Karen Blixen did not consider The Angelic Avengers to be part of her serious writing. It was published under the pseudonym Pierre Andrézel on September 2 1944, during the German occupation of Denmark in the Second World War. It was published in Great Britain in 1946 and in the USA in 1947. Despite the pseudonym, it was obvious to many people in Denmark that Karen Blixen was the author. It was on the list of her usual publisher, Gyldendal, and Clara Svendsen, who later became her secretary, was credited as the translator. But even though the press tried to make her acknowledge authorship of the book, she denied it – presumably because the novel could be read as an allegory of the relationship between the Danish people and the German occupying power. It was not until 1956, in an interview in Paris Review, that she publicly acknowledged the novel as her “illegitimate child”.

An Entertainment

One of the reasons Karen Blixen wrote this light novel was to earn some money. She was in straitened financial circumstances, as her foreign earnings were not sent to Denmark during the war. But she expresses another reason through one of the characters in the book, who says:
“You serious people must not be too hard on human beings for what they choose to amuse themselves with when they are shut up as in a prison, and are not even allowed to say that they are prisoners. If I do not soon get a little bit of fun, I shall die.”
The Angelic Avengers was actually the most Gothic of all Karen Blixen’s works and it has also been suggested (by Robert Langbaum) that parts of it could be a parody of Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic novel Jane Eyre. Even though “Pierre Andrézel’s” novel is lighter fare than Karen Blixen’s tales and uses all the effects of melodrama – albeit with a certain subtlety – it is still obvious that the book is the work of a major writer. Moreover, a number of themes are recognisable from the rest of the oeuvre, even though here they are played on different instruments. This is true of, for example, the oppression of women, double standards in religious environments, the desire for revenge and lust for power disguised as righteousness.

A novel about two innocent, young girls

The novel is set in England and France during the 1840s. Two young, innocent girls are, for different reasons, left homeless, but an elderly Scottish cleric and his wife invite them to live on their estate in France, apparently with the philanthropic intention of giving them an education. But the girls discover that, under cover of piety and idealism, the clergyman and his wife lure young girls into their snare and sell them to the white slave trade. The Reverend gentleman plans to use the two girls to throw the police off his scent. When he finds out that they know what is going on, he tries, unsuccessfully, to kill them. One of the girls wants revenge, the other would prefer to reciprocate the evil with mercy and compassion. As is general practice when writing about thrillers, the ending will not be given away here…