April 17, 1885:
Karen Dinesen, Baroness Blixen-Finecke, better known by her pen name Isak Dinesen, is born in Rungsted, Denmark. Dinesen’s memoir, Out of Africa, helped demystify the Dark Continent for millions of readers.
Dinesen was born to an upper-class Danish family. Her father committed suicide when Dinesen was 10, ending the happiest period of her childhood. She began writing plays and stories and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, where she developed an interest in art.
When her family sent her to Oxford to study English, she rebelled and went to Paris and Rome to study painting. In 1914, she married her cousin Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, and the couple moved to what was then British East Africa (now Kenya), where they owned and operated a coffee plantation. While the unhappy marriage dissolved in 1921, Dinesen fell passionately in love with Africa and remained to manage the plantation for a decade. In Africa, she was a lively and extravagant hostess, fond of throwing lush dinner parties for her friends-parties which laid the basis for her 1949 story, Babette’s Feast, which was filmed in 1987.
Drought and a crash in coffee prices forced Dinesen, penniless, back to Denmark in 1931. She began publishing short story collections with Seven Gothic Tales (1934), followed by Out of Africa in 1937, which brought her recognition and respect. She published several other story collections before her death, in 1962.