Rungstedlund Rungsted, Hørsholm Kommune, Hovedstaden, Denmark
Karen Blixen Museum, Karen Rd, Nairobi, Kenya
Baroness Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke (born Dinesen; 17 April 1885 – 7 September 1962) was a Danish author who wrote works in Danish and English. Blixen is perhaps the greatest modern Danish literary figure associated with homosexuality. Most likely she was not a lesbian herself, however, her magnificent first book, Seven Gothic Tales (1935), written under her male pseudonym Isak Dinesen, is a perverse and cache celebration of every kind of sexuality except conventional, marriage-based heterosexuality. Male homosexuality is often portrayed as a norm in her work. This fact, although seldom acknowledged, has secured her writings a devoted gay male and lesbian readership. She is, for example, among Truman Capote's favorite authors.
Influenced by the Gothic and decadent traditions, Seven Gothic Tales differs considerably from Dinesen’s next book, the autobiographical Out of Africa (1937). Glenway Wescott wrote, “Out of Africa is ravishingly written; it is like a love potion, strengthening us in our enthusiasm about our life, whoever we are, whenever or wherever it may be.” When accepting the Nobel Prize in 1954, Ernest Hemingway is said to have stated that it should have gone instead to “that beautiful Danish writer Isak Dinesen.”
Carl Van Vechten’s response was equally strong. On September 9, 1955, he wrote to George George, “I have never enjoyed anything more than Out of Africa. . . . I’ll never get over it & I am already very different!” Van Vechten then sent a letter to Dinesen herself, writing, “Why I have waited so long to read you, I’ll never know, but from the very first words in Out of Africa, I understood that I had found an important friend & ally. Never before have I been made to feel so deeply the personal power of the written word.”
During a 1959 visit to New York, Dinesen sat for several famous photographers, including Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, and Carl Van Vechten.
by Carl Van Vechten
Blixen and Van Vechten, Photographed by Saul Mauriber on November 20, 1958
Interest in Dinesen later surged with the appearance of the films Out of Africa (1985) and Babette’s Feast (1987), based on her work. Critics have alternately praised Dinesen as a feminist and criticized her as a supporter of colonialism. However, the beauty of her writing and her lasting influence have endured. After her death, Van Vechten wrote, “The impression she made was so deeply indelible that something of her spirit will always endure, even to eternity. This is a belief that I will never lose.”
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