Straight Talk on Stieg: The Late Novelist’s Partner on Their Relationship and His Millennium Trilogy
By VIBHUTI PATEL
Appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 6/25/2011
Gloria Steinem interviewed Eva Gabrielsson at the 92nd Street Y on Thursday.
Eva Gabrielsson, the common-law widow of the late novelist Stieg Larsson, whose Millennium Trilogy sold 60 million copies world-wide, has written a moving memoir ” ‘There Are Things I Want You To Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me.” The title comes from a love letter Mr. Larsson wrote to Ms. Gabrielsson at 22 years old, thinking he might die in Ethiopia.
Now, she tells of their 32 years together, of his sudden death in 2004 at 50, of her loss of stewardship of his $100 million literary estate that, according to archaic Swedish inheritance laws, goes to his estranged father and brother. On an American book tour that has become a media event, Ms. Gabrielsson spoke to The Wall Street Journal, about her life and her book, on Thursday, before being interviewed at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y by feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
What was the inspiration for the Millennium Trilogy?
On our 2002 vacation, while I was working on my manuscript, Stieg was so bored, I reminded him of a piece he’d written in 1997 about an old man who got flowers each birthday: Who’s that man? Who’s sending the flowers? Why? Thinking of answers to those questions led Stieg to write the first book [“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”]. He’d been searching for an outlet for the desperation he felt over the increased violence against women in Sweden.
Is Lisbeth Salander Pippi Longstocking or Stieg?
She is a modern mixture of many people we knew, male and female, she was inspired by Pippi but in some ways, she is Stieg—he was very complex.
As an investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist is also like Stieg?
Blomkvist and Stieg share the same journalistic credo of how to write, how to research. The books give us an insider’s view of how a publication works—they’ve been used as journalism texts! One theme is criticism of Sweden’s media.
What was your contribution to the Millennium Trilogy?
My major contribution was content—our life. The people we met, the things we did, all made their way into the books. Stieg wrote three long books in two years because the material was already there: his varied interests, what I’d been doing, what I’d developed. That’s how a relationship works; some things are your own, but so much knowledge and experience is shared when you’re living together for 32 years, and collaborate. We had continuous interactive discussions, he asked my advice, what I knew, what I explained to him, for example, the locations come straight from my book on Stockholm. Stieg had no time for research. He asked me to read the chapters as he wrote them, to offer advice and suggestions.
What made Stieg a feminist?
He grew up in our harsh North where farmers need cooperation from their wives, their neighbors’ wives; equality between the sexes is the basis for survival when there’s no money. He saw strong women. His closest childhood friend was a girl. At 14, he saw other friends gang-raping a woman but couldn’t stop them. He was not afraid of that female side which we all have—you see both sides in Lisbeth and in Blomkvist.
Why didn’t he make a will?
In Sweden, everything is distributed by law so less than 20%—usually the wealthy—make wills. Even those aren’t properly witnessed and may be invalid. We had no money. Six months after he signed the contract with his publishers, he died. There was no time to think about it while he was editing the books for publication. The publisher was to help set up a company for us as co-owners so the money would automatically go to the survivor. But, the advance was not paid until after Stieg’s death—to his father and brother.
Why did you not marry?
We’d planned to—we bought rings in ’83—but Stieg was under death threats and did not want to expose me to danger. Marriage is not common in Sweden. But the cohabitation law, based on age-old situations when land or cattle would pass down to relatives who were also farmers, is outdated. Now, with knowledge industries, we’re in another world—intellectual property. My earlier book “Cohabitation” shows the danger to society: Knowledge is prevented from being passed on to people who could develop it. Members of Parliament are bringing proposals to change the law, or, at least, to allow such cases to go to court. Inheritance law for cohabitants does not allow me to sue. Women are affected—they pay for all essentials; guys buy things in their name, then take them away in a split-up.
The women’s movement doesn’t help?
Since the ’80s, there’s no women’s movement, it’s disappeared
What do you want?
I’m fighting to be Stieg’s literary executor—sole manager of his literary estate for 20% of royalties for work I’d actually be doing. So much of all his work came from our discussions that I want to protect my ideas, my values, my thoughts.
They offered you $3 million and a seat on their board…
The money was not a gift, it was a settlement that would muzzle me. They could kick me off the board, I’d have no control because they could overrule me and go with the business partners for lucrative but exploitative commercial deals.
You performed a pagan curse for vengeance. Did Stieg share that value?
We have no rituals for desperation and grief. I needed to express rage and sorrow over Stieg’s life being cut short, outrage at his being used by others to further their careers. “Vengeance” can take many forms: Stieg did not accept being stepped upon, he believed in fighting back. (Lisbeth is a goddess of vengeance!) I’m not violent, I don’t believe in killing people, but standing up for yourself, speaking out against injustice, is another form of vengeance. That black poetry eased my grief—offered our friends relief—we started to breathe, to cry. Grief can be rage against the universe: Why me? What did he do to be cut down so early? I looked for others’ rituals—even to have a Kadish read.
What’s happening to the fourth novel?
It’s a fragment that goes back and forth, Stieg wasn’t sure where it was going, there’s no outline, he kept it all in his head. It’s not right to ghostwrite a dead author’s work. We all have to come to terms with Stieg’s death.