Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Reflecting the sublime world presented within her story, Dinesen creates through her style a world of grandeur elevated from the mundane. “The Cardinal’s First Tale” is delivered with a controlled formality of language that separates the reader from the authorial presence, emphasizing the distance between the imagination of her story and daily life. Similarly, though Dinesen’s characters may be intriguingly individualized through detailed traits—for example, the development of the princess through her unique passion and convergence with music—their speech is indistinct, revealing them to be extensions of the authorial voice. These techniques punctuate the artificiality of the story, validating it as story instead of an attempt to portray reality.

The structure, like the style, is not merely complementary to the intended meaning but a vital element in the formation of that meaning: Form as part of content asserts the concept that the unity of all parts will effect the whole. Narrative framing is a device that further develops her story’s central idea. The external and internal stories are so tightly interwoven that neither can be seen as a facilitator of the other; for example, the large theme of self-realization through the unifying of seemingly disparate parts is initially presented by the lady in black in the frame, intensifies in the story of Benedetta’s individual growth, is dramatically symbolized by the twins who become one, continues in the discussion of the dualistic yet harmonious personalities of priest and artist, and culminates in the comparison of God’s creation of the world to the nature of the genre story. The interconnections establish a fluidity that demands a reading that is holistic rather than fragmented, which melds the frame and internal story. The very process through which the reader experiences Dinesen’s narrative is integral to the revelation of this story’s message and, indeed, the nature of all stories.