Karen Blixen Biography

Karen Blixen, also known by her pen names Isak Dinesen, Osceola, and Pierre Andrézel, was a Danish author renowned for her works in both Danish and English. Her notable works include ‘Out of Africa’ and ‘Babette’s Feast’, which were adapted into Academy Award-winning movies. Despite being born into privilege, Karen faced a troubled family life during her childhood. With a passion for writing, she embarked on a journey to Africa, hoping to establish a coffee farm. However, the endeavor proved more challenging than anticipated. Along the way, she experienced a failed marriage to a baron and fell in love with an Englishman. Facing financial setbacks, Karen returned to Denmark and dedicated herself to writing. Her subsequent publications garnered worldwide acclaim, earning her prestigious awards and the honor of having two museums named after her. Despite battling various illnesses throughout her life, Karen’s legacy as a prolific author endures.

Quick Facts

  • Nick Name: Tanne
  • Also Known As: Baroness Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke
  • Died At Age: 77
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Bror von Blixen-Finecke
    • Father: Wilhelm Dinesen
    • Mother: Ingeborg Dinesen
    • Siblings: Anders Runsti Dinesen, Ellen Dahl, Inger de Neergaard, Thomas Dinesen
  • Born Country: Denmark
  • Novelists
  • Danish Women
  • Died on: September 7, 1962
  • Place of death: Rungsted, Denmark
  • Cause of Death: Anorexia Nervosa
  • More Facts:
    • Awards: Danish Critics Prize for Literature, Tagea Brandt Rejselegat, Ingenio et Arti, Holberg Medal, De Gyldne Laurbær

Childhood & Early Life

Karen Blixen was born on April 17, 1885, in the Rungstedlund manor, Denmark. Her parents were Ingeborg Westenholz and Wilhelm Dinesen. She had two sisters and two brothers. When she was nine years old, her father committed suicide after learning that he had fathered a child out of wedlock.

Education and Early Career

In 1902, Blixen attended Copenhagen’s Charlotte Sode’s Art School. Around 1905, she began publishing fiction in Danish periodicals under the pen name ‘Osceola’. In 1906, she completed her studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. She then spent time in Sweden with her cousin’s family, the Blixen-Fineckes, where she met her future husband.


In 1912, Blixen and her fiancé, Bror, decided to go to Africa to start a coffee farm. They left for Kenya in 1913 and established their first farm in M’Bagathi. The First World War broke out soon after, causing many tragedies for their farm. In 1916, they purchased a larger farm in Ngong Hills called M’Bogani. Blixen hired the local ‘Kikuyu’ tribe to work on the farm while her husband went on safaris.

Between 1917 and 1918, the farm faced more tragedies, leading Blixen to write a book in English. In 1921, she took over the management of the farm from her uncle. However, by 1931, the coffee farm had suffered heavy financial losses, prompting Blixen to return to Denmark and pursue a writing career. From 1933 to 1958, she published several successful books and achieved worldwide fame. In 1960, she wrote her last book based on her experiences in Africa.

Major Works

In 1934, Blixen’s first book ‘Seven Gothic Tales’ was published under the pseudonym ‘Isak Dinesen’. It achieved instant fame when it was featured on the ‘Book-of-the-month Club’. In 1937, her second and most famous book ‘Out of Africa’ was published, firmly establishing her name in the literary world. In 1944, she published her fourth book ‘The Angelic Avengers’ under the pseudonym ‘Pierre Andrezel’. In 1958, she wrote another story collection ‘Anecdotes of Destiny’ that contained the famous story, ‘Babette’s Feast’.

Awards & Achievements

Blixen received the women in arts prize, ‘Tagea Brandt Rejselegat’, in 1939. From 1949 to 1959, she received many honors like the ‘Danish Holberg Medal’ and the ‘Ingenio et Arti’ medal. In 1985, her book ‘Out of Africa’ was adapted into an ‘Academy Award’ winning movie of the same name. In 1987, her story ‘Babette’s Feast’ was also adapted into an Academy Award winning movie. Danish postage stamps were issued in her honor in 1980 and 1996.

Personal Life

In 1912, Blixen got engaged to Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke. They married in 1914 and she became known as Baroness Blixen. In 1915, she was diagnosed with syphilis, which she had contracted from her husband. By 1919, their marriage seemed to have run its course and she fell in love with Denys Finch Hatton. They had a long love affair, but it ended with Hatton’s sudden death in a plane crash in 1931. Blixen left Africa with various health issues and underwent several surgeries. She died on September 7, 1962, in Denmark.


Karen Blixen was twice considered for the ‘Nobel Prize in Literature’. She was also a talented artist, known for her artworks ‘Young Kikuyu Girl’ and ‘Abdullahi Ahamed’.

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