Sunday, March 5, 2017

Women's History Month Books: Isak Dinesen's Winter's Tales from 1942

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Dinesen, Isak, Winter’s Tales (Random House, “Wartime Book”, 1942; reprint by World Publishing Co for Tower Books editions, #T-407). Renowned collection of eleven stories by the author of Out of Africa (1885-1962). So highly regarded was Dinesen that when he won the Nobel Prize, Ernest Hemingway protested it should have gone to her.

Everything about Dinesen’s life was an adventure, and so there had to be a story about Winter’s Tales when she was interviewed by The Paris Review in 1956:

INTERVIEWER
And what about Winter’s Tales? That came out in the midst of the war—how did you get the book to America?

DINESEN

I went to Stockholm—not in itself an easy thing to accomplish—and what was even more difficult took the manuscript with me. I went to the American embassy and asked them if they didn’t have planes going to the United States every day, and if they couldn’t take the manuscript, but they said they only carried strictly political or diplomatic papers, so I went to the British embassy and asked them, and they asked could I supply references in England, and I could (I had many friends in the cabinet, among them Anthony Eden), so they cabled to check this, then said yes they could, which started the manuscript on its way to America.

INTERVIEWER

I’m ashamed of the American embassy. They surely could have taken it.

DINESEN

Oh, don’t be too hard on them. I owe a lot to my American public. Anyway, with the manuscript I sent a letter to my American publishers just telling them that everything was in their hands, and that I couldn’t communicate with them at all, and I never knew anything of how Winter’s Tales was received until after the war ended, when suddenly I received dozens of charming letters from American soldiers and sailors all over the world: The book had been put into Armed Forces Editions—little paper books to fit a soldier’s pocket. I was very touched. They sent me two copies of it; I gave one to the King of Denmark and he was pleased to see that, after all, some voice had spoken from his silent country during that dark time.

INTERVIEWER

And you were saying about your American public?

DINESEN
Yes, I shall never forget that they took me in at once. When I came back from Africa in 1931, after living there since 1914, I had lost all the money I had when I married because the coffee plantation didn’t pay, you know; I asked my brother to finance me for two years while I prepared Seven Gothic Tales, and I told him that at the end of two years I’d be on my own. When the manuscript was ready, I went to England, and one day at luncheon there was the publisher Huntington, and I said, “Please, I have a manuscript and I wish you’d look at it.” He said, “What is it?” and when I replied, “A book of short stories,” he threw up his hands and cried, “No!” and I begged, “Won’t you even look at it?” and he said, “A book of short stories by an unknown writer? No hope!” Then I sent it to America, and it was taken right away by Robert Haas, who published it, and the general public took it and liked it, and they have always been faithful. No, thank you, no more coffee. I’ll have a cigarette.

INTERVIEWER

Publishers everywhere are boneheaded. It’s the traditional lament of the author.

DINESEN

The amusing thing is that after the book was published in America, Huntington wrote to Robert Haas praising it and begging for the address of the author, saying he must have the book for England. He had met me as Baroness Blixen, while Mr. Haas and I had never seen one another. Huntington never connected me with Isak Dinesen. Later he did publish the book in England.

INTERVIEWER

That’s delightful; it’s like something from one of the tales.

DINESEN

How lovely to sit here in the open, but we must be going, I think. Shall we continue our discussion on Sunday? I should like to see the Etruscan things at the Villa Giulia: We might chat a little then. Oh, look at the moon!

Previous owner’s surname entered on front paste-down. Hardcover, no dust jacket. Very good condition. Some small chips at margins of the surrealist dust jacket by George Salter.
HBB price: $35.

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