Chris's Reviews > Winter's Tales

Winter's Tales by Isak Dinesen
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Sep 05, 11

bookshelves: lit-fiction-scandivian, short-stories, denmark, blixen, magic-realism
Read from September 03 to 04, 2011, read count: why count?

I went to Denmark, pretty much, to see Karen Blixen's home. It is a beautiful place; the land around the house, including Blixen's grave, has been made into a bird santucary. The house is near the water, and at least when I went there, the walk from the train station included passing what looked to be a Nor. Fjord breeding farm. There was even a resturant with Blixen inspired art work (pricey but very nice) and excellent food.

It seems strange that when reading Blixen's non-fiction what comes across is her love for her farm in Africa, yet reading her fiction what comes across is her love for Denmark and its history. This dual love is actually reflected in her house, with its Africa interior yet its Danish exterior.

In many ways, too, the stories in this volume remind me of that house. Take for instance, "Sorrow Acre", the story that I always like the most in this volume ("The Cloak" is her best story, at least to me). The story tells of a mother's desperate attempt to save her son, yet juxaposes this with a relationship between the old lord, his wife, and his nephew, Adam. The story not only calls to mind the Danish landscape, but also Danish history for Adam had been away on a mission involving the punishment of Queen Caroline Mathlide. The Queen, wife of the insane Christian VII, had an affair with her husband's physican Johann Friedrich Struensee, some time after she gave birth to the heir. The two lovers ruled for a brief period (she has queen, he as prime minster) during which Caroline gave birth to a daughter. They lost power to Christian VII's step-mother. Struensee was execuated, and Caroline was imprisoned in Helsingor (Elisnore) castle, in what is best described as a cell before she was sent into exile in Hanover. She never saw either of her children after her imprisonment. This whole story hangs over Blixen's story and its theme of youth versus age, for the Queen and her lover were more popular than the step-mother, at least with the common people.

What also flows though these stories is the theme of the influence of art and sailoring. There are stories that resemble fairy tales, a Charles Dickens wanders though two of the stories. But there is also a sense of loss, especially in the two stories that deal with children, in particular "The Dreaming Child" and its question of who extactly is dreaming - the child, the wife or the reader? Blixen suffered a miscarriage at one point during her time on her farm (the child was Denys Finch-Hatton's). A reader has to wonder if these stories, written years after her experience expressed in some way her desire for a child. (Is the power of the wives and the weakness of the hubands a comment on her marriage?)

Perhaps it is this question that makes Blixen one of the more honest writers. At times her stories don't seem to be going anywhere, then suddenly, like much in life, something happens, a small event becomes large, something changes and the meaning becomes clear. The stories are small studies in art, the soul, the craft, and love.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Kelly Perhaps it is this question that makes Blixen one of the more honest writers. At times her stories don't seem to be going anywhere, then suddenly, like much in life, something happens, a small event becomes large, something changes and the meaning becomes clear. The stories are small studies in art, the soul, the craft, and love.

So far I don't love this collection the way that I loved Seven Gothic Tales but I think that this observation remains true, particularly the part about her being very honest. She puts so much craft into her stories- allusion, description, backstory, weaving it into history, as you mentioned. But there's something so straightforward about this collection, nonetheless. I think you nailed that.


Chris I actually think Ancedotes of Destiny is the best collection. But having come back to this after reading her letters, I think there is more here than I thought the first couple times I read it.


Kelly Oh, I'm so disappointed- I took Anecdotes of Destiny out from the library and had to return it because I didn't have the time. Damn! I'll make sure I try that one again.

I'll bet her letters are fascinating.


message 4: by Kelly (last edited Sep 05, 2011 07:01AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kelly Ooh I will. The plot/themes remind me of the Supper at Elsinore story from Gothic Tales. I'm putting together a to-read-in-cold-rainy-London list. Seems perfect for that! (I will also be taking Mrs. Dalloway with me for later. :))


Kelly Yeah... I definitely feel like some of my food money will not be going to food, but instead awesome books. It shall be the first Totally Worth It diet. :)

Er, sorry, didn't mean to hijack your thread, Chris.

Blixen/Dinesen, yay! I still haven't read Out of Africa, so the only side I've seen of her is her historical/mystical/Danish side. I feel like I'm missing something huge.


Chris Books and London is an acceptable hijack.

You need to read Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass.


Chris yes


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