What is the time period in the story The Blue Stones by Isak Dinesen?

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Isak Dinesen was the pen-name of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke of Denmark. She wrote during the first half of the 20th century, though most of her stories are set during the 19th century. The time period for her stories is not always explicitly mentioned, so we must rely on context clues to discern when they are set.

One clue we can use to determine the time period for The Blue Stones is the naming of the city Trankebar (or Tranquebar.) From 1620 to 1845, this Indian town was part of a Danish colony. Today, the name of the town is Tharangambadi, but the Danes still call it Trankebar. Because Dinesen wrote in English, we could infer that she might use the name of the city as it is known in English if the story were set after the Danish colonization. Because she uses the name Trankebar, we can narrow down the time period to sometime between 1620 and 1845. Her use of the English name for the city of Elsinore backs up this supposition- she would not likely have used one English place-name and one Danish in the same story to refer to events which took place in the same time period.

The skipper in the story sails his ship from his home in Elsinore, to Trankebar in Danish India, to Portugal, presumably as part of the Danish East India Company trade network. The Danish East India Company was in existence from 1616-1650, then dissolved due to complications with the Dutch trade companies. It was reinstated between 1670 and 1729, dissolved again, and in 1730 was re-founded as the Asiatic Company. The skipper helped a "native king" flee from Trankebar and the traitors in his homeland. Depending on how  much Dinesen knew about the conflicts in India, information doesn't really help us narrow down a date any further than the late 17th to mid 19th centuries, as rule in and around Tamil Nadu changed hands many times, especially during the Maratha-Mughal conflicts. 

My best guess for the setting of this story is that it occurred during the 18th century, during the active years of the Danish East India or Asiatic Company, coinciding with some territorial conflict. 

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