Study Guide

The Danish Girl Setting

By David Ebershoff

Setting

Copenhagen, Paris, and Dresden 1925-1931

Widow's Peak

Noisy neighbors rarely add any sort of thematic significance to your life—their loud music and snoring through the walls are annoying, not interesting—but Einar and Greta, who live in a place called The Widow House have an interesting neighbor living below them: an angry sailor who yells at his girlfriend and then tells her he loves her. Here's one classy example of his bizarre behavior:

"You're a whore," the sailor below called tenderly. "You're one hell of a beautiful whore." (1.66)

Aw, isn't that sweet? Thing is, sometimes the sailor seems to be saying what our characters are thinking but wouldn't dare say out loud. "Don't lie to me!" he yells at one point. "I can tell when you're lying to me" (6.18). This happens when Lili is considering lying to Greta—maybe because of the sailor's shouts, she doesn't.

The women return to the Widow House after Lili's surgery, and this is when the name of the place becomes significant. When Lili leaves to have her final surgery, Greta sees her room as "a room where no one lived anymore" (22.1)—kind of like Einar himself. Einar has left the building. It's here where Greta mourns: "Once again Greta Waud was a widow" (22.73). Another of Greta's husband bites the dust.

Brühlsche Terrace

Another significant place is the Brühlsche Terrace, known as "the balcony of Europe" (21.26). It is here where Lili watches the Elbe River and formulates her new last name. Good thing she isn't watching the Chattahoochee, right? Lili Chattahoochee doesn't have the same ring to it… No, we take that back. That's actually an awesome name.

The Terrace is "Where [Lili] convinced herself she would never again look back" (21.116). From one angle, this is totally inspiring—however, looked at in a different way, it's also a little sad. A balcony is a place from which you can see everything but aren't quite part of it. It's a place of observation more than participation, which is exactly what happens to Lili: She sees her future ahead of herself, but she never quite reaches it.