As Dinesen’s life was complex, so is her work, with critics shifting from “admiration of her form to outrage at her portrayal of Africans” (Wolfson n. pag.). She began writing as a child; produced a body of work that includes novels, a memoir, short stories, and essays; and was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize (Donelson n. pag.). Accepting the prize for fiction in 1954, Ernest Hemingway protested “that it should have gone to Dinesen,” a sentiment shared by many major literary figures of the day (Walter n. pag.). She created a double textual system “unprecedented in even in Conrad or Nabokov” in which she “wrote virtually every fiction twice—first in English, then in her native Danish—to be published in different countries, often simultaneously” under different pen names and often modifying her tales substantially in translation (Aiken 2; Brantly 2). According to Susan Brantly in Understanding Isak Dinesen, the author is said to have memorized her tales verbatim for oral performance and also to have reworked her stories as many as fifty times, creating what became a complex web of allusions to world literature and art that unified her “entire oeuvre” (Brantly 2-4). Dinesen has been compared to modernist writers because of her use of symbols and her “search for aesthetic order,” yet she deplored self-conscious experiments with narrative disorder that sought to break tradition with the past (Brantly 4-5). Postmodern theory has provided important keys to understanding Dinesen’s art, especially her evasion of narrative authority and sense of play (Brantly 5-6). Susan Aiken argues that the author’s “radical discursive practices” presaged poststructuralist and feminist literary theories, and she calls for a revision in the standard reading of Dinesen as an apologist for Empire, patriarchy, racism, and aristocracy (7). Yet some postcolonial critics continue to see Dinesen, like Conrad, as “a writer in a white racist tradition who perpetuates a demeaning portrait of Africans” (Wolfson n. pag.). The “puzzles, labyrinths, three-dimensional spaces, and multilayered texts” of Dinesen’s tales parallel the puzzling paradoxes of the author’s life, and despite contemporary American readers’ lack of familiarity with her work, internationally she “will continue to hold a much debated yet firmly established seat at the table” (Brantly 1; Wolfson n. pag.). While poststructuralist feminist theory can be useful in illuminating Dinesen’s career, archetypical or Jungian theory proves valuable in analyzing “Babette’s Feast.”
Aiken, Susan. Isak Dinesen and the Engineering of Narrative. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990. Print.
Brantly, Susan C. Understanding Isak Dinesen. Columbia: U of SC Press, 2002. Print.
Donelson, Linda G. “The Story of her Life.” Karen Blixen-Isak Dinesen Information Site. Coulsong, 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <http://www.karenblixen.com/#Story>
Wolfson, Leah. “Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen.” Emory Department of English. Emory University, 1998. Web. <http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Blixen.html>