Isak Dinesen aka Karen Blixen - Interview

It was, in a sense, typecasting, when a few years ago a film was planned that would have shown us Garbo playing the role of Isak Dinesen in a screen version of Out of Africa . . . for the writer is, like the actress, a Mysterious Creature of the North. Isak Dinesen is really the Danish Baroness Karen Christentze Blixen-Finecke and is the daughter of Wilhelm Dinesen, author of a classic nineteenth-century work, Boganis’ Jagtbreve (Letters from the Hunt). Baroness Blixen has published under different names in various countries: usually Isak Dinesen, but also Tania Blixen and Karen Blixen. Old friends call her Tanne, Tanya, and Tania. Then there is a delightful novel she preferred not to acknowledge for a while, though any reader with half an eye could guess the baroness hiding behind the second pseudonym, Pierre Andrézel. Literary circles have buzzed with legends about her: She is really a man, he is really a woman, “Isak Dinesen” is really a brother-and-sister collaboration, “Isak Dinesen” came to America in the 1870s, she is really a Parisienne, he lives at Elsinore, she stays mostly in London, she is a nun, he is very hospitable and receives young writers, she is difficult to see and lives a recluse, she writes in French; no, in English; no, in Danish; she is really—and so the buzzing never stopped.

In 1934 the house of Haas & Smith (later absorbed by Random House) brought out a book called Seven Gothic Tales which Mr. Haas had accepted on first reading. It became a best-seller. A favorite among writers and painters, the book was discussed from first appearance as of some permanence.

Outside the canon of modern literature, like an oriole outside a cage of moulting linnets, “Isak Dinesen” offers to her readers the unending satisfaction of the tale told: “And then what happened? . . . Well, then . . .” Her storyteller's, or ballad maker's, instinct, coupled with an individual style of well-ornamented clarity, led Hemingway, accepting the Nobel Prize, to protest it should have gone to Dinesen.


Rome, Early Summer, 1956. The first dialogue takes place in a sidewalk restaurant in the Piazza Navona, that long space, once flooded, where mock naval battles raged. The twilight is darkening the sky to an iris color; against it the obelisk that stands amidst Bernini's figures seems pale and weightless. At a café table sit Baroness Blixen, her secretary-traveling companion, Clara Svendsen, and the Interviewer. The Baroness is like a personage from one of her own tales. Slim, straight, chic, she is dressed in black, with long black gloves and a black Parisian hat that comes forward to shadow her remarkable eyes that are lighter in color at the top than at the bottom. Her face is slender and distinguished; around her mouth and eyes play the faint ghosts of smiles, changing constantly. Her voice is pleasing, being soft but with enough force and timbre for one to hear at once that this is a lady with opinions of both grave profundity and of most enchanting frivolity. Her companion, Miss Svendsen, is a fresh-faced young person with a charming smile.


Interview? Oh, dear . . . . Well, yes, I suppose so . . . but not a list of questions or a third degree, I hope. . . . . I was interviewed a short time ago . . . . Terrible . . . .


Yes, there was a man who came for a documentary film . . . . It was like a catechism lesson . . . .


Couldn't we just talk together as we've been doing, you could write down what you like?


Yes, then you could scratch out some things and scribble in others.


Yes. I ought not to undertake too much. I've been ill for over a year and in a nursing home. I really thought I should die. I planned to die, that is, I made preparations. I expected to.


The doctor in Copenhagen told me: “Tania Blixen is very clever, but the cleverest thing she's ever done is to survive these two operations.”


I even planned a last radio talk . . . . I have made a number of radio talks on all kinds of subjects, in Denmark . . . . They seem to enjoy me as a radio speaker there . . . . I planned a talk on how easy it was to die . . . . Not a morbid message, I don't mean that, but a message of, well, cheer . . . that it was a great and lovely experience to die. But I was too ill, you know, to get it done. Now, after being so long in the nursing home and so ill, I don't feel I do really belong to this life. I am hovering like a seagull. I feel that the world is happy and splendid and goes on but that I'm not part of it. I've come to Rome to try and get into the world again. Oh, look at the sky now!

More here.

Out of Africa - Trailer


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