Karen Blixens Den afrikanske Farm and modern book history

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Mie Leed Strauss
4. term, History, Master (Master Programme)
Abstract til speciale “Karen Blixens Den afrikanske Farm og moderne boghistorie”

Karen Blixen or Isak Dinesen, as she is known inside the Anglo-American literature, is one of the most famous Danish authors in the world. Her second book from 1937, Den afrikanske Farm (Out of Africa) has been translated to more 20 different languages and is still her most popular book in Denmark. The book is, according to Blixen herself, a tale of the years she spent as a coffee farmer in the English colony, British East Africa (or Kenya) from 1914-31.
Just like all the translation of her book, Blixen, her literature and Life has been the subject to many analyses. However, so far only one, with perspective of the discipline book history. Journalist Marianne Juhl wrote the article ”Om Den afrikanske Farm – tilblivelsen, udgivelsen og modtagelsen af Karen Blixens anden bog” in 1984, where she examined the history of Den afrikanske Farms publishing. She did, however, not use any tools or theories from book history. This I want to change. With the theory from Robert Darnton ground-breaking article ”What is the History of Books?” from 1982. In this paper, I wish develop Juhl’s work further by modifying the analytical model, Darntons proposed book historians to use, his Communications Circuit. The circuit runs through six general phases; the author, the publisher, the printers, the shippers, the booksellers and the readers. The circuit runs full with the reader, as authors often are readers themselves. I’ve chosen to focus on the author, the publisher and the readers, I my quest to answer the following questions;

What were Karen Blixen’s motives for writing Den afrikanske Farm? What were the circumstances surrounding the publishing?

I’ve tried to elaborate the main question by asking; did she have a certain message with the book? Since we know she wrote both the Danish and English manuscript herself, how did it affect her work of process? Did she run into any problems while writing? And how did the Danish critics receive the Book?
In my effort to answer these questions, this paper will treat these topics; Darntons theory and modern book history. Through letters and biographies Blixen’s life, both in Denmark and Kenya, will be illustrated. In an effort to find her intentions, I want to show how she became an author and use interview to exemplify Blixen’s own opinion on the book. Afterwards I’m going to use the correspondence between Blixen and her American and English editors to see how the worked together to publishing the finished book. This will shed light on Blixen’s work process on both the Danish and English edition. Finally, I’m going to show some of the Danish reviews from 1937 trying to understand the Danish reception.
After my analysis I can conclude this; Blixen had a big wish to share her love for Africa and she wanted to write about the subject, and tried unsuccessful, for years before 1937. She wanted to tell the world the true story about the life and the natives in Kenya. But writing the book was a difficult journey. Both Blixen’s health and mental state affected her work. However, she was also a big critic of her own work and kept editing. Subsequently her book did not publish on the same date in Denmark, England and America as she had hoped for. The American edition actually ended up being delayed several months, due to communications issues. The reception in Denmark was mixed reviews. Most critics had both good and bad to say about the book, none of them were blown away.
However Blixen reviewed several private letters with kind word, and like I pointed out in the start, her book still sells today.
Publication date2020
Number of pages61
ID: 328892219