Isak Dinesen Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

ph_0111204718-Dinesen.jpg Isak Dinesen Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to her numerous tales and stories, Isak Dinesen wrote many letters and essays. She is particularly well known, however, for her narrative Den afrikanske Farm (1937; Out of Africa, 1937), which tells of her years in Kenya (a sequel was published in 1960). After her death, two volumes of letters, written while in Africa, were published, as were her essays.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Isak Dinesen has a special position in modern literature in that she is a major author in two languages. Although a native of Denmark, she wrote in both English and Danish, creating her tales as original works in both tongues. Popular with the critics as well as the general public, she was appointed an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1957 and was repeatedly mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her initial success came in the English-speaking world. With time, however, she became successful also at home, where her magnetic personality and storytelling gifts gradually captivated the public. Aided by the medium of radio, she became a veritable cultural institution in Denmark. Since her death, her critical reputation has steadily grown both at home and abroad, and she has come to be considered a modern master of short fiction.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How does Isak Dinesen’s “storyteller” differ from a writer?

Were there advantages for Dineson’s literary perspective in her cultural life being “formed before the outbreak of World War I”?

Demonstrate how some of the characters in Winter’s Tales take charge of their own lives.

How did the circumstances of Dinesen’s life contribute to her capacity for looking at life with the eyes of a painter?

What did Africa do for Isak Dinesen?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aiken, Susan Hardy. Isak Dinesen and the Engendering of Narrative. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Offers thoughtful critical interpretation of Dinesen’s works. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Bassoff, Bruce. “Babette Can Cook: Life and Art in Three Stories by Isak Dinesen.” Studies in Short Fiction 27 (Summer, 1990): 385-389. Discusses the plot elements of desire for transcendence, a fall caused by confrontation with the real world, and new knowledge or resignation in “The Ring,” “The Diver,” and “Babette’s Feast.”

Bjørnvig, Thorkild. The Pact: My Friendship with Isak Dinesen. Translated from the Danish by Ingvar Schousboe and William Jay Smith. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983. This short book offers Bjørnvig’s account of his friendship with Dinesen, from their first meeting in 1948 to their definitive parting in 1954. Written by an accomplished poet, the volume is interesting in its own right as well as for the insight into Dinesen which it provides.

Donelson, Linda. Out of Isak Dinesen in Africa: The Untold Story. Iowa City, Iowa: Coulsong List, 1995. A good, updated biography of Dinesen. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Hannah, Donald. “Isak Dinesen” and Karen Blixen: The Mask and the Reality. London: Putnam and Company, 1971. The biographical sections are particularly valuable in charting the development also of Dinesen’s aesthetic, especially Dinesen’s emphasis on the nature of story, her masklike impersonality, and the nature of her characters. The second half of the book, devoted to Dinesen’s art, focuses on her process of writing and the general characteristics of her stories, and it analyzes several of the most important.

Henriksen, Aage. “The Empty Space Between Art and Church.” In Out of Denmark, edited by Bodil Warmberg. Copenhagen: Danish Cultural Institute, 1985. Henriksen asserts that the underlying principle of all Dinesen’s tales is the discovery that reality is transformed into a dream. Contends that Dinesen’s stories are based on the complicated nature of human love.

Horton, Susan R. Difficult Women, Artful Lives: Olive Schreiner and Isak Dinesen, in and...

(The entire section is 996 words.)