Stig Dagerman

Biografie şi Bibliografie

Stig Dagerman (5 October 1923, Älvkarleby, Uppsala County - 4 November 1954) was a Swedish author and journalist.

Stig Dagerman was one of the most prominent Swedish authors during the 1940s. In the course of five years, 1945-49, he enjoyed phenomenal success with four novels, a collection of short stories, a book about postwar Germany, five plays, hundreds of poems and satirical verses, several essays of note and a large amount of journalism. Then, with apparent suddenness, he fell silent. In the fall of 1954, Sweden was stunned to learn that Stig Dagerman, the epitome of his generation of writers, had been found dead in his car: he had closed the doors of the garage and run the engine.

Dagerman's works deal with universal problems of morality and conscience, of sexuality and social philosophy, of love, compassion and justice. He plunges into the painful realities of human existence, dissecting feelings of fear, guilt and loneliness. Despite the somber content, he also displays a wry sense of humor that occasionally turns his writing into burlesque or satire.

Since the 1980s, there is a strong renewed interest in Stig Dagerman's work and life. His collected works are available in eleven volumes. Scholars have examined his writing from every possible angle: philosophical, political, psychological, journalistic, its relationship to the medium of film, and why French and Italian readers have found him particularly appealing. Artists in Sweden and abroad continue to put music to his texts. Films have been made of his short stories and novels. The Stig Dagerman Society in Sweden annually awards the Stig Dagerman Prize to individuals who, like Dagerman, through their work promote empathy and understanding. In 2008, the SD Prize went to the French writer JMG Le Clezio, who later was awarded also the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Dagerman's work is translated into many languages, and his work continues to inspire readers, writers, musicians and filmmakers in Sweden and abroad.

Life and work

Stig Dagerman, born in 1923, spent his childhood on a small farm in Älvkarleby where he lived with his paternal grandparents. His unwed mother gave birth on the farm but left shortly thereaftrer, never to come back. He will meet her only when he is in his twenties. Dagerman's father, a traveling day laborer, eventually settled in Stockholm. His son joined him there at the age of eleven.

Through his father, Dagerman came into contact with Anarchism and its ideological offspring, Syndicalism, and joined the Syndicalist Youth Federation. At nineteen, he became the editor of "Storm", the youth paper, and at twenty-two he was appointed the cultural editor of Arbetaren ("The Worker"), then a daily newspaper of the Syndicalist movement. It was in the fertile ground of the newspaper world that he met fellow writers and relished in polemic writing. In addition to editorials and articles, Dagerman penned over a thousand daily poems, many highly satirical, commenting on current events. He called "Arbetaren" his "spiritual birthplace".

Dagerman's horizons were greatly expanded by his marriage in 1943 to Annemarie Götze, an eighteen-year old German refugee. Her parents, Ferdinand and Elly, were prominent Anarcho-Syndicalists, and the family escaped Nazi-Germany to join the center of the movement in Barcelona. As Spanish fascists brutally crushed the Anarcho-Syndicalist social experiment there, the Götzes fled through France and Norway, with Hitler's army at their heels, to a neutral Sweden. Dagerman and his young wife lived with his parents-in-law, and it was through this family, and the steady stream of refugees that passes through their home, that Dagerman felt he can sense the pulse of Europe.

In 1945, Stig Dagerman was twenty-two and published his first novel Ormen (The Snake). It was an anti-militaristic story with fear as its main theme, channeling the war-time zeitgeist. Positive reviews earned him the reputation as a brilliant young writer of great promise. He left "Arbetaren" to write full-time. The following year, Dagerman published De dömdas ö (The Island of the Doomed), completed over a fortnight during which, he says, it is as he "let god do the writing". Using nightmarish imagery, this was an allegory centered on seven shipwrecked people, each doomed to die, each seeking a form of salvation.

Critics compare Dagerman’s works to Franz Kafka, William Faulkner and Albert Camus. Many see him as the main representative of a group of Swedish writers called “Fyrtiotalisterna” (“the writers of the 1940s”) who channel existentialist feelings of fear, alienation and meaninglessness common in the wake of the horrors of World War II and the looming Cold War.

In 1946, Dagerman became a Swedish household name through a newspaper travel log from war-torn Germany, later published with the title Tysk Höst (German Autumn). Rather than blaming the German people for the war’s atrocities, calling them crazed or evil, Dagerman portrayed the human ordinariness of the men and women who scraped by in the ruins of war. To him, the root of disaster lay in the anonymity of mass-organizations that obstruct empathy and individual responsibility, qualities without which the human race is threatened by extinction.

            “I believe that man’s natural enemy is the mega-organization
            because it robs him of the vital necessity to feel responsible for his fellow-man,
            restricting his possibilities to show solidarity and love
            and instead turns him into an agent of power,
            that for the moment may be directed against others,
            but ultimately is directed against himself.”

The short story collection Nattens lekar (The Games of Night), published in 1947, met with high acclaim. Many of the stories were set on his grandparents’ farm, and are written from a child’s perspective. Dagerman used a tender naturalistic style that appeals to a wide audience. This same year his first play “Den dödsdömde” (“The Man Condemned to Death”) opened in Stockholm to rave reviews.

The most famous of Dagerman’s short stories, “Att döda ett barn” (“To Kill A Child”), exemplified the strong influence of film on his writing. In image after image, it portrayed in riveting detail how a series of perfectly ordinary events can be a prologue to horror.

In 1948, he wrote three more plays and published his third novel Bränt barn (A Burnt Child). The story was a psychological account of a young man’s infatuation with his father’s mistress, and was written in a tight, naturalistic style.

Dagerman only wrote one more novel: Bröllopsbesvär (Wedding Worries), published in 1949, regarded by some as his best. In this novel, he returned one final time to the setting of his grandparents’ farm and characters to describe the human condition, including a search for forgiveness and salvation. In this book, Dagerman, who throughout his career experimented with different literary styles, made ample use of stream-of-consciousness as a way of penetrating a character.

After his early and rapid successes, expectations kept rising, not least his own. Dagerman struggled with depression and an onset of writer’s block. He became restless in the now suburbanized Götze family, and was drawn to the medium of theater. As a playwright, and even a one-time director, he met friends and lovers within the theater world, leaving his family for periods at a time. Eventually, Dagerman broke away for good to live with and later married the celebrated actress Anita Björk with whom he had a daughter. But the break proved difficult, emotionally and financially. Dagerman felt guilty leaving his young sons, and took on mounting debt to support his first family. The assumption was that the debt will be paid when he publishes his next book.

Battling deepening depression and a debilitating writer’s block, Dagerman penned a magazine essay “Vårt behov av tröst är omättligt” (“Our need for consolation is insatiable”) about his thoughts of suicide. He also wrote “Tusen år hos gud” (“A Thousand Years with God”) – part of a new novel he was planning – which signaled a turn to a more mystical bent in his writing. In spite of his struggles, Dagerman continued to deliver his daily satirical verses for “Arbetaren”, the last one published on November 5, 1954, the day after his suicide.

Main works

    * Ormen (The Snake) 1945, novel
    * De dömdas ö (The Island of the Doomed) 1946, novel
    * Tysk höst (German Autumn), 1947, non-fictional account of post-war Germany
    * Nattens lekar (The Games of Night) 1947, a collection of short stories
    * Bränt barn (A Burnt Child) 1948, novel
    * Dramer of dömda: Den dödsdömde; Skuggan av Mart (Dramas of the Condemned: The Man Condemned to Death; The Shadow of Mart) 1948,     plays
    * Judas Dramer: Streber; Ingen gar fri (Judas Dramas: No One Goes Free; The Climber) 1949, plays
    * Bröllopsbesvär (Wedding Worries) 1949, novel
    * Vårt behov av tröst (Our Need for Consolation is Insatiable) 1955, prose and poetry. Edited by O. Lagercrantz

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