Isak Dinesen, the Danish writer who Ernest Hemingway always said should have won the Nobel prize for literature instead of him, was a difficult woman: needy, imperious, manipulative (of men and of the truth) and a fearful snob. ‘It was worth having syphilis,’ she wrote from her farm in Kenya shortly after her husband, Baron Bror Blixen, left her, ‘to become a baroness.’ But among the writer’s more admirable qualities were a talent for telling stories and a gift for creating mythical heroes.
Few of her heroes embody the spirit of freedom and gentility quite so well as Denys Finch Hatton, the narrator’s close friend in Out of Africa, Blixen’s poetic memoir of life on her African farm. Although she never explicitly mentions that they were lovers, their spiritual union lies at the core of the work.
Finch Hatton is handsome, athletic, a fine sportsman. He is a connoisseur of fine music, wine and art. He teaches Greek and Latin to the narrator, and helps her appreciate literature by reading her the Bible. He gives her a gramophone, which adds ‘new life on the farm’. And he