Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

L'Heure Bleue

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

L'Heure Bleue

Article excerpt

Isak Dinesen and the Ascendant Imagination

Ein blauer Augenblick ist nur mehr Seele. [A blue moment is purely and simply soul]

"Sebastian im Traum: Kindheit" Georg Trakl

IN SEVERAL OF THE stories in Winter's Tales, Isak Dinesen makes painterly use of the imaginative breadth of blue.(1) The color functions on two levels: a number of her characters are ultimately enveloped in the blue other-world she constructs early in the collection; and at the same time, her colorific language, calling to mind Kandinsky's assertion that the eye is "absorbed" into a circle of blue, draws the reader into her imagined landscape. Recognizing blue's power to express longing, the emotional state that pervades the collection, Dinesen deftly merges the sensual and the spiritual in her chromatic and often oneiric imagery.

Though she became a writer, Dinesen writes like a painter relying heavily on the image, whether iconic or symbolic, to express sensations or emotions.(2) Describing the influence of painting on her writing, she has noted:

   Kunsten har i alle sine Skikkelser betydet uendelig meget for mig. Og jeg
   tror, at Malerkunsten paa mit eget Sind har virket mest direkte
   inspirerende.... den har bestandig for mig aabenbaret den virkelige Verdens
   sande Vosen" (Lasson 26)

   [Art has in all its forms meant so much for me. I also believe that
   painting has most directly influenced my own mind ... it has constantly
   revealed to me the true essence of the real world].

Thus, the image frequently supercedes the event in her writing. Her characters are not described making passionate love, for instance, but are placed in a blue scene that conveys ecstasy in its chromatic language. In an interview with Jorgen Sandvad while she was writing Winter's Tales, Dinesen commented on her own colorist sensitivity: "Da jeg i Paris saa Degas' Billeder, syntes jeg, at de viste mig, hvor dejligt, hvor rigt og levende sort er -- det er jo ogsaa en Forkyndelse, en Aabenbaring af en Side af Liver" (22) [When I saw Degas's paintings in Paris, I thought that they showed me how wonderful, how rich and lively black is -- it is certainly also a proclamation, a revelation of one side of life].

In his provocative study, On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, William Gass discusses the pictorial and linguistic uses of the color and comments that "blue, the word and the condition, the color and the act, contrive to contain one another, as if the bottle of the genii were its belly, the lamp's breath the smoke of the wraith" (11). In blue, color and emotion easily exchange places as subject and object. Because blue, along with green, possesses "the greatest emotional range;' Gass contends that it is "therefore most suitable as the color of interior life" (75-6). His words call to mind the observation of the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard who, in L'Air et les Songes: Essai sur l'imagination du mouvement (1943), wrote: "Le mot bleu designe, mais il ne montre pas" (187) ["The word blue designates, but it does not render" (162)].

Dinesen's reliance on the seductive force of blue in her pictorial imagery reflects both a cultural and a personal predeliction. As a young woman, she admired Georg Brandes's writings and even at the age of nineteen sent the literary giant flowers when he was in the hospital. She was surely familiar with Brandes's apostrophe in Hovedstromninger to "Laengselen, den blaa Blomst" [Longing, that blue flower], which is based on Novalis's image of die blaue Blume in Heinrich von Ofterdingen.(3) Hans Holmberg claims that "Den bla fargen, vintersagornas farg har symboliska overtoner hos Karen Blixen. Dess symboliska karaktar ar av allt att doma bestamd av Georg Brandes' analys av `Den blaa Blomst'" (82) [The blue color, Winter's Tales's color, has symbolic overtones for Karen Blixen. This symbolic character is apparently determined by Georg Brandes's analysis of "The Blue Flower"]. …

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