Baroness Karen Christenze Blixen-Finecke, who later used such pen names as Isak Dinesen (DEE-nuh-suhn), Karen Blixen, Pierre Andrezel, and Tania B., was born in a house by the sea in Rungsted, Denmark, on April 17, 1885. The house in which she was born had once been occupied by Johannes Ewald, the man usually considered to be Denmark’s finest poet. When she was only ten years old, her father hanged himself, a tragic event that marked the rest of her life and profoundly affected the tone of her stories.
Dinesen had no formal schooling as a child but did attend a private school in France during her teen years. In 1903, she entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen to study painting, but for the next seven years she also devoted herself to writing—and to a painful relationship with Hans Blixen-Finecke. In 1910, she left Denmark, intending to study art in Paris, but she abruptly returned home and continued her writing. Profoundly depressed by the various setbacks and apparent lack of direction in her life, she took a brief vacation trip to Rome. On returning, she became engaged to Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, the twin brother of her former lover. In 1914. she followed Bror to Kenya, and they were married in the capital city of Nairobi.
The marriage with Bror Blixen was rocky at best. From him she contracted syphilis, which rendered her sterile and contributed to the progressive deterioration of her health over the rest of her life. Bror Blixen was a famous sportsman and notorious womanizer who mismanaged the coffee plantation he had bought with money provided by Dinesen’s family. They divorced in 1921, and she took control of the plantation, which became known as the Karen Coffee...
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