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"Out of Africa" author and pioneer, sinemet free sample Karen Blixen

Karen Blixen på safari i 1914 (Foto: Bror von Blixen-Fineche/Karen Blixen Museet)


































"Author Karen Blixen, sinemet free sample who wrote under the name of Isak Dinesen, sinemet free sample was born in 1885 at Rungstedlund, sinemet free sample her family's estate to the north of Copenhagen.

In 1914 she emigrated to Kenya together with her husband, sinemet free sample Swedish nobleman Bror von Blixen-Finecke, sinemet free sample whom she divorced in 1925.

Karen Blixen returned to Denmark in 1931 to once again live at Rungstedlund.

Her first book Seven Gothic Tales was published in the USA in 1934 and became a huge success. It is however her book Out of Africa, sinemet free sample 1937, sinemet free sample that made her name known around the world. This wonderful story about Karen Blixen's life was made into a movie with the same title. Blixen continued to write, sinemet free sample in both English and Danish, sinemet free sample until her death in 1962. The latest biography about Blixen is Out of Isak Dinesen by physician Linda Donelson (Coulsong ISBN 0-9643893-9-8) who lived near Blixen's farm when she was in Kenya in the Peace Corps. Interview: Scandinavian Press: Why are you so fascinated by Karen Blixen? Linda Donelson: I think probably in early childhood when I read a story that I knew was a true story I needed to investigate further, sinemet free sample know more about it. So when I read Out of Africa I immediately wanted to find where I could read more and there was not really much available. I waited for a long time for someone to write a book about Karen Blixen and in fact there was a book that came out shortly after I read Out of Africa but it was more of an academic treatment and did not really discuss Karen Blixen's life in Africa to any great extent. So then I had to write a book that, sinemet free sample for example, sinemet free sample my mother in-law would enjoy - a good story. SP: Why do you feel people in general are more fascinated by Karen Blixen than they are by regular authors? LD: Certainly she tried to give herself a certain image even during her life that would make people remember her. She tried to make herself controversial. Sinemet free sample She was pretending to be eccentric. But I think her life was intrinsically fascinating. There are so many twists in it that make it almost more interesting than a novel. I think her story attracts people. Sinemet free sample 50 million people in countries around the world went to see the movie Out of Africa - about Karen Blixen's life in Africa and that's truly extraordinary. Sinemet free sample I think her story is fascinating because it is a woman's story, sinemet free sample a courageous woman. Sinemet free sample She remains in the public consciousness just the way she wanted to. It is interesting to note that she sold only about 100 000 copies of Out of Africa in her lifetime and since 1980 a million and a half copies of the book have been sold. SP: Would she be as fascinating if she was not a baroness, sinemet free sample not lived in Africa and not got syphilis? LD: I haven't thought of it in those terms. Sinemet free sample I think that initially people are interested in her story not so much because she was a baroness. Certainly she wrote a bestseller before anyone knew she was a baroness. In her story she does not mention that she was a baroness and of course she does not mention in Out of Africa that she had syphilis. People are interested in a woman who had the courage to be a pioneer farmer in Africa at the turn of the century. I think probably that is one of the major elements in what drew people to her book Out of Africa in the first place and then of course the way she wrote it was so poetic that it gripped their attention. In addition to that I think there was an element of looking for a particularly romantic story in 1938 when so many tragedies were occurring around the world and everyone was oppressed by the great depression. It was an escape for them to think about this exotic paradise that she described in Africa. SP: How would you describe the influence of the three men in her life - her father, sinemet free sample her husband Bror von Blixen-Finecke and her lover Denys Finch Hatton? LD: I would like to say first of all that Karen Blixen was born a person who needed to spend a lot of time in her imagination. There were several things that developed from this. Sinemet free sample First her imagination of course led to her creative life. Secondly she used her imagination to keep her very emotional character in a state of balance. Whenever she became upset she would retreat into her imagination and so I am approaching this question this way because throughout her life she seems to have idealized the men in her life, sinemet free sample to probably heroize them more than most people do. So her father becomes much more of a hero to her and throughout her life she would think about her father's spirit as a means of inspiration and support to her in times of great sadness. Sinemet free sample And the same was true of Denys Finch Hatton after his death. She frequently mentioned in her letters and in her conversations with acquaintances that the spirit of Denys Finch Hatton was pushing her onward, sinemet free sample was helping in her life. And that leaves her third man, sinemet free sample Bror who I believe she also idealized and I think that this is one of the reasons she wanted to stay married to him even after he gave her syphilis. She sought him as a spiritual support, sinemet free sample she relied on his energy and his inspiration to keep her in Africa and to keep the ideal of pioneer fanning alive in her mind. And she idealized him even more after he left her. Sinemet free sample In fact it is quite interesting to read her letters and see that she refers to the years "when we were happy" meaning the years when she was married to Bror. Yet if you follow the letters month by month and year by year you really can't find any period when they were happy. So she has idealized that after the divorce. SP: How was the real Bror Blixen? LD: He really was a person that everyone liked. He was full of fun, sinemet free sample he was energetic, sinemet free sample he was very kind. Everyone mentioned kind things that he did and in fact it was quite striking that Karen Blixen says in her letters frequently that he was such a good nurse to her whenever she was ill, sinemet free sample whenever she had an injury. He was very good at binding the wounds and taking care of her and running the bath, sinemet free sample massaging. I think that he was a wonderfully goodhearted person and this generosity spilled over in being quite a womanizer. Sinemet free sample He shared his affections in every possible way. I found him quite a sympathetic figure. Sinemet free sample There are wonderful legends about Bror Blixen. The story goes that he had a double cot in his tent when he went hunting because the wife of every hunter who was travelling with him always wanted to sleep with Bror Blixen. Sinemet free sample He was highly praised by Ernest Hemingway and in fact for a while he came to Long Island and lived with Hemingway. One of the main questions I wanted to ask when I started my book was why Karen Blixen remained married for nine years to a man who had given her syphilis. SP: Was the romance between Karen Blixen and Finch Hatton aptly depicted in the movie Out of Africa?

LD: No it was completely wrong. Sinemet free sample In fact it is true for the movie that the first half of it is very close to real life. In fact they did a marvellous job of the casting of Bror Blixen and Berkeley Cole. But as soon as Robert Redford enters the story the film becomes fiction. The character should have been played by the English actor Charles Dance. Sinemet free sample In fact the biographer of Denys Finch Hatton begged the director Sydney Pollock to cast Charles Dance as Denys Finch Hatton. But it turned out that Charles Dance had been cast opposite Meryl Streep in a previous film and it was felt that the chemistry was no good between them and more importantly I think probably Robert Redford had a financial investment in the script. Sinemet free sample It was of course a very wise decision from a financial point of view to give Redford the role and one of the reasons why the film was such a success. The movie is satisfying to the romantic mind but it isn't a true depiction of Karen Blixen's life. I would have liked to see a more psychological portrayal of the evolution of her romance with Finch Hatton. We see in the film Finch Hatton portrayed as her inspiration and more than that we are given to believe from the film that he was responsible for her writing career, sinemet free sample that Karen Blixen would not have dreamed of writing anything before he entered the scene and that is very far from true. Sinemet free sample She had been writing since she was a young woman, sinemet free sample in fact from girlhood. A very important question is why they never married. She knew Denys Finch Hatton for 13 years and she really fell in love with him the moment she saw him so she was in love with him for that entire period. In fact Finch Hatton lived in her house for at least six years and yet there seemed to be no talk of making a marriage contract with this relationship. They had very similar interests and were of the same age. Sinemet free sample But I think Finch-Hatton was homosexual, sinemet free sample or perhaps today we would say bisexual. Sinemet free sample Karen Blixen refers to homosexuality in her letters. Sinemet free sample Denys certainly had a physical relationship with Karen Blixen. Sinemet free sample She thought she was pregnant on two occasions but I think he was more interested in men than in women. He had this very strong friendship with Berkeley Cole and it was only after he died that Denys began spending more time with Karen Blixen. Also it is quite apparent that she starts talking about homosexuality in 1926. She mentions it several tithes in her letters to her family and she has never done that before that time. And she has a period when she is terribly upset about something but unwilling to tell her family what it is. She wants to leave Africa immediately, sinemet free sample she is scieaming in her heart. SP: What about the syphilis, sinemet free sample the true story and the myth? LD: First of all she got syphilis from her husband in 1915, sinemet free sample one year after she was married and it was a devastating diagnosis for her, sinemet free sample quite similar to if one were to be diagnosed with aids today. In those days it was believed that once you had syphilis you had a slow progression to madness and of course this was the reason her father took his own life. He could not face the possibility of this, sinemet free sample according to family legend. It is very likely she was quite frightened to have this diagnosis and unfortunately especially one physician in Paris seemed to re-enforce the fear that she had, sinemet free sample telling her that he doubted that she would ever recover. Throughout her life she kept the words of the French physician in her mind and she really did doubt that she would ever recover despite the fact that year after year of tests showed no evidence of syphilis. She was so convinced that she had syphilis that she really left doubts in the physicians who took care of her late in life. Sinemet free sample Finally in about 1952 when she was in her 70s her physician wrote a report saying that he believed that there was no evidence of syphilis and that any further symptoms that she had would have to be attributed to something else. I think she was suffering from the chronic use of arsenic especially while she lived in Africa. We have no evidence that she took arsenic after she returned to Denmark. It is also possible that she was in fact imagining these symptoms. It is possible that she was having the abdominal pains as a symptom of panic attacks. Sinemet free sample She did have panic attacks when she was in Africa. She also had an ulcer that was removed in 1953. SP: Was there anything in particular that she loved about Africa? LD: Her attraction to the Africans was that there was such a silence about them that was such a contrast to European society. In her writing, sinemet free sample not just Out of Africa but in her short stories also she glorifies the primitive. She was part of that romantic school that believed that the savage knew better. SP: So what was it about Karen Blixen that we did not get to see in the movie Out of Africa? KB: That she was as strong as any of the men in her life. Sinemet free sample It was her way of dealing with life that was just different from theirs. There were some key moments in her life when she could have avoided some of the unhappiness that she had. For example certainly many recognize that the decision to marry Bror was a time when she might have avoided some problems by not doing that. However she opened an entirely new world to herself by going into that experiment and I think it was a courageous move to marry Bror but much more to go to Africa at a time when very few women would have considered doing such a thing. They would have protested that they could not cope with the weather and the illness she was sure to encounter there and all the other trials. I think another major moment of decision for her was at the time she returned to Africa in 1920. Bror was convinced that the farm should be sold, sinemet free sample that the economic conditions in the country were developing in such a way that they could sell the farm and make a profit, sinemet free sample use their money in some other endeavour. That was quite a significant moment and I think perhaps Bror was right. I think she should have gone along with him, sinemet free sample sold that farm and maybe bought a smaller property or even a business that she later talked of in her letters, sinemet free sample like opening a restaurant or something that would have been more financially viable that might have saved her marriage as well. Sinemet free sample So that was a significant moment. Then in 1925 she came for a long visit to Denmark, sinemet free sample about one year, sinemet free sample and she was quite unhappy about the idea of returning to Africa. Sinemet free sample Should she have gone back to face the loss of the farm and the death of Finch Hatton. Sinemet free sample Of course she could not have known that this was going to happen but she had premonitions all along. She frequently mentioned in her letters that she wished she knew how this story was going to end. Sinemet free sample So she had some moments when she could have reversed her course and yet it makes a much more interesting story that she did what she did. Sinemet free sample Karen Blixen was someone who was lacking in selfconfidence. She had self-doubts throughout her life. Sinemet free sample She was preoccupied with the fact that she had not been born to a title and in the time that she grew up this was an important thing. It was the ultimate goal of the bourgeois class. Sinemet free sample I think it has been unfair to Karen Blixen that she was accused of being a snob because she was so preoccupied with the title but she was not alone in that. Sinemet free sample She had many friends and she was greatly admired by her own family. Sinemet free sample She was a fascinating person in her own time even to her own family. She loved to be playful. Sinemet free sample She was always keeping people interested in life. Sinemet free sample She gave these marvellous dinner parties. Sinemet free sample She had wonderful ideas for decorating flowers, sinemet free sample for furniture, sinemet free sample for conversation. Sinemet free sample Her family loved it when she was around. Sinemet free sample She was always getting people to dress up, sinemet free sample do little skits. Sinemet free sample She had a dry wit, sinemet free sample displayed in her short stories. Wit is of course very much part of the Danish character. Sinemet free sample Danes have a way of never taking tragedy too seriously. Sinemet free sample It is too bad that people have been left with the impression of a sickly, sinemet free sample elderly woman. SP: There has been much written about Karen Blixen. Sinemet free sample How is your book different? LD: First of all it seems that the other biographies have been more interested in Karen Blixen as a literary figure and they emphasize her literary career. They have spent a small amount of their space on the African period. And I find that unusual because Karen Blixen herself felt that her life in Africa was the most important stage in her life. The other biographies have also missed another important aspect of Karen Blixen's life - the romantic men. The original interview can be found at: