Karen Blixen

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Karen Blixen's Africa

as told from my travels

Galen R Frysinger, PhD

June 23, 2010



KAREN'S AFRICA from Galen Frysinger on Vimeo.

A presentation to the Sheboygan County Library


Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke

Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (17 April 1885 – 7 September 1962), née Karen Christenze Dinesen, was a Danish author also known under her pen name Isak Dinesen. She also wrote under the pen names Osceola and Pierre Andrézel. Blixen wrote works in both Danish and in English. She is best known for Out of Africa, her account of living in Kenya, and one of her stories, Babette's Feast, both of which have been adapted into highly acclaimed, Academy Award-winning motion pictures. Prior to the release of the first film, she was noted for her Seven Gothic Tales, for which she is also known in Denmark.

Karen Dinesen was the daughter of writer and army officer, Wilhelm Dinesen, and Ingeborg Westenholz, and the sister of Thomas Dinesen. She was born into a Unitarian bourgeois family in Rungsted, on the island of Zealand, in Denmark, and was schooled in art in Copenhagen, Paris, and Rome.

She began publishing fiction in Danish periodicals in 1905 under the pseudonym Osceola, the name of the Seminole leader, possibly inspired by her father's connection with Native Americans. From August 1872 to December 1873, Wilhelm Dinesen had lived among the Chippewa Indians, in Wisconsin, where he fathered a daughter, who was born after his return to Denmark. Wilhelm Dinesen hanged himself in 1895 after being diagnosed with syphilis when Karen was nine.

In 1913 Karen Dinesen became engaged to her second-cousin, the Swedish Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, after a failed love affair with his brother. The couple moved to Kenya, where in early 1914 they used family money to establish a coffee plantation, hiring African workers, predominantly the Kikuyu tribespeople who lived on the farmlands at the time of their arrival.

This and other texts from Wikipedia



Isak Dinesen and the land and people she loved are nowhere so real and compelling as in LONGING FOR DARKNESS, written by Dinesen's majordomo, Kamante. Readers familiar with OUT OF AFRICA may recognize many of these enchanting stories--retold here from Kamante's perspective and enhanced with his drawings, letters, Dinesen's words and snapshots, and photographs by Peter Beard throughout.


Karen's Residence

My photo from 1987



photographs by Peter Beard




photograph by Peter Beard


Kamante Gatura – A young boy crippled by running sores when he enters Blixen’s life, Kamante was successfully treated by the doctors at the “Scotch" Christian mission near the farm, and thereafter served Blixen as a cook and as a wry, laconic commentator on her choices and her lifestyle. There is a strong suggestion that Blixen and Kamante are well-suited as friends because both are loners and skeptics, who look at their own cultures with the critical eye of the misfit.


Kamante Gatura


My photo of the interior (1987)


photograph by Peter Beard

Karen's dining room



My wife, Marlene


photographs by Peter Beard


photograph by Peter Beard



My wife, Marlene, leaving


photograph by Peter Beard

Karen leaving

The Neighborhood


tea plantation


nearby tea plantation house


where Karen's Kikuyu once lived

The Animals of Karen's Africa



African Lions feeding




African Elephants












Masai Giraffe


The Rothschild Giraffe


The Rothschild Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) is the second most endangered giraffe subspecies with only a few hundred members.It is named after the famous family of the Tring Museum's founder, Lord Walter Rothschild, and is also known as the Baringo Giraffe, after the Lake Baringo area of Kenya, or as the Ugandan Giraffe, All of those that are living in the wild are in protected areas in Kenya and Uganda. (Recently it has been proposed that the Rothschild Giraffe is actually a separate species from other giraffes and not a giraffe subspecies.) While giraffes in general are classified as Lower Risk: Conservation Dependent, the Rothschild Giraffe is at particular risk of hybridisation, as the population is so limited in numbers. There are very few locations where the Rothschild Giraffe can be seen in the wild, with notable spots being Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya and Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda. There are various captive breeding programmes in place—most notably at The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, and at Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire, England—which aim to expand the genetic gene-pool in the wild population of the Rothschild Giraffe.

Rothschild Giraffes are easily distinguishable from other subspecies. The most obvious sign is in the coloring of the coat, or pelt. Where the Reticulated Giraffe has very clearly defined dark patches with bright whitish channels between them, the Rothschild Giraffe more closely resembles the Masai Giraffe. However, when compared to the Masai Giraffe, the Rothschild subspecies is paler, the orange-brown patches are less jagged and sharp in shape and the connective channel is of a creamier hue compared to that seen on the Reticulated Giraffe. In addition, the Rothschild Giraffe displays no markings on the lower leg, giving the impression that it is wearing white stockings.

Another distinguishing feature of the Rothschild Giraffe, although harder to spot, is the number of horns on the head. This is the only subspecies to be born with five 'horns'. Two of these are 'true' horns at the top of the head, in common with all giraffes. The third 'horn' can often be seen in the centre of the giraffe's forehead and the other two behind each ear. They are also taller than many other subspecies, measuring up to six metres tall (20 ft).

Rothschild Giraffes mate at any time of the year and have a gestation period of 14 to 16 months, with one calf generally being born. They live in small herds, with males and females (and their calves) living separately, only mixing for mating.

Males are larger than females and their two 'true' horns are usually bald from sparring. They also tend to be darker in colour than the females, although this is not a guaranteed sexing indicator.


Rothschild Mansion


Gerenuk feeding

The Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri), also known as the Waller's Gazelle, is a long-necked species of antelope found in dry bushy scrub and steppe in East Africa. The word Gerenuk comes from the Somali language, meaning “giraffe-necked”, and leads to another common name, the Giraffe-necked Antelope. It is the only member of the genus Litocranius.

Gerenuks have a small head for their body, but their eyes and ears are big. Unlike females, males have horns and a more muscular neck. They are brown on their back, and lighter underneath. They have short, black tails. From head to tail, the gerenuk is around 150 cm long. Males are a little taller than females, ranging from 89-105 cm, and the females are 80-100 cm. The male is also heavier than the female, weighing at 45 kg, and females are 30 kg.

Gerenuks eat food from higher places than most other gazelles and antelopes. They do this by standing up on their hind legs, and stretching out their long necks to get food off of tall bushes or small trees. Most of their diet is made up of tender leaves and shoots of prickly bushes and trees, but also includes buds, flowers, fruit, and climbing plants. Gerenuks do not need to drink, because they get enough water from the plants they eat. Because of this, they can survive in their dry habitat.


Cape Buffalo

The African buffalo, affalo or cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large African bovid. It is not closely related to the slightly larger wild Asian water buffalo, but its ancestry remains unclear. Owing to its unpredictable nature which makes it highly dangerous to humans, it has not been domesticated, unlike its Asian counterpart, the domestic Asian water buffalo.

The African buffalo is a very robust species. It is up to 1.7 metres high, 3.4 meters long. Savannah type buffaloes weigh 500–900 kg, with males, normally larger than females, reaching the upper weight range. forest type buffaloes are only half that size. Savannah type buffalo have black or dark brown coats and their horns are curved to a closed crescent. Forest type buffalo are reddish brown in color with horns that curve out backwards and upwards. Calves of both types have red coats.




Karen's Kikuyu from "Out of Africa"


My Photo of a Kikuyu


Denys Finch Hatton as shown in "Out of Africa"

Denys Finch Hatton – Blixen’s portrait of Finch Hatton is as a kind of philosopher king, a man of exceptional erudition and natural grace, at one with nature, who fit in everywhere and nowhere: “When he came back to the farm, it gave out what was in it – it spoke… When I heard his car coming up the drive, I heard, at the same time, all the things of the farm telling what they really were.” Such glowing reports of Finch Hatton are not uncommon; by all accounts he radiated, from a young age, a kind of warmth and serenity that many people found irresistible. But while Blixen is generally believed to have been Finch Hatton's lover, and she writes of him with unbridled adoration, in Out of Africa at least she refrains from ever clearly defining the nature of their relationship. Finch Hatton came from a titled British family and was educated at Eton and Oxford. But he turned his back on his British noblesse, and came to Africa in 1911, at the age of 24. He began as a farmer and trader, but later became a white hunter – and he was well-liked by many Africans. Blixen met Finch Hatton at a dinner in 1918. He was, to judge by Blixen’s correspondence as well as some passages from Out of Africa, the great love of her life. She was bound, she wrote to her brother, "to love the ground he walks upon, to be happy beyond words when he is here, and to suffer worse than death many times when he leaves." After August 1923, when not on safari, Finch Hatton used Blixen’s farm as his home base. Like her, Finch Hatton was a lifelong non-conformist, and it was apparently a cause of great heartache to her that he resisted her efforts to form a more permanent “partnership.” Blixen is believed to have miscarried at least one child fathered by him. From late 1930 to early 1931, as their romance was ending, Finch Hatton took Blixen flying over her farm and other parts of Africa in his de Havilland Gipsy Moth biplane, which she described as “the most transporting pleasure of my life on the farm.” In May 1931, when their affair was likely over for good, Finch Hatton was killed when his Gypsy Moth crashed after takeoff at the Voi aerodrome; those events are recounted in the last chapters of Out of Africa.


Denys Finch Hatton with his Masi warrior companion


Lion over Denys's grave


Sunset in Africa

Into Africa: Globetrotting Sheboygan photographer will share his images of Kenya at Mead Library presentation

By Deanne Schultz • Press correspondent • June 17, 2010

Sheboygan resident/global traveler/photographer Galen Frysinger has traveled to 174 countries in his lifetime — by his calculations, there are about 199 independent countries in the world, and of the 25 that he hasn't set foot in, 22 of those are in Africa.

Thankfully, his camera came along on his globetrotting, capturing enough images to create 4,500 pages — yes, pages — of treasures for his website.

Frysinger will share his experiences in one of those 174 destinations — Kenya— in a special presentation at 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 23, called, "Karen Blixen's Africa: As Told from My Travels," in the Rocca Meeting Room in Mead Public Library.

Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, who wrote under the name Isak Dinesen, is known for her book "Out of Africa," a magical memoir detailing her experiences managing a Kenyan coffee plantation after her divorce from Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke.

Frysinger scrolled through some of the images he'll show during the presentation, taken when he and his wife, Marlene Roeseler, visited in 1987.

"This is my photo of Karen's house outside Nairobi, in Kenya," he said, stopping at a scene of a white-trimmed stone house, framed by a brick walkway lined with orange-bloomed flowers. "It's now a museum in memory of her."

As the photo journey continued, images of Blixen's library appear, shelves of books lined up next to a desk that sits on a rich wood floor, its herringbone pattern adding vibrancy to the scene.

Frysinger took hundreds of pictures of the animals of Karen's Africa — lions devouring a wildebeest carcass, the curving white ribs like arching fingers; the dusty hides of foraging elephants, their huge tusks tearing through the brush; cheetahs and leopards bounding over the terrain; and Frysinger's favorite, the cape buffalo that glare from under their curved horns.

"He's my favorite, mainly because his personality is like my own," Frysinger said. He read with a laugh the description he wrote on the Web page: "Owing to its unpredictable nature, which makes it highly dangerous to humans, it has not been domesticated."

Perhaps one of the most important parts of the presentation comes in the form of Kamante Gatura, the Kikuyu youth that Blixen took under her wing.

When Gatura met Blixen, he was crippled by running sores, so Blixen brought the boy to a mission near the farm where he was successfully treated.

"He came back and they were bonded together for the rest of her stay in Africa," Frysinger said. "He was her houseboy and cook."

"This is the kitchen where Kamante lived," Frysinger said, stopping at a photo showing a small stone and wood building nestled between trees.

Gatura also was an artist, and a selection of his ink drawings are featured in an exhibit, "Kamante Gatura: Survival of the Fittest," is now on display at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Although many of the scenes depict the savagery found in African nature, other scenes show animals done in bold strokes, frolicking or standing, but always in pairs or groups, a level gaze fixed at their viewers.


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