Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The Romantic mode has left its mark on the style of Dinesen’s story no less than on its theme. The two sisters are described in hyperbolic terms, as befits Romantic heroines. Not only are they the “heart and soul of all the gayety in town,” but also “When they entered its ballrooms, the ceilings of sedate old merchants’ houses seemed to lift a little, and the walls to spring out in luminous Ionian columns, bound with vine.” Morten, a match for his sisters in all things, is “the observed of all observers, the glass of fashion and the mold of form.”

Even nature conspires to set the stage for the return of the hero. It is not until the unusually severe winter of 1841, when the “flatness and whiteness of the sea was very strange, like the breath of death over the world,” that Madame Baek sees Morten returned from the dead.

The first part of the story, which recounts the early years of the three De Coninck siblings, is told primarily from the point of view of Madame Baek. Her speculations on their strange behavior serve to heighten the air of mystery that surrounds them. After she has unburdened herself of her secret, however, “A weight and a fullness had been taken from her, and her importance had gone with it.”

Her importance is gone structurally, as well, for now the point of view changes, and a new omniscient narrator relates the reunion of the three siblings. While the reader has glimpses of the inner thoughts of both Fanny and Eliza, Morten is revealed solely through his dialogue and the reactions of his sisters. All three main characters are embodiments of Romantic ideals rather than the fully realized, rounded characters that are typical of more realistic fiction. Dinesen has resurrected the Romantic short story and given it philosophical overtones.