Born into a Victorian Danish family, Karen Christentze Dinesen married her second cousin, a high-spirited and philandering baron, and moved to Kenya where she ran a coffee plantation, painted, and wrote. She later returned to Denmark, lived through the German occupation during World War II, and became a pivotal figure in Heretica, a major literary movement that flourished in Denmark after the war. By the time of her death, Dinesen was an international figure. Truman Capote would later call Out of Africa one of the most beautiful books of the century.
Despite the popularity of her writing, little is known about her life. For this provocative biography, Pelensky has uncovered hundreds of papers in libraries and private collections, and discovered new interview sources in Africa, Denmark, and England to help put the pieces of Dinesen’s life together. Her father’s outspoken sympathy for the plight of the American Indians, his suicide and the effects of his personal anguish as a failed adventurer are illuminated as major forces on Dinesen’s imagination. The Danish history of romance and masquerade and the tradition of pantomime in Denmark are also explored as themes that recur in Dinesen’s work.