy, as he sometimes did, behind his wife’s back, he was told that there was an end to that matter. And they had not been married. So it could not have been marriage which was to blame.

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