WiHM Feature #20: Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen)

Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) (1885-1962)

Notable quote:

“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

–Karen Blixen

Horror novelist Douglas Clegg has called Isak Dinesen one of his favourite female novelists, and while she’s definitely not a horror writer in the conventional sense (Out of Africa is the work she’s best known for, and it’s definitely not horror), her work, particularly in the collection Seven Gothic Tales should be of definite interest to horror fans.

Given that most people haven’t heard of her, I thought it would be fitting to dedicate a spotlight for women of horror month to her. I also thought it was important to dedicate a profile to someone who proves that the definition of horror can be fluid, and that horror, contrary to its name, doesn’t have to be horrifying or terrifying to be effective. Her work is still finding new readers each day. Recently, Tiina of A Book Blog of One’s Own posted her review of Seven Gothic Tales, which can be accessed here.

Karen Christence Dinesen, Baroness Blixen-Finecke wrote as Isak Dinesen, Pierre Andrézel, and other pseudonyms: Tania Blixen, Osceola, etc, was a Danish writer who mixed supernatural elements in her work, aestheticism, and erotic undertones with an aristocratic view of life, Blixen always emphasized that she was a storyteller in the traditional, oral sense of the word. She drew her inspiration from the Bible, the Arabian Nights, the works of Homer, the Icelandic Sagas, and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, who was her great fellow countryman. She wrote in English and in Danish.

Interesting interviews:
A summary of some of her notable interviews can be found at the following link.

Karen Blixen: The Last Interview (1962)

What to Read First: Seven Gothic Tales is a good place to start.

Notable Works:
Letters from Africa, 1914-1931 (1931)
Seven Gothic Tales (1934)
Out of Africa (1937)
Sorrow Acre (1940)
Winter’s Tales (1942)
Babette’s Feast (1950)
Last Tales (1957)
Ehrengard (1963)
Carnival: Entertainments and Posthumous Tales (1975, tr. 1977)
Daguerreotypes and Other Essays (1979)

Fun Facts:
* Wrote under multiple pseudonyms, including Isak Dinesen, Pierre Andrézel, Tania Blixen, and Osceola.
* Both Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast were made into films
* Karen moved to Kenya (then a British colony) in late 1913, at the age of 28, to marry her second cousin, the Swedish Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke.
* Enjoyed hunting safaris she went on with her husband
* Bror was an unfaithful husband and poor businessman; the couple separated in 1921 and divorced in 1925
* She returned to Denmark when her farm went under
* Battled syphilis (not quite a fun fact, but an interesting tidbit nevertheless); tragically, her father contracted syphilis when Karen was 10, and he committed suicide
* Had a long-term love affair with Denys Finch Hatton, played by Robert Redford in the film adaptation of Out of Africa
* Has a museum dedicated to her in Kenya

Career Highlights:
For more information about her selected works, visit this link.

* Published Out of Africa in 1937 to great acclaim. Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, described it as “a mistake” that Blixen was not awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature during the 1930s.

For more information on Karen’s works, visit this website.

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