Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Isak Dinesen’s primary ambition, she once said, was to invent very beautiful stories. “The Blank Page” is beautifully told, as are Dinesen’s other tales, but it is different from all the others; there is no plot, and there are no individualized characters. The tone and the setting are, therefore, made the substance as well as the context within which the untold story may reveal itself on the blank page. Both are conducive to the distinctly oral quality of Dinesen’s writing.

Although there is no conventional plot, there are little stories linked into a context: the storyteller’s strict training under her grandmother; the crusader bringing back the linseeds; the Blessed Virgin receiving the Annunciation; the public announcements of virginity; the pilgrimages of the old princesses; the coming of the old spinster; the framing of the blank canvas. All these are linked as hallmarks of traditions. In the beginning, the loyalty of the storyteller to the true being of the story is extolled, and, at the end, the dauntless loyalty to tradition of the parents who had their daughter’s blank canvas framed is praised. These loyalties not only unify the narration but also create the context of the story.

Other associative and subtly connecting repetitions, such as the old, black-veiled storytellers and the old, black-veiled spinster, the Blessed Virgin, the virgin princesses, and the virgin sisters, enhance the rich cohesiveness and depth of the tale. The black-and-white tiles of the gallery of virtue are a symbolic and ironic motif: Ordinary events and everyday morality may be set down in black and white, in trite categories, but the deeper truth must be discovered personally on the blank page. The final unity and the ultimate epiphany occur paradoxically, through contrasts, by bringing opposites together. There cannot be a virgin mother, but to the devout, the mother of Christ is the Blessed Virgin. Silence cannot speak, but to the keen listener it is eloquent. The blank page conveys nothing, but to the contemplative it reveals a deep truth, not expounded by the writer or the storyteller but clearly indicating matters of sexual as well as spiritual significance, not only for temporal and spiritual brides but also for all beings in relation to their spiritual destiny. In this way, Dinesen eloquently and skillfully uses words and the absence of words to tell the story of “The Blank Page.”