When Karen Blixen was forty-six she came out of Africa back to Denmark. Her coffee plantation in Kenya had gone broke; though it was auctioned off to pay the accumulated debts, the stockholders lost more than £150,000. Her unfaithful husband, whom she had forgiven for giving her syphilis, had insisted on a divorce, which she had agreed to with reluctance. All her hopes of pregnancy had been dashed, and she had quarreled with her lover, who was killed in a plane crash days later. She had attempted suicide at least once during this turbulent time. She was so thin and frail that her friends had suggested that she go to a clinic in Montreux; there she found out that her syphilis, which had been supposed cured, had become syphilis of the spine, tabes dorsalis. The course of the disease was well known; locomotor ataxia meant she would never again walk properly, anorexia meant that food would nauseate her, she would develop per. forating stomach ulcers, and her face would soon take on a deadly pallor and be covered with a grid of tight wrinkles. Her greatest bereavement was the loss of Africa, which left her with a physical longing for the light, the sky and the bush that never faded. Crates of treasured possessions followed her to Denmark, but she did not open them for thirteen years.
Baroness Blixen's way of dealing with her intense physical and mental pain at this crisis time, a climacteric in every sense of the word, was to be reborn as Isak Dinesen. Isaac was the post-menopausal child of Abraham and Sarah, who said when he was born, "God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me." Dinesen was Blixen's maiden name. She herself called this time her fourth age, saying she began to write "in great uncertainty about the whole undertaking, but, nevertheless, in the hands of both a powerful and happy spirit."
In 1934 this new forty-eight-year-old writer produced Seven Gothic Tales. In the first of the tales, "The Deluge at Norderney," a group of travelers, menaced