Born in Denmark in 1885, she had a privileged but unhappy childhood. She married her second cousin, Baron Bror Blixen of Sweden, there by acquiring the title Baroness. Following their separation and divorce, she had a long affair with the safari hunter, Denys Finch Hatton, son of a titled English family. In 1931, after losing the coffee farm in the Great Depression, Karen Blixen returned to Denmark and embarked on the writing career that lasted until her death in 1962. Her life was very much a statement to the strength of a woman and all she can endure when faced with hardship and trials. Many have come to know this author through Hollywood’s interpretation of her life in the film adaptation of her African memoir, 1985’s “Out of Africa”, in which Meryl Streep portrayed Blixen.
Though “Out of Africa” is definitely a beautiful story, perhaps my favorite tale of Blixen’s is her compilation of short stories “Seven Gothic Tales”. Originally published in 1934, Seven Gothic Tales, the first book by “one of the finest and most singular artists of our time” (The Atlantic), is a modern classic. Here are seven exquisite tales combining the keen psychological insight characteristic of the modern short story with the haunting mystery of the nineteenth-century Gothic tale, in the tradition of writers such as Goethe, Hoffmann, and Poe.
“These tales are a modern refinement of German romanticism. …They are peopled, or haunted, by ghosts of a past age, voluptuaries dreaming of the singers and ballerinas of the operas of Mozart and Gluck, young men who are too melancholy to enjoy love or too perverse to profit by it, maidens dedicated to chastity and others hopeful of a gentlemanly seduction; their generally fantastic adventures are exquisitely played.”
Seven Gothic Tales was Isak Dinesen’s first volume of short stories. Not many writers hit gold on their first book, but Blixen (Dinesen) managed it. There didn’t appear to be a freshman attempt, just a stream of mature works of art from this book onward.
And, man, she could *write*. Her use of description and eloquent dialog captivate me and I feel as if I am living in the pages. The stories are all set in the 19th Century, and many contains elements of the Gothic (hence the title) and sometimes the gruesome, as well as ironic and perceptive insight. When it comes to characters, plots, and situations, virtually everything in the book seems beyond the ordinary. Blixen is a writer unafraid to take chances.
The first story in the book is The Deluge at Norderney, where a string of characters are put into an extreme situation, and forced to face reality and confront their illusions. It is probably my personal favorite out of the tales. Besides “The Deluge…”, other notable stories are The Monkey, The Poet, The Supper at Elsinore, and The Roads Round Pisa, each exhibit Blixen’s skill and talent for storytelling.
Blixen’s other books of stories are interesting-to-fascinating… each book has its attractions. Karen Blixen was an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life, and her stories reflect the woman behind the pen.
To learn more about this exceptional Danish author please visit: