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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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... of lovers, the question immediately arises as to whether there can be a biography at all. I had to find an alternative method of research. Fortunately for me, from 1931, when Karen Blixen’s (alias IsakDinesen’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 ...
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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... wrongly suppose it to be ‘based’. The memoir has been reissued by Penguin Books, with movie advertisements on the cover, and so have some other books by the Baroness, written under her pseudonym, IsakDinesen. 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 ...

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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... the leading writer of her generation. (Clock Without Hands, worked on intermittently, often in a sickbed, for twenty years, wasn’t published until 1960.) McCullers admired the Gothic tales of IsakDinesen, 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 ...
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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... kind of masterpiece. Baldick has been scrupulous in including only tales which remain, as it were, in the mainstream of the method, however far they wander in terms of place and period or intention. IsakDinesen’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 ...

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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... endeavour. Her more serious work remains, for good reason, neglected, but the best of the ghost stories have remained in print. Richly exotic and fanciful, they were admired by Italo Calvino and IsakDinesen, 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 ...

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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... as a very mannered writer indeed. The Salzburg Tales of 1934 is a massive collection of glittering, grotesque short fictions, parables and allegories not dissimilar to the Seven Gothic Tales that IsakDinesen 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 ...

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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... come. Fitzgerald’s novels, Byatt concludes, are best approached as ‘very English versions of European metaphysical fables’ – English, maybe, in the sense that Muriel Spark was Scottish and IsakDinesen 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 ...
6 August 1992
Curriculum Vitae 
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 213 pp., £14.95, July 1992, 0 09 469650 0
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... all serious religion, that inspiration comes only to people who are prepared to work their brains with a furious and rigorous discipline in order to be ready to receive it. Hannah Arendt once said of IsakDinesen 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 ...

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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... most recent in English being Herbert Lottman’s from 1991.) Thurman seems to have a thing, it is true, for scary, sensual, heavily made-up female geniuses. Her first book was a prize-winning life of IsakDinesen, 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 ...


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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... each paragraph and write beneath it: ‘I have forgotten more about Orson Welles than you will ever know.’ So, a word may call up a theme Welles shared with a writer he cared for, Robert Graves or IsakDinesen 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 ...

Travels with My Mom

Terry Castle: In Santa Fe

16 August 2007
... I have some questions I’d like to ask Him.) True: ravages of macular degeneration notwithstanding, she still spends an hour every morning ‘putting her face on’, with predictably fantastical, IsakDinesen-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 ...

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