Tragedy in "The Ring"

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1841

Isak Dinesen, who owed much philosophically to the German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche, would certainly have agreed with Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols (1888) that ‘‘whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.’’ For this precept is simply a concise statement of the meaning of tragedy— that wisdom stems from pain and sorrow—and Dinesen’s art always displayed an orientation towards the tragic. Just as Nietzsche’s vision of tragedy can help readers to understand Dinesen’s art, however, so can instances of Dinesen’s art help readers to understand the basic structures—the human anthropological essence—of tragedy. To the extent that tragedy reflects life, it also reflects consciousness, the human perception and interpretation of life. And, as both Nietzsche and Dinesen powerfully reveal, violence has a relation, possibly generative, to consciousness. Thus if the cruelty at the heart of a Greek play like Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex fascinates us, it is because the shock acted out on stage mirrors the shocks that have promoted each one of us from unconsciousness to consciousness. With this in mind, consider the case of the young bride, Lovisa, in Dinesen’s brief but rich story ‘‘The Ring.’’

In the opening paragraphs of ‘‘The Ring,’’ Dinesen stresses the youth and inexperience of the newlywed couple Sigismund and Lovisa: He is twenty-four and she is nineteen; they have been married only a week, and Lovisa in particular remains rapt in a girl’s fantasy about the bliss of wedded life. ‘‘They were wonderfully happy,’’ and after overcoming the resistance of Lovisa’s parents to their union, ‘‘their distant paradise had descended to earth and had proved, surprisingly, to be filled with the things of everyday life.’’ Dinesen’s simple syntax, representative of Lovisa’s as-yet rather simple thinking, tells us much. The ‘‘and’’ which links the idea of paradise with the idea of everyday things really ought to be a ‘‘but’’; paradise and everyday things are normally incompatible. To the extent that one lives in the real world of the everyday, one does not live in paradise. And paradise, for its part, implies the irrelevance of everyday things. Indeed, everyday things predominate in Sigismund and Lovisa’s life together, especially Sigismund’s preoccupations in his role as a gentleman-farmer of quality sheep. Sigismund’s intentness on bettering his flock in fact distracts him from the marriage itself, as when he sends Lovisa home from the sheepfold. Even so, Lovisa feels that she ‘‘move[s] and breathe[s] in perfect freedom because she could never have any secret from her husband.’’

To emphasize her innocence, Dinesen dresses Lovisa up in ‘‘a white muslin frock and a large Italian straw hat,’’ making her the image of girlishness:

It was not a long time since she had played with dolls; as now she dressed her own hair, looked over her linen press and arranged her flowers she again lived through an enchanting and cherished experience: one was doing everything gravely and solicitously, and all the time one knew one was playing.

Thus attired, she walks with Sigismund to inspect the flocks, but arriving at the sheepfold, where sheepmaster Mathias is waiting, they are greeted with ominous news: one of the English-bred lambs is dead and two lambs are sick. As two assistants go to fetch the sick lambs, Sigismund and Mathias converse about a sheep thief who has been on the prowl in the district. ‘‘Three nights ago the shepherd and his son on an estate ten miles away had caught him in the act. The thief had killed the man and knocked the boy senseless.’’ There had been a long fight, and the thief’s arm was broken. Lovisa, listening to the story, feels ‘‘a pleasant little thrill running down her spine.’’ This thrill seems to be connected, moreover, with the blush that had twice colored her face a few moments before when she was thinking her own thoughts as Sigismund and Mathias talked. What makes a young bride blush? Thoughts of the bed chamber seem probable. In that case, Lovisa’s erotic musings have dovetailed with her contemplation of violence in Mathias’s narrative about the thief and his bloody fight. Somehow the thrill of the two phenomena is related.

The glade within the grove where Lovisa seeks— all at once—solitude and adventure on her way home from the sheepfold, and where she will encounter the sheep thief, will serve as the scene in which the themes of violence and consciousness come together in Dinesen’s story. There Lovisa will be jolted out of her childishness into a consciousness of life that deserves the name ‘‘tragic.’’ To enter the inner sanctum, it is necessary for Lovisa ‘‘gently [to force] her way into the shrubbery,’’ ‘‘to divide the foliage and make a door to her sylvan closet.’’ In the center of the glade Lovisa has previously discovered ‘‘a narrow space like a small alcove with hangings of thick green and golden brocade, big enough to hold two or three people in it.’’ The imagery is undeniably sexual. Dinesen writes that ‘‘a little way into the grove, the soil became moist,’’ and the locale is qualified by its emphatic ‘‘secretness.’’ The glade within the grove also boasts the features of a fairy-tale wilderness, radically separate from the everyday world, but it is best characterized as a scene of heightened consciousness and self-awareness. Of course, as Lovisa enters it, to hide from her husband and provoke him into worrying about her that he might appreciate her the more, she finds an unexpected danger whose presence changes her playful attitude radically.

The thief himself suddenly ‘‘stood up erect, two steps off.’’ His appearance is alarming: ‘‘His face was bruised and scratched, his hands and wrists stained with dark filth. He was dressed in rags, barefooted, with tatters wound round his naked ankles.’’ Dinesen has arranged an interesting and undoubtedly meaningful symbolic sequence beginning with the whiteness of Lovisa’s dress; continuing with her blushes (presumably red) and with Mathias’s mention of the thief’s bloody fight in the sheephouse of the nearby estate; and culminating in the actual bloodiness of the thief himself. With his right hand, the thief ‘‘clasped the hilt of a knife.’’ From the lack of awareness and girlish indifference betokened by the white dress, Dinesen has led us to the bloody criminal, blade in hand. The blade, threatening Lovisa from between the thief’s legs, suggests the dreadful possibility of rape. The sexuality and the violence of these images are quite entangled, but the point is that together, whatever the formula of their mixture, they stimulate Lovisa into a new intensity of awareness. The last thing that one can say of that awareness is that it is girlish. Says Dinesen, ‘‘She beheld the man before her as she would have beheld a forest ghost: the apparition itself, not the sequels of it, changes the world to the human who faces it.’’

For one thing, the thief has altered the arboreal inner sanctum from Lovisa’s place of private asylum into his own thief’s den, from an alcove into a covert. As the thief stares at her in complete silence (he never speaks), Lovisa intuits that ‘‘he was wondering, trying to know’’ what her intentions might be towards him and what his, practically speaking, might be towards her. The situation exhibits a type of primitive symmetry, and Lovisa thinks that she can ‘‘see herself with the eyes of the wild animal at bay in his dark hiding-place: her silently approaching white figure, which might mean death.’’ Now this might really be empathy. Dinesen’s words do not preclude such an inference. But it is also projection, for, despite Lovisa’s naivete, the thief ‘‘might mean death’’ to her in a very real sense. After all, he is wounded, but he is armed. At some level, she knows this, and even though the narrative imputes to her a ‘‘fearless . . . nature’’ and reports her as thinking that she is not bartering for her life, her pantomimed offer to buy-off danger amounts to the same thing. Lovisa draws off her wedding ring to offer it to the thief. The thief spurns the ring, but he does pick up her handkerchief, which she has inadvertently dropped. He wraps it around the blade and resheathes the knife. Injured, uncertain what Lovisa’s presence means, the thief vanishes. Lovisa has the impression of having commanded him to do so. But this, readers need to remind themselves, is an Anecdote of Destiny, and Fate must be conceded its role in the affair.

Back on the path, she sees Sigismund, but the way ‘‘was so narrow that he kept half behind her and did not touch her. He began to explain to her what had been the matter with the lambs. She walked a step before him and thought: All is over.’’

Earlier, Lovisa imagined herself to be ‘‘a hundred years older’’ than Sigismund, a conceit which at the time was false. Now she is a step ahead of him, with her back to him, and he is following her from behind. In the tragic sense, Lovisa now could repeat her earlier conceit and it would be true. Sigismund notices Lovisa’s distraction and inquires what is the matter. She reports having lost her ring. Sigismund’s response indicates why his consciousness is no longer adequate from Lovisa’s transformed point of view: ‘‘What ring?’’ In all probability, Sigismund is still preoccupied with problems of animal farming. Lovisa now understands that losing the ring marked a new marriage, not that of a girl to her childhood lover, but of a woman, a newly conscious woman, ‘‘to poverty, persecution, total loneliness. To the sorrows and the sinfulness of this earth.’’ The shock against the senses has opened her eyes to all this, but the invoice should not be interpreted as negative. It is, properly speaking, tragic, and it includes a type of moral development.

When Lovisa heard the story of the thief from Mathias, she agreed with him that the thief, if caught, should be killed. (Mathias had made a brutal pantomime of throttling the criminal with his bare hands.) To Sigismund’s casually pitying sentiment that the thief was a ‘‘poor fellow,’’ Lovisa objected. Now, however, Dinesen credits her with a sense of ‘‘persecution and total loneliness,’’ which sounds remarkably like a truly empathetic understanding of the thief’s plight. Lovisa may still believe that the thief deserves to die, but a part of her now, at least in part, understands the thief’s situation. Standing in judgment can include identification at some level. As despondent as the insight leaves her, then, the important thing is that it increases her awareness of the world, of the human inner dimension. The insight does not kill her. No, indeed, it makes her stronger, for an increase in consciousness, in Dinesen’s world, is an increase of strength.

Source: Thomas Bertonneau, Overview of ‘‘The Ring,’’ for Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 1999.

Babette Can Cook: Life and Art in Three Stories by Isak Dinesen

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615

Structuring [‘‘The Diver’’] are plot elements that we find also in ‘‘The Ring’’ and ‘‘Babette’s Feast’’: a desire for transcendence (represented by the motifs of birds and angels); a fall (or its refusal) caused by the ‘‘real world’’ in which ‘‘dreams are tested’’; and either new knowledge or resignation, true art or its simulacrum. In ‘‘The Ring’’ Lise, a young, wealthy newlywed wife, muses over her happiness. Unlike the Softa, who wants to transcend everyday life through converse with an angel, Lise feels like the angel herself: the ‘‘distant paradise’’ she shares with her husband has ‘‘descended to earth’’ and is ‘‘filled with the things of everyday life.’’ If the artist, as we are told in ‘‘The Diver,’’ seeks secrets from the depths, our domestic angel finds freedom in the fact that she has no secret from her husband, whom she wants to obey in everything. Though she does everything ‘‘gravely and solicitously,’’ she knows that she is playing. Like the fish in ‘‘The Diver,’’ who are ‘‘upheld and supported on all sides,’’ Lise lacks gravity. Unlike the veiled dancer in ‘‘The Diver,’’ who understands how the world works, she has no interest in the real world. From time to time, however, a blush—a version of the ‘‘burning’’ decried by the fish in ‘‘The Diver’’— unveils her innermost being. When this diffusion of blood occurs in the outside world, where it betokens the need and mortality she has ignored, she is humanized.

A thief, hungry and desperate, has killed and taken a sheep and killed a man who tried to stop him. When the sheepmaster compares the thief to a wolf, Lise remembers pleasurably the wolf in ‘‘Little Red Ridinghood,’’ but she criticizes her husband for sympathizing with the thief. Like those in power in ‘‘The Diver,’’ she fears ‘‘revolutionary’’ ideas. As she walks back to the house, she surveys a landscape that for her is full of promise. Still playing at life, she decides to hide from her husband to make him feel ‘‘what a void’’ life would be without her. Hiding in a ‘‘narrow space like a small alcove’’ that she finds in the woods, she discovers, however, someone very foreign to her make-believe world: the beleaguered thief. During a silent exchange of looks, she sees herself with his eyes and discovers that life is both more and less than imagined promises.

The thief makes a gesture that is both threatening and sexual: ‘‘He moved his right arm till it hung down straight before him between his legs. Without lifting the hand he bent the wrist and slowly raised the point of the knife till it pointed at her throat.’’ While she offers him her wedding ring—in the hope he will disappear and allow her to pretend that he never was—he takes her handkerchief and wraps it round his knife, which he fits into its sheath. Then he closes his eyes and frees her.

She is no longer free, however, as she was when she had no secret and wanted only to obey her doting husband. She loses her wedding ring, which the thief discards in the woods, but finds in its loss an emblem of life’s limits: ‘‘With this lost ring she had wedded herself to something. To what? To poverty, persecution, total loneliness. To the sorrows and the sinfulness of this earth.’’ While ‘‘The Diver’’ goes beyond the Softa’s fall to his subsequent but premature equilibrium, ‘‘The Ring’’ ends with the heroine’s fall—into material scarcity, sexuality, and death.

Source: Bruce Bassoff, ‘‘Babette Can Cook: Life and Art in Three Stories by Isak Dinesen,’’ in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 27, No. 3, Summer, 1990, pp. 385-89.

Two Locked Caskets: Selfhood and ‘Otherness’ in the Work of Isak Dinesen

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2303

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 [in The Second Sex, 1952] 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 [Donald Hannah] has observed [in Isak Dinesen and Karen Blixen, 1971], 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 Dinesen’s 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. . . .’’

Beyond the metaphor of young love, . . . Dinesen fully exploits the imagery of sexuality to suggest the more mature awareness that individuals belong not only to themselves and to each other, but also to a vast design that embraces God and the whole human community. In at least two fairly late stories, this highly abstract notion, as difficult to realize as it is easy to articulate, is embodied in the experiences of two women: Lady Flora Gordon, the gigantic, redhaired heroine of ‘‘The Cardinal’s Third Tale,’’ and Lise, a young woman, recently married, in ‘‘The Ring.’’ In part, Dinesen may have chosen female characters for central roles in both stories because of their vulnerability to sexual violation, for in both works the fact of human community shatters the illusion of self-sufficiency that Dinesen appears to associate with sexual innocence.

In both stories, sexual imagery is unusually emphatic and richly expressive of Dinesen’s thematic concern. The white dress of the young wife suggests that, despite her marital status, her essential innocence is still intact; she may preside over the pleasures of her new domain, like a child with a new dollhouse, but in all important respects she is still virgin—her being as yet untouched, as the bright circle of her existence is still unruptured, by experience of the world. In the wedding band that she offers to the fugitive whose hiding place she stumbles upon, one sees a symbol not only of the sexual contract that binds wife to husband in mutual fidelity, but also of the secure but rigid self-enclosure in which this young woman exists. And in the fugitive’s disinterest in the ring one sees the contempt of one who knows experience for the facile symbol of domestic security. . . .

It is important to note that even in these two stories, where the intactness of the self is shattered to allow for growth and where this experience is identified, both thematically and imagistically, with the violation of female innocence, Dinesen appears to insist that these women remain active subjects whose own initiative partly shapes their destinies. Lady Flora must offer the gift of her devotion to God before she can be shown the truth of her implication in humanity. And the young woman in ‘‘The Ring’’ must desire to break free of her domestic encirclement before she can encounter the ‘‘other’’ who reveals herself.

Indeed, ‘‘The Ring,’’ which Dinesen set at the end of her last collection of stories, probably offers the most complete illustration of her belief that ‘‘otherness’’ is an essential fragment of identity and does not negate, but rather enhances, the self. Lise, the young woman in this story, discovers the reality of her single self just moments before she is made aware of the ‘‘other’’ both within and beyond her. Although she is happily married to the man she loves, she discovers, like the sailor boy, the ‘‘sweetness’’ of her initiative when her husband, preoccupied with difficulties at the sheepfold, impatiently suggests that she walk home without him: ‘‘just walk ahead slowly,’’ he tells her, ‘‘and I shall catch up with you.’’ But as she walks, savoring the taste of her first moments alone, she imagines ‘‘it would be sweeter still . . . to steal into the grove and to be gone, to have vanished from the surface of the earth from him when, tired of the sheep and longing for her company, he should turn the bend of the road to catch up with her.’’

On impulse, then, and at her own initiative, like Lady Flora, she finds the grove of shrubbery that she has thought of earlier as ‘‘the very heart of her new home,’’ and walks toward it, her white dress shining in the sun and her straw hat dangling its blue ribbons in the grass. As she enters the shadowy grove, she discovers the man who has intruded himself into her existence, a fugitive whose

face was bruised and scratched, his hands and wrists stained with dark filth. He was dressed in rags, barefooted, with tatters wound round his naked ankles. His arms hung down to his sides, his right hand clasped the hilt of a knife.

Although the physical images of the two characters fully articulate the contrast between self and ‘‘other’’ that Dinesen appears to emphasize, the last sentences of the paragraph bind the two images together, relating them in fruitful tension without fusing or unifying or reconciling them: ‘‘He was about her own age. The man and the woman looked at each other.’’

In this moment of silent looking, as so often in similar moments in Dinesen’s work, Lise’s perception of both herself and the world is changed; although nothing happens, the narrator observes that ‘‘the apparition itself, not the sequels of it, changes the world to the human who faces it.’’ Henceforth, at the very heart of her secure and familiar world, Lise will know the ‘‘other’’ whose alien eyes have met her own. And in those eyes, she will also discover an image of the ‘‘other’’ in herself:

After a while she realized that he was observing her just as she was observing him. He was no longer just run to earth and crouching for a spring, but he was wondering, trying to know. At that she seemed to see herself with the eyes of the wild animal at bay in his dark hiding place: her silently approaching white figure which might mean death.

Although she has earlier believed that it is impossible to feel ‘‘pity’’ for such a man, when he releases her and she returns to her husband she keeps the secret of his hiding place. Having recognized the vulnerable ‘‘self’’ in him and the threatening ‘‘other’’ in herself, she has broken the sterile circle of her existence and discovered compassion.

In Lise, then, who dares to risk discovery of both selfhood and otherness, one might see a paradigm of the quest that absorbs so many characters in Dinesen’s short stories. One might question the appropriateness of this quest in our own time, for it assumes a confidence in the logic of the world that has been deeply eroded by contemporary experience; if the mosaic of life is actually a heap of rubble, then the search for a meaningful cosmic design and for one’s own contributory role in that design is clearly absurd. But other elements of Dinesen’s quest remain viable and compelling to the contemporary imagination, for they suggest that the fully achieved self is not negated but enhanced by forces that seem to oppose it, and that by sustaining the tension between selfhood and ‘‘otherness’’ one may transform a sterile opposition into a creative opportunity.

Source: Janet Handler Burstein, ‘‘Two Locked Caskets: Selfhood and ‘Otherness’ in the Work of Isak Dinesen,’’ in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 20, No. 4, Winter, 1978, pp. 615-32.

The Redemption of Ariel: Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 293

The few brief notes sounded in ‘‘The Ring’’ make an interesting epilogue to the volume [Anecdotes of Destiny ]. . . . epilogue reminds us of the contrary theme that has been dealt with for the most part negatively in Anecdotes—the theme of the richly ambiguous human way. Like Eve when she meets Satan, the newly married, inhumanly innocent wife encounters a young thief and murderer. To buy him off, she offers him her wedding ring, which he spurns so that it falls to the ground and he kicks it away. He picks up, instead, the handkerchief she has also let fall, wraps it around the blade of his knife and puts the knife back in its sheath before disappearing. The sexual symbolism suggests that there has been a union between them, that he has taken her spiritual, as her husband took her physical, virginity. When, lying to her husband, she tells him she has lost her wedding ring, she realizes that she has now married two men—that ‘‘with this lost ring she had wedded herself to . . . poverty, persecution, total loneliness. To the sorrows and the sinfulness of this earth.’’ Only now, we are to understand, when she has this secret from her husband, is her marriage to him fully consummated. . . .

In ending Anecdotes on a tragic note, Isak Dinesen shows the artist’s instinct for a complex symmetry. Looking back from a vision that transcends tragedy, she says what she has implied throughout, that tragedy is our distinctively human glory. But she praises tragedy from a point of view that . . . makes it a part of comedy. . . .

Source: Robert Langbaum, ‘‘The Redemption of Ariel: Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard,’’ in The Gayety of Vision: A Study of Isak Dinesen’s Art, Random House, 1965, pp. 245-86.

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