BIOGRAPHIES

As yet, no major Danish biography of Karen Blixen has been written. A number of people who knew and spent time with Karen Blixen after she returned to Denmark from Africa in 1931 have written memoirs of her that include biographical material. But the major biographies have all been written by American women.

THE LIFE OF A STORYTELLER

The most extensive of the American biographies is Judith Thurman: Isak Dinesen. The Life of a Storyteller, 1982 (also published in: Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden).
This biography is the result of seven years of research in Denmark and Kenya, study of the Karen Blixen Archives in the Royal Danish Library and numerous interviews with people who knew Karen Blixen. The 600-page biography gives a detailed account of Karen Blixen’s life, beginning with a description of her family background. The four main sections of the book are titled: Tanne, Tania, Isak Dinesen, Pellegrina. Furthermore, Judith Thurman makes connections between Karen Blixen’s life and works. Thurman sees Karen Blixen’s art as a universe in which she created a coherence that was not to be found in her own chaotic life.

The very first biography of Karen Blixen was written in 1967 by the ballet historian and author Parmenia Migel: Titania. The Biography of Isak Dinesen. It is based on interviews with Karen Blixen herself, and we can therefore presume that, broadly speaking, it gives the picture of Karen Blixen that she wanted to pass on. Parmenia Migel’s biography represents Denys Finch Hatton as the great, reciprocated love, whereas there is very little about Bror Blixen. The years in Africa are described as the Paradise lost, and in the section on Karen Blixen’s later life in Denmark the emphasis is placed on her contacts with artists and men and women of letters from Denmark and abroad.

Boston University lecturer Olga Pelensky: Isak Dinesen. The Life and Imagination of a Seducer, 1991, is partly based on the two previous biographies, partly on interviews with people from Denmark and abroad who knew Karen Blixen. The book is divided into three chapters – The Aristocrat. The Adventurer. The Author. – and has as its motto a quotation from one of Karen Blixen’s letters written in Africa: “When the design of my life is completed, shall I, shall other people see a stork?” Karen Blixen is here referring to the children’s tale “The Roads of Life”, which is re-told in Out of Africa. Olga Pelensky depicts Karen Blixen as a pioneer for modern women, taking her destiny in her own hands and forging international fame.

In Tonni Arnold: Bror Blixen. En eventyrer, 1992, we see Karen Blixen from a different point of view, in that the book is mainly based on research and interviews with Bror Blixen-Finecke’s family. Danish literary researcher Tonni Arnold also interviewed Bror Blixen’s second wife, Cockie Birkbeck Hoogterp, now deceased. The book is principally a biography of Bror Blixen, but of course also discusses Karen Blixen and their marriage. According to Tonni Arnold, Karen Blixen was far more attached to Bror than other accounts have suggested, and her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton is questioned. The portrait of Bror depicts a man who was on the brink of bankruptcy, but who was very fond of Karen Blixen and appreciative of her painting and writing. The book also includes a great deal of information about the running of the farm and life in Nairobi at the time.


OTHER BIOGRAPHICAL ACCOUNTS read more here