Gothic Tale


Our Daily Correspondent

I don’t believe in evil, I believe only in horror. In nature there is no evil, only an abundance of horror: the plagues and the blights and the ants and the maggots. —Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

This is my second post about Karen Blixen this week, and you’d be forgiven, when you see that I’m about to share a Karen Blixen documentary, for thinking I’ve really fallen down a rabbit hole. You’d also be correct. I’ve long been an admirer of her work, and I find her personal history fascinating, but this film is something different entirely; I had to direct your attention to it. 

Dinesen won fame with her “Gothic Tales,” haunting fireside stories that often contained elements of the mystical and occult, perfect for long winter evenings. And to a degree, that explains some of the … highly literal choices of this documentarian.

But the film is about a young author’s relationship with the Nobel laureate, presented as something of a dramatic Chéri story. If you watch it through, I think you’ll agree that, quite inadvertently, it ends up being far more telling about the nature of celebrity, fame, posterity, fandom—and several kinds of narcissism.

Dinesen is long dead, and her delicate, austere storytelling can’t be affected by such tributes one way or another. One imagines, indeed, that perhaps she’d enjoy the evident effect of her calculated showmanship. (Well, perhaps not the bit where a reenactor communes with the moon.) It is a frightening and sad ghost story—but not in the literal way.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.