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Isak Dinesen 1885–1962
(Pseudonym of Karen Blixen; also wrote under pseudonyms of Tania Blixen, Osceola, and Pierre Andrézel) Danish short story writer, autobiographer, novelist, and translator.
Dinesen is one of Denmark's most widely acclaimed modern authors. The stories in her best known work, Seven Gothic Tales (1934; Syv fantastike fortællinger ...
(The entire section contains 15723 words.)
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- Critical Essays
Isak Dinesen 1885–1962
(Pseudonym of Karen Blixen; also wrote under pseudonyms of Tania Blixen, Osceola, and Pierre Andrézel) Danish short story writer, autobiographer, novelist, and translator.
Dinesen is one of Denmark's most widely acclaimed modern authors. The stories in her best known work, Seven Gothic Tales (1934; Syv fantastike fortællinger), are rooted in the Gothic, Decadent, and Romantic literary traditions and share many of their defining qualities, including exoticism, aestheticism, and eccentric psychology. Dinesen's stories often have exotic historical backgrounds. The majority of them take place in eighteenth- or nineteenth-century France or Italy, and some are as far removed as the West Indies, China, or Persia. The device of distancing her tales, both geographically and temporally, facilitates the romantic, unfettered use of the imagination which predominates in Dinesen's art. The characters are similarly exotic, often appearing as larger-than-life heroic figures imbued with aristocratic codes of morality. They typically struggle to come to terms with their lives. For Dinesen this requires an acceptance of one's fate as determined by God. For example, in "The Roads Round Pisa," from Seven Gothic Tales, Augustus Von Schimmelmann is a melancholy man who feels helpless in the face of destiny. He broods to himself, "I do not know what to do with myself or my life. Can I trust to fate to hold out a helping hand to me just for once?" In his critical study of Dinesen's stories, Eric O. Johannesson perceives her characters as involved in a pattern of events too complex to be understood while they take place. Eventually, however, the characters gain insight into themselves and the significance of life's struggles. He notes that "Dinesen's tales tend, in fact, to become epiphanies because they concentrate on the turning point in human experience, the moment when the truth is revealed and we see in a flash the pattern of meaning."
Dinesen was bilingual and her first publication, Seven Gothic Tales, was originally written in English and afterward translated into Danish. At the time of the book's appearance, Danish literature was characterized by Naturalism and a preference for social and psychological relevancy in works of fiction. Because of this, Dinesen's early stories were not initially well received in Denmark, although they earned a favorable critical reaction in the United States and Britain, where they were first published. Eventually, however, Danish readers came to accept Dinesen's style and today Seven Gothic Tales, perhaps her most imaginative and fantastic collection, is commonly regarded as one of her most important works. Many critics note a similarity between Dinesen's tales and the Arabian Nights. Like the Arabian Nights, Dinesen's work is based on the classic storytelling tradition which favors action and imagination over intellectual analysis and views the telling of the story as an end in itself rather than as a reflection of contemporary life. Eric O. Johannesson notes that Dinesen's tales "are so imbued with the spirit of storytelling that one might venture to assert that the basic theme running through them all is, in fact, the storyteller's defense of the art of the story."
Dinesen's second publication, Den afrikanske farm (1937; Out of Africa), is distinguished from Seven Gothic Tales by its rel-ative realism and expressed concern for the immediate world. This collection of reminiscences, based on Dinesen's almost twenty years on an African plantation, has been praised for its engrossing depiction of the African landscape, people, and way of life. The posthumously published Breve fra Afrika: 1914–1924 and Breve fra Afrika: 1925–1931 (1981; Letters from Africa: 1914–1931) are also based on Dinesen's African experiences. They largely consist of letters written by Dinesen to her family in Denmark and provide many of the biographical details underlying the romantic, pastoral vision of Africa presented in Out of Africa. As the letters reveal, Dinesen endured many hardships in her final years in Africa. She had grown increasingly devoted to the land and the natives, but due to economic necessity she was eventually forced to sell the plantation and return to Denmark. Although she wrote during her last years in Africa, she did so mostly as a way to escape from the worries of her daily life. It was not until she returned to Denmark in 1931 that she first seriously considered writing as a means of livelihood.
With Dinesen's third publication, Vinter-eventyr (1942; Winter's Tales), she returned to the imaginative style that marked Seven Gothic Tales. This collection, however, presents itself in a simpler manner and with settings closer to modern Denmark. Sidste fortællinger (1957; Last Tales), Dinesen's third collection of short stories, marked the beginning of her final period of writing. Last Tales, like her earlier collections, portrays people both in conflict and in harmony with their destinies. Other works written in this final period include additional collections of short stories and African reminiscences. While Dinesen also published a novel, Gongældelsens (1944; The Angelic Avengers), most critics agree that her most significant works are her first three: Seven Gothic Tales, Out of Africa, and Winter's Tales.
(See also CLC, Vol. 10; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28; and Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3771
"I have always thought that I would have cut a figure at the time of the plague of Florence." This quotation from Out of Africa … suggests the kind of role that Isak Dinesen has conceived for herself. Like Selma Lagerlöf, who liked to regard her audience as children listening to stories, Isak Dinesen has always imagined herself in the classic role of the storyteller, as a modern Scheherazade. Her tales are so imbued with the spirit of storytelling that one might venture to assert that the basic theme running through them all is, in fact, the storyteller's defense of the art of the story. (p. 8)
[If] one were to single out the work that has meant the most to Isak Dinesen, it would undoubtedly be the Arabian Nights. Dinesen's tales are replete with allusions to this book, and she often employs the exotic Orient as the setting for her tales. Haroun al Raschid is often referred to: his habit of masquerading has appealed to the imagination of a writer who loves to cultivate this histrionic habit. The philosophy of Islam with its emphasis on acceptance seems to have influenced Dinesen profoundly. In Africa, on the farm [where she lived for many years], the people about her must have seemed like some of the figures in the Arabian Nights, and their attitudes to life, for which she expresses great understanding, like those of faithful Mohammedans.
The stories in the Arabian Nights are arabesques in the true sense of the word. They are intricate stories woven around interlaced tales. Many of Dinesen's tales resemble such arabesques, intricate embroideries with stories within the story. The Gothic tales, in particular, belong to this type.
As already mentioned, the stories in the Arabian Nights are told with a specific purpose in mind. The young Scheherazade is telling her stories in order to save her own life, and in order to change the heart and mind of the King. The King is presented with a human comedy which brings him a new vision of life. (pp. 9-10)
Dinesen's tales, like the stories in the Arabian Nights, proclaim the belief in the all but magic power of the story to provide man with a new vision and a renewed faith in life. Her figures are often Hamlet figures, melancholy young men or women who wait for fate to lend them a helping hand, who wait for the storyteller to provide them with a destiny by placing them in a story, or by telling them a story. The degree of probability or improbability of the tale is of little consequence, for in a world transformed by fantasy all is possible. (pp. 10-11)
Whether the stories are true or not does not matter in the least, which is fortunate, since Dinesen's stories are, in the words of Trilling, "all lies. Their matter is magic and witchcraft, infants exchanged at birth, brothers and sisters who marry unknown to each other, beautiful giantesses, undying passions,—suchlike nonsense." The tales are told, as Trilling says, "with an air that leads us to believe that they are involved with truth of a kind not available to minds that submit to strict veracity." Dinesen's stories are often contrived and improbable, but in the skillful hands of the storyteller the characters are brought to their appointed end, to the moment of insight.
Some readers undoubtedly feel, like the compassionate lady in "The Cardinal's First Tale," that Dinesen's approach to storytelling is "a hard and cruel game" because it reduces the characters, the human beings in the story, to marionettes, to puppets moved by "divine powers" and their representative, the storyteller, "the keeper and watchman to the story." In Dinesen's tales life itself becomes a marionette comedy, and the figures appear like such marionettes.
One of the remarkable features of Dinesen's style is the use of images, and one of the most common types suggests a mechanical or artificial behavior or being. (pp. 14-15)
If Dinesen's human figures are described as if they were marionettes, they are also treated like marionettes. They become involved in patterns of events so fantastic that they are not able to grasp the significance of these events while they are taking place. However, in the end they are rewarded, they are rewarded with an insight into their problems. Thus it would not be correct to argue that they are reduced to being mere marionettes. Paradoxically enough, their marionette status lifts them to a higher plane. Dinesen's tales tend, in fact, to become epiphanies because they concentrate on the turning point in human experience, the moment when the truth is revealed and we see in a flash the pattern of meaning. Though they are often as fantastic and as improbable as the intrigues of opera librettos, these tales do bring this epiphany to the characters. (p. 19)
With very few exceptions Dinesen's plots … are designed to provide a central figure, or several figures, with a new vision or insight. A glance at the various tales reveals that most of them have a specific relevance to the predicament of a central observer who is himself sometimes implicated in the action. The tale as a whole, or the part of it told to him, is designed to provide him with a new vision of life. This explains, incidentally, why so many of Dinesen's central characters are melancholy dreamers, observers of life, who wait for destiny to provide them with a sign. The melancholy hero as such does not necessarily interest Isak Dinesen: she needs a melancholy figure as a focus because he is by his very nature waiting to receive an insight of some kind. (p. 20)
These insights are of various kinds. Some figures are brought to realize the unity and interdependence of all things. Others are brought to a realization of the greatness and scope of God's imagination, and an acceptance of the fact that we are only marionettes in God's great marionette comedy. Others learn that the condition of man must be accepted as it is, though it is fraught with injustice and suffering, for God is just, and God is great. Others attain a vision of life as a noble and elevated game in which the players must obey the rules, though it entails paying a high price.
Thus Dinesen moves her figures to their appointed end. (p. 24)
In treating her figures as marionettes, and in letting them discover their identities, their characters, through their fates, Dinesen has clearly revealed her dependence on the oral tradition of storytelling and romance…. But the characteristic qualities of Dinesen's tales are by no means peculiar to her mode of expression: they are the characteristic qualities of the tale as a literary genre.
Oral storytelling requires a narrator. Such a narrator is often present in Dinesen's tales. Very often a tale contains stories within the story: the characters are telling each other stories. In some other cases the narrator is absent, but in such instances we are, I suppose, to look upon Isak Dinesen herself as the storyteller, masquerading for Karen Blixen.
The narrator's language is highly mannered, and yet very simple, direct, and concrete. Abstract reflections are rare because the storyteller thinks in stories. As Dinesen has pointed out, at the heart of the story is a tale, something that can be told, rather than an idea or mood.
The storyteller's world is a world with firm outlines and distinct texture on distance. The settings, the events, the human beings that compose this world, are seen in perspective, as if from a great height, complete and perfected.
The characters are types, never individuals…. They are larger than life, and their behavior is artificial and stylized. The imagistic style of the oral tale never delves deeply into their minds: abstract qualities and states of mind are rendered by means of concrete images. The minds of men are things, as it were. The names of the figures and their gestures are exaggerated. They act as if they were on the stage, plucking quotations out of the air in order to define their roles, which are often re-enactments of classical or mythical roles. The events are never unique or isolated, but have already been fitted into an orderly pattern in which they stand out very clearly within a meaningful relationship: they have become ritual and myth. (pp. 25-6)
The storyteller tends, as we have seen, to regard life from a distance, and so does the comic artist. As things seem to hurt less when they have been put into a story, so life takes on the quality of being a great human comedy when regarded from a distance. To tell tales is to be a humorist. If the story is a divine art, so is comedy.
The world of Dinesen is permeated with a comic vision of life. It is perhaps best defined as a kind of romantic irony…. In the final analysis, it is a profound humor. (p. 51)
The tales are, of course, filled with various comic effects, and life as a whole is often conceived as a human comedy authored by a comic divinity who "loves a joke." But Dinesen's comic vision goes deeper than that, and it is for this reason that I choose to call it humor.
Humor blends laughter and tears, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. There is in Dinesen's tales, says Jørgen Gustava Brandt, a feeling of "life as play, game, and as tragic seriousness." Comedy and tragedy are interwoven. Like Adam in "Sorrow Acre" Dinesen seems to feel that one must come to terms with contradiction, suffering, and pain before life can really begin. This is a conception of humor very close to that expressed by some of the German Romantics. In humor the German Romantics discovered, says William G. O'Donnell in a recent essay on Kierkegaard's humor, "a deep, enduring, warmhearted, Germanic feeling of kinship with all forms of life. It rests upon a sympathy for one's fellow-sufferers in a world out of joint. It springs from the heart and is almost another name for love." This kind of humor is very common in many of the tales: the insight into life which so many of Dinesen's heroes and heroines receive is very often precisely of this nature.
Humor, as understood by Isak Dinesen, is an affirmation and acceptance of life in all its forms, the opposite of rebellion. (pp. 52-3)
Humor is then a kind of yes-saying to life, an acceptance of whatever fate will bring, and the theme of acceptance is a profound one in Dinesen's tales. But, in saying yes to life, the figures in the tales are also acknowledging the authority of the story and the divine storyteller. Thus Dinesen weaves her tales in such a way that the two themes become one: acceptance of life is a defense of the story. (p. 53)
The art of Isak Dinesen has often been called an art of pastiche. When Seven Gothic Tales appeared in Denmark, the late poet and critic Paul la Cour spoke of the disappointment he experienced when reading Dinesen's stories. La Cour maintained that they were mere pastiche and lacking in feeling, because they were not motivated by an inner vision demanding expression. They were merely told for the sake of telling a good story.
The late Harald Nielsen, a severe critic of Dinesen's works, concentrated his criticism on her dependence on the decadent tradition in European literature, finding in the tales a "lack of living humanity" which he attributed to the author's habit of dwelling too frequently on the sadistic fantasies of diabolical old men or the perverse manipulations of wicked old women.
Many of Dinesen's tales are undoubtedly both Gothic and decadent. The spine-chilling tale of terror, with its persecuted women, its ghosts, and its mysterious convents and castles, as well as the cruel tale, with its atmosphere of perversity and artificiality, have served as sources of inspiration for Dinesen. (pp. 54-5)
Yet, one hesitates to call Dinesen's tales mere pastiche. Dinesen's dependence on the Gothic and decadent tradition is evident, but the significant fact concerning this dependence is the manner in which she makes this tradition serve her own vision.
All but two of the tales in Dinesen's first collection are Gothic tales. All of them are Gothic and decadent tales, there being, in my opinion, no significant difference between the qualities which we term Gothic and those which we term decadent….
"The Monkey" is Dinesen's finest Gothic tale. It has the perfect Gothic setting; it creates an atmosphere of mystery and terror; it has a decadent hero; and it develops several typical Gothic motifs: the double, innocence pursued, sadism, and exoticism. (p. 55)
"The Monkey" is certainly an orthodox Gothic tale, but though it seems to be mere pastiche it is more than that. The Gothic romance had only one motivation: to thrill and to entertain the reader by providing him with certain spine-chilling sensations. Isak Dinesen employs the tradition of the Gothic romance in a different fashion.
The Gothic tales of Dinesen deal with individuals who are trapped in one way or another, by sex, by class, by history. They deal with people who are imprisoned and long to be set free, to escape. For this reason it is not surprising that exoticism is a central motif in "The Monkey."…
As a motto for some of these Gothic tales one could use a few lines which Dinesen herself used for The Angelic Avengers: "You serious people must not be too hard on human beings for what they choose to amuse themselves with when they are shut up as in a prison, and are not even allowed to say that they are prisoners. If I do not soon get a little bit of fun, I shall die." The Gothic tales of Isak Dinesen seem to fulfill such a need for amusement, but they also deal with people who have such a need, and they do so in a manner that reveals a strong feeling on behalf of the author for those who are trapped by life, particularly for women who are forced by social conventions to live on the edge of life. (p. 59)
Underlying Dinesen's Gothic tales there seems to be a strong personal fear of a too narrow world, a fear of a very fundamental nature…. The Gothic tales express this feeling, and since they do they cannot be said to be mere pastiche. (p. 60)
If any one of Dinesen's works deserves the label "mere pastiche," it is probably the novel The Angelic Avengers.
The novel is, as Hans Brix has shown, a pastiche of the sentimental English novel of the early nineteenth century. The events in the first chapter are quite similar to those in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre of 1847. Lucan Bellenden, like Jane Eyre, is a young orphan girl who takes a position as a governess. The crisis occurs when the father of the children proposes that the girl become his mistress. In both cases the girls flee.
The action in Dinesen's novel takes place in England in the fall and summer of 1841. Because of the irony involved in the story, The Angelic Avengers resembles Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Lucan finds her friend Zozine, whose father has left the country because of economic difficulties. Both are eighteen years old. Left to their own resources, the girls take a position with a retired reverend, a man named Pennhallow, who brings them to his house in Languedoc. A kind old gentleman, he teaches them history and the classics. Soon they realize, through a mysterious letter, that their benefactor is, in fact, a white slave trader, in the habit of bringing unsuspecting young ladies to his farm.
The Gothic character of the novel now emerges clearly. Lucan and Zozine are the persecuted young maidens. The Reverend Pennhallow is a diabolic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. An incest motif is introduced when it is discovered that Pennhallow is married to his sister.
The novel is exciting to read, and its gentle spoofing makes it a sophisticated piece of entertainment. But it is undoubtedly a mere entertainment. The escape motif, so meaningful in Dinesen's Gothic tales … is here introduced only in order to produce an element of suspense. The prioress [in "The Monkey"] and Childerique [in "The Caryatids"] were trying to escape from the bonds of a too narrow world; Lucan and Zozine are only running away from a wicked old man. The incest motif, too, lacks the significance it possessed in "The Caryatids." The novel also lacks the historical context of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. The ironies and gentle spoofings of the latter acquire most of their meaning from the fact that Jane Austen was parodying the clearly defined tradition of the Gothic novel which her contemporaries were involved in. Dinesen's novel, lacking such historical significance, is mere pastiche. (pp. 66-7)
Many critics have commented on Dinesen's preference for the aristocrat and the virtues of aristocracy. She tends to surround herself in the tales with figures who have something of the grand siècle about them, figures for whom life is a noble and beautiful game to be played according to the rules of honor, and for whom pride is the highest virtue. (p. 90)
It should be made clear from the outset, however, that Dinesen's concept of aristocracy is not based on a class distinction. An aristocrat is one who has a particular view of life as well as a particular way of life. (pp. 90-1)
[The] basic virtues of the aristocrat [are] a profound sense of honor; a great pride expressing itself in a passion for the grand gesture and the great repartee that will make one immortal; a yes-saying to life and to whatever fate may bring; and a lack of fear or pity. (pp. 91-2)
While Dinesen's own aristocratic background and her experiences in Africa have undoubtedly played a major role in the formation of her own conception of aristocracy, her reading must have provided an added impetus. The proud, noble, and fearless heroes of the old Icelandic sagas; the stoic soldiers of Alfred de Vigny with their faith in honor and nothing else; the fanatic aristocrats of Barbey d'Aurevilly: we meet them again in Dinesen's tales. Among modern writers it is more difficult to encounter heroes with a similar affirmation of life. We have to turn back to the novels and tales of Joseph Conrad, a writer who has undoubtedly meant a great deal to Dinesen, in order to find a similar aristocratic view of life. (pp. 94-5)
Like Joseph Conrad, Dinesen might be said to have produced in her tales "an elegiac memorial to a vanished and simpler order of life," to a world with other standards, those "of honor and fidelity." (p. 95)
Closely related to the concept of aristocratic pride and the idea of nemesis is another concept, very fundamental in Dinesen's philosophy of life: the concept of interdependence. (p. 106)
[Interdependence] by no means offers a solution to the problems of life: rather it simply invites its own acceptance as the only real and genuine principle of order in human existence. Isak Dinesen, says Jørgen Gustava Brandt, does not seek "a compromise or solution for the sufferings and troubles of this world, but to find the great balance in all relations, that tension which one might call the symposion of existence, an art of life which is related to the ropedancer's or to that of the Ecclesiastes." (p. 113)
At first glance Out of Africa appears very different from the tales. It is an autobiographical work, and it is descriptive in nature. Yet it is possible to demonstrate, I think, a deep affinity between Out of Africa and the rest of Dinesen's writing. The Africa that we meet in this volume is, in fact, the visible correspondent of Dinesen's fictional world. This explains why Harald Nielsen is not pleased with Dinesen's picture of Africa. He feels it to be lacking in concreteness and vividness: it suffers, he maintains, from the fact that there is too much of Dinesen's art and personality associated with it. What Nielsen does not realize is that Dinesen's Africa is primarily a construct, a world that bears the trademark of its maker. (p. 126)
The Africa Dinesen writes about is a preindustrial, prerevolutionary civilization, feudal in structure, and for this reason very much like the European civilization which she recreates in the tales….
Dinesen's Africa is, like the world of the tales, an esthetic construct, a beautiful, well-organized, formal world. The landscape, the animals, the people, the events on the farm: all these are fitted into a world of such formal perfection that it appears as a tapestry. (p. 127)
There are familiar features in [the style of Out of Africa]. We recognize the generous use of metaphors and similes, the note of artifice, the preference for the picturesque, and the use of rhetoric to create a feeling of nobility, greatness, and pride.
As in the tales Dinesen transforms reality into artifice through a liberal use of metaphors and similes. (p. 128)
With such means Dinesen achieves an effect similar to that of the tales. She creates an artificial, stylized world, stamped with her own imagination, in which people, animals, and things are like works of art, self-contained, noble, and proud. (p. 132)
As in the tales, literary references are abundant…. [The] figures and the landscape remind her of the Arabian Nights, and King Lear, and the Bible.
Against this backdrop of artifice and literature the figures of the natives stand out…. They possess so many of the qualities and beliefs that the figures in the tales exhibit. As in the tales Dinesen uses metaphors to suggest significant likenesses between people and animals, and as in the tales this is done for the purpose of esthetic distance as well as for comic effect, not in order to suggest significant character traits. (pp. 133-34)
Like many of the figures in the tales the natives in Out of Africa appear as aristocrats, full of pride and dignity, and on friendly terms with destiny. They appear as artists of the mask, possessing a fine imagination. They appear as marionette figures, regarding life as a ritual. They appear as figures who recognize their utter dependence on an arbitrary God, yet they possess a religion of acceptance and affirmation. Thus the same motifs that we saw running through the tales appear in Out of Africa, and the same underlying structure of values is basic to both. (p. 135)
Eric O. Johannesson, in his The World of Isak Dinesen (© copyright 1961 by The University of Washington Press), University of Washington Press, 1961, 168 p.
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[Isak Dinesen's] literary career falls into three distinct periods. There is the first, spectacular period, represented by her first three books—Seven Gothic Tales (1934), Out of Africa (1937), Winter's Tales (1942)—in which she appeared as a fully matured artist and made the reputation she has today, for her reputation still rests on her first three books. There is the long hiatus of fifteen years during which her only book was the novel, The Angelic Avengers, a thriller which she published in 1946 under the name of Pierre Andrézel, and which she was not for many years willing to acknowledge. There is the third period of recrudescence, remarkable for a writer in her seventies, which saw in rapid succession two volumes of stories, Last Tales in 1957 and Anecdotes of Destiny in 1958, a collection in 1961 of four more African reminiscences, Shadows on the Grass, and the posthumously published story Ehrengard in 1963….
The books of 1957 to 1961 do not make any advance in thought or technique on her first three—development is not to be expected of a writer who published her first book at forty-nine—but they do perfect and complete the thought and technique of the earlier books. The amazing thing is that the last books do in so many places come up to the best of her earlier achievements. They have not to be sure the bite and passion, the shocking extravagance of the never-equalled Seven Gothic Tales, but she did not want to reproduce the quality of that book. She spoke of it with embarrassment as "too elaborate" and as having "too much of the author" in it. She revealed her aims by preferring Winter's Tales, because it is "simpler, more sober."… (p. 44)
Nevertheless, her first three books seem to have been written out of a single motivating force that ends with Winter's Tales. In the last books she reworks insights stemming from the experience that lies behind the first three.
The experience is of Africa, but of Africa experienced as one side of that antinomy in the modern European soul, which we call romanticism—that antinomy between the modern European and the pre-scientific, pre-industrial past from which he has been cut off, a past rooted in nature and human nature. Isak Dinesen has been able to reinvigorate the romantic tradition because she rediscovered in Africa the validity of all the romantic myths, myths that locate spirit in the elemental—in nature, in the life of primitive people, in instinct and passion, in aristocratic, feudal and tribal societies that have their roots in nature. She could not, however, have seen Africa as she did had she not brought to it eyes prepared by European romanticism, had she not discovered Europe in Africa. The stories she wrote before she went to Africa show the influence of romanticism as a literary inheritance. (pp. 45-6)
Isak Dinesen is an important writer because she has understood the tradition behind her and has taken the next step required by that tradition. Like the other, more massive writers of her generation—Rilke, Kafka, Mann, Joyce, Eliot, Yeats, too, though he is older—she takes off from a sense of individuality developed in the course of the nineteenth-century to the point of morbidity, and leads that individuality where it wants to go. She leads it back to a universal principle and a connection with the external world. The universal principle is the unconscious life of man and nature, which, welling up in the human consciousness as myth, is the source of civilization, individual consciousness, and our concept of God's unlimited consciousness. It seems to have been the function of the literary generation born in and around the decade 1875–1885—the generation after that of Nietzsche, Frazer and Freud, the great explorers of myth and the unconscious—to effect a transition from the individual to the archetypal character: from the novel, with its separation of psychological and external data, to the myth which speaks with one voice of both. (p. 53)
Seven Gothic Tales (1934) is Isak Dinesen's wittiest book. This makes it important. For Isak Dinesen excels among contemporary writers in her wit and her treatment of nature. Her wit is amazing in that it exalts and magnifies and never diminishes its object. Partly it goes back to the great Renaissance tradition according to which wit is the verbal expression of high manners and therefore expresses itself in compliments and in a playfully competitive exhibition of dialectical and verbal skill, the witty tone of which declares that the speaker is bringing all his resources of mind and spirit to the service of the social occasion. She adds to this the nineteenth-century sense that the occasion is not merely social but a work of art, that the speakers are creating for each other a world different from and better than the ordinary world around them. Whereas the world is generally hostile to imagination, they encourage each other to be as imaginative as possible; they spur each other on to higher and higher flights of imaginative thought. (p. 73)
[Her] style of wit is distinctively romantic, because it combines eighteenth-century irony with imaginative activity. I want to distinguish the romantic wit I mean, however, from the sentimental humor that actually dominates most nineteenth-century English and German writing. There are very few nineteenth-century writers whose irony is hard enough and fine enough to make, when it is absorbed in a life-enhancing imaginative vision, the effect I have in mind. Stendhal epitomizes the style I mean. In his combination of satire and romance—in which a heroic or other affirmative posture is subjected to eighteenth-century satire and maintained against it—things are affirmed and denied with the same breath, yet maintain an integrity that transcends the dialectical impasse. The same kind of wit is to be found in much of Dostoevsky—in the Grand Inquisitor episode, for example, in Brothers Karamazov. It is to be found in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
It is, I think, because the Danes did not at first understand Isak Dinesen's style of wit that they objected to Seven Gothic Tales. The Danes were offended by what they took to be the book's blatantly reactionary politics and its decadence. Frederick Schyberg, in his review of the book, said it made its appeal through snobbery and perversity. Annoyed that Isak Dinesen's success should have come to Denmark as a fait accompli, accomplished in America, he said that Seven Gothic Tales would have appealed to just the cheap American sense of old-world aristocratic decadence as glamorous. He condemned the book as a brilliant fake, sensational but without meaning.
Schyberg's review raises all the questions that have to be answered in connection with Isak Dinesen's work. It is true that Americans, for whom aristocracy is not a political issue, can afford to take a kind of tourist's interest in Isak Dinesen's aristocratic point of view. But this, once the first superficial bewitchment is over, qualifies us for understanding her point of view. For Isak Dinesen treats her aristocrats ironically. She "revives" them in the same anachronistic spirit with which she revives the tale and calls her tales Gothic. "When I used the word 'Gothic'," she told The Atlantic Monthly editor Curtis Cate, "I didn't mean the real Gothic, but the imitation of the Gothic, the Romantic age of Byron, the age of that man—what was his name?—who built Strawberry Hill, the age of the Gothic revival." Romantic wit has precisely to do with the revival of an age that was acknowledged to be barbarous and cruel, but which was also felt to be beautiful and stirring to the imagination. Romantic wit is a way of affirming with the imagination what has been denied with the reason. It is a way of salvaging the enduring or existential values that lie beneath the values that have been superseded historically. (pp. 73-4)
[All] the stories of Seven Gothic Tales are on the same complex of themes, but … in each story the emphasis is different. What was subsidiary in one becomes central in another; an implication in one is explored in depth in another and then in a third pushed through to an unheard-of-dimension. The effect, if you read the book from beginning to end, is of an accumulating revelation—showing new aspects and new depths of a single vision. As the penultimate and last major story, "The Dreamers" does the spectacular job of pulling together the themes of the volume, of showing what the whole volume was driving at.
We have read in Seven Gothic Tales about people who have passed through a catastrophe to a tragicomic realm of indifference, where all things are alike. We have read about women who are in a psychological sense witches, and about people who have extraordinary powers because they know how to appropriate the powers of nature and tradition, to merge their minds with the collective mind and their identities with archetypal identities. These themes are brought together in such a way in "The Dreamers" that they are seen as aspects of what turns out to be the main psychological theme of the volume—the mysteries of identity.
We understand that the volume has all along been asking the following questions. How do we navigate between experience and tradition, between fact and myth, and among conflicting facts and myths, to achieve an identity; and where, among the different aspects we show to people, and among the metamorphoses we pass through in the different stages of our life, is our identity? Until now, the question has been how we get over from the flesh-and-blood individual to the mythical person who puts forth those magical powers from which all value and culture derive. In "The Dreamers", the question is reversed. The story reads backward from a mythical identity to the flesh-and-blood woman behind it. It asks what happens to a woman who has outlived her mythical identity.
"The Dreamers" is about Pellegrina Leoni, the greatest opera singer of her time. She is a mighty and potent myth, a goddess to whom all the world, rich and poor, pay tribute and from whom they draw spiritual nourishment. She loves her admirers in the manner of a deity; she would die for them as long as they worship her and feed upon her. She herself lives in the service of her own myth. (pp. 95-6)
Pellegrina does not quite lose her life in a theater fire. As a result of shock, she loses instead her voice. This is the ultimate catastrophe. Although she rises bodily from the dead, she is spiritually dead like Morten De Coninck after he loses La Belle Eliza [in "The Supper at Elsinore"], only the situation here is so much more fully articulated that it helps us understand the meaning of the earlier catastrophes. For spiritual death means in this story the death of an identity, and identity means an identifying myth. A Pellegrina who does not sing is no longer in that sense Pellegrina. She therefore makes Marcus tell the world she died; while she herself begins a career of wandering, assuming a different name and character in each place. She commits a kind of suicide to keep her myth intact.
What, then, happens to her qualities—her vitality, intelligence, imagination—after she has ceased to be Pellegrina? She is a great artist still, but an artist in life, playing roles as she used to on the stage and giving happiness through these roles. But the person who in life plays roles without being committed to them is an anarchic force, ambiguously vitalizing and demonic. Pellegrina has become a witch, a high-flying lady, in the sense we have been talking about. We understand here that the thing the witch refuses to be tied down to is a single identity. Like the De Coninck sisters, the witch sends forth images into the world but keeps her identity intact or potential, and this is why she remains psychologically and spiritually a virgin even if she gives herself bodily to men. Pellegrina makes men fall madly in love with her. But she does not love in return; and when the time comes for consequences, she disappears and assumes another role elsewhere. She is par excellence the "spiritual courtesan" … (pp. 96-7)
Pellegrina's power is magical because she is invulnerable. Having no hope, she does not look before or after, but rides the currents of life with the passivity and indifference of a natural force. There is also of course such witchcraft in art; for art is the means by which thought-distracted human beings recover a power like nature's. All magic is dangerous, and white magic becomes black when the power of art is let loose into life and a human being takes on the quality of a natural force. Each of the men who love Pellegrina under her other names catches sight at one point, when her hair is thrown back, of a long scar that runs "like a little white snake" from her left ear to her collar bone. This is the witch's brand, and though her lovers do not all recognize it as such, it gives them all a sense that Pellegrina's vitality comes from her inhumanity rather than her humanity, from a life beyond death. (pp. 97-8)
Her scar of course comes from her burns, as does her witchlike spiritual quality. "The Dreamers" is more supernatural in its effect than any other of Isak Dinesen's stories; yet it has always, as in this case, a naturalistic explanation of the supernatural effect. The most remarkable scene in the story is the one in which Pellegrina becomes a bird and begins to fly. The metamorphosis turns out to be an optical illusion and the cause of her death. Yet it loses nothing in supernatural effect; it is, if anything, more stunning than the Prioress's metamorphosis. For the supernatural, when sacrificed as physical truth, transfers its aura of suggestiveness to the psychological and poetic truth.
"The Dreamers" is among other things a great nature poem, demonstrating that "natural supernaturalism", that trick of psychologizing the supernatural, of which Goethe speaks and which is at the heart of romantic literature. The natural-supernatural is most effective when our credulity is stretched to the breaking point but not finally broken. Our scientific habit of mind must be enlarged but not destroyed, for a psychological attitude—the deepest, but still psychological—is wanted. A good case in point is the treatment of Marcus Cocoza. When Pellegrina becomes a witch, he becomes the Mephistopheles who makes her witch's career possible through his extraordinary wealth and intelligence. Since he does not speak until the end of the story, but appears as a silent, mysteriously ubiquitous old Jew of apparently infinite potency, he goes farther even than Pellegrina in threatening to break our credulity by turning out to be the devil. Instead, it is he who in his account of Pellegrina's life restores her humanity and his own. Again, there is no loss of supernatural effect. For Pellegrina and Marcus turn out no less great as human beings than they seemed as supernatural beings. By sacrificing the supernatural as fact, Isak Dinesen makes it a symbol of human greatness, taking us over the line between the flesh-and-blood individual and the mythical person. (p. 98)
"The Dreamers" is a fable of the European spirit, and we gain a view of Europe as a totality from the elaborate frame which takes place off the coast of Kenya, within the sphere of Arabian civilization. This is the closest Isak Dinesen gets in her fiction to an African setting. The story of modern Europe is told to Asian-Africans, who are removed from it not only by place and culture but by time; they seem to belong to the legendary past, they might be out of The Arabian Nights. As if to symbolize its foreignness to these Asian-Africans, the scene changes from the tropical night of the frame to a nocturnal snowstorm in the Swiss Alps. Yet the same moon shines on both scenes. These people can, we learn in the end, understand the story as an archetypal myth that recurs eternally in the universal moon of the imagination. (pp. 101-02)
Seven Gothic Tales is a great book about Europe, because Isak Dinesen's experience of Africa stands behind it; and Europe stands, in the same way, behind every word of Out of Africa. That is why Out of Africa (1937) is literature and not just another memoir of an interesting life.
While a great deal of Seven Gothic Tales was "thought of", as Isak Dinesen says in the foreword to the Danish edition, "and some of it written in Africa", Out of Africa was … entirely conceived and written after she got back to Europe. In assuring the Danish readers of Seven Gothic Tales that the parts about Denmark "have to be considered more as the fantasies of a Danish emigrant than as an attempt to describe reality", she is saying that a Denmark conceived from the standpoint of Africa is not everybody's Denmark. But the apologetic tone is an attempt to forestall hostile criticism; for the imagination works by just such reconciliation of opposites, and there is no doubt that she considers her imagined Denmark more real than the Denmark of ordinary observation.
Her Africa is not everybody's Africa either…. [It] is an Africa of certain romantic expectations come true—expectations as to the possibility of recovering in primitive places that unity of man with nature which yields psychological and social unity as well: expectations as to the possibility of recovering a kind of life that prevailed in Europe before the Industrial Revolution, that unique event, cut Europeans off from nature and the past, and consequently from all other civilizations. Her Africa is also seen retrospectively, as something already lost even to her…. It is because Africa figures as a paradise lost—both in Isak Dinesen's life and in the life of Europe—that Out of Africa is an authentic pastoral, perhaps the best prose pastoral of our time. (p. 119)
Because Out of Africa gives evidence that Isak Dinesen has been at the heart of things, both as a historical and an ever-present perceptual condition, it justifies the ageless and authoritative voice behind the stories, the voice of the archetypal storyteller who knows all the stories and has therefore all the memories and wisdom of the culture. The voice is one answer to the main technical question of fiction—the question of how the narrator knows the story and is in a position to judge it. In the early novels, the author, speaking in his own person, offered himself as the criterion of knowledge and validity. But he seemed an intruder who broke the illusion, and since he was just another person like you and me he offered a criterion of only relative validity. The solution was to make a virtue of necessity, to invent the point-of-view character through whose knowledge and judgment the novel could be filtered, and thus make the novel acknowledge through its form its characteristically subjective and relativistic view of life.
For an absolute view, the author must still speak out in his own voice. But to do this, he must speak not as an ordinary, but a mythical person. The voice must have character, so we can discern in it a whole spectrum of memories and values that will give meaning to the story. But it must be larger than life. Hence that voice which was perhaps the most exciting thing about Seven Gothic Tales when it first came out—a voice individual to the point of strangeness and yet so impersonal that it hardly seemed as though it could belong to any one person. Continental and aristocratic, it seemed to be the voice of European civilization. Out of Africa, when it appeared, explained the other thing about the voice—that it seemed at once so primitive and so civilized and that the one quality seemed to derive from the other. Out of Africa accounted for the character of Isak Dinesen's voice…. (pp. 130-31)
Following Seven Gothic Tales by only three years, when the success of the first book was still fresh in people's minds, Out of Africa solidified Isak Dinesen's reputation in the United States and Britain. It was, however, in Denmark that Out of Africa made the most difference; for it reassured the Danes, who had not liked the decadent, fantastic, cynical and perverse quality of Seven Gothic Tales, that Isak Dinesen had after all a regard for and a knowledge of reality and humanity. The Danish reviewers liked the realism of Out of Africa and its humanitarian sensibility, the love she shows in it for animals and simple people.
Winter's Tales, which came out five years later in 1942, may have been aimed at reconciling the Danes to her fiction, not only by giving them a great deal more of Denmark than in the earlier stories, but also by giving them the "naturalness" they had liked in Out of Africa. (p. 155)
As with Seven Gothic Tales, the American publisher changed Isak Dinesen's arrangement of Winter's Tales. Her arrangement is to be found in the British and Danish editions, which give us first "The Sailor-boy's Tale" and then "The Young Man with the Carnation". In the American edition, instead, "Young Man" comes first, and it is easy to see why. Since the hero of "Young Man", the writer Charlie Despard, turns up again in the last story, "A Consolatory Tale", and since both stories deal with the problems of the writer, the two make a nice frame for the volume. When I pointed out the rationality of this arrangement to Isak Dinesen, she grew angry and said that for some instinctive reason which she could not explain she had wanted "Sailor-boy" first. Since the arrangement of her stories clearly matters, we had best follow her order.
We see on reflection that her instinct was sound. For "Sailor-boy" is a nature fable, and in placing it first she announces nature, and particularly Northern nature, as the main theme of the volume. In this way she distinguishes Winter's Tales from the two preceding books (which were about civilization and Southern nature, respectively), she explains its title, and connects the three books as complementary parts of a large design. "Sailor-boy" and "Young Man" both announce, however, from their different aspects, that of nature and of art, the same theme—that of rebirth. And it is this theme that connects the volume with Shakespeare's Winter's Tale from which it derives its title. (p. 156)
We come to the heart of Winter's Tales in … "The Dreaming Child", "The Fish", "Alkmene" and "Peter and Rosa". These are the stories that pick up the nature theme announced in "Sailor-boy", and combine with it the ideas about art and symbolism that have been developed with increasing profundity from "Young Man", [through "The Pearls" and "The Invincible Slave-Owners"] to "Heroine". These stories bring together the themes of nature and symbol, because they deal with consciousness at the point where it is barely distinguishable from unconsciousness, and with living unconsciousness at the point where it is barely distinguishable from nonliving unconsciousness. They are stories about dreams and childhood and the sea. The sea, which played a part in the first two stories, emerges here with increasing power and clarity as the symbol of desire—the desire that animates and unifies all nature. As the restless, shifting area between nonliving and living unconsciousness, the sea is the primordial desire out of which consciousness rises and to which it returns; it is the force which, when consciousness returns to it, unites our deepest desires with our biological and spiritual destiny. These are the stories that echo Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, where the sea is the agent that unites desire and destiny. Three of these stories are about children who, like Shakespeare's Perdita, are lost and found again; while "The Fish" is about a regressive journey toward childhood and the sea.
In "Dreaming Child", dream or desire unites not only nature and civilization, but also that social spectrum which is one of the subjects of Winter's Tales. The life of the little boy Jens, in a Copenhagen slum, is united with the life of the rich through an imaginative old seamstress, Mamzell Ane, who to relieve her own frustration tells tales of the great houses where she used to work. (p. 171)
It is because there is less nature in "Dreaming Child" than in the others, that "Dreaming Child" is the least consistently intense and therefore, despite the many fine things in it, the least successful of these four stories. The story of Emilie and Charlie Dreyer is trite; Jens is a shadow; Emilie herself is lifeless, though her case is interesting.
There is no mistaking "The Fish" for anything but a poem—a poem that unfolds through the delicate interchange and merging of traditional and natural symbols, all of which compose a controlling vision of the continuity of consciousness with nature. The narrative line, the King's journey through the greenwood to the sea, is symbolic; and even the other two characters symbolize aspects of the King. (p. 175)
"The Fish" annihilates the distinction between sea and sky—between the King's sexual and spiritual desire, and his biological and spiritual destiny; between unconsciousness and consciousness; between paganism and Christianity. It gives us a sweeping vision of the continuity of mind, culture and nature. If we feel a steady deepening of statement as we move on to "Alkmene" and then to "Peter and Rosa", it is because the last two stories are increasingly tragic. The acquiescence that comes so easily to a symbolic figure like the King is achieved at a bitter cost by the more fully delineated individuals of these stories. These stories fill in the lyrical vision of the stream of things with individuals capable of standing against the stream before giving way to it.
"Alkmene" takes off from the final implication of "Dreaming Child"—that Emilie's failure as a woman causes her to conceive by the Holy Ghost. "Dreaming Child" has a happy ending, in the manner of a divine comedy. In "Alkmene", instead, it is the men who fail the women, and the ending is at least half tragic. (p. 179)
I have called "Alkmene" half tragic because it is that peculiarly modern kind of tragedy, the tragedy of unfulfilled desire. Isak Dinesen has made it clear, however, in "The Fish" and elsewhere, that she considers tragedy to be fulfillment. It is in fulfilling one's destiny that one meets a completely tragic end, which is why traditional tragedy is a triumph, not a failure. "Peter and Rosa" is complete tragedy. Isak Dinesen advances toward the tragic vision by showing us the stream of things in "The Fish" and man's unique resistance to it in "Alkmene". Finally, in "Peter and Rosa", we see that tragedy is the means by which man fulfills his individuality through reconciliation with the stream of things. That imagery of the sea, which in "Alkmene" is so conspicuously muted, bursts upon us again in "Peter and Rosa". Once again we are in a world united by the moving currents of desire. (pp. 185-86)
The great achievement of "Peter and Rosa" is that it shows how the young people are … pushed forward into the dangerous task of living by a force that they themselves are in the process of understanding through changing dreams and symbols. Again we are at the point where dream touches biology, and we see that that is where love takes place, that love is recognition—it is dream, both personal and cultural dream, come true. Falling in love is part of the process by which we gradually wake up to the external world, by which we come to know and believe in its reality because we find there fulfillment and repetition. Fulfillment is always repetition; for expectation is the product of personal memory, which shades off into cultural and biological memory. That is the vision of "Peter and Rosa", where dream is always in advance of action.
Just as in "Dreaming Child" the seamstress's memories become Jens's expectations into which Emilie steps to take on reality, so here the parson's memories of his dead wife merge in the mind of the motherless Peter with inherited memories of the sea as Great Mother to become a dream of womanhood that takes on the lineaments of Rosa. Peter does not, however, see Rosa's womanhood until he sees her as an archetype, in what Jung calls an anima vision, a vision of one's own soul as personified by the opposite sex. (pp. 186-87)
Rosa's characterization is more complex and interesting than Peter's. It makes us think of Eve, and it explains why Eve had the seed of the fall within her. The seed of the fall lay in the vanity, the sense of her own sexuality and power, that gave Eve her charm for Adam, and in the fact that Eve was ahead of Adam in sexual development. Two years ago at thirteen Rosa grew up taller than Peter, and it was at that time that she came into a world of which she was the sole possessor. She fell in love with herself. (pp. 187-88)
But during the winter Peter grew up taller than her and became so much stronger that she was alarmed and offended. When he began to express his own fancies about the world, she feared for her dream world. "Peter might find the 'Sesame' which opened it, and encroach upon it, and she might meet him there any day." He might see her as she sees herself, and that would change everything. Rosa feels that something horrible is going to happen to her, and that it will happen through Peter. Poised between apprehension and desire, she is apt to tumble at any moment into ecstasy or "into bitter wrath against all the world". Rosa at fifteen has just the female devil in her that the gazelle Lulu has, in Out of Africa, when she wrathfully projects on to others her own resistance to fulfilling her biological destiny. Rosa often wishes that Peter would go to sea and die.
That night Peter lies in bed with her and tells her of his plan to run away to sea. He needs her help. There is a ship, the Esperance, at Elsinore, that will take him. Rosa must tell her father that she wants to visit her godmother there and wants Peter to accompany her. By playing a part in it, Rosa is to turn Peter's dream world and herself with it into a reality. "'I have often wished that you would go to sea,'" she says, forgetting why she wished it. Without quite saying so, she agrees to help.
When Peter climbs down the ladder from Rosa's room, he is ecstatic about two apparently incompatible prospects—his future at sea and Rosa. They are reconciled, however, in a single image of boundless desire. "The sea had become a female deity, and Rosa herself as powerful, foamy, salt and universal as the sea."
Rosa is awakened toward morning by a terrible dream of desertion. She remembers that Peter is going to leave her, and conceives the idea of keeping him by betraying his secret to her father. There would then be "no ships in Peter's life, no rounding of the Horn, no drowning in the water of all the oceans. She sat in her bed, crouching on the thought, like a hen on her eggs." In the contrast between the two lines of imagery, we see the contrast between the male principle of boundless desire and the female principle which is precisely to make boundaries and establish nests. It is because this is the female principle that woman, as Isak Dinesen sees it, fears the sea and found it to her interest to bring about the fall and so establish the restrictions of civilization. (pp. 188-89)
Isak Dinesen recapitulates in her stories … the change in European perceptions of reality during the last three or four centuries. By imposing upon each other, in the same story, at least three different judgments of the same events, she shows how we lost unity of perception and how we may regain it. For when we look at life with single vision, with the one analytic eye that cuts facts off from value, then life is meaningless and depressing. When we look at it with both eyes, with the understanding and sympathy that enables us to project ourselves into events and other people, then life is beautiful and sad. But when, using more than our eyes, using also the resources of cultural and biological memory, we look through life, seeing it in a transforming vision that collapses the single person and event into a pattern of recurrence and our highest aspiration into our most primitive instinct, then we see how every part of life is necessary, how we could not have what we call the highest without what we call the lowest. Then we see life as the storyteller does, as we may imagine God does. We see it as beautiful and sad—and gay. (pp. 285-86)
Robert Langbaum, in his Isak Dinesen's Art: The Gayety of Vision (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press and the author; © Robert Langbaum 1964, 1975; all rights reserved; originally published as The Gayety of Vision: A Study of Isak Dinesen's Art, Chatto & Windus, 1964, Random House, 1965), University of Chicago Press, 1975, 309 p.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3029
Because the work of Isak Dinesen reflects her patrician inclinations, her skeptical view of "emancipated" women, and her high regard for the symbolic—rather than the sociological or psychological—value of art, her stories often appear fairly remote from contemporary concerns; in a world animated largely by individual striving for equality and self-realization, Dinesen seems to speak, conservatively, for values that many of us have learned to distrust. And yet, Dinesen's work is deeply rooted in her abiding preoccupation with a problem that is alive in our own time. Experienced as a disjunction between identity and role, or between self-image and social stereotype, this problem has been formulated by Simone de Beauvoir as a conflict between selfhood and "otherness." In her analysis of the social, psychological, and political implications of "otherness" for women, de Beauvoir has shown that the role of "other" deprives one of autonomy, of a sense of self based upon norms that are appropriately female, and ultimately of a valid personal and generic identity. Quite simply, to be cast as the "other" is, for de Beauvoir, to lose one's sense of oneself as a subject and to accept a peripheral, passive role as object in a busy world dominated largely by men. But for Dinesen, "otherness," despite its dubious implications for individual autonomy, is a vital fragment of human identity that must be acknowledged and accepted before selfhood can be achieved.
Dinesen's preoccupation with the idea of "otherness" appears in virtually all her published work; as a major theme, a source of metaphor, and a seed of dramatic situation, therefore, this idea bears looking at from a strictly literary point of view. But from another perspective, one might explore this idea in her work simply for its own sake, to consider possibilities that may be obscured by the tendency to conceive the roles of subject and object, self and "other," as mutually exclusive. If one has learned, in other words, to reject the role of "other" as threatening to the integrity of the self, Dinesen may reveal self and "other" as two states of being that can co-exist in fruitful tension. Like all the great antinomies which bracket human existence, self and "other" may be seen, in the words of one of her characters, as "two locked caskets, each of which contains the key to the other." And to achieve a sense of the relationship between them may be, as it is for the characters in Dinesen's work, to widen the range of one's own experience and to understand that experience more fully.
For Dinesen's characters, the need to conceive oneself as the "other" and also the quest to experience and understand life more fully are determined partly by the nature of her fictional "world." Whether she writes of twentieth-century Africa or nineteenth-century Europe, Dinesen's "world" is essentially realistic in one important respect: it never wholly yields to the individual will or conforms to the needs of men and women who live within it. Like our own world, it may allow individuals the brief illusion that they shape events according to their own desires, or the momentary pleasure of finding themselves in tune with a larger, cosmic harmony, but it is always, simply, itself: resistant, or at best indifferent, to the human desire for mastery. When locusts descend on a beloved coffee plantation, or a ledge of ice breaks under the weight of two young lovers, Dinesen's "world" seems to express its resistance to the individual will, and it is partly this resistance that illuminates the limits of individual autonomy and reveals the self as "other." In short, for Dinesen, the "other" in oneself seems called into being in response to experiential encounter with a will that is not one's own.
Experience alone, however, is not sufficient to the task of human understanding, for Dinesen's stories also demand that characters learn to appreciate the logic which governs the resistance of the world and limits the autonomy of the self. Thus, unlike our own world which is often opaque, bewildering, absurd, Dinesen's fictional "world" is always transparently symbolic: entirely coherent, wholly expressive, thoroughly meaningful. If, as one critic has observed, her characters "change colour vividly … grow rigid with rage or terror … shake with laughter … tremble with anger, fear or grief … [and] blush—in all hues of red," they do so partly because they are fulfilling their function as symbols; the self of each is entirely devoted to the task of symbolic revelation, of showing that meaning inheres in every gesture, word, wish, and response of every individual. Many of the tales also manifest a structural concern with the showing forth of meaning; the fine network of separate stories interpolated within single works can invariably be seen, in retrospect, as a deliberate design in which all the stories play small but mutually relevant parts. Images too, particularly images of masks, mosaics, and marionettes which abound in the tales, reflect Dinesen's apparently fundamental belief that the world and all within it are symbolic in their design, as one character puts it, "Life is a mosaic of the Lord's that he keeps filling in bit by bit," a vast and intricate design whose meaning becomes clear only when the pattern is complete and one's own role in the pattern is recognizable.
This conception of the world as mosaic has, of course, both religious and philosophical implications. Its human implications, however, are worth noting, for they account for the distinct emphasis on the importance of seeing oneself as both subject and object that seems so pervasive in Dinesen's work. Theoretically, if life is a mosaic, then the identity of individual tiles is never submerged; the color, shape, size, and texture of separate pieces will always remain distinct within the whole, for a mosaic is not an ill-defined blur of color, but, to use Dinesen's phrase, "a homogeneous up-heaping of heterogeneous atoms"—a harmonious construct, if you will, whose ingredients retain their separate identities. But the identity of every tile, however, remarkable in itself, is also part of a larger identity, for each tile participates with its near and distant neighbors in a larger image. And it is the need to perceive the self in both of these roles, as a subjective, autonomous individual and as an objective part of the whole, that seems to motivate many of Dinesens' characters.
For most characters in the stories, awareness of oneself as both self and "other" depends partly upon one's sensitivity to the symbolic meaning of experience, and partly upon one's openness and vulnerability to forces outside the self. And because these two human faculties are rarely balanced in individual characters, the stories allow one to recognize the differing virtues of both symbols and experience in the quest for selfhood and "otherness."
One character who appears in two of the Seven Gothic Tales (1934) provides an excellent example of this imbalance, for although he is deeply responsive to symbols and devoted to the task of discovering the "other" in himself, he is persistently unable to expose himself to life's uncertainties. In Count Augustus, then, one can see that symbols may help to illuminate the "otherness" of the world, but only the hazards of experience can create the "other" in the self. (pp. 615-17)
If Augustus reveals that symbols can help to illuminate meaning in the world of others, but that self-image must be exposed to experiential risk before one can discover the "other" in oneself, then Charlie Despard, a writer who figures in two of the Winter's Tales (1942) probably illustrates the attempt to achieve balance between the symbolic and the experiential quest for "otherness." In both stories, "The Young Man with the Carnation" and "A Consolatory Tale," we see Charlie becoming aware of and making peace with a self he has to discover, with the truth of both his own autonomous desires and his role as "other" in the larger world. In the first of these stories, Charlie initially rejects, but later embraces, the symbols of experience that constitute his material as a writer. As he beholds the happiness of other men in the radiant face of the young man with the carnation, he reflects on his own unhappy state: "It was no wonder that God had ceased to love him, for he had, from his own free will, exchanged the things of the Lord—the moon, sea, friendship, fights—for the words that describe them."… Unlike Augustus, who willingly accepts the terms of this painful bargain, Charlie wishes to abandon the satisfaction of interpreting symbols for the more immediate satisfactions of the experiential world.
Ultimately, however, he renews his dedication to symbolic truth by turning toward the "things of the Lord" that speak to him, ironically, as though they were symbols. Ships in the harbor reveal symbolic meanings to him; pregnant with possibilities, dominators of the vast, formless sea because of their lightness and "superficiality," they seem to speak to him of the virtues and power of the hollow, superficial "word."… And in the young, waterfront whore who gives him "only a shilling's worth" of love, an opportunity to "press her palm, rough and clammy as fish skin, to his lips and tongue," Charlie discovers the meaning of his loveless marriage. As the voice of God explains at the end, Charlie's writing serves the purpose of the Lord, and in exchange for that role Charlie will have to be content with "a shilling's worth" of love "and no more."… In the eyes of God, and eventually in his own eyes as well, Charlie accepts the restrictions which his role in the mosaic imposes; instead of the pleasure sought eternally by the unenlightened "self," he will be given the reward of understanding his identity as both self and "other": a half-successful seeker after love, and a reluctant but effective wielder of symbols in the service of God.
Again, in "A Consolatory Tale," Dinesen shows us the poet's necessary acceptance of his identity as both subject and object in Charlie's description of the writer's dependence upon his audience. Like Augustus, for whom reality is the truth revealed by reflections, Charlie acknowledges that both the painter and the writer await the "consent, or the cooperation" of the public to "be brought into existence at all."… Although he imagines himself in the role of the Lord who addresses his public, Job, from out of the whirlwind, Charlie knows that the Lord may actually be "more dependent upon Job than Job upon the Lord."… Both the creator and his public are subjects, capable of capricious and willful activity, but the relationship between them makes both objects as well; each party to the relationship is self as well as "other," initiator as well as responder.
And the symbolic import of this relationship, as Charlie learns, lies in the ability of each to serve as reflector of the other. Job validates the subjective self of the Lord, like an audience the self of the artist, by bowing in acknowledgment of the Lord's creative power. Conversely, in his resistance to the Lord's will, as in an audience's rejection of a poet's work, Job reveals to the Lord his "otherness." Meaning, here, emerges from the mutual reflectiveness of both parties to the relationship, like the mutual reflectiveness, in the words of the beggar in the interpolated tale, of Sultan and slave, life and death, mean and woman, you and I. Each of these "locked caskets" reveals and discovers its own identity partly by way of symbolic reflection.
On the whole, then, the value of symbols as reflectors of the human self and its objective situation is undeniable in Dinesen's work. The stories that Charlie creates, like mirrors and dreams and also like the natural world which becomes richly eloquent as it becomes symbolic in her stories, are as vital in their own way to human awareness as experiential and material reality. (pp. 620-22)
Characters who seek to discover the truth of self and world in symbols also reveal that the great obstacle to discovery of the self as "other" is too firm a grasp upon one's own autonomy. For Dinesen, the fruitful tension between identity and role cannot exist unless one recognizes the limits of one's own power. Augustus, for example, is forever denied even a "shilling's worth" of real happiness because he will not risk haphazard and uncontrollable reflections which might distort his preconceived image of himself. But Charlie Despard and others take that risk; by yielding themselves to unflattering yet truthful self-reflections, each discovers a role as "other" that enlarges his sense of self. (p. 622)
On the whole, the price of failure in the quest for "otherness" is as high as the price of success, for some characters who fail to realize the "other" in themselves live out their lives in the cage of a partial selfhood. The de Coninck sisters in "Supper at Elsinore," for example, never break free of the cold, sterile lives that reflect only those fragments of themselves that they willingly display to the world's mirror. But Miss Malin, in "Deluge at Noderney," who hates cages … and whose self-image has developed in fantasy if not in fact, does manage to achieve both dignity and self-satisfaction; as the fanatical virgin of her youth becomes, in old age, the lascivious temptress, Miss Malin achieves the fruitful tension between self and "other" that eludes the grasp of the faded sisters de Coninck.
Whether characters depend chiefly on symbols or experience as agents of fuller awareness, moreover, the cage of self is the chief obstacle to be overcome. Often, characters reach the end of their lives before they discover their roles in a design in which they have been ignorant participants. (pp. 622-23)
But most of Dinesen's characters neither wander rootlessly nor remain in cages, for her stories deal chiefly with the ways in which characters press beyond the cage of the self into a freer and more "generous" world. Indeed, the central drama of many of the stories is precisely the moment of liberation when a character realizes that his own imagination has conceived an unexpectedly impoverished image of himself.
There are various sorts of experience that may provoke such a realization; perhaps the most impressive is the experience of love. For Dinesen, male/female love seems to serve as a metaphor for the tension between self and other, or for the relationship between two locked caskets that are forever opposed and forever meaningful to one another. For many readers, however, the tendency to limit some characters, particularly female characters, to their metaphoric or symbolic roles in Dinesen's love stories seems to obscure her emphasis on reciprocality as the essence of such relationships and also to illustrate the importance of balancing the truth of symbol against the facts of individual experience. For example, it has been suggested that Dinesen conceived the woman's role in male/female relationships to be fundamentally different from the man's, that, like the speaker in "The Old Chevalier," Dinesen believed women ought to be taught to think of themselves exclusively as symbols of womanhood rather than as individuals, in order that they become fully adapted to their feminine roles [see excerpt above]. But Dinesen seems to have written her own ironic response to the old chevalier, who wishes to deny individual selfhood to women and to grant them existence only as symbolic "others." Indeed, the pursuit of desirable symbols seems to bear fairly predictable fruit for the old chevalier; he may long nostalgically for the mysteriously bustled and draped figures of the symbol-women of his youth, but after his escape from death at the hands of his mistress, and a single night of wordless love with a young and beautiful prostitute, he will be a stranger to the love of women. Because he values the symbolic above the individual woman, his long search for love will end in contemplation of a skull.
But men and women who risk love as individuals may win not only the fruits of love but also the symbolic illumination of themselves as "others." To be sure, the stories suggest that women—like mirrors, paintings, dreams, birds, mountains, and oceans—undoubtedly play a symbolic role as reflectors and illuminators in Dinesen's work, but that role is always reversible; if there are many stories in which "woman" does indeed illuminate one facet of the male that might otherwise be obscured, there are also many many stories in which men serve exactly the same function for women. (pp. 623-24)
[The] tendency to identify characters entirely with conventional symbolic designations may oversimplify the wonderfully complex and reciprocal interaction of male and female characters. In the view of one reader [see Langbaum excerpt above] for example, the contrast between "the male principle of boundless desire [Peter's longing for both Rosa and the sea], and the female principle which is … to make boundaries and establish nests" explains why "Woman," for Dinesen, "fears the sea and found it to her interest to bring about the fall, and so … establish the restrictions of civilization." Historically, it may be accurate to consider women a civilizing force in human society. But fear of the uncontrollable and unbounded is hardly peculiar to women in Dinesen's work; Count Augustus, for example, also suffers from such a fear. And the feeling of "boundless desire" appears in Dinesen's female as in her male characters; in "Alkmene" Dinesen shows us a young woman in whom such desire has been severly repressed, and in "The Caryatids" we meet a woman in whom such desire is just awakening…. Dinesen's "world," as in our own, though men and women may have to satisfy "boundless desire" in different ways, their motivations may be very much the same. Thus, to divide male and female principles along conventional lines seems to reduce Dinesen's sense of potentiality in all creatures and to diminish her apparent confidence in women as well as men to realize themselves more fully than either cultural stereotypes or Jungian archetypes usually allow. (pp. 626-27)
Janet Handler Burstein, "Two Locked Caskets: Selfhood and 'Otherness' in the Work of Isak Dinesen," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language (copyright © 1978 by the University of Texas Press), Vol. XX, No. 4, Winter, 1978, pp. 615-32.
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Isak Dinesen's "Letters from Africa, 1914–1931" … is the raw material from which the author quarried her world-famous memoir "Out of Africa," published in 1938. Reserved, stoic, and tactful, that work gave little hint of its author's painful private life, and its admirably pure and exact prose produces an effect of self-possession and self-sufficiency. The letters, an unconscious—and unself-conscious—self-portrait, were written to her mother, her brother Thomas, her Aunt Bess, and her sister Ellen, and their spontaneity reproduces the reality of the author's life in Kenya: struggle, anxiety, loneliness, with intermittent periods of elation. The letters demonstrate her culture and her intimate involvement with art, literature, and ideas—particularly social thought about the role of women—and they share with the memoir a passion for Africa, its landscape, its peoples, its plants, and its wildlife. (p. 120)
When these letters close, their author, at the age of forty-six, is returning to live as a dependent on her mother—a failure in her own eyes, with no formal profession, no husband, no lover, no child, no money, and ruined health. She had invested her ego in the lost plantation; two men she loved had both left her; and though she had written and painted, her record of publication and exhibition was scanty. She cannot have known that in writing "Seven Gothic Tales" and "Out of Africa"—two international best-sellers—she was about to find what she had been seeking in Africa: a recognized use for her abilities.
The solitary decade on the plantation may have been an exhausting detour, yet it bears more than a passing relation to her literary work, since it was at once a quasi-literary romantic flight and a romantic pursuit. Like many white settlers in Kenya, Karen was fleeing modern business civilization (although, since plantation agriculture is enmeshed in international finance, she could not flee very far), and, just as the Romantic movement rediscovered the Middle ages, Karen's first blissful evocations of her life in Africa recall the life of the heroes of Norse sagas. Her letters suggest that Kenya's white-settler society took its tone from culturally retrograde Europeans: restless younger sons, like Bror and Denys, for whom a romanticized, Walter Scott version of feudalism was congenial, and who, like their medieval ancestors—and like the Africans they hired as bearers and servants—found only war and hunting really interesting.
It is confusing to think of such men, a thousand years behind the times, as agents of modernization, but that, apparently, was how they justified their presence in Africa. Karen, too, romanticizes the exotic, the primitive, and the violent: her comment "I do not believe that any normal person can live in lion country without trying to shoot them" is as dated as "I should like to give all young women two pieces of advice: to have their hair cut short and to learn to drive a car." Both comments, however, reflect her feminism. Her pride in her marksmanship and her leisure in shooting wild animals that we now seek to preserve arose at least in part from resentment of European shooting parties she recalls, from which women were excluded. She saw the plantation as a feudal manor of which she was the traditional lord with the traditional lordly privileges, such as hunting (about which she sometimes expressed heroic and mystical feelings that I find hard to understand), and the blameless lions suffered.
Most of her discussions of the role of women, however, are pithy and sensible, and many of her observations clarify present problems. I particularly like her riposte to her aunt's statement that the true role of women is to live for others: "One can 'live for' humanity, or for the poor children of Senegløse, but one cannot 'live for' Mr. Petersen, at least without spoiling him or making him unhappy, usually both." Unfortunately, her abstract wisdom did not translate into practical judgment; she writes of "giving up my life to loving the independence-seeking Denys," who, like other spoiled men (and women, too), in the name of independence became undependable. There is no sign that, coming and going as he chose, he wasted any thought or effort on Karen's problems.
It is likely that the most satisfying human relations Karen knew in Africa were with the black population. Her feeling evolved from a blanket, patronizing approval of the natives to an appreciation of individuals which allowed her to be genuinely angry and genuinely affectionate and genuinely respectful. She speedily noted that African men had, in their own eyes, lost their raison d'être, because the British had suppressed intertribal warfare. Working for wages on other people's plantations was no more alluring to these erstwhile warriors than it had been to Bror, and Karen commented with indignation that some British settlers' notion of solving the labor problem was to raise taxes, so that the need for cash would force more blacks out of the native subsistence economy and into the cash-wage labor market. Through these letters, we glimpse the workings of a most unsystematic system: one set of colonial policies—suppressing war and the slave trade and diffusing medical care—tended to increase the black population, while another set of policies allocated an inadequate amount of land to the existing population. Well before Karen left, there was not enough room in the native reserves—the only places where blacks had any secure tenure. With the benefit of hindsight, this all looks less like a government than like a self-destroying machine—a happening rather than a colony. Karen saw it as oppressive but durable. It seems never to have crossed her mind that colonies would cease to be. As a historic rarity—a beneficiary of injustice who fought injustice—she busied herself with every kind of practical assistance to her "black brother," convinced that "as a woman and a foreigner" she could not express her anger freely, except, of course, in letters home…. Her intelligence and her fluency are attractive, her character yet more so. She remained superior to her circumstances, and her generosity was always stronger than her misery as she failed—perhaps inevitably—in her attempt to assert the rights of twentieth-century women in an existence imagined by nineteenth-century men. (pp. 122-24)
Naomi Bliven, "A Woman and a Foreigner" (© 1981 by Naomi Bliven), in The New Yorker, Vol. LVII, No. 29, September 7, 1981, pp. 120, 122-24.
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The first thing that needs to be said about this exceptional volume of letters [Letters from Africa 1914–1931] is that it has been attributed to the wrong author. "Isak Dinesen" did not come into being until 1934, almost three years after Karen Blixen had left Africa in the harrowing circumstances that inform the book's closing pages. It's worth making the distinction, if only because the distinction was of such prime importance to its originator: when Karen Blixen added "Isak" (which means "one who laughs" in Hebrew) to her maiden name, it was with a view to taking on the role of storyteller—a deliberate act of personal obliteration. The hallmark of Isak Dinesen's narrative art is a serene indifference to both happiness and misery, and every condition between the two. Life, according to this asexual tale-bearer, is of necessity tragicomic. The Karen Blixen who wrote these letters from Africa to her family in Denmark is a passionate and argumentative woman of many and varied moods; a questioner; a fighter. To talk of her in terms of serenity and detachment would be nonsensical….
Out of Africa is a work of romance, a pastoral: it captures the essence of a feudal society that was doomed to vanish. It will be read when all the plodding, self-justifying memoirs of the colonists are long forgotten. Letters from Africa 1914–1931 supplies the background details, often pedestrian, which Karen Blixen took such pains to leave out of her masterpiece—the kind of details, in fact, with which most autobiographies are top-heavy….
The letters make one understand the depth of her need to turn herself into Isak Dinesen, to become—once and for all—a witty spectator of human affairs, whose greatest concern is with the business of writing….
The fascination of this book is not just in the rounded picture it provides of a vanished Africa, vivid though that is, but rather in the way it reveals the tormented landowner developing into the assured literary artist: the confusions of Karen Blixen become the fictional material for the "one who laughs". To appreciate these letters to the full, it is necessary to be acquainted not only with Out of Africa (in which both Farah, Blixen's Somali servant, and Kamante, her cook of genius, are unforgettably recreated), but with the neglected (neglected in Britain, alas) stories of Isak Dinesen. One in particular deserves mentioning—"The Dreamers" from Seven Gothic Tales, in which the famous operatic soprano Pellegrina Leoni loses her voice irretrievably during a performance of Don Giovanni. "The Dreamers" is a completely achieved fiction, casting its own peculiar spell, yet it does exhibit definite resemblances to Karen Blixen's fated African life. The failure of her farm was like a mortal blow to her, as terrible as the singer's loss of her dazzling gift. Pellegrina tells her closest friend and devoted admirer to inform the world that she has died, and Karen Blixen writes to the ever loyal Thomas at the peak of her unhappiness to say that it is a dead woman who will be returning to Denmark. Pellegrina elects to become an enchantress, as her creator did: "I will be always many persons from now. Never again will I have my heart and my whole life bound up with one woman, to suffer so much." It is the business of true storytellers to be many persons, whom they will into life by means of artifice: Karen Blixen was in her mid-forties when she began, in earnest, to employ those means.
Isak Dinesen's shrewdest and most sympathetic critic, Robert Langbaum [see excerpt above], has praised her for her rare ability to objectify a character's inner persona in terms of plot and action: introspection and analysis are very seldom allowed to interrupt and slacken the narrative. Her abandonment of the psychological method was the deliberate act of a writer of highly sophisticated intelligence—for, as the letters display, she could analyse and dissect and worry over people's motives for behaving as they do with a properly human concern. Her stories respect that concern in the reader, so that explication is unnecessary: this absorber of the Greek myths and the Norse sagas knew that she could put her faith in the deed itself….
The least satisfying aspect of the letters is, paradoxically, the one in which literature is discussed. Galsworthy, and yet again Galsworthy—has The Forsyte Saga ever been examined at such length? That limitlessly drab work is afforded the attention only masterpieces merit…. Lawrence, Joyce, Eliot and Proust are not read, it seems, in the smart circles of Nairobi. Blixen acknowledges her indebtedness to Hans Christian Andersen and to the Jewish novelist Meïr Aron Goldschmidt, whose work is virtually unknown outside Denmark, but otherwise there is little about the major influences on her own writing. Some stray snippets tantalize, like the few notably observant thoughts on Dickens, which make one wish that she had looked more often at the incontestably great. She places Dickens with Shake-speare and Chaucer as the celebrator of a vital Englishness. His sympathy with the eccentric and outcast, she argues, more than compensates for the lip-service he pays the middle classes and their stifling morality, which are personified for her by Britain's dull Hanoverian Queen, Victoria.
It is no wonder that so many of Isak Dinesen's stories are set at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, with the collapse of the old order, the ancien régime. Karen Blixen's political views are not always easy to follow, but they are surprisingly republican. This unashamed aristocrat despises the English for their besottedness with the monarchy. She seems to favour the idea of revolution, which fits uneasily with her hatred for all things bourgeois. She has a Romantic notion that there are true aristocrats of the spirit, among whom are many of the black Africans whose love and respect she never lost. She was, I suppose, essentially a feudalist—but of an unconventional kind. A feudalist and a feminist—it is a strikingly odd combination.
Paul Bailey, "The Sorrow of One Who Laughs," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1981; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4093, September 11, 1981, p. 1025.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416
For Peter Matthiessen the setting is the subject; for Isak Dinesen [in her Letters From Africa, 1914–1931] it is an intermittent background. Letters from Africa but not, in proportion to the total, letters about Africa: written during the first ferment of modernism between the outbreak of World War I and the onset of a world depression, they conspicuously engage the "advanced" issues of a changing society in which Isak Dinesen was not then living, for which at heart she had little respect but which she felt compelled, for reasons of personal discomfort, to analyze, evaluate, explain or explain away. While we cannot doubt her deepening affection for the outpost country she learned to live in, fortified by her status of a benevolent imperialist in a small way, our dominant impression, from these letters, is not of a chronicle of safaris and farm management in British East Africa but rather of a collection of didactic essays concerned, for the greater part, with the role of women in a world of moral upheaval, with the character of nationality and race as she changeably observed its representatives in Kenya, and with a variety of ethical premises inspired by her reading…. (p. 625)
These are not among the memorable letters of our time; they have not the effortless manner that eases letters into literature. Except where she is gossiping about her black household or recounting the pleasures of safari, they are charmless; they have a one-way imperiousness that invites no answer….
They are in a certain sense sadly fascinating if you need to watch an artist in chrysalis dreaming, not that she's a butterfly but that she's George Bernard Shaw. For my taste, I would have welcomed more of the daily East African life. Dinesen is much more readable when watching the light go out in the eyes of a dying lion than when she is expounding a mystique she calls "homogenous sex" or when she is explaining why she finds The Forsyte Saga detestable. And her parenthetical accounts of a condition no doubt commonplace in Africa—the omnipresence of death—are often enthralling. Finding a small strange boy sitting in the dark, miles from anywhere, tired out and with damaged feet, she drives him to the hospital, and notes almost casually: "If we had not picked him up, the hyenas would have got him during the night." (p. 627)
Vernon Young, "Africa Addio," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1982 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXIV, No. 4, Winter, 1981–82, pp. 625-30.