Isak Dinesen Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111204718-Dinesen.jpg Isak Dinesen Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Isak Dinesen (DEE-nuh-suhn), born Karen Christenze Dinesen, is Denmark’s most prominent twentieth century author and one of the most distinctive voices in modern Western literature. She was born in a suburb of Copenhagen in 1885, the daughter of Wilhelm Dinesen, an army officer, landowner, wanderer, and storyteller, and Ingeborg Westenholz, a matriarch in the staunchest Victorian tradition. It was from her father that Dinesen inherited the restlessness that motivated her to escape to Africa and the imagination to turn her experiences into myths of great power and feeling.{$S[A]Blixen-Finecke, Baroness Karen[Blixen Finecke, Baroness Karen];Dinesen, Isak}{$S[A]Andrézel, Pierre;Dinesen, Isak}{$S[A]Osceola;Dinesen, Isak}

Dinesen’s life falls naturally into three strikingly different periods. The years from 1885 to 1914 saw an imaginative and high-spirited young woman struggling against the constraints of the Westenholz bourgeois mentality, a struggle that ended with her departure for Kenya to marry her Swedish cousin Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke and to manage a coffee plantation. From 1914 to 1931, Dinesen lived in Africa, where, at least in the early days, she enjoyed the best of all worlds: the Westenholz money to underwrite the operation of the plantation, almost complete autonomy over the plantation, and the title of baroness to please her vanity and reinforce her faith in her destiny as the last true aristocrat in an age of dull democracy. During this period, she also enjoyed an intense friendship with Denys Finch-Hatton, the scholarly hunter and aviator who played the roles of lover, mentor, and muse. Although she gained a reputation among friends and servants as a gifted storyteller, writing as a profession was the farthest thing from her mind at this time. She was far too busy hunting game, acting as paramedic to the natives, and entertaining visitors from all walks of life. Meanwhile, she was trying to turn a profit on the farm, which was losing money because of drought and a depressed coffee market. In the end, she lost everything: her farm, her friends, her freedom, even her health.

From 1931 to 1962, Karen Blixen became Isak Dinesen, the pen name she coined by combining her maiden name with the Hebrew word meaning “he who laughs,” for Dinesen’s vision is surprisingly...

(The entire section is 946 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Isak Dinesen’s life may be divided into three parts, namely her childhood and youth, her time in Africa, and her years as a recognized writer. Her parents came from very different social backgrounds. From her father, Wilhelm Dinesen, a landed proprietor, she inherited a love of adventure, nature, and storytelling. Her mother, in contrast, came from a bourgeois family of merchants and attempted to foster a sense of duty, obligation, and guilt in her three daughters. Karen Christenze (Isak is a pseudonym that she assumed at the beginning of her writing career) was her father’s favorite daughter and thereby was able to avoid some of her mother’s puritanical manacles. At the age of ten, however, her father’s suicide turned her youth into a period of mostly joyless desperation. Early she began writing stories and short plays, for which she had been prepared by an unsystematic private education. She also studied art and traveled abroad with her mother, sisters, and aunt.

The second period in Dinesen’s life began in 1914, when she married her first cousin, the Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, and with him settled down to manage a coffee plantation outside Nairobi, in British East Africa. Her husband infected her with syphilis and proved himself a poor manager of the plantation; the couple was separated in 1921 and divorced four years later. Living in what was then known as Kenya as the manager of a different, and larger, coffee farm, Dinesen cultivated a...

(The entire section is 494 words.)