Last Updated 19 Dec 2022

Millennium: Award-winning Swedish Crime Novels, Created by Journalist Stieg Larsson

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“…It’s not an insane serial killer who read his Bible wrong. It’s just a common or garden bastard who hates women.”

Salander says this to Blomkovist in chapter 20 as they examine the connections between the murders being investigated; this fact makes the quote even more meaningful in my opinion considering the violence she herself had faced at the hands of Bjurman just 8 chapters before. With these two simple lines, she essentially explains that Martin’s trauma by the hands of his abusive father do not excuse the suffering he has inflicted upon women. Salander is, by extension, then also saying that male violence against women is a series of purposeful choices to cause harm and not a “mistake” or a form of retaliation that can be rationalized by the perpetrator’s previous experiences. This quote also forms a connection to the use of Biblical verses in the novel as clues for the crime that took place, possibly being a reference to how the men in this novel twist religion into a corrupted ideology to justify their misogyny and bigotry (i.e. the anti-Semitism from the Vanger patriarchs).

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It is interesting to compare this situation with the treatment of crimes (though the crime is not necessarily on the same level as the graphically violent assaults characteristic of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) committed against women in “Sadie When She Died.” As Fletcher confesses his crime to Arlene, he says that he killed “only the woman she’d become, the slut I’d force her to become. She was Sadie, you see, when I killed her – when she died,” (LADF 410). Here, Fletcher seems to at least partially take responsibility for Sarah’s tragic demise as he says he “forced” her into the depressed state she was in when she died, either by his cheating or his implied mistreatment of her: “[Sarah] said [Fletcher] had another woman. Said he ran off to see her every weekend, told little Sadie he had out-of-town business. Every weekend, can you imagine that?” (LADF 401)

And yet, Fletcher’s hurried correction of “when I killed her” to “when she died” hints at his true feelings: Sarah had it coming. In his eyes, he had done her a favor by killing her (“She begged me to kill her…she begged me to end it for her,” from LADF 410) and her death was simply inevitable considering her actions. The story is structured such that Fletcher’s actions could even be justified, since Sarah (or “Sadie”) repeatedly cheated on him with many men while Fletcher was consistently seeing one woman. This is in sharp contrast with the male criminals in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as they are not given opportunities for justification of their actions within the framework of the story. Granted, the latter have committed more (arguably) serious or “heinous” crimes, so it would be more difficult to give possible justifications for them, anyway – though Larsson still never tries to do so in the first place.

In chapter 12, Salander also reflects, “As a girl she was legal prey, especially if she was dressed in a worn black leather jacket and had pierced eyebrows, tattoos, and zero social status.” She clearly believes that violence against women is systemic and even encouraged in the society she lives in.

Salander’s philosophy reminds me of the attitude toward Cordelia in P.D. James’s An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, even from other women (such as when Elizabeth tells Cordelia she likely wouldn’t be “considered an effective substitute” as a detective on page 46). In both stories, societal views of women place restrictions on the female detectives. In An Unsuitable Job, these restrictions are more explicit as Cordelia’s peers and superiors alike disregard her competence on account of her being a woman, while in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, implicit restrictions such as wealth, social class, and even conventional attractiveness serve to limit Lisbeth’s autonomy; after all, she mentions her appearance as one of the qualities that set her aside as “legal prey.”

This disparity between appearances and reality extends to other aspects of the novel. Martin Vanger, for instance, gives the initial impression of “simplicity…and amiability,” and the supposed tidiness of his well-furnished home reflects this: “Martin Vanger’s villa was furnished in black, white, and chrome. There were expensive designer pieces that would have delighted the connoisseur Christer Malm. The kitchen was equipped to a professional chef’s standard. In the living room there was a high-end stereo with an impressive collection of jazz records from Tommy Dorsey to John Coltrane,” (chapter 10). In chapter 2, Armansky “was bewildered and also angry with himself for having so obviously misjudged her. He had taken her for stupid…He had not expected that a girl who had cut so many classes in school that she did not graduate could write a report so grammatically correct,” as he used her lower-class background and childlike appearance to label her as incompetent.

Still, there was one passage in chapter 2 concerning Lisbeth’s appearance that was a source of discomfort to me:

“She had simply been born thin, with slender bones that made her look girlish and fine-limbed with small hands, narrow wrists, and childlike breasts. She was twenty-four, but she sometimes looked fourteen. She had a wide mouth, a small nose, and high cheekbones that gave her an almost Asian look…Her extreme slenderness would have made a career in modelling impossible, but with the right make-up her face could have put her on any billboard in the world. Sometimes she wore black lipstick, and in spite of the tattoos and the pierced nose and eyebrows she was...well...attractive. It was inexplicable.”

Though Lisbeth’s street smarts and social know-how are proven time and again in the later chapters, I was deeply concerned when I first read this passage, because it had given me the impression that Salander would become a trope that is common in fiction: a woman who is highly skilled at stereotypically “male” activities such as martial arts or coding, but has little experience with social norms and sexuality, thus allowing for the male hero to retain the upper hand in their interactions. In my mind, the repeated allusions to her “childlike” and “girlish” qualities despite being a fully-grown woman served to accentuate her supposed naivety, and the fact that Armansky still had an “inexplicable” attraction to her seemed almost…perverse. Like so many other works of fiction, this story gave me the impression that it was dead-set on the male and female protagonists never being true equals, at least when it came to emotions and relationships.

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