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Perfect Bliss and Perfect Despair

Errol Trzebinski, 3 June 1982

Letters from Africa 1914-1931 
by Isak Dinesen, edited by Frans Lasson, translated by Anne Born.
Weidenfeld, 474 pp., £12.95, September 1981, 9780297780007
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... an alternative method of research. Fortunately for me, from 1931, when Karen Blixen’s (alias Isak Dinesen’s) lover died in a flying accident, everything that she wrote, both fact and fiction, included strands of their relationship. Her love for Denys Finch Hatton had been obsessive and was to be so enduring that she wove and interwove ...

The Old Feudalist

D.A.N. Jones, 3 July 1986

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass 
by Karen Blixen.
Penguin, 351 pp., £3.95, January 1986, 0 14 008533 5
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Out of Africa 
by Karen Blixen.
Century, 288 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 7126 1016 2
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Isak DinesenThe Life of Karen Blixen 
by Judith Thurman.
Penguin, 511 pp., £3.50, April 1986, 9780140096996
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... on the cover, and so have some other books by the Baroness, written under her pseudonym, Isak Dinesen. Here now is another reissue, from Century Hutchinson, hard-backed and elaborately illustrated, striving to connect the book with the film, to encourage sentimental nostalgia about British settlers in Kenya and to strengthen concern about the ...

Pine Trees and Vices

John Bayley, 9 April 1992

The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales 
edited by Chris Baldick.
Oxford, 533 pp., £16.95, March 1992, 0 19 214194 5
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... the mainstream of the method, however far they wander in terms of place and period or intention. Isak Dinesen’s ‘The Monkey’ (1934) and Eudora Welty’s ‘Clytie’ (1941) are good examples to be found here. But Henry James’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’ arguably starts from a Gothic setting, and even with the heroine donning her wrap to set ...

You are the we of me

Joyce Carol Oates: The Autobiography of Carson McCullers, 2 September 1999

Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers 
edited by Carlos Dews.
Wisconsin, 256 pp., £19.95, September 1999, 0 299 16440 3
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... a sickbed, for twenty years, wasn’t published until 1960.) McCullers admired the Gothic tales of Isak Dinesen, whom she eventually met, and the imperial, somewhat arch style of Dinesen seems to have been an influence on The Ballad of the Sad Café. This parable-novella is an acquired taste, defiantly risky and weird ...

She’s a tiger-cat!

Miranda Seymour: Birds’ claw omelettes with Vernon Lee, 22 January 2004

Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography 
by Vineta Colby.
Virginia, 387 pp., £32.50, May 2003, 0 8139 2158 9
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... stories have remained in print. Richly exotic and fanciful, they were admired by Italo Calvino and Isak Dinesen, among others. Calvino’s favourite was ‘Amour Dure’, the story of Medea da Carpi, a Renaissance woman whose beauty destroys those who aspire to love her. ‘A Wicked Voice’, loosely based on the life of the castrato Farinelli, reworks ...

She Who Can Do No Wrong

Jenny Turner, 6 August 1992

Curriculum Vitae 
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 213 pp., £14.95, July 1992, 0 09 469650 0
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... a furious and rigorous discipline in order to be ready to receive it. Hannah Arendt once said of Isak Dinesen that her tales read as if they had been boiled down until they were pure essence of story, and then boiled down again: and much the same could be said of Muriel Spark, albeit from a very different philosophical recipe. It is probably not ...

Unhappy Families

Angela Carter, 16 September 1982

The Beauties and Furies 
by Christina Stead.
Virago, 329 pp., £3.95, July 1982, 0 86068 175 0
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... grotesque short fictions, parables and allegories not dissimilar to the Seven Gothic Tales that Isak Dinesen published in the same year. The Salzburg Tales are contrived with a lush, jewelled exquisiteness of technique that recurs in The Beauties and Furies, which first appeared in 1936. At one point in that novel, Coromandel, the antique-dealer’s ...

In the Potato Patch

Jenny Turner: Penelope Fitzgerald, 19 December 2013

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 508 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 7011 8495 7
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... metaphysical fables’ – English, maybe, in the sense that Muriel Spark was Scottish and Isak Dinesen Danish, and that Marguerite Duras was French. Byatt does not make this point, but it’s worth noticing, surely, that this minor modern tradition often attracts women writers, maybe because its minority and smallness work well with limited ...

Yes You, Sweetheart

Terry Castle: A Garland for Colette, 16 March 2000

Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette 
by Judith Thurman.
Bloomsbury, 596 pp., £25, November 1999, 0 7475 4309 7
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... for scary, sensual, heavily made-up female geniuses. Her first book was a prize-winning life of Isak Dinesen, another fabled monster of maquillage. But she also has the sure sense of self required to meet them head on. Thurman must be considered, above all, the wiliest of Colette biographers: the most adept at playing Colette’s own game, which is all ...


David Bromwich: This was Orson Welles, 3 June 2004

Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life 
by Peter Conrad.
Faber, 384 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20978 5
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... know.’ So, a word may call up a theme Welles shared with a writer he cared for, Robert Graves or Isak Dinesen or T.H. White, yet the commentary never takes two breaths free of the words and images it has set spinning from a theme by Welles. This performance is an indoor spectacle, in no way compelling, since ideas are never allowed to develop beyond a ...

Travels with My Mom

Terry Castle: In Santa Fe, 16 August 2007

... she still spends an hour every morning ‘putting her face on’, with predictably fantastical, Isak Dinesen-like results. (She once had her eyelids tattooed to look like blue-black eyeliner.) She is still in love – in a distant way – with George Clooney, though playing with the Paint program on her computer (adapted for low vision) and writing the ...

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