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“Ehrengard,” Kierkegaard, and the Secret Note

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 85, Number 4, Winter 2013
pp. 489-523 | 10.1353/scd.2013.0029

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The novella “Ehrengard” from 1963 has commonly been regarded, and rightly so, as Karen Blixen’s (Isak Dinesen’s) answer to Søren Kierkegaard’s “Forførerens Dagbog” from Enten-Eller. Første Deel (1843) (1987; “The Seducer’s Diary” in Either/Or. Part I). Shortly after the publication, Robert Langbaum was the first scholar to point out the connections between “Ehrengard” and “Forførerens Dagbog” in his book The Gayety of Vision (1964). Since the publication of this work, at least twenty articles or separate book chapters discussing the novella in various ways have been published, for the most part focusing on the notion of gender, art, and seduction.1 A visit to the Royal Danish Library (December 2010), where seven different manuscript versions of the novella are to be found in the Karen Blixen archive, confirmed that even though “Ehrengard” has received renewed scholarly attention in the past ten years,2 important information crucial to our understanding of the novella has so far been overlooked. In this paper I will focus on the following in order to renew and enrich our understanding of this significant work by Blixen: (1) I will point out new meta-narrative connections to “The Seducer’s Diary” significant for the interpretation and understanding of the narrative, (2) I will show how deleted passages in the earlier drafts carry new information crucial for our understanding of J. W. Cazotte’s blush in the final scene, and (3) I will show how hidden homophonic puns add to the understanding of the novella as a comedy and connect it to Kierkegaard in new ways.


Already as early as the middle of the 1920s, Blixen expressed her interest in Kierkegaard in various letters from Africa. The most elaborate passage we find in a letter from August 3, 1924, to her brother Thomas Dinesen:

Læs forresten ogsaa Søren Kierkegaard, selv om Du maaske vil synes han er lidt indviklet (maaske ogsaa lidt gammeldags for Dig!) Vi har i hvert Fald “Enten-Eller” hjemme. Jeg tror ikke, at noget Menneske kan læse ham med Eftertanke uden at gribes af ham. Han var etærligt Menneske og led under det; maaske vil Du i hans “Opfattelse” af “Den Enkelte” finde noget af dig selv.

And by the way, read Søren Kierkegaard, too, even though you may find him a little complicated (he may be a little old-fashioned to you, too!); I know that we have “Either/Or” at home, anyway. I do not think that anyone can read him closely without being gripped by him. He was an honest person and suffered for it; you may perhaps see something of yourself in his concept of “The Individual.”

(Dinesen 1978, 225–6)

Later, in 1926–27, after a yearlong trip to Denmark in 1925 where she met Georg Brandes on two occasions in October (Bunch 2011, 77), and during a turbulent time in her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton, Karen Blixen started working on her writing with much more focus and ambition. She wrote the first draft of “Carnival” in Africa during these years. The tale is about a supper party in a house north of Copenhagen in 1925 after a great masked ball has taken place. At the supper party we find one of the female characters, Annelise, dressed as “the young Søren Kierkegaard,” and the plot of Kierkegaard’s “Forførerens Dagbog” plays a significant role in the tale. Here Annelise plays the role of the seducer, when she is trying to create a new version of the seduction plot in “Forførerens Dagbog” with her lover Tido.3 “Carnival” was eventually stored away and not published until 1975 in Clara Selborn’s Danish translation and two years later in the original English version (1977). Blixen, however, never gave up on her interest in Kierkegaard, and “Forførerens Dagbog” in particular, and in the early 1950s she decided to develop a full-length tale based on this work, drawing in part of some of the ideas from “Carnival.” The tale, or the novella as I will refer to it in this paper, was titled “Ehrengard.”

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