People Who Kick Buts: Karen von Blixen
The cure for anything is salt water
– sweat, tears, or the sea.
- Born on April 17, 1885 and passed away on September 7, 1962.
- Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke was a Danish author also known by her pen name Isak Dinesen.
- She also wrote under the pen names Osceola and Pierre Andrézel. Blixen wrote works in Danish, French, and English.
- Blixen is best known for Out of Africa, her account of living in Kenya, and one of her stories, Babette’s Feast, both of which have been adapted into highly acclaimed, Academy Award-winning motion pictures. Prior to the release of the first film, she was noted for her Seven Gothic Tales, for which she is also known in Denmark.
- Karen Dinesen was the daughter of writer and army officer Wilhelm Dinesen, and Ingeborg Westenholz, and was the sister of Thomas Dinesen. Her father’s family, which she saw rarely, was of aristocratic background and held the lordship of Katholm.
Her father’s family, which she saw rarely, was of aristocratic background and held the lordship of Katholm. Her mother came from a wealthy Unitarian bourgeois merchant family.
- In 1913 Karen Dinesen became engaged to her second-cousin, the Swedish Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, after a failed love affair with his brother.
- The couple moved to Kenya, where in early 1914 they used family money to establish a coffee plantation, hiring African workers, predominantly the Kikuyu tribes people who lived on the farmlands at the time of their arrival.
- The two were quite different in education and temperament, and Bror Blixen was unfaithful to his wife. She was diagnosed with syphilis toward the end of their first year of marriage, which, although eventually cured (some uncertainty exists), created medical anguish for years afterward. The Blixens separated in 1921, and were divorced in 1925.
- Although it was widely believed that syphilis continued to plague Blixen throughout her lifetime, extensive tests were unable to reveal evidence of syphilis in her system after 1925. Her writing prowess suggests that she did not suffer from the mental degeneration of late stages of syphilis, nor from cerebral poisoning due to mercury treatments. She did suffer a mild permanent loss of sensation in her legs that could be attributed to chronic use of arsenic in Africa.
Others attribute her weight loss and eventual death to anorexia nervosa.
During the 1950s Blixen’s health quickly deteriorated, and in 1955 she had a third of her stomach removed because of an ulcer. Writing became impossible, although she did several radio broadcasts.
- Unable to eat, Blixen died in 1962 at Rungstedlund, her family’s estate, at the age of 77, apparently of malnutrition.