The short story ‘‘The Ring’’ by Isak Dinesen (whose real name was Karen Blixen) can be seen both as typical of its author’s literary art and as different from her most characteristic mode of expression. Its eighteenth-century Danish setting places it within the deliberate archaism of Dinesen’s storytelling, and its concern with fundamentals such as identity, sexuality, and violence echo such concerns in her other tales. On the other hand, ‘‘The Ring’’ has a simplicity not found in some of Dinesen’s other works. In its concise style, it resembles a folktale or an episode from a medieval saga. ‘‘The Ring,’’ which appears in the 1958 collection called Anecdotes of Destiny, adheres to the classical styles of storytelling, the Aristotelian unities of character, setting, and temporal span, and explores the way in which violence both breaks and reforges character.
Although dismissed by some of her contemporaries as an archaist who manipulated devices of eighteenth-century storytelling in a manner irrelevant to the modern condition, Dinesen has since come to be valued as an incisive commentator on modernity. While ‘‘The Ring’’ deals with a group of people, rural Danes of a past century, quite alien to the American reader of the 1990s, the tale addresses a universal human condition: Like Lovisa, the young bride, readers can find themselves caught up in a world which they did not make but with which they must come to terms.