Written in Denmark in French in 1887–88, Swedish author August Strindberg's novel A Madman's Defense (Le Plaidoyer d'un fou) was first published in an 1893 German translation and subsequently released in a manicured French version in 1895. The German version was taken to court on indecency charges in Vilhelmine Berlin, the French version became a scandal, and Strindberg never authorized the novel for publication in Sweden.
Although A Madman's Defense helped cement Strindberg's reputation at home and abroad as a paranoid misogynist, it also provides a complementary trajectory for understanding the emergence of European transnational prose modernism. In its conception, publication, and reception, A Madman's Defense straddles both national and linguistic borders; its plot involves travel trajectories that link Sweden with the continent, and Stockholm with Paris. This novel tells a story of adultery, divorce, and lesbian desire, while tracing, through a first-person voice, the narrator's professed descent into madness. One thematic emphasis links transgressions of public and private with specific architectural manifestations. This article traces these architectural manifestations and argues that, as the narrator appears increasingly irrational, boundaries of nation, of public and private, and of gendered conventions disintegrate in ways that illustrate how literary setting becomes a vehicle of modernist literary experimentation. The article discusses specific locations through which this transformation is effected, including a bourgeois apartment, a railway station, a library, and a tourist boarding house. It also links Strindberg's writing about divorce and lesbian desire with nineteenth-century French literary texts, including those of the 1880s, and with Henrik Ibsen's plays and legacy in Paris during the 1880s and 1890s.