Isak Dinesen

Isak Dineson (Karen Blixen)

Isak Dinesen (April 17, 1885 – September 7, 1962) was the pen name of Danish author. Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, née Karen Christenze Dinesen. published in the United States, after being denied publication in both Denmark and England. She was admired for her poetic prose. Her popularity endures not only due to her writing, but also because of her  adventurous life. Born a Baroness, her family was one of aristocrats and bourgeois merchants. Many rumors were afloat about her until her novel, Out of Africa, was published in the U.S.

Out of Africa (1937) is her most famous work, a memoir of Dinesen’s life in Africa as the owner of a coffee plantation. It wasn’t until she returned to Denmark from Africa, in 1931, did she began to use the name Isak Dinesen for her writing.

Dinesen’s writings were risky and controversial. Many considered her racist. She wanted readers to think differently and more openly. Yet some of her imaginative tales of offered a comfortable escape, for both herself and her readers. Her fiction and non-fiction almost seem like the work of two different writers, and critics are still divided over both.

Fascinating Facts about Isak Dinesen

In February of 1959 Isak Dinesen attended an extravagant lunch at Carson McCullers‘ home in Nyack, New York. The other guest was the one and only Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe, Isak Dinesen, and Carson McCullersa

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Isak Dinesen Quotes

isak dinesen - young“It’s an odd feeling — farewell — there is some envy in it. Men go off to be tested for courage and if we’re tested at all, it’s for patience, for doing without, for how well we can endure loneliness.” (Out of Africa, 1937)

“Real art must always involve some witchcraft.” (Letters from Africa: 1914-1931; 1981)

“I am not a novelist, really not even a writer; I am a storyteller. One of my friends said about me that I think all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them, and perhaps this is not entirely untrue. To me, the explanation of life seems to be its melody, its pattern. And I feel in life such an infinite, truly inconceivable fantasy.“Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.” (From an interview in 1957; this was a friend’s comment about Dinesen)

“The entire being of a woman is a secret which should be kept.” (“The Cardinal’s Third Tale”, Last Tales, 1957)

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.”

“We must leave our mark on life while we have it in our power.”

“I start with a tingle, a kind of feeling of the story I will write. Then come the characters, and they take over, they make the story.”

“Within our whole universe the story only has the authority to answer that cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: “Who am I?””

“I beg of you, you good people who want to hear stories told: look at this page and recognize the wisdom of my grandmother and of all old story-telling women!”

“The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea.” (The Deluge at Norderney“, Seven Gothic Tales, 1934)

“Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.” (Out of Africa, 1937)

“To be a person is to have a story to tell.”

“Here I am, where I am supposed to be.” (Out of Africa, 1937)

“It is little silly to be a caricature of something of which you know very little, and which means very little to you, but to be your own caricature — that is the true carnival!” (Carnival: Entertainments and Posthumous Tales, 1971)

isak dinesen“People who dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue. They also know that the real glory of dreams lies in their atmosphere of unlimited freedom. It is not the freedom of the dictator, who enforces his own will on the world, but the freedom of the artist, who has no will, who is free of will.” (Out of Africa, 1937)

“Man and woman are two locked caskets, of which each contains the key to the other.” (A Consolatory Tale“, Winter’s Tale, 1942)

“Where the storyteller is loyal, eternally and unswervingly loyal to the story, there, in the end, silence will speak. Where the story has been betrayed, silence is but emptiness. But we, the faithful, when we have spoken our last word, will hear the voice of silence.” (“The Blank Page“, Last Tales, 1957)

“These difficult times have helped me to realize how infinitely rich and beautiful life is.  And that so many things one worries about are of no importance whatsoever.”

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