Apparently August Strindberg was jealous of Munthe, as were many in the Swedish establishment at the time, not least among doctors. Strindberg found it difficult to accept Axel Munthe as a nature idealist and a lifestyle artist, or to recognise him as an author.
In August 1886 Strindberg writes to Verner von Heidenstam and suggests that they make fun of Munthe:
On April 14 Strindberg writes a new “tribute” to Munthe:
What upset Strindberg so much that he expressed such devastating criticism of Munthe? I quote from “Bref från Napoli” ”Letters from Napoli”), the chapter ”Det omedvetnas filosofi /Funderingar på hemvägen från fattigkvarteren/” (“The Philosophy of the Unconscious/Thoughts on the way home from the poor quarter”) where Munthe carries out a dialogue with his donkey:
What was it you mumbled half aloud for yourself, when we walked home last night, the donkey asked me the other day. I thought I discerned from what you were saying the name of a great author, who has written much about the lives of the poor, who with all of his touching portrayals of suffering has to a great degree increased compassionate interest in the wretched and increased sales of his novels. Yes, you guess right, Rosaina, but no names; we’re talking in generalities, we see the larger picture, my little donkey and me. But you understand who I am thinking of, him, the celebrated author of the modern school who “illustrates reality”, he who sits there in his comfortable chair in front of the elegant writing desk and lets his pen run across the paper. We shall not disturb him, only observe the man, a moment of his time is very valuable, the manuscript must be ready in a couple of days and it isn’t easy to find the suitable length, when the publisher is paying 2 francs a line. (Axel Munthe, from “Bref från Napoli”, Stockholms Dagblad 1/12 1884)
Since then many have analysed and written about the two men’s relationship. One of these, the author Olof Lagercrantz, writes in his book ”Min första krets”:
Munthe had already started protecting birds on Capri, was a friend of Mussolini and the sworn enemy of all hunters. His is, Strindberg wrote about him to Heidenstam in 1888, ‘a heartless person crawling behind animal sympathy, where he hid his wickedness and his hate for humans’. Strindberg met Munthe in Paris in 1883 where he was a society doctor. Eventually I came to regard Strindberg’s reaction in a positive light. Munthe is the kind of writer who appeals to humanity’s crudest forms and sentimentality. Hence the popularity. He lies about people and was therefore a forerunner for fascism. But it took me a long time to arrive at that insight. Had I read Strindberg’s letter then I would have judged it as raw and shabby. (Min Första krets, Chapter 21, 1982)
From Munthe there are very few statements that mention Strindberg by name. But long after the student years in Paris he writes in “The Story of San Michele” that “He is a sick genius”.