Thursday, July 15, 2010

Uppity Women #13

Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen)
photographer unknown

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills..."

Karen 'Tania' Blixen, author of Out of Africa and Babette's Feast, was born in Rungsted, Zealand, Denmark in 1885. After studying art in Copenhagen, Paris and Rome, she took up writing and wrote under the pen name Osceola prior to moving to Kenya and marrying her second cousin Bror Blixen, following a failed affair with his twin brother Hans. The marriage was  a costly escape. Bror Blixen was continually in debt and he largely bankrupted them over time, though it fueled a spirit of adventure and courage in Karen Blixen, who kicked him out for his philandering (he gave her syphilis) and ran their coffee plantation for a number of years. She then proceeded to have a rather public relationship with game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, long before she was divorced. When the coffee plantation failed during the Great Depression, around the same time that her relationship with Finch-Hatton ended and he was killed in a plane crash, she returned to Denmark and reinvented herself with the pen name Isak Dinesen. 

Karen Blixen writes of a character she dubs 'Felicity' in Out of Africa. Beryl Markham, upon whom Felicity was based, was a sometime friend, also involved with Finch-Hatton and aviatrix, who may or may not have penned West Into The Night, a memoir of her flying exploits. Irrespective of Markham's single lovely book, Blixen/Dinesen's shimmering and precise writing flows even in English translation in at least sixteen books. Hemingway, Capote and Pearl Buck were great admirers of her work. Prior to the success of film adaptations of Babette's Feast and Out of Africa, she was best known for Seven Gothic Tales, which contains Babette's Feast as one of the tales.

Karen Blixen died, purportedly of combined effects of ulcers, heavy metal treatment for syphilis and anorexia nervosa.

Karen Blixen created a lasting impression in Kenya because of her schools for children and her warm interaction with the Kikuyu. The Nairobi suburb of Karen, where the Blixen coffee plantation had been located, is named for her.

Sadly, she never returned to Africa after leaving it in 1931.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010


  1. The movie Babette's Feast is one of my all time favourites. I must read the book, simply must.

    This might just get me out of my long standing reading funk.

  2. I find her writing incredibly evocative and visual, Salsta. Enjoy Babette!

  3. Lovely choice. I've never seen the movie of Babette's Feast, but I very much enjoyed the story. I should really go re-read it...

  4. I have loved Out of Africa for decades. As Marzie said, it is wonderfully evocative. And the movie was just beautiful.