Seven Gothic Tales is Isak Dinesen’s first collection of short stories. Isak Dinesen was the pen-name of Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke. Although Dinesen was Danish, she wrote most of her fiction in English.

The collection was instantly popular when it was first published in 1934 in America. The edition shown here was published in England in the same year by Putnam, who had initially turned down the work. The frontispiece illustration by Rex Whistler features Gothic architecture and a dramatic, sublime landscape of mountains, a waterfall and castle.

Resembling the complex structure of One Thousand and One Nights, the seven tales contain further inset stories, all woven together by an anonymous narrator. All of the tales are set over 100 years ago in the 19th century and revolve around mysterious, bizarre or supernatural events that explore questions of philosophy and identity. Although writing of death and failed loved affairs, Dinesen’s lush, ornate prose also has moments of humour.

‘The Poet’ opens with the tantalising line, ‘Round the name of the little town of Hirschholm, in Denmark, there is much romance.’ The story unfolds, however, as a dark tale about fate. An elder town councillor, obsessed with poetry but unable to write, interferes in the life of a young poet and his lover. Believing that great poetry comes from tragedy, the councillor arranges to marry the very woman the young man loves. His actions lead the young lovers to murder him. In doing so, they seal their own fate as they are eventually executed for the crime.

Angela Carter acknowledged that she was influenced by Dinesen when she wrote The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979).