Classic Author Focus: Isak Dinesen

Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

Isak Dinesen is the nom de plume of Danish writer Karen Blixen. She is best known for her memoir Out of Africa, about the years when she farmed a coffee plantation in Kenya, but she was mostly a short story writer and poet.

Although Dinesen’s family was among the Danish upper class and aristocrats, her father was a soldier-of-fortune and adventurer, who among other things lived and trapped fur with the Chippewa in North America. Dinesen was born on the island of Zealand and later attended schools in Paris and Rome.

In 1914, she became a baroness by marrying her cousin, Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, and they moved to Kenya to work a coffee plantation. However, Blixen-Finecke was away for long periods of time on safaris or military expeditions, so the marriage did not prosper. A long-lasting result of this marriage, which ended in 1925, was that Karen ended up with syphilis. Her long-time relationship with Denys Finch Hatton, an English big game hunter, ended when he died in an airplane crash. She was eventually forced to sell her plantation in 1931, partly because of the Depression, and move back to Denmark. There she concentrated on her writing career, publishing Out of Africa and several volumes of short stories.

During the Nazi occupation of Denmark, she wrote her only full-length novel, an allegory about the Nazis, under the name Pierre Andrezel. It was called The Angelic Avengers.

Dinesen was a widely respected writer who was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was in poor health beginning in the 1950’s, partly because of the dangerous treatments for syphilis that she received, and died in 1962 at her family estate.

Dates: 1885-1962

Most popular works: Out of Africa, “Babette’s Feast,” Seven Gothic Tales

Other works: Winter’s Tales, The Angelic Avengers, Last Tales, Shadows on the Grass, and many more

4 thoughts on “Classic Author Focus: Isak Dinesen

  1. Great author focus. I must admit, I have only ever read Out of Africa (and watched the movie) but I have put “The Angelic Avengers” on my wishlist. Thanks for that.

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