Famous Expat Women

I have added a few to this post which first appeared last year.

 

 

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)

 

Sylvia Beach, 1927

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sylvia Beach was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein and also lived in Paris.  She was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  Her father was a minister and she grew up in Europe.  She owned the bookstore Shakespeare and Company and published James Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else would touch it, even though she had no money herself.  She lived in Paris most of her adult life.  Her memoir is:

Shakespeare & Company (1959)

 

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And just for fun… Catherine the Great.  She was born in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), and traveled to Russia in 1744.  In 1745, at age 16, she married Grand Duke Peter of Russia and became the Russian empress in 1762.  She did not get on well with her husband and managed to “convince” him to abdicate.  Soon afterwards he was mysteriously killed.  She continued to rule Russia on her own until her death at age 67.  I visited her palace outside St Petersburg a couple of times when I was living in Russia.  There was one room I particularly liked was the Amber Room.  The walls are covered in amber and other precious jewels.  A recently published book about her life:

Catherine the Great by Robert K Massie (2011)

 

Who are your favorites??

 

 

25 thoughts on “Famous Expat Women

    • Thank you for the information on Isabelle de Charriere, she looks like an interesting person and I look forward to reading more about her. I would like to find more of these interesting women and as I do, I will continue to post. 🙂

  1. Thanks for re-posting! I love Karen Blixen. I read a lot of her works, as well as her autobiography… a truly fascinating woman. And despite so many problems and tragedies, personal, financial, psychological, health, etc, she managed to create an amazing body of work that will be with us forever.

  2. What an interesting post! I always find it so inspiring to read about expat women, especially back in the ages when living abroad required so much more courage.
    Huh, that also reminds me that I could watch “Out of Africa” once again, even though I am always such a teary mess when Robert Redford dies… 😉
    Thanks for re-posting! Next time I find myself in an American or European bookstore, I will check out some of the books.

  3. Kathy,
    One of my favorites is Martha Gelhorn. Loved the article. A book you might like by my friend, Diana Anhalt, and an expat thanks to McCarthyism, is A Gathering of Fugitives.

    How are you doing, by the way? I think about you with great warmth even though we’ve yet to meet.
    Carla

    • Thanks for the recommendations. I’m fine. Trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life since I am soon to be an empty nester. How are you doing?

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