Meeting Stig

By Michael Meyer, from his introduction to The Games of Night, 1959. 

I first saw Stig Dagerman in 1948, when he came to speak in a debate at Uppsala University. He was then 25 years old and already had three novels, three plays, a book of travel reportage and a collection of short stories to his credit. He was above medium height and well built, with a gentle, broad-boned face. What one noticed about him first was his eyes, which were large and – I had almost said staring, but that word would give an entirely wrong impression; they were intensely reflective, mild and unseeing, like the eyes of a blind man. He spoke haltingly, in a low and scarcely audible voice, and my recollection is that his line of argument was rather muddled, but that out of it emerged several sharply perceived truths.

Another five years passed before I actually met him, in the early summer of 1953, at a small party given by his publisher, Ragnar Svanström, at the latter’s country cottage on an island if the Stockholm archipelago. Dagerman was there with Anita Björk, the lovely and talented young actress who he was shortly to marry; eight of us ate by candlelight, and then he and I walked and talked on the shore outside. I found him, in his shy way, a delightfully gay and impulsive companion. We spoke in English, for he talked the language well, – his French and German were also good – and, like so many Swedes, he enjoyed conversing in a foreign tongue. When we returned to Stockholm later that evening, I drove him and and Anita Björk back to their house at Enebyberg, just north of Stockholm. We continued talking late into the night, and finally I was put to bed inn their guest room.

During the next three moths, I visited them often, and the pattern was always the same. The three of us (for we were usually alone) and would talk until about one o’clock. Then Anita would yawn, and go to bed; whereupon there would be a change of subject. Up to now we had talked about the theatre, literature, people, and the state of the world – all the subjects which people aged thirty like to discuss on summer nights – but once Stig and I were alone the conversation almost invariably turned to football /am. soccer/, for which he had an extraordinary passion. Late summer is the beginning of the football season in Sweden and we would discuss the prospects of this team and tat until it struck two and I would totter upstairs to my guest room. Even then he did not always go to bed. Sometimes he would climb the extra flight to his study in a small tower which rose above the house, and I would fall asleep to the sound of his typewriter.

This typewriter, alas, now held a very different significance for him from what it had symbolized when I had first seen him inn 1948. Then, he had been a prolific young author at the height of his powers; but after 1949, a strange kind of paralysis had overcome him. Every author’s nightmare of finding himself unable to write had, for Stig Dagerman, become reality, and fir the past three and a half years he hd produced nothing. It was not that he was short of ideas; he would conceive an exciting plan for a book or a play, and would ring his publisher in an ecstasy of excitement; and advance would be paid; but somehow he, who had formerly been able to write 60 pages in a single night, could now scarcely complete a chapter. The tappings of the typewriter which penetrated from his room in the tower to my small guest room below were the efforts of a man to overcome a paralysis; a paralysis from he was never to escape, and which a year later was to drive him to suicide.

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