Adding to a plethora of recent attention to Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) is The Power of Aries: Myth and Reality in Karen Blixen's Life. The book is written by a son of one of Dinesen's cousins who purports to offer insights into his relative's life by focusing on Dinesen's ability "to get her own way," a "Power" to which in the book's first chapter the author ascribes mythological significance. How readers are to view that Power is never explained. By capitalizing the word, does Westenholz imply divine intervention or is the force (F?) mortal metaphor?
Westenholz devotes himself to disputing Johannes Rosendahl's Karen Blixen. Westenholz writes, for example, that Rosendahl "puts great emphasis on the fact that her [Dinesen's] mother's family, the Westenholzes, were Unitarians and finds [End Page 755] many similarities between Karen Blixen's concept of God and the Unitarian creed. I shall . . . argue . . . that he has greatly misunderstood Karen Blixen's personality." Although Westenholz's view—that Dinesen's "attitude toward the divine powers was shaped as a direct antithesis to the moralistic Christian influence she was exposed to in her childhood and youth by her mother's family"—counters Rosendahl's, it is consistent with Judith Thurman's analysis of Dinesen's character as presented in her excellent biography, Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, also published in 1982.
In fact, Thurman's complex portrait of Dinesen says much of what Westenholz's does, but the former text seems far richer and more coherently organized. In The Power of Aries, seven chapters follow the introduction and are intended to extend Westenholz's discussion of Power in Chapter One. All affirm points made by Thurman. Chapter Two, "The Farm in Africa," quotes unpublished correspondence and catalogues extensive facts and figures. The relationship between these data and Westenholz's thesis about Power is loosely drawn. In Chapter Three, Westenholz presents an analogy: that Dinesen's world was a "puppet theater" and she "the puppet player." The analogy is better asserted than supported. Too, Westenholz warns against others, in particular, Johannes Rosendahl, "interpreting selected quotations from Karen Blixen's work as a valid expression of her attitude to life." Although the caution perhaps makes sense, Westenholz doesn't observe his own advice. In Chapter Four, "The Divine Powers," Westenholz discusses differences between Blixen's and her mother's family's views of the world. In Chapter Five he argues in contrast, he says, to "most of the authors who have written about the Baroness," that Dinesen was a snob. In Chapter Six, Westenholz uses Dinesen's fiction to show that "[t]he father image, one of the central forces in Karen Blixen's psyche, is . . . split in two: one, an idealized, bright and flawless conscious image and the other, demonic, dark, fatefully unconscious." In Chapter Seven, Westenholz states that "[t]he life that for Karen Blixen was the real life, the only one possible, was the life of a writer." Chapter Eight summarizes, stating that her correspondence and fiction display Dinesen's "mysterious strength and endurance."
Although The Power of Aries might interest devoted Dinesen readers, Thurman's biography is by far the better choice for those who seek to understand the mystery surrounding a complicated and fascinating life. [End Page 756]