Danish writer Karen Blixen, most famously known for Out of Africa, took the pen name Isak Dinesen. The choice of Isak “he who laughs” belies Dinesen’s belief that “the comic is the true art of the gods.” This photo of her as Pierrot, one of the characters of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, attests to her creativity in transforming herself, in assuming a mask or artistic pose. Note the insouciant addition of the long black feather. Dinesen often played the part of Pierrot in her own dramas and as a young student at Copenhagen’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts dressed as Pierrot at a ball.
“She is a dark, long-haired beauty who, chameleonlike, attracts men by playing to their fantasies of perfect love. She wears long feathers and fine silk wools, or shifts mixed to the simplicity of the linen hood worn by Italian women. Traces of a fire are left in a long, vertical scar along her neck. Once admired as an opera star, she abandoned the stage after this fire. There is one unusual feature to her: wherever she walks, she has no shadow. Men in faraway places remember her: once a man meets her, he can dream of no one else.” Isak Dinesan, description of Pellegrina in “The Dreamers,” Seven Gothic Tales.
According to one of her biographers, Dinesen identified more strongly with Pellegrina than any of her other characters–“She became a great role player. She adopted a shifting aesthetic pose as one way to control and dominate painful experiences.” “Your own mask,” Dinesen wrote, “would give you at least that release from self toward which all religions strive.”