Seven Gothic Tales - Karen Blixen

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Seven Gothic Tales - Karen Blixen

des. 8, 2018, 10:48pm

Stumbled upon this yesterday. It surprised me because I'd never heard of it and might not have paid too much attention if I didn't recognize one of Karen Blixen's pen names.

That's a Canadian site where the work is public domain (1938). I did a quick search and didn't see much in past threads here that talked about it. It got me wondering whether Nordic/Scandinavian Gothic was a thing. Not so much, apparently, but elements show up as they do in any part of literature.

In my Scandinavian/Nordic literature studies we talked about how important the land seemed to be. In the start of sagas and even books like Out of Africa open with the landscape. Given how important setting and the landscape can be in Gothic writing, it might be entertaining to see what concoctions can be made with Nordic attention to landscape and old viking sagas, particularly on the cusp of the old gods and the introduction of Christianity.

Musing here. ;)

Editat: des. 18, 2018, 1:28pm

I had thought to read Babette's Feast at one point, but never managed to get around to it. The author was unfamiliar to me so there was no personal investment. Maybe now, both or all three together, since I love a good landscape. The films can wait until the text has been ingested.

des. 18, 2018, 4:56pm

I read Babette's Feast for school (lots of reading for school). It's a short story so not too long to read. I quite liked it but it took a bit to get through the first pages. I like the story behind it. Apparently Blixen wanted to write a story to publish in the United States (or an American editor had asked her for one). She apparently thought something along the lines of "Americans like food. I'll write about that." It worked!

I got into Nordic Lit because my Grandmother was Danish. I took Swedish language courses (Danish was too early in the morning, but I'm hoping to pick some up online) and rounded out my English literature degree with Scandinavian lit.

Editat: des. 19, 2018, 4:14am

I picture Nordic Lit landscape as the intro to Frankenstein, the environment described by Roald Dahl in Boy and some stories from my old tour guide Nina from Denmark who could speak nine languages fluently. Having no connections to that part of the world, it would be more a fascination than a searing interest, but the gothic element reflected back from that northern clime would be nearly as fun as our own! Hoping to get to some Russian Lit too next year, so maybe I'll pick a latitude and draw a line around the globe and find stories 'north of 55/60' so to speak... comparison and contrast of culture is the stuff of legend. Thor? Might be a stretch. Hans Christian Andersen seals the Dane deal of children's appeal for me, but beyond that, I see more research in my future...

Had never heard of Nordic Lit before one of the questions in a Library Thing treasure hunt, either the one in Sept. for pirates, or the Hallowe'en one. Currently have my six pears. =)

Editat: des. 18, 2018, 7:46pm

It's frustrating that I haven't had much to contribute to these threads recently. I have seen the film version of Babette's Feast, on VHS a long time ago. It's slow (or stately if you prefer) and "feels" like an arthouse movie. I wouldn't have guessed it's based on something written for popular success (I'm guessing that's what "a story to publish in the United States" means!).

As for Seven Gothic Tales, I have to confess to having owned the Folio Society edition for a couple of years now (sorry, just checked, five years now) but I haven't read it yet. I have read one of the stories in in, "The Monkey", which is included in The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales.

Quite by chance, there's an article about this book in the Autumn 2018 edition of Slightly Foxed magazine. The author, of the article, Kate Tyte, draws out some themes in the emphasis on atmosphere and heightened emotion (she does use the word melodrama); characters with believable attitudes for the time and place ("a pre-Freudian psychology as remote and alien from us as the mysterious creatures that scuttle in darkness across the ocean floors". nicely put). And that the stories require close attention, not just to perceive the moral, as Kate Tyte says, but simply to understand the plot. I have to confess that on my one reading of "The Monkey" I didn't feel that I had understood, "got", what it was about.

(Edited to correct some truly awful typing!)

des. 18, 2018, 7:30pm

Same here! (for pears).

It just so happens that my university has two Nordic language programs and those have extended into literature and some culture studies such that it's possible to get a minor in Nordic studies. I thought about it but didn't have the room in my schedule. "Scandinavian" covers Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, while "Nordic" adds in Iceland, Finland, and I think the Faroe Islands, depending on who you ask.

I remember that clue. It was regarding Nordic Noir, which I had never heard of either, but Nordic Crime Fiction was one of the courses available so that makes me think that it's something fairly prevalent. The Wallander series with Kenneth Branagh is from Swedish author Henning Mankell.

Just dug out my copy of Hrafnkel's Saga to look over the beginning again. It starts with an introduction about how Hrafnkel arrived at his home and how three points in the landscape acquired their names. I did notice that the narration will often pause with a side note to reference the name of a piece of land, or a mountain, or a valley, if the story being told has relevance to it.

des. 18, 2018, 7:34pm

>5 housefulofpaper: I think my record is 20 years for owning an unread (technically unfinished) book, so you really don't have to worry. My copy of Babette's Feast came in a book with other stories and I've had it around since about 2008 with the intention of finishing it.

I'm not sure how much of a fan of Karen Blixen I really am, but I'd like to read more, or maybe I just don't like buying books and not at least trying to get what I feel is my money's worth. Books for university are annoying that way.

Editat: des. 19, 2018, 11:27am

>6 WeeTurtle: I enjoy the process of not finding the 'reward' too quickly, since the links I root out are often educational in their random unveiling. A new tidbit about an author, a newly discovered classic or contemporary work, an unknown spot on the LT site, all goes into the filing cabinet for later consideration. Had heard of the film The Snowman 2017 but not the original author, Jo Nesbo, until that treasure hunt. Nothing better than an old fashioned 'road rally' where you road trip in a scattered convoy with pals in competing vehicles, collecting/solving hints and objects/photos/etc. We planned it for our inbound German-speaking tour groups across Canada when they visited on incentive/study tours... back in the days of polaroid cameras. No one went away without a prize, it was a fun way of learning about the environment, and helped pass a 2-4hr trek between town/country or up the Icefield Parkway (4hrs Banff-Jasper). I get similar sensations collecting these pears, etc... that I am on a journey of discovery which carries deeper-than-intended meaning, like a glass of spiced grog from LT admin. =) Fun imaginative creative outlet for pent up seasonal steam!

Nordic Noir lingers as an interest, long past the end of the game. Noticed Faceless Killers on the 1001BTRBYD list just yesterday, after you mentioned it! Small world. The author was unfamiliar, as was the series, so it would have stayed off my radar for awhile longer if you'd not sifted it to the surface! Love a good overlap/coincidence.

Also, I always thought Finland was included with Scandinavia so thanks for clarifying the difference between it and Nordic. My roots are Sicilian, and the less I know about why my Great Grandparents hopped the boat to Canada, the better. ; P My Grandfather was born in Ontario in 1901 but his siblings were all transplants, all long gone.

Editat: gen. 16, 2020, 4:27pm

Bumping this back up to the top so I can chip away at the stories slowly over the course of the year. The pdf file says 321p.

gen. 17, 2020, 7:11am

>9 frahealee:

Timely bump for me, too--never did get round to reading these, that I remember.

Editat: feb. 25, 2020, 6:06pm

In working my way through the introduction, I stumbled upon this;
" Death was no more unnatural to her than silence. "
Wow, just wow. A woman after losing her only son. Perfection in heartbreak.

" Women, he thought, when they are old enough to have done with the business of being women and can let loose their strength, must be the most powerful creatures in the whole world. "
Fascinating, that the intro is written by Dorothy Canfield of New England, USA (Vermont), that she is talking about a woman (Karen Blixen) whose pen name is male (Isak Dinesen), but at the time it was written the author was unknown. So, as readers, we don't know who has written this statement, but it varies greatly in meaning when expressed by a man about his aunt … do you see what I mean ?!
1. man speaking of aunt as written by a man
2. man speaking of aunt as written by a woman

I am thankful going in that I know it was a Danish female who composed these Seven Gothic Tales. I still have read nothing by this author yet, but plan on both Babette's Feast and Out of Africa eventually. The introduction mentions that the fresh unique wording may be intentional or simply some happy accident by a writer whose first language is not English, and that she therefore misses nuances or creates new phrasing fearlessly that is intriguing/odd but extremely effective in keeping us off-balance. I'm anxious to see if it's in only a few, or throughout all seven, or if it's present in all of her fiction writing!

1 The Deluge at Norderney
81 The Old Chevalier
109 The Monkey
165 The Roads Round Pisa
217 The Supper at Elsinore
271 The Dreamers
357 The Poet
( according to the link in >1 WeeTurtle: )

My tablet download registered this layout
11-68 (57p.)
70-89 (19p.)
91-130 (39p.)
132-169 (37p.)
171-209 (38p.)
211-272 (61p.)
274-320 (46p.)

feb. 14, 2020, 5:21am

You have a knack of regularly reminding me of stuff I've long meant to read but haven't ... you are sort of becoming my literary conscience ...

feb. 14, 2020, 5:45am

>12 alaudacorax:

Or 'becoming my sort of literary conscience'. No--ambiguous. '... becoming my literary conscious, sort of'. That makes better sense, and I know it's not incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition, but it just looks wrong to me. Actually, it's the 'sort of' that's the problem, sloppy grammar, probably slang, and certainly indicative of wooly thinking on my part--I'll get rid of it and think again. New post coming up ...

feb. 14, 2020, 5:45am

You have a knack of regularly reminding me of stuff I've long meant to read but haven't ... you are fast becoming my literary conscience ...

feb. 14, 2020, 5:46am

Sorry, started rambling a bit there. It's my age ...

feb. 14, 2020, 6:52am

Happy to play Jiminy Cricket to whoever needs me!

feb. 24, 2020, 6:24am

I have been reading Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). I’ve just finished the first, ‘The Deluge at Norderney’.

I have to admit I'm quite at sea, here. I don't know what I've just read--parody, satire? Neither do I really know what she may be parodying or satirizing. I'm going to have to read it again and give it a lot of thought. I don't even know what she means by 'Gothic'; I suspect she may not mean my understanding of the word.

I forgot this thread existed, just moved this from 'So whatcha readin' now, kids?--vol. 3'. Stupid, as this thread is why I was reading the book in the first place.

Editat: feb. 24, 2020, 8:20am

>17 alaudacorax: I admit to skipping it, for the next two shorter options. I'll try to cram it in by tomorrow, since I give up screentime leading into Easter. Sundays are free days so i can maybe summarize my thoughts on one each week then. It'll be a great self-discipline exercise.

Did you like the story at all, or were you just confused by the glossed over gothic?

There's no reason not to report your reading over on the other thread also, whether you're finished or not. Tis the season for double negatives, I guess.

Editat: feb. 25, 2020, 10:45am

I found The Monkey thread in TWT (Weird) group and made some comments, not to enlighten anyone else, but to remind myself of certain elements that might be present in her other six stories (gothic or otherwise).

In reading the Margaret Atwood Guardian interview, these items rang true:

" Her outfits were striking and the makeup of the era had been carefully applied, but the effect was carnivalesque – like a dressed-up Mexican skeleton. Her expression, however, was bright-eyed and ironic: she seemed to be enjoying the show-stopping, if not grotesque, impression she was making. "

It reminded me of a recent photo shoot Margaret Atwood did, in the UK I believe, where she's dressed up in absurd hats and such, almost mirroring this statement about a woman she first glimpsed at age 10 in Life magazine.

Also striking a gothic tone; "The Supper at Elsinore", the De Coninck siblings are described as living memento mori: " … as you got, from the face of the brother, the key of understanding to this particular type of family beauty, you would recognise it at once in the appearance of the sisters, even in the two youthful portraits on the wall. The most striking characteristic in the three heads was the generic resemblance to the skull." This is not about sexual intimacy with a skeleton as someone in TWT tried to infer, but about the grotesque beauty of the bone, as though it was in the same vein as an elephant tusk or walrus for that matter. Without the musculature and skin hiding it, cloaking it, from view. Revealed, revered. Asexual beauty and comportment.

Photoshoot 1950, 1959 visit to NYC, 1962 death; " Her flamboyant self-presentation takes on, in retrospect, a new meaning: in her place, other doomed sufferers might have stayed in seclusion, concealing from the camera the wreckage of a once striking beauty, but instead Dinesen chose the full public spotlight. Was she incarnating one of her own dominant literary motifs – the brave but futile gesture in the face of almost certain death? It's tempting to think so. "

Curious conditions surrounding her pen name; " she would publish under a nom de plume, Isak Dinesen. "Dinesen" was her maiden name, "Isak" was the Danish version of Isaac (which means "laughter"), the name picked by the elderly Sarah in the Book of Genesis for her late and unexpected child. Blixen's American publisher tried to talk her out of using a pseudonym, but to no avail: she was determined to be multiple. (And, by the way, male, or at least genderless. Perhaps she did not wish to be thrust into the Lady Scribbler cage, suggestive of lesser merit.) "

Opportunity meets demise, from the ashes so to speak; " She had returned to Denmark in 1931, stony broke – her marriage was finished; her African coffee farm had failed; her romantic lover, big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton, had died in a plane crash. Although she had written much earlier – her first stories were published when she was barely 20 – she'd chosen marriage and Africa over writing; but that life was now finished. At 46, she must have been feeling both desolate and desperate; but also, evidently, boiling with creative energy. "

Editat: març 8, 2020, 5:27pm

Here are a few items from The Old Chevalier story; Paris, Russia, werewolves in a family history, an aged male or female face reflected from a mirror was in itself a gothic ruin, a skeleton reveals no age bracket, ballet allowed quaint quote about chef/omelette, Adam and Lilith, Adam and Eve, Woman versus women, the imprint of whalebone remains on the skin even after the stays are untied and removed, fashion was a cage meant to disguise, mention of books of fairy tales as refuge to a distressed child, monkey and organ grinder, 20 francs is an apt twist on 30 pieces of silver, Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, Shelley, Byron, unsettling laughter, mystery exists for men but women often know better, retracing steps in pattern or pathetic attempt to reclaim what's been lost, doing something is perceived as better than doing nothing, importance of 15yr span, therapeutic effect of voicing his tale aloud to a stranger, vivid detail and exaggerated emotions, name dropping got tedious with Leonardo and Don Giovanni again.

I enjoyed the 'frame' of a story within a story as told by a man looking back on a defining moment from his youth after an opera glimpse of a former lover. It brought on memories of another opera visit used as distraction during his healing process, which happened to be Orpheus. It reflected his own feelings and state of mind, which I would not have understood as well but for Robertson Davies read last autumn (Cornish trilogy book 3) called The Lyre of Orpheus. The definition of chivalry was another simplified idealistic memory from his youth but now serves as a suitable moral reflection by an aged man empathizing with Don Quixote, as all once thought themselves to be Romeo.

Consolation was a beautiful word, well chosen and well placed. I still trip over words like 'society' which once meant parties or 'to be in one's company', rather than a current social setting more political than aristocratic.


Here is a comment about the first of seven; " The most famous tale-spinner of all is Scheherazade, narrating to stave off death, and that is the very first storytelling situation Dinesen offers us. In "The Deluge at Norderney", a courageous group of aristocrats who have chosen to exchange places with a small peasant family waits out the night while a flood rises around them, telling stories to encourage one another and pass the time. Perhaps a boat will arrive at dawn to rescue them; perhaps they will be swept away first. " (from the same Atwood article)

* Don Quixote and Sancho Panza elevate the Cardinal and his secretary as myth, right down to the windmill
* Noah's flood in summertime 'swept sun-dried and salted' the land and beasts not just the wealthy visitors looking for fashionable activity
* the black dog incident made me think of Count Fosco from The Woman in White and summoned suspicion that he was not what he appeared to be
* decaying aristocracy bridged the distance between the North Sea and the Deep South
* marionettes were mentioned again in this story (purposely looking for duplicated props/themes), implied madness, poison, card playing (gambling?), virginity, bullfights, red (sky, Cardinal robes, matador cape), Faust, etc.
* ending irked me a bit more than I expected - wanted more than a wet skirt
* the kiss was grotesque on every level - madness reigns supreme!
* need to re-read again once other tales are done, to collect 'splinters'
* ?

feb. 25, 2020, 11:33am

There is the link, to avoid me cutting/pasting any more!

feb. 25, 2020, 2:04pm

Now that I discover the introduction to the original book in 1934 was written as part of the NYC publisher's insistence, rather than as a favour from one author to another, it taints the whole thing. =( It was written because the publishers wanted a popular known author endorsing a rising talent who was middle aged and unknown and off-shore. Putz.

feb. 29, 2020, 7:33am

>18 frahealee: - Did you like the story at all ... ?

Oddly enough, I did quite enjoy it ... while still being baffled by it. I felt a vein of humour running through that I wasn't fully grasping--if that makes sense. Been off on my wanders this last week and haven't got round to a second reading yet.

feb. 29, 2020, 7:50am

>22 frahealee:

That would explain, perhaps, why I felt there was something just a little 'off' about that introduction. There was just a little whiff of a student's essay--'Discuss Seven Gothic Tales (1500 words).' sort of thing. Never heard of Dorothy Canfield so no idea of her writing style, but I felt she was padding it a bit.

Editat: març 1, 2020, 6:30pm

>24 alaudacorax: Always engage head/heart/gut when reading, as you've proven countless times.

" Rejected by several publishers for the usual reasons – short stories didn't sell, the author was unknown, the stories themselves were odd and not attuned to the zeitgeist – the book was finally picked up by a smaller American publisher, Harrison Smith & Robert Haas. There were conditions: the well-known novelist Dorothy Canfield Fisher must write an introduction, and the author was to receive no advance. Blixen gambled and took the offer. Then she won – for, much to the surprise of all, Seven Gothic Tales was chosen by the Book-of-the-Month Club, which was a guarantee of wide publicity and large sales.

The stories in Seven Gothic Tales were written at speed and under pressure. They were also written in English: one reason usually given was that Blixen felt English would be more practical than Danish, since many more potential readers spoke it. But there were surely some deeper motives. She herself was fluent in English... "

This shows that her phrasing was not quaint but fully intentional, insofar as she had time to write and edit her own material!

Also, sexual interpretation often bugs me by some material I've read elsewhere. Her fixation with skeletons I can imagine emerges from skeletal remains of many animals in Africa visible on any landscape, not from some innate need to have sex with a skeleton. The clothing and flesh and muscle masks our true selves equally, and until it's all stripped away (at death) the humility cannot be complete. I also picture the main character in The Monkey as a sort of Dorian Gray, romping around in orgies with men and women, behaving badly, proud of his mischief and mayhem, not focused at all on male or female, just experience and vulgar inappropriate conquests. Until he's called out on it for corrupting others, and must practise restraint by cowing to his aunt with his tail between his legs in dutiful remorse. This to me is not homosexual in nature, but in a need to do the opposite of what's expected, in retaliation of class or propriety. He's a spoiled immature brat looking to make a fuss, and I love that his mouth is shut forever by the final events in the story. Unconventional manner but effective. We reap what's sown.

Editat: març 8, 2020, 7:58pm

I managed to get through Pisa today, but without time for comments, so follow up forthcoming...

Repeating elements; the Garden of Eden, Don Giovanni, Hamlet, Don Quixote, marionettes, ruby ring (red), the blood of the Lamb, etc.
Other elements; Homer's Odysseus, Bacchus, St. Sebastian, St. John the Baptist, duels, etc.

Editat: maig 5, 2020, 1:30pm

Note to self: Still working my way through this... Elsinore, Dreamers, Poet lined up asap.

Delays with my progress here were unavoidable, with no screens during Lent, overlap of college kid and highschool kid home full time, with another working in his laboratory environment as an 'essential service' plus my eldest busting his britches as a military paramedic. Fiction and fun has given way to heavy hitters like The City of God by St. Augustine, Confessions, Story of a Soul, etc. and countless litanies, rosaries, plenary/partial indulgences (70 to choose from), plus daily Mass online. Ebb and flow? More like tsunami. It was nice to read my dad's books for the first time since he died in 2012. Tough to open that big black locked trunk in the basement but it needed 'airing out' as we all do from time to time. My daughter with Down syndrome loved the effort, thereby transforming its deep nostalgia with her unfettered joy. It soon morphed into a treasure hunt, sifting through photos, books, sacramentals, etc. Time renders all delightful, I suppose. Even found opera (Enrico), Vatican art (Sistine Chapel), Shakespeare, etc. Who knew?! My sons were thrilled with souvenir miniature Yankees baseball bats from the 30s/40s. Something for everybody. (Rumour has it that Grandpa bootlegged during prohibition since he ran the local hotel and café and a dancehall. Proof has been elusive.)

Editat: juny 2, 2020, 11:50am

* heroic pursuit of another to save them from demise, selflessly, as a stranger, trusting intuition
* research Road to Emmaus... any overlap?
* loved the ending this time!

Repeating elements; water/shore, wisened older women, card games/gambling, sky flamed red, Adam/Lilith/Eve, original sin, salt and seaweed, skeleton, sacred relic bone, marionettes, be wary since uttered lies may become truths, bishop in disguise, insomnia, ice, red room, etc.
Other elements; harp/angels, Timon of Athens, hysterical weeping, Flying Dutchman, adoration of reflection, burning red kiss of the crown of Denmark (Hamlet reference?), Old Testament Rachel barren but resigned, sweet revenge, St. Mark, St. Anne, St. Martin, concealed angel wings, seduced angels, serpent, dwarf, Chinese ginger, tangerines, crystallized fruit, Odyssey, apple tree, shallow grave, Garden of Gethsemane, ghost, voyage, hangman, Havana, hell, swans, living beyond your means warning, locket, pug dog, Jamaica, priests offer absolution to those who refuse it anyway, God's 'no' is His infinite mercy, shutters block out and keep out, tiny lanterns are enough to light the night and offer guidance, noticeable and captivating, fidelity to each other and to servants, cannonshot, midnight, unrepentant vanity and superficiality brings its own damnation, can't eat cake and have it too, sin collapses the sinner in upon himself, etc.
* large remote empty ruinous estate family home, inherited
* cursed by bloodline, melancholy, bringing joy to others without feeling it inwardly, like Mother Theresa? Hers was detachment from the love of neighbour in serving Christ. Heroic saintly virtue.
* son, forehead, halo of sanctity, sacrifice, scandal, Morten 'mort' death?
* Fortuna ii with crew of 12, 4 guns, 33yrs after Queen Mary Calais
* you are meant to be poetry... a poem which is not lovely has no raison d'être (Lutheran Bishop)
* to them only possibilities were of interest; realities had no weight.
* Coffee, to the women of Denmark, is to the body what the word of the Lord is to the soul.
* got a real 'House of Usher' Poe vibe from this story
* wondering if this mirrors Babette's Feast somehow?

Repeating elements; silver, sails, the sea, red cap, crimson silk scarf, red hair, red wine of Shiraz, lanterns, suicide, Italian opera music, gambling/cards, older woman, gypsies, brothels, fountain, balcony, Mary Magdalene, contest of manliness, romance or fairytale or ghost story, blinding snowstorm, madness and paranoia and pent up violence, mistaken identity, ravine/abyss, etc.
Other elements; full moon 1863, dold, amber, incense, marble, twin brother and sister, lady's year of mourning, theological discussion, phosphorescent, singing larks in Rome in September, rebellions in France and Spain, wiped out aristocracy, the Holy Innocents, long stone stair in a tower, etc.
* tales of devils, poison, treachery, torture, darkness, lunacy
* 2 hands moving to enact a story, like 2 snakes coaxed from woven baskets by flute music
* a dream, within a story, within a story

Repeating elements; hunting in forests for sport, arranged marriages, repentance of an entire community, strong older woman with irrefutable influence, immortality through historical record, Garden of Eden, thick dark red hair, card games, peasants, Elsinore, Copenhagen, inns/taverns, Loki, jealousy, prudence, cat, Russia, Easter, Ciaphas, Mary Magdalene, red-haired Judas, 30 pieces of silver, doomed Jewish nation, absorb reality not directly but as a mirrored reflection according to what others saw, envy, Paris opera house, tigers, travel, love triangle, unrequited love, empty accusations, horses, King Lear, etc.
Other elements; royal lunacy, beheaded for infidelity, Goethe, writer of good versus bad poetry, side hobby, rolling fog across the lake, rainbows after a storm, femme fatale, nordic-noir? Opium versus hashish, May blossoms after strong rains, verdant rolling hills, stone bridges, ballet, the value of pleasure is in its rarity, etc.
* poet, philosopher, statesman, friend and advisor of princes, conqueror of women, etc.
* Anders and Fransine
* Count Augustus, Abalone, mother and child