Notable Aesthete: Isak Dinesen

I had
a farm
in Africa,
at the foot
of the
Ngong Hills.


Today is the birthday of the incomparable Isak Dinesen. Wife of the boorish and syphilitic Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke and lover of the mercurial adventurer and big game hunter, Denys Finch Hatton; Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (April 17, 1885 – September 7, 1962), née Dinesen, was a Danish author also known by her pen name Isak Dinesen. Blixen wrote works both in Danish and in English; but is best known for Out of Africa, her account of living in Kenya, [TEA NOTE: a book as magical and luminous as the African moon over her farm] and for her story, Babette’s Feast, both of which were adapted into highly acclaimed motion pictures. Dinesen’s short story writing was influenced by the stories of the Arabian nights, Aesop’s Fables, the works of Homer, and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, her fellow countryman.

Her memoirs of pioneering a coffee farm in Africa, where she had an affinity for all that was natural, brought her worldwide recognition as an authoress. Dinesen felt the native people—the Somali and the Masai tribes of Eastern Africa—with their rich tradition of oral storytelling, had an ear for her romantic and “old fashioned” style of writing.

She particularly loved to tell stories with rhyme because it was something novel to their culture. Blixen described them saying about her storytelling, “…’Please, Memsahib, talk like rain,’ so then I knew they had liked it, for rain was very precious to us there.”


Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller

Work of Dellacroix & Dellfina. Agnieszka Dellfina posing as Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen) from the Metamorphosis Series.




~ by eaesthete on 04/17/10.

21 Responses to “Notable Aesthete: Isak Dinesen”

  1. absolutely stunning photograph of her.

  2. This is one stunning picture! I am just a wee bit confused: did you take it?

    • Oh Dear Sir,

      You do me such a kindness in suggesting I am the photographer. Unfortunately, I am not. I am merely the curator of this site who quite luckily happened upon it.
      I have a query in through the source site listed at the bottom of the post asking that very question myself (the identity of the photographer). I will post with further details if, and when, provided.

  3. Dear EA, I had not, until now, realised the source of the film ‘Babette’s Feast’ which I first saw perhaps ten or more years ago and which went immediately into my list of very favourite films. Absolutely wonderful! ‘Out of Africa’ I enjoyed, but much less so. The image you have used here is superb!

    • Edith,

      We all come to learn of these captivating personalities in our own time and way. My introduction to Dinesen (Blixen) was the film Out of Africa. As mentioned in the post, I relished the book and just now am interested in reading more of her writings, including Babette’s Feast, which will find its way to my bookshelf in the coming days.

  4. Babette’s Feast transformed me as only great films, with poignant storytelling alchemy, can do.

    Thank you for celebrating this beautiful mind.

  5. Having been fortunate enough to spend a bit of time in Kenya, this entry brought back many memories – including visiting her home. What an amazing experience it was, and what an amazing country!

    • I have only visited there through her words and they continue to linger these many years later. And the thought of visiting her home that she wrote of with such love is beyond imaginable. I envy you that extraordinary experience. It has long been a dream of mine to see that place and your comment, somehow, makes it all seem a bit closer. Thank you!

  6. Again, EA, we’re on the same wavelength. I read her biography last year (amazing), and whatever anybody can say about the old girl (let’s face it, she was brilliant, but also exceedingly difficult and emotionally manipulative in many of her personal relationships), she was NEVER boring. So trite to say, but they really don’t make ’em like her anymore.

  7. If my memory serves (and it is of late a somewhat poor servant, Babette’s Feast was written to sell to American publisher because “Americans like to read about food.” And so we do. She was a magician with words, a feast indeed.

  8. Such a beautiful picture, bright and dark at the same time!

  9. Yes, an amazing country. You’ve inspired me to perhaps post some pictures of my experiences on my blog. The big project is to dig them out! You may have prompted me to do so. Inspiration comes from so many places. Your blog is an example of that – thank you.


    I do hope you will post them; it’s an experience that should be shared. Please let me know if you do, won’t you?

  10. I have promised myself I’d read her work but never have. I loved the movie “Out of Africa” so I must believe I’d love her writing.

    What particularly strikes me about this excellent photograph are her perfectly made up lips. They are as a movie stars’.

  11. At a glance, I took her to be – Loulou de la Falaise – whom I associate with you! It must be the elegant cheek bones. Do you look out at us with the eyes of your subjects at times? Yes, I too am a fan of Isak Dinesen.

    • le style,

      I am thrilled with the comparison of Madame de la Falaise. I will adorn my wrists with colored bracelets and smile my way through this day.

      “Do you look out at us with the eyes of your subjects at times?”
      Don’t we all? I’ve always believed we are captivated by that which reminds us of ourselves. Dinesen was a treasure.

  12. The use of “Let the Rest of the World Go By” in the film Out of Africa as the waltz music during the New Year’s Eve party is a master stroke, a perfect aural complement to Dinesen’s sensibility.

  13. I do love your postings, musings, photographs and site. I must tell you, however, that this is not a photograph of Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). This is a contemporary photograph by Thomas Dellacroix of his collaborator Agnieszka Dellfina posing as Karen Blixen. They did a series of these photos (a la Cindy Sherman) of Ms. Dellfina posing as various celebrities and other famous people. There is a rather wonderful image of Karen Blixen here: She did not have the pretty, regular features of the woman in your photograph, instead having rather sharp features, a face full of character.

    • Mme Zag,

      Thank you for clearing the confusion. Having long been a fan of Karen Blixen, I was stunned when I first came across this photograph. I had never seen her looking lovelier. And yes, her features were sharp and definite, but photography, in masterful hands, creates an illusion and I believed this was such, taken at an earlier time in her life when she was not yet formed of character or countenance. Thank you!

  14. Certainly a lot of thought and work has gone into these pages. Ecclectic and cultured. I will be back.

  15. Reblogged this on the jazzmonger and commented:
    Karen von Blixen (aka authoress Isak Dinesen) is one of those women whom one loves from afar. Afar both in distance and in time. What a woman! I love this artful post. It is as elegantly done as subject’s life.

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