Perfect Bliss and Perfect Despair

Errol Trzebinski

  • Letters from Africa 1914-1931 by Isak Dinesen, edited by Frans Lasson, translated by Anne Born
    Weidenfeld, 474 pp, £12.95, September 1981, ISBN 0 297 78000 X

In 1972 I started work on a study of Denys Finch Hatton and his relationship with Karen Blixen. The biographer’s nightmare is the knowledge that an important collection of papers pertaining to his subject is being withheld from him during research. When his subject is the more elusive half of a pair 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 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 conversations they had had, experiences they had shared, as well as many of his personal characteristics, into her writing. The obvious course was to pursue the research from her storyteller’s viewpoint instead. When the letters were published and I was asked to write about them, the irony of the situation seemed to be in the best tradition of Isak Dinesen herself – Isak, in Hebrew, means ‘one who laughs’.

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