Literary Criticism

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The Aristocratic Universe of Karen Blixen

Destiny and the Denial of Fate

Author Text to Follow

Karen Blixen’s works are explored in the light of a passionate insistence on living out a double nature of the divine and the demonic. The “aristocratic” is examined as her depiction of a conduct of life that is faithful to destiny: the aristocratic viewpoint is in tune with eternity, and places no obstructive morality between self and life. Vitality has its source in direct access to the ocean of inexhaustible opportunities with which life presents us. The “world” of Africa, for example, plays a key role as the consummate illustration of an aristocratic culture. The aesthetic guidelines for literary form (as well as art) as advocated by KB are discussed, and her view of art is similarly defined and explained as“aristocratic”. Her private correspondence (including the recently published Karen Blixen in Denmark: Letters, 1931–62) is drawn upon to shed new light on her life and work.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-903900-32-1
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $50.00
Release Date: June 2003
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-90390-033-8
Paperback Price: £25 / $34.95
Release Date: June 2003
Page Extent / Format: 196 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Photographs and colour pictures of KNB’s artwork


List of Illustrations


Part I – Karen Blixen’s Works
Truth and Creation – Early writing and painting
Encounter with the Primary – Accounts of Africa
Fantastical Transformation – Seven Gothic Tales
Aristocratic Conduct of Life and Bourgeois Lifelessness – Winter’s Tales
Verdict on Conscience – The Angelic Avengers
Childlike Wealth – “The Ghost Horses”
Origin and Ambiguity – Last Tales
A Preliminary Look at Anecdotes of Destiny
Art and Reality – Ehrengard
Love and Ideals – Essays
Dialogue and Responsibility – Karen Blixen in Denmark: Letters, 1931–1962

Part II – When Destiny Comes Calling
I The Aristocratic Art
The twofold nature of the tale
Silence and statement
The artist and freedom
Life-giving narrative
Fidelity to the artistic nature
The immutable power of fiction
II Denial of Fate – “Babette’s Feast”
Layers and episodes
Heavenly love and blazing passion
The taming of Babette
Kaaba and the cornerstone
The diabolical claim
The serpent in Berlevaag
Armament and witches’ Sabbath
The moment of absolution
“Babette’s Feast” and “The Dead”
Vanity and mortality: Loewenhielm
The reckoning
Babette and Pellegrina
III Liberation of Destiny – “The Ring”
On the threshold
Marriage in the forest
Lea and Lise

Part III Life and Tale
Incentive and Repression – Familial influence
Light and Darkness in Africa
Displacement and Reflection in Denmark


Published Works by Karen Blixen
Selected Bibliography

From a review of the Danish edition: “Original and essential… exquisite and noble, Babette and the Aristocratic Universe is simply one of the best all-round presentations of Karen Blixen’s work.” Professor Søren Schou, Weekendavisen

A philosophical center gives weight to the author’s investigations. An international world of reference is also amply demonstrated in connections to the Bible, the Koran, Tristram Shandy, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Wuthering Heights, Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, and Joyce’s story “The Dead”… The discussions of “Babette’s Feast” are especially informative… Highly recommended.

This book offers both fresh and original viewpoints, and provides new aspects for further reflection.
Review in TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek by Annelies van Hees, University of Amsterdam, author of The Ambivalent Venus: Women in Isak Dinesen’s Tales

Extremely interesting . . . excellent . . . A ‘must read’ for anyone planning a foray into Blixen scholarship.
Professor Susan Brantly, Scandinavian Studies

Thanks to the great book by Frantz Leander Hansen, The Aristocratic Universe of Karen Blixen (2003), nowadays a more bracing and sober accounting is available to English-language readers. Hansen proves that Dinesen, in rewriting the tale for Danish audiences, reinforced the revolutionary tone and threatening aspect of her heroine. Fantastic linguistic analysis! Thanks FLH!

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