Famous Expat Women

Karen Blixen’s farm in Kenya

I watched Out of Africa last night for the umpteenth time and it got me thinking about all the amazing expat women through the ages.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Karen Blixen was Danish.  She married Baron Bror von Blixen and they moved to Kenya in 1914.  He was kind enough to give her syphilis and she returned to Denmark after one year for arsenic treatment.  She lived through it and returned to Kenya for another 16 years. She ran a successful coffee farm for a while but always struggled with it and eventually was forced to sell the land.  Her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, was a big game hunter who died in a plane crash just as she was dealing with the loss of her farm.  She returned to Denmark and lived there for the rest of her life.  She wrote under the name Isak Dineson as well as a few others and a couple of her more famous books are:

Out of Africa  (1937)

Anexdotes of Destiny  (1958) – includes Babette’s Feast which was made into a movie

Letters from Africa 1914-1931  (1981 – posthumous)

 

Beryl Markam was English.  Her family moved to Kenya when she was 4 years old in 1906.   She became friends with Karen Blixen even though there was an 18 year gap in age.  Beryl also had a brief affair with Denys Finch Hatton and was due to fly with him the day he crashed.  She had some kind of premonition and did not go.  However she did go on to fly extensively in the African bush and was the first women to fly across the Atlantic from East to West.  She briefly lived in California married to an avocado farmer but eventually retuned to Kenya and became a well known horse trainer.  Her memoir (a very good read) is:

West with the Night  (1942, re-released in 1983)

 

Alexandra David-Neel was French.  She became an explorer at a young age running away from home at the age of 18 to ride her bicycle to Spain and back.  In 1904 at the age of 36 she was traveling in Tunis and married a railway engineer.  That didn’t last long since she immediately had itchy feet and set off for India.  She told her husband she would be back in 18 months but did not return for 14 years.  Her goal was Sikkim in the northern mountains.  She spent years studying with the hermits and monks of the region and eventually, dressed as a man, snuck into the forbidden city of Lhasa.  Her travels were extensive and you can read more about her here:

http://www.alexandra-david-neel.org/anglais/biog.htm

Her account of her trip to Lhasa is:

My Journey to Lhasa (1927)

 

Gertrude Stein was an American Jewish lesbian writer who moved to Paris in 1904.  She held “Salons” promoting modern unknown artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne.  During World War 1 she learned to drive a car and drove a supply truck for the American Fund for French Wounded supplying hospitals in France with her life long companion Alice B Toklas.  Her writing was revolutionary and influenced many modern writers including Hemmingway.  She was a strong minded woman with strong opinions and a copious writer with a great sense of humor.  She was a real character as all these women were.  One of the easiest books of hers to read is:

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas  (1933)

Another one I like very much is:

Ida, A Novel (1941)

 

Who are your favorites??

 

 

 

 

16 thoughts on “Famous Expat Women

  1. What a great post! I’ve been to Blixen’s home…one of my favorite memories is reading Out of Africa, which starts with “I had a home in the Ngong Hills” and being able to look up and see them. I admire women as brave as these and am eager to read Markham’s memoirs.

    Have you heard of Gertrude Bell, an early expert on the Mideast?

  2. Loved West with the Night…even the title gets me dreaming. One of my favorite books ever.

  3. I’ve had a similar post in mind, after just finishing Out of Africa. What an incredible book! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Markam’s “West with the Night” — one of my all-time favorite books. And you probably know that when Karen Blixen complained about Finch-Hatton being distant, sometimes he was flying high with sweet Beryl.

  5. Fascinating women!

    A part of me hoped my life would be as exotic as ‘Out of Africa’ when I moved to Gabon but unfortunately, the only animals I see are goats, dogs & chickens!

  6. My favorite is Karen Blixen. I lived in Kenya for a couple of years, ages ago, and loved it. The book and the movie – Out of Africa – are so romantic, but real life probably wasn’t quite that way 😉

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