Short summary - The Dance of Death - August Strindberg

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Dance of Death
August Strindberg

An artillery captain and his wife Alice, a former actress, live in a fortress on an island. Autumn. They sit in the living room, located in the fortress tower, and talk about the upcoming silver wedding. The captain thinks that it should certainly be noted, while Alice would prefer to hide their family hell from prying eyes. The captain conciliatoryly remarks that there were good moments in their lives and they should not be forgotten, because life is short, and then - the end of everything: “The only thing left is to take it out in a wheelbarrow and manure the garden!” - "So much fuss because of the garden!" Alice replies caustically. Spouses are bored; not knowing what to do, they sit down to play cards. That evening everyone gathered for a party to the doctor, but the Captain is not on good terms with him, like with everyone else, so he and Alice are at home. Alice worries that because of the difficult nature of the Captain, their children grow up without society. Cousin Alice Kurt, after an absence of fifteen years, arrived from America and was assigned to the island as the head of the quarantine. He arrived in the morning, but has not yet appeared at their place. They assume that Kurt went to the doctor. The sound of a telegraph machine is heard: this is Judith, the daughter of the Captain and Alice, telling them from the city that she does not go to school, and asks for money. The captain yawns: he and Alice say the same thing every day, he is bored with it. Usually, to his wife's remark that children always do their own thing in this house, he replies that this is not only his house, but also hers, and since he had already answered her like that five hundred times, now he just yawned.

The maid reports that Kurt has arrived. The captain and Alice rejoice at his arrival. Talking about themselves, they try to soften the colors, pretend that they live happily, but they cannot pretend for a long time and soon begin to scold again. Kurt feels that the walls of their house seem to exude poison and hatred has thickened so that it is difficult to breathe. The captain leaves to check the posts. Left alone with Kurt, Alice complains to him about life, about a tyrant-husband who cannot get along with anyone; they don't even keep servants, and for the most part Alice has to take care of the household herself. The captain turns the children against Alice, so now the children live separately in the city. Inviting Kurt to stay for dinner, Alice was sure that there was food in the house, but it turned out that there was not even a crust of bread. The captain is back. He immediately guesses that Alice managed to complain about him to Kurt. Suddenly, the Captain loses consciousness. When he comes to, he soon faints again. Kurt tries to call a doctor. Waking up, the Captain discusses with Alice whether all married couples are as unhappy as they are. Rummaging through their memory, they cannot remember a single happy family. Seeing that Kurt isn't coming back. The captain decides that he turned his back on them, and immediately begins to talk nasty things about him.

Soon Kurt arrives, who found out from the doctor that the Captain has sclerosis of the heart and he needs to take care of himself, otherwise he may die. The captain is put to bed, and Kurt stays by his bedside. Alice is very grateful to Kurt for wishing well for both of them. When Alice leaves. The captain asks Kurt to take care of his children if he dies. The captain doesn't believe in hell. Kurt is surprised: after all, the Captain lives in the very hell. The captain objects: it's just a metaphor. Kurt replies: “You portrayed your hell with such accuracy that there can be no talk of metaphors - neither poetic nor anything else!” The captain doesn't want to die. He talks about religion and finally consoles himself with the thought of the immortality of the soul. The captain falls asleep. In a conversation with Alice, Kurt accuses the Captain of arrogance, because he argues according to the principle: “I exist, therefore. God exists". Alice tells Kurt that the Captain had a hard life, having to start working early to help his family. Alice says that in her youth she admired the Captain and at the same time was horrified by him. Once again talking about the shortcomings of the Captain, she can no longer stop. Kurt reminds her that they were only going to say good things about the Captain. “After his death,” Alice replies. When the Captain wakes up, Kurt persuades him to write a will so that after his death Alice will not be left without a livelihood, but the Captain does not agree. The Colonel, at the request of Alice, grants the Captain a vacation, but the Captain does not want to admit that he is ill and does not want to go on vacation. He goes to the battery. Kurt tells Alice that the Captain, when it seemed to him that life was leaving him, began to cling to Kurt's life, began to ask about his affairs, as if he wanted to get into him and live his life. Alice warns Kurt not to let the Captain near his family in any case, not to introduce him to his children, otherwise the Captain will take them away and move them away from him. She reveals to Kurt that it was the Captain who arranged for Kurt to be deprived of their children in the divorce, and now regularly scolds Kurt for allegedly abandoning his children. Kurt is amazed: after all, at night, thinking that he was dying, the Captain asked him to take care of his children. Kurt promised and is not going to take out his resentment on the children. Alice believes that keeping her word is the best way to get revenge on the Captain, who hates nobility more than anything in the world.

Having been in the city. The captain returns to the fortress and says that the doctor did not find anything serious in him and said that he would live another twenty years if he took care of himself. In addition, he reports that Kurt's son has been assigned to the fortress and will soon arrive on the island. Kurt is not happy about this news, but the Captain is not interested in his opinion. And one more thing: The captain filed a divorce petition with the city court, because he intends to connect his life with another woman. In response, Alice says that she can accuse the Captain of an attempt on her life: once he pushed her into the sea. This was seen by their daughter Judith, but since she is always on the side of her father, she will not testify against him. Alice feels powerless. Kurt is filled with compassion for her. He is ready to start a fight with the Captain. Kurt came to the island without malice in his soul, he forgave the Captain for all his previous sins, even the fact that the Captain separated him from his children, but now, when the Captain wants to take his son away from him, Kurt decides to destroy the Captain. Alice offers him her help: she knows something about the dark deeds of the Captain and the bayonet junker who committed embezzlement. Alice rejoices, anticipating victory. She remembers how in her youth Kurt was not indifferent to her, and tries to seduce him. Kurt rushes to her, pulls her into his arms and sinks his teeth into her neck so that she screams.

Alice is delighted to have found six witnesses willing to testify against the Captain. Kurt feels sorry for him, but Alice scolds Kurt for his cowardice. Kurt feels like he's gone to hell. The captain wants to talk to Kurt face to face. He confesses that the doctor actually told him that he wouldn't last long. Everything he says about the divorce and the appointment of Kurt's son to the fortress is also not true, and he asks Kurt for forgiveness. Kurt asks why the Captain pushed Alice into the sea. The captain himself does not know: Alice was standing on the pier, and it suddenly seemed quite natural for him to push her down. Her revenge also seems completely natural to him: since the Captain looked death in the eyes, he has gained cynical humility. He asks Kurt who he thinks is right: him or Alice. Kurt does not recognize any of them as right and sympathizes with both of them. They shake hands. Alice enters. She asks the Captain how his new wife is feeling, and kisses Kurt that her lover feels great. The captain draws his saber and lunges at Alice, slashing right and left, but his blows hit the furniture. Alice calls for help, but Kurt doesn't move. Cursing them both, he leaves. Alice calls Kurt a scoundrel and a hypocrite. The captain tells her that his words that he will live another twenty years and everything else that he said when he arrived from the city is also not true. Alice is in despair: after all, she did everything to put the Captain in prison, and they are about to come for him. If she could save him from prison, she would faithfully look after him, fall in love with him. The telegraph machine is knocking: everything worked out. Alice and the Captain rejoice: they have already tortured each other enough, now they will live in peace. The captain knows that Alice tried to destroy him, but he crossed it out and is ready to move on. She and Alice decide to lavishly celebrate their silver wedding. Kurt's son Allan sits in the richly decorated living room of his father's house and solves problems. Judith, the daughter of the Captain and Alice, calls him to play tennis, but the young man refuses, Allan is clearly in love with Judith, and she flirts with him and tries to torment him.

Alice suspects that the Captain is up to something, but she can't figure out what. Once she forgot herself, seeing Kurt as a deliverer, but then she came to her senses and believes that it is possible to forget "what never happened." She is afraid of her husband's revenge. Kurt assures her that the Captain is a harmless chick, invariably showing him his favor. Kurt has nothing to fear - after all, he is doing his duties well as the head of quarantine and otherwise behaves as expected. But Alice says that in vain he believes in justice. Kurt has a secret - he is going to run for the Riksdag. Alice suspects that the Captain found out about this and wants to nominate herself.

Alice is talking to Allan. She tells the young man that he is jealous of the Lieutenant in vain: Judith is not at all in love with him. She wants to marry the old Colonel. Alice asks her daughter not to torment the young man, but Judith does not understand why Allan suffers: after all, she does not suffer. The captain returns from the city. He has two orders on his chest: one he received when he retired, the second - when he used Kurt's knowledge and wrote articles about quarantine posts in Portuguese ports. The captain announces that the soda factory has gone bankrupt. He himself managed to sell his shares in time, and for Kurt this means complete ruin: he loses both the house and the furniture. He can no longer afford to leave Allan in the artillery, and the Captain advises him to transfer his son to Norrland, in the infantry, and promises his help. The captain hands Alice a letter, which she took to the post office: he checks all her correspondence and stops all her attempts to "destroy family ties." Upon learning that Allan is leaving, Judith is upset, she suddenly understands what suffering is, and realizes that she loves Allan. The captain has been appointed quarantine inspector. Since the money for Allan's departure was collected from subscription lists, Kurt's failure in the elections to the Riksdag is inevitable. Kurt's house goes to the Captain. Thus, the Captain took everything from Kurt. “But this cannibal left my soul intact,” says Kurt Alice. The captain receives a telegram from the colonel whom Judith wanted to marry. The girl called the colonel and said impudent things, so the colonel breaks off relations with the Captain. The captain thinks that it was not without the intervention of Alice, and draws his saber, but falls, overtaken by apoplexy. He plaintively asks Alice not to be angry with him, and Kurt to take care of his children. Alice rejoices that the Captain is dying. Judith thinks only of Allan and pays no attention to her dying father. Kurt takes pity on him. At the moment of death, only the Lieutenant is next to the Captain. He says that before his death, the Captain said: "Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Alice and Kurt talk about how, despite everything, the captain was a good and noble man. Alice realizes that she not only hated, but also loved this man.