The Blank Page Summary
by Isak Dinesen

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The Blank Page Summary

This series of stories within stories, none of which provide a sense of closure, illustrates the idea that one story in life always leads to the next. It begins with an old woman.

The old woman makes her living as a storyteller and sits outside an ancient city gate passing along the oral tradition of her grandmother, also a storyteller. She explains to listeners the importance of storytelling and of being "loyal, eternally and unswervingly loyal to the story." She explains that if storytellers can do this, silence will speak at the end of the tale. It doesn't matter if the listener understands the story; perhaps this will come through the silence. She likens this to the "blank page" authors face and says that

When a royal and gallant pen, in the moment of its highest inspiration, has written down its tale with the rarest ink of all—where, then, may one read a still deeper, sweeter, merrier and more cruel tale than that?

Storytelling is transformative, and storytellers have the power to share various tales of wonder with their listeners. The old woman then begins a story of her own.

In the mountains of Portugal, the old woman narrates, a convent of sisters had the task of growing the finest flax and producing the finest linens in the entire country. The fields were so beautiful that at harvest time it looked as though heaven had come down to earth. It was the duty of the convent to produce the bridal sheets for all young princesses. And thus, the reader is taken to the next tale.

On the morning after a wedding, the bridal sheets were always displayed for all to see as they proclaimed,

Virginem eam tenemus—"we declare her to have been a virgin."

For hundreds of years, the convent had received these sheets back—as they were never to be lain on again. The sisters displayed all these sheets with the name of the princess who had lain on each on her wedding night. One sheet stands in sharp contrast to the rest:

But in the midst of the long row there hangs a canvas which differs from the others. The frame of it is as fine and as heavy as any, and as proudly as any carries the golden plate with the royal crown. But on this one plate no name is inscribed, and the linen within the frame is snow-white from corner to comer, a blank page.

It is here, at this blank page, where people stop most often. What is the story of this princess? Why is her name missing? The power of a blank page to captivate interest and the stories which the mind immediately tries to create show the power of storytelling. The ending cycles back to the beginning, reminding readers of the blank pages of their own lives: stories yet to be written.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Most stories are meant to entertain and uplift the average person, who represents the vast majority of readers. “The Blank Page,” however, is a unique story conferred on chosen listeners as a rare and distinct privilege. It is unique because it illustrates the loyalty of the storyteller to the true being of the story; it illustrates the storyteller’s knowledge that when words end, silence may speak a deeper truth to one who listens for it. An old storyteller, who learned the art of storytelling from her grandmother, who in turn learned it from her grandmother, tells the story to a lady and a gentleman at an ancient city gate. The writer tells the story as told by the old storyteller.

In Portugal, following an ancient tradition, whenever a princess of the royal house is married, on the morning after the wedding night the bridal sheet is displayed from a balcony by a chamberlain or a high steward, and the princess is declared to have been a virgin. The sheet is never washed or lain on again.

The sheets for the royal brides have always been provided by the Sisters of Saint Carmel at the Convento Velho. They have obtained this privilege because they grow flax and make the softest, whitest linen in the land. Their second privilege has been to have in their safekeeping the sheets from royal wedding nights. A square from the center...

(The entire section is 1,103 words.)