The Guillotine: Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last No 14: KARE N BLIXEN

Article excerpt

It's a droll paradox of political correctness that, even in a column of this kind, which ventures to speculate on the gradual disappearance from our culture of artists once considered significant, one instinctively feels the need to balance the mix by including as many women as possible. Interestingly, it's not all that easy to find them. It may be that, because women striving to attain the loftiest levels of artistic achievement continue to meet with resistance in what's still a mostly male preserve, the process of natural selection occurs as much during as after their lifetimes, with the result that those who do succeed in mapping out a space for themselves can already be said to have passed the ultimate test of survival.

Consider the case of Karen Blixen (or Isak Dinesen, the masculine nom de plume under which she wrote her early books). Blixen, no question about it, was a marvellous writer, the kind one devours in one's youth when one is, as it were, positively randy for literature. It helped, too, that she possessed an extraordinary physical presence - a few famous photographs have captured her as a death's head in a cloche hat. At a first (and even second) consideration, it may strike the reader as outrageous that someone so flagrantly gifted, a classic if ever there was, should be a candidate for the Guillotine. …