Babette’s Feast Summary

Karen Blixen

Babette’s Feast

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Babette’s Feast Summary

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“Babette’s Feast” is a short story by Danish author Karen Blixen, who also wrote under the names Isak Dinesen, Tania Blixen, Osceola, and Pierre Andrezel. Her best known work is Out of Africa​, the story of her life while she was living in Kenya. Several times during her career, Blixen was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. “Babette’s Feast” is a story from a collection titled Anecdotes of Destiny​, and tells the story of a French servant, Babette, who spends a sizable lottery prize preparing a gourmet meal. It takes place in a Norwegian village on December 15, 1883, a Sunday. The true focus of the story deals with relationships and the ways in which people choose to live their lives.

Jutland is a small village on the west coast of Norway. It is a solitary place. At the start of the story, the central characters are the elderly spinsters Phillipa and Martine. The two are the daughters of a Protestant priest who ruled from a strict puritanical perspective. He was admired by the people of the village but was feared as well. Since his death, his daughters have tried to uphold the selfless traditions he displayed and have tried to perform good works. Seemingly out of place in the unadorned existence the sisters espouse is the inclusion in their home of a French maid named Babette.

When Phillipa and Martine were young they were beautiful women whose only social activity was attending church. The village seems colorless and the people dress simply. One part of the story tells of an incident in which a soldier named Lorens who is from a noble background is taken with Martine in her youth. In another portion of the plot, Achille Papin, who is the director of the Paris Opera, hears Phillipa’s singing voice and believes he has found a new star. Neither of these men have a future with the women. For Lorens is it because he does not feel that he is worthy, and for Achille, it is because Phillipa’s father did not approve and his daughter followed his request.

Babette enters the sisters’ lives years later. She is a widow who has fled France. Achille is a friend of hers and he sends her to the sisters, remembering the goodness of Phillipa. Babette becomes a servant in the household and learns to take over the cooking. Babette accepts her role as a servant but also works to lower the household expenses on behalf of her employers. The plotline takes a turn when Babette wins the thousand francs in the lottery. As Martine and Phillipa fear that Babette will now leave them, Babette hatches a plan.

Knowing that the sisters are planning a party in commemoration of their father’s birthday, with the intent of keeping it simple and without food as is fitting with the simple Puritan lifestyle, Babette asks for permission to pay for and prepare an authentic French meal for the celebration. When they see how excited Babette is about what she is requesting, they cannot manage to turn her down. Things begin to get ridiculously out of hand as Babette travels to Paris to work on planning the meal and then returns with a collection of boxes presumably loaded with items pertaining to the meal. Local people begin helping to bring things in wheelbarrows from the beach to the kitchen. Martine realizes that one box contains a large tortoise and moves out of the kitchen. As the unexpected continues to happen, it seems that Babatte has taken on a role of control in the house rather than being a servant, and the kitchen has taken on a supernatural air.

Martine and Phillipa apologize to the people of the village, telling them that they feel guilty over the event that Babette is planning which they compare to a “Satanic Sabbath.” The people decide that together they will attend the meal but will not speak about what is being served. Meanwhile, Lorens reenters the story as a successful general from France. He is to attend the party with his aunt, who lived in the village when the pastor was alive and has been invited. As they approach the party, he wonders if in spite of the successes he has achieved he has missed discovering what the real purpose of his life is.

The celebration is strange to be sure, but the unexpected seems to take place. Opposites seem to become far less different than they had been. What had been strained relationships become more relaxed. Phillipa sings. Martine and Lorens exchange loving glances, and conflicts are resolved. The general speaks of mercy and truth as the pastor had once done. Babette, it turns out, had been a famous chef who had always wanted to find a creative outlet. She tells the sisters that the dinner has cost her all of the winnings and that she is now poor, and is one of the people of the village that now represents home to her. Phillipa can relate to Babette as they are both artists of a sort. She tells her that the angels will one day enjoy Babette’s food and Phillipa’s voice will be eternally heard.