THE DEEP ONES: "The Monkey" by Isak Dinesen

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THE DEEP ONES: "The Monkey" by Isak Dinesen

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abr. 29, 2016, 9:48am

A taster, from the first Paris Review link:

I don’t believe in evil, I believe only in horror. In nature there is no evil, only an abundance of horror: the plagues and the blights and the ants and the maggots.

Editat: abr. 29, 2016, 10:28am

>2 elenchus:

I saw that documentary. Dinesen was an unusual woman, to say the least. I really like that cover for the first edition of Seven Gothic Tales. Wish I owned a copy. I'll be reading from one of the online links.


The library I work in actually has a copy of Seven Gothic Tales. Duh. Not the one pictured above, unfortunately, but it is one of those little Modern Library editions that I like a lot.

maig 1, 2016, 8:09pm

I've found my copy of The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales.

maig 2, 2016, 7:04pm

I'll probably read this off Unz.

Editat: maig 4, 2016, 11:28am

Boris is a twit. I was rooting for Athena all the way. The moment she punches her would-be paramour in the mouth is a triumphant one for all Gothic heroines! Good for her for telling her oppressors to shove it!

I must admit that Dinesen lost me at a couple of points. Can someone explain the bit about the "stable of Bethlehem" being "mysteriously moved"? What happened there?

I was pleased that the story introduced me to the concept of horror vacui.

The following link provides an interesting "Gothic Analysis" of the story. It also translates the final line as “Learn justice, and be not disrespectful toward the gods.” Sounds like Dunsany!

maig 4, 2016, 9:47am

>6 KentonSem:

Eh, I'm not impressed with that "analysis." It quite misses the fact that Boris is gay, for one thing!

For some depth on the concluding Latin, see:

maig 4, 2016, 10:14am

Boris would also seem to be something of a necrofile, as indicated by his fixations along the lines of "Many human relations, he thought, would be infinitely easier if they could be carried out in the bones only."

Having the monkey jumping onto the bust of Kant while the Prioress jumps to the lintel above the door was a nice touch of the grotesque and hints at the metempsychosis which is often mentioned in discussions of this tale. I was hoping for something a bit more Lynchian (along the lines of LOST HIGHWAY), but there's only so much you can do with a monkey, I guess.

Editat: maig 4, 2016, 11:25am

>8 KentonSem:

Maybe it's because I'm wrapping up a read of Natural Right and History right now, but the monkey jumping on Kant, especially juxtaposed with the closing line, seemed like a slam at the idea of moral self-determination. Boris's homosexuality and Athena's celibacy are equally culpable, but only from the perspective that places value on the social system as such, rather than individual freedom. From his own perspective, Boris applauds the vigor of Athena's perversion, even though it deprives him of an escape from his dilemma.

There's a lot of wit and strongly-drawn character in this story, but I couldn't help seeing it as one of the most ethically-preoccupied pieces we've read, to the point where I suspect that of being its primary purpose. Now, the weird bit, the mutual metamorphosis with the monkey, reads to me like a challenge to the ideas identified with Rousseau: valorization of the passions and the "state of nature" which constantly courted the elevation of the animal over the human, as well as providing the point of departure for moral theories like Kant's.

Editat: maig 4, 2016, 11:28am

>9 paradoxosalpha:

There's a lot of wit and strongly-drawn character in this story.

It also often reads like a vintage Gothic a la The Castle of Otranto or The Monk, but those flashes of humor pop out and modernize it.

Boris seems to really enjoy the more sadistic aspects of his relationship with Athena, once he gets to indulge in them. Makes you wonder what was in the "love potion" the Prioress gave him.

Editat: maig 5, 2016, 2:05pm

Interesting back story on one of the Latin phrases from Part II, used again at the end, Discite iustitiam moniti et non temnere divos! (Having been warned, study justice and learn not to despise the gods!)

The line appears over the entrance to old Law Courts (Blue Boar Street, Oxford), but also in many other places: for instance, allegedly a demon's favourite line of Virgil. How could it come better recommended?

There is also Ad sanitatem gradus est novisse morbum, It is a step toward health to recognize sickness.

Finally (?), some relevant history in Sibylla and arranged marriages with political implications, to whom Dinesen alluded to in Part II.

ETA I see kentonsem also translated the first line of Latin, and paradoxosalpha found the same source for it, I was posting without reading the prior discussion as I was not yet done with the tale. Apologies.

More quotes, for myself as much as for anyone else:
Dieu que le son du co rest triste au fond des bois/ (God, how sad is the sound of the horn in the heart of the woods!), from the Song of Roland.

From Part V, a poem on France and Napolean:
O Corse à cheveux plats, que la France était belle
au grand soleil de Messidor.
C’était une cavale indomptable et rebelle,
sans freins d’acier, ni rênes d’or.
Une jument sauvage, à la croupe rustique,
fumant encore du sang des rois.
Mais fière, et d’un pied libre heurtant le sol antique,
Libre, pour la première fois!

(translation and commentary in the link)

From Part VIII, Help him now, you good faru.

maig 5, 2016, 2:21pm

>9 paradoxosalpha: I couldn't help seeing it as one of the most ethically-preoccupied pieces we've read

Coincidentally, I'm reading through a summary review of moral sense philosophy, and I would have to agree the ethics of this story are strongly drawn!

>10 KentonSem: Boris seems to really enjoy the more sadistic aspects of his relationship with Athena, once he gets to indulge in them. Makes you wonder what was in the "love potion" the Prioress gave him.

Or, as I read it, Boris enjoys the role he is playing in the moment moreso than in the sadist aspects of it -- which role, in this case, extends from the prior dinner party at which he is described explicitly as reveling in a role. In the bedroom, that role evolves from suitor to noble warrior, and it is very modern of him to take Athena as an equal in the battle.

Editat: maig 5, 2016, 2:44pm

Another interpretation, this one from Susan Brantly's book, Understanding Isak Dinesen:

The revelation at the end of the story forces us to re-evaluate not only this phrase {the Virgil quote}, but the entire story. Repeating a phrase whose significance has changed is a technique that Dinesen will use again in "Alkmene". It is a device that makes the reader reexamine her or his assumptions. The sentence has not changed, but after experiencing the story, the reader has. The reader's expectations and understanding of this fictional world have altered -- another metamorphosis has taken place. Now everything must be reexamined and reinterpreted.

Another quote from a bit earlier in the essay (page 34) argues that Dinesen has flipped the script on the Gothic tale, while preserving its Gothic character.
The Prioress and her monkey are not destroyed at the end of the tale; conventional morality has not been confirmed, and it is not at all certain that one side is better than the other.

maig 5, 2016, 4:13pm

>13 elenchus:

That's good! Brantly's suggestion makes me want to re-read the story with the understanding that the Prioress is actually the monkey. It gives new shades of meaning to a lot of what she says and does, including

“The hearts of animals in cages,” the Prioress went on, “become grated, as upon a grill, upon the shadow of the bars. Oh, the grated hearts of caged animals!” she exclaimed with terrible energy.

maig 8, 2016, 7:44am

This was the second time I've read this story. I see from my catalogue that I first read it four years ago - enough time, for me, to have forgotten many of the details. I had retained a memory, or rather an impression, of its stately pace and allusive nature.

However, as happened with our discussion of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find", I was grateful for some help in understanding the story.

In a way the situation is almost the opposite of the O'Connor - there, I felt I was missing the point (to put it crudely) because I wasn't reading it from a particular Christian standpoint; with the Dinesen things only fell into place with help from >9 paradoxosalpha: and the author's own explanation linked to in >13 elenchus:.

This time, the story has to seen in a non-Christian light (does Dinesen subtly hint at this in the first sentence: "there are still in existence places which make use of the name convent, and are governed by a prioress or chanoiness, although they are of no religious nature" - and, does she mean the convent is of no religious nature, or the prioress, or both?).

This non-christian light might be a pagan morality, or it might be an aristocratic one - a match between Boris and Athena is only desirable once her family wins the suit to regain their lands. Continuing the family line is all-important (so as Paradoxalpha points out, homosexuality and celibacy are equally culpable). Honour is also important but it's an external, social thing - appearing to do the right thing, not necessarily touching what actions one actually performs (it's just struck me how Boris compares Athena to the Christian Martyrs).

If it's an aristocratic morality, then Dinesen apparently takes it as also being the natural way of things (at least, in the context of and within the universe of this story) because of the revelation that the monkey has been masterminding - let's not dress it up - Athena's rape* by Boris, so that she will have to marry him, he will avoid a career-destroying gay scandal, and she will produce an heir.

Dinesen's short explanation of the story brought me up short. I won't say it shocked me but she is generally approving "letting the monkey in" and iof ts solution to Boris and Athena's dilemmas (I take it that the effect of their being the only two witnesses to the transformation inter alia means that Athena won't try to kill Boris).

* true, in the event he doesn't impregnate her, but the next morning he lets her assume that he has.

maig 9, 2016, 8:56am

That's a perceptive contrast between the Christian mythic structure of O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and the Pagan universe of Dinesen's "The Monkey".

We've had a couple neat juxtapositions in our quarterly reading schedules, and just as often they were unintentional or unconscious. This would appear to be another such pair.

Editat: feb. 24, 2020, 8:38pm

I've read the Flannery O'Connor story, with the rest of the book waiting patiently, so I thought I'd take on The Monkey first from Seven Gothic Tales, since it's fairly brief. And after Chevalier, I've begun Deluge as my 3rd choice. Will then carry through with the other four stories by Easter.

Without philosophy or research, observations thus far; many former holy places are sold and transformed into bookstores or restaurants or pottery retailers but that doesn't eradicate the history of the space, I could not even get past the title without sensing Poe & Le Fanu, echoes of other recent books like The Monastery by Walter Scott & Ann Ward Radcliffe's novel(s), metamorphosis apropos at this time of year (spring/Easter), 'Herod's child martyrs' was an odd reference choice for the nephew since the slaughter of the Holy Innocents included only Bethlehem boys under 2 (unless it merely infers assuming an unwanted duty for his hidden protection which then endangers them?), a mother's jealousy is real, deliberate celibacy does not indicate homosexuality for men or women young or old and the immediate suspicion reflex is offensive to those who are called to practise their piety in this way whether laity or ordained, I wholeheartedly second the opinion that trees are life's delight, the Russian lineage was unexpected but enjoyable since I'm wafting through War and Peace currently, the author revels in keeping her reader off-balace, gothic elements abound with isolated immense baroque estate in ruin with neighbouring cloister, Boris reflecting on aging sets the stage early on, just because you can doesn't mean you should, 3 flowers from pale spinster whose love died creates lingering melancholy, the doomed cloudy misty Mt. Olympus image effective, the generational law suit over land disputes invoked Bleak House, grey gorilla atop Jacob's Ladder made me laugh although a dreamy quality to the encounter was likely intended, the wedding feast at Cana factored greatly into Robertson Davies Cornish trilogy What's Bred in the Bone, loved the monkey sitting in the statue where Cupid formerly was then inciting terror along the way back with eyes in the dark, nice tie in with Polish lawyer, the court of justice theme repeated in the aunt's dining room, the operatic feel throughout got its payoff at the end of 'V' with a mention of Don Giovanni, I also like the tie in of the marionette getting pulled between two opposing forces with the travelling puppet show 6mos prior, a few items pointed to the ending like cage/shadows and 'almost gave it away' hints, etc.

Reading the Seven Gothic Tales introduction thoroughly prepared me for the fact that this author's phrasing might be confusing or quaint due to writing in English as a Dane. Knowing that the author was a woman using a pen name was also extremely helpful in deciphering phrasing and emotional impact.