ANECDOTES OF DESTINY

Anecdotes of Destiny was the last collection of tales to be published during Karen Blixen’s lifetime. It was published in Denmark on October 12 1958 and also came out that year in both Great Britain and the USA. As was the case with Last Tales from 1957, the majority of the Anecdotes of Destiny had been published previously. Only “Tempests” was a completely new tale. “Babette’s Feast” and “The Ring” appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1950; “The Immortal Story” in the same journal in 1953; “Babette’s Feast” was published as an independent book in 1952; “The Diver” was printed in the Danish literary magazine Vindrosen I in 1954.

ART AND LIFE

Apart from “The Ring”, which is thematically linked with Winter’s Tales, the other four Anecdotes of Destiny deal with the relationship between life and art in various constellations. What meaning does art have to its audience? What meaning does it have to the artist’s own life? Is there any correlation at all between life and art?

“Tempests” concerns the price to be paid for one’s art. The principal characters are Mr Soerensen, a theatre director touring Norway with Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Malli who plays the leading role of Ariel in the production. Malli makes the fateful mistake of confusing art with life and thereby becomes responsible for the death of a sailor during a storm at sea. When she realises this, she leaves her betrothed and love and returns to the world of the theatre. “Babette’s Feast” deals with the disparity between the tour de force of a sumptuous dinner and transports of delight created by Babette – once a celebrated chef in Paris, now a refugee in a small, deeply religious community in Norway – and her own profound loneliness. Babette, however, has her gratification: “to do her utmost”.

“The Diver” asks what it takes to be a creative person. It takes hope and longing and the courage to run a risk – “without hope one cannot dance”, “without hope you cannot fly”, without hope there is no story. In contrast to this viewpoint, the steady old cowfish maintains that happiness is achieved through the equilibrium obtained by giving up the idea of hope and risk. Thus the fish can say of herself: “We have no hands, so cannot construct anything at all, and are never tempted by vain ambition to alter anything whatever in the universe of the Lord.”

In “The Immortal Story” a wealthy Englishman, Mr. Clay, has been told a story that he decides to stage in real life. It is an old, “immortal” yarn about a wealthy old man with a young wife; he wants to perpetuate his family line and therefore pays a young sailor to make his wife pregnant. Mr. Clay has not, however, foreseen that the meeting he engineers between two young people will result in them falling in love. The story thus has a completely different – and, for Mr. Clay, fateful – conclusion. The rationalist Mr. Clay will have nothing to do with stories, with fiction. He can only accept reality. Therefore he attempts to wipe out the story by making it happen in reality. But by so doing he merely creates a new story – the one Karen Blixen tells.

Karen Blixen left out four tales that had originally been planned for inclusion in Anecdotes of Destiny because she thought they were not as good or not finished to her satisfaction. These were:

“The Ghost Horses”, which was printed in the American magazine Ladies’ Home Journal in 1951 and published in Denmark in 1955.

“Klokkerne” (“The Bells”, not translated into English), printed in the periodical Arbejderens Almanak, 1952.

“Uncle Seneca”, printed in The Saturday Evening Post, New York, 1949.

“The Fat Man”, printed in the weekly magazine Hjemmet, 1953.

“Ehrengard”, printed in a shorter version as “The Secret of Rosenbad” in Ladies´ Home Journal, December 1962, a few months after Karen Blixen’s death.

“Ehrengard” was published in Danish as an independent book in 1963, whereas “Uncle Seneca” and “The Fat Man” were not published until 1975, in the Danish collection Efterladte Fortællinger (Posthumous Tales), which was published in English in a slightly different compilation as Carnival: Entertainments and Posthumous Tales (1977). “The Bells” has never been included in any collection.

TITLES OF THE ANECDOTES OF DESTINY:

  • The Diver
  •  Babette’s Feast
  •  Tempests
  •  The Immortal Story
  •  The Ring