Many years ago, when I belonged to an online short story reading blog, we read ‘The Blank Page’ by Isak Dinesen. I enjoyed it a great deal and have wanted to read more of her work ever since. But for some reason, the Penguin Modern Classics editions of her stories are very expensive – £12.99 for a mere 244 pages. Finally, though, my patience paid off and I found a much cheaper new copy of Anecdotes of Destiny. And what a writer Karen Blixen is – just wonderful.
I will doubtless write more about her stories and her life at some point, but for now a brief extract from ‘Tempests’ in which a boat is saved from shipwreck by the courageous actions of an otherwise unobtrusive young girl who is part of a theatre troupe. This bit comes in the aftermath of the boat’s safe arrival in harbour:
A little later in the evening the other shipwrecked folk, who had been set safely ashore on the island, were brought in, and people had an opportunity of remaining in their festive mood. Herr Soerensen with lightning speed conceived his position. He no longer thought of his own sufferings, but beamed in the reflection of his young disciple’s glory, and by his authoritative and powerful attitude affirmed the fact that he had created her, that she was his. Apart from this nothing was really clear to him, and particularly not what was up and what was down in the world around him. In the course of the day he had become very hoarse; now he lost his voice altogether and spent the first few days after the shipwreck with a number of woollen scarves around his throat, in complete silence. In the town the rumour went that during the storm, at the thought of the danger to Mamzell Ross, his hair had turned white. The truth was that his chestnut wig had been borne away into the waves from the lifeboat. He bore the loss with fine, regal calm, conscious that in exchange for a temporal possession he had won an eternal experience, and also that he would have his loss replaced when his old carpetbag was brought ashore.
Soon also the other members of the theatrical company were landed, pale and semiconscious, but one and all proud and undaunted. In the boat Mamzell Ihlen let her long dark hair cover her like a cloak. The troupe’s fair-haired leading young man the day after the rescue wrote an Ode to the North Wind and had it accepted by the daily paper, the more weather-wise readers of which realized that a poet cannot be expected to have an insight both into versifying and the points of the compass.’
And I shouldn’t really, but here’s another bit, about what happens to Malli in the aftermath, the young girl who saved the boat:
Malli never in her life had been inside such a magnificent house. She gazed at the crystal chandeliers in the ceiling, the lace curtains, the gold-framed family portraits on the walls and the camphor-wood chests, and felt that she ought to curtsey to them all. And in this house, much was made of her; she was given coffee and buns in bed and violet-scented soap by her wash-basin.
She was still shy and did not have much to say. Of her great exploit she related no more than she had to bring out as answers to the questions of the others. But she was happy; she walked, smiling, amid smiles. She felt that the house, the day after her arrival, was surprised to see that she was pretty. She had entered it pale and dirty of face and in ugly clothes; in its enbrace she became, as she herself saw in the mirror, prettier day by day. Also at this fact, that it had thought her to be plain, while in reality she was a lovely girl, the old house smiled. So Malli, with the house’s own approval, went a small step further and looked around among the people who lived in it.’
Just a treat!