The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

VF Kaitlyn        Lili_Elbe_1926

What a time to read The Danish Girl. a novel about the first transsexual operations!  What good fortune for the producers of The Danish Girl movie starring last year’s Academy Award-winning actor! What a cosmic shift in the zeitgeist!

Published in 2000, The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff fictionalizes the real life story of Einar Wegener, a Danish man who is believed to be one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery in the 1930s. The movie, starring Eddie Redmayne, will be released November 27, 2015, only a few short months after Bruce Jenner’s own well-publicized transition into Caitlyn.


Einar Wegener, pre-operations

Einar Wegener, a landscape painter living in Copenhagen in the 1920s is known for his small, dark landscapes of the rural Jutland bogs. Somewhat to his surprise, he finds himself mwegenerarried to Greta, a vivid American artist who wears the orange oil of her native California as a perfume. They live together cozily in the top floor apartment of the Widow House adjacent to the Baltic Sea. Einar is content painting “the small rectangles lit by June’s angled light, or dimmed by the dull January sun” but not the incandescent person he becomes through the course of the novel.

Einar Wegener’s transformation begins so naively; Einar’s wife Greta has a portrait to finish but her subject, an opera diva at the Royal Danish Opera, hasn’t sufficient time to pose. Greta needs her husband’ help.

“It’s just that Anna has canceled again. So would you mind trying on her stockings?” Greta asked. “And her shoes?”

The April sun was behind Greta, filtering through the silk hanging limply in her hand. Through the window, Einar could see the tower of the Rundetarn, like an enormous brick chimney, and above it the Deutsche Aero-Lloyd puttering out on its daily return to Berlin.

“Greta?” Einar said. “What do you mean?” An oily bead of paint dropped from his brush to his book. Edvard IV began to bark, his white head turning from Einar to Greta and back.

“Anna’s canceled again,” Greta said. “She has an extra rehearsal of Carmen. I need a pair of legs to finish her portrait, or I’ll never get it done. And then I thought to myself, yours might do.”

Portrait of Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Portrait of Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Ebershoff’s novel captures the extraordinary story of Einar’s transformation into Lili Elbe, beginning with Einar’s secret glee serving as a model for his wife’s painting, to his adoption of his wife’s clothes outside her presence, to falling in love with a man and ultimately living as a woman with a longing to be one.  Einar’s story is not the only fascinating one here; Greta herself undergoes an equally compelling metamorphosis in the novel, transforming her rather pedestrian art into joyous explosions of color.  In real life, Gerda Wegener became a painter of beautiful, but fairly graphic, sexualized paintings.

In The Danish Girl though, it is Lili’s journey that consumes us. Seeking medical opinion after opinion, Greta and Lili are despairing and Lili nearly suicidal when they find a doctor willing to help. He offers to complete a series of devastatingly painful gender reassignment surgery.

Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Now, in the middle of the night, Lili didn’t want to disturb Carlisle’s sleep, but she could barely remain silent. The pain was returning, and she was gripping the sash of the blanket, shredding it in fear.  She concentrated on the bulb in the ceiling, biting her lip, but soon the pain had spread through her body, and she was screaming, begging for a morphia injection. She cried for ether. She whimpered for her pills laced with cocaine.

With an echo of the sentiment, Caitlyn Jenner confessed to Vanity Fair that “Pain is kind of, for me, part of the pain for being me.”

eddieThe Danish Girl is fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable and the perfect book for your book club to read now, before Eddie Redmayne’s version hits theaters.

UPDATE: The trailer for the movie has just been released and it looks like a true and beautiful version of the novel.  Here’s the trailer link:


There are lots of mentions of oranges, pickled fish. Einar (Lili) and Greta go to the South of France as well as Copenhagen, offering lots of options. My menu would be a “humorous” take on male/female foods, though, I think.

Sweet Cucumber & Peppers

7 cups sliced cucumber – don’t peel  just score with a fork and slice

1 cup green pepper sliced       cut slices in half again

1 cup sweet onion sliced      cut in half again

1 tablespoon celery seed

Vinegar Mixture

 2 cups white sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

 Stir well and bring this mixture to boil on stove.   When it comes to rolling boil,  take off burner and let cool,  then put in fridge and let get cold before you pour it over vegetables.   When cold, pour over vegetables and stir well and keep covered in frige.  Can eat right away  but better after couple of hours.     

Raw Oysters

Carrots with Hummus

Peach pie

Gingerbread men and women


I asked writer David Ebershoff what music he would recommend pairing with The Danish Girl for a book club night and he said he listened to Strauss’ Four Last Songs quite a bit while writing the novel. He also suggested Mozart’s “trouser” roles, those operas in which women sing the male character’s roles.  Le Nozze di Figaro, La Clemencia de Tito to name two.  See more information here:


No need to cast this one.

The Danish Girl opens in limited theatrical release on November 27, 2015 and opens nationwide this week. It has already been nominated for, and won, a number of prestigious awards, including: Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominates for Alicia Vikander, best supporting actress, Eddie Redmayne, Best Actor.

Happy Reading, Eating & Movie-Watching!


3 thoughts on “The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

  1. Pingback: My 2015 Favorite Reads | daeandwrite

  2. Pingback: At the Movies | daeandwrite

  3. Pingback: The Nominees on the Page | daeandwrite

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