Sunday, May 16, 2010

63: The Self-Empowered Woman: Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

Dear Followers,

In an effort to continue the international flavor of this blog, today's Self-Empowered Woman is Isak Dinesen (born Karen Christenze Dinesen) the Danish author who brought us "Out of Africa," "Babette's Feast," and "Seven Gothic Tales." While some of Dinesen's work was published posthumously, she is considered the author of 17 notable works of literature. She was portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film "Out of Africa," which won the "Best Picture" Oscar in 1985.

Dinesen's father traveled to America in the 1870s, and lived among Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin before returning to Denmark. In 1895, when Karen was nine years old, he hanged himself after learning that he had syphilis (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

In 1913, after a failed love affair with his brother, she became engaged to her second cousin Swedish Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke. The marriage gave her the title of Baroness, and gave him much-needed money.

They moved to Kenya and began the area's first coffee plantation, which was financed with money from her family and farmed by members of the Kikuyu tribe (11: Risk Addiction).

Bror was an unfaithful husband, and by the couple's first anniversary Karen was diagnosed with syphilis; the disease left her in fragile health for the rest of her life. The couple separated in 1921, and four years later were divorced (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

When he wasn't taking clients on Safari, big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton, who had become her lover, encouraged Karen to think of herself as a storyteller (4: Supportive Someone). He and Karen lived together at her farmhouse from 1926 until 1931; he died that year when his biplane crashed, and at the same time her beloved plantation failed when world coffee prices plummeted (12: Hard Times).

Movie fans today may find it hard to think of Karen Blixen without recalling the epic romance portrayed on screen by Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. But Isak Dinesen was a much-admired writer of her time, whose fans included Pearl Buck, Truman Capote, E.E. Cummings, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Miller and Orson Welles. Part of what made her writing style so unique was that she wrote in English first (which was not her native language, and then translated her books into Danish). Literary critics praised her "precise " English (10: The Critic Within).

Karen Blixon died in 1962, at the age of 77, and is buried at Rungstedlund, Denmark at the family estate that her father bought in 1879

Looking forward to your comments...