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The Real Motive Behind Babette’s Feast

In the well-loved art film Babette’s Feast, the central character spends her entire lottery winnings to make one spectacular meal for her guests. It is portrayed as an act of marvelous generosity by a poor person who loves to cook and loves to give.

But Alan Jacobs points out the surprising fact that Isak Dinesen’s book rejects munificence as a motive. When her sated sisters thank her for giving up the chance the escape poverty for their sake, Babette is withering in response:

Babette gave her mistress a deep glance, a strange glance. Was there not pity, even scorn, at the bottom of it?

“For your sake?” she replied. “No. For my own.”

She rose from the chopping block and stood up before the two sisters.

“I am a great artist!” she said.