In 1985 a film was released titled, Out of Africa, an American epic romantic drama, directed and produced by Sydney Pollack, and starred Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. The movie was loosely based on the book of the same name with additional material from the book, Shadows on the Grass. Both books were written by Isak Dinesen (one of the pen names for author Karen Blixen, pictured above). Despite mixed reviews, the film won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.
The film begins with Meryl Streep's voice, "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills", as a train travels through the vast beautiful plains of the Kenyan Rift Valley near the Ngong Hills. The passenger car was actually a small office/sleeper car used by supervisors in the building of the Uganda Railway and was the actual car from which a man was taken and killed by a marauding lioness. Out of Africa was filmed using descendants of several people of the Kikuyu tribe who are named in the book, including the grandson of chief Kinyanjui who played his grandfather.
Karen Blixen was born Karen Dinesen on April 17, 1885. She was a Danish author who wrote works both in Danish and English. She is best known under the pen name, Isak Dinesen, for her English readers, and Tania Blixen, for her German readers. She has also published works under the name Osceola, (the name of her father's dog) and Pierre Andrezel. Karen's early years were greatly influenced by her father's relaxed manner and his love for the outdoor life. His carefree lifestyle would bring on syphilis and bouts of depression, causing him to hang himself in 1895, just short of Karen's tenth birthday.
Arriving in Kenya in December of 1913, following her fiancee, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, she married on January 14, 1914 in Mombasa. But, Bror was unfaithful and Karen was diagnosed with syphilis before the end of her first year of marriage. The Blixen couple's first plan was to raise cattle on their new Kenyan farm, but, found coffee a more profitable option. Karen's medical treatment would prove a strain on the marriage and Bror requested a divorce in 1920, they separated in 1921 and were divorced in 1925. Karen would take over managing the farm.
By this time Karen had met big game hunter, Denys Finch Hatton, and had created a close friendship that turned into a long term love affair. Denys would make Karen's farm his base for his safari business. However, the coffee plantation was failing despite Karen's efforts. And, in 1931, news arrived that Denys had been killed in a plane crash. Denys was buried in the Ngong Hills. His gravesite bears a plaque with a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "He prayeth well, who loveth well both man and bird and beast".
Karen returned to Denmark to live with her mother, never to return to Kenya. She died in 1962 at the age of 77, possibly due to anorexia nervosa.
"He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small ;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all. "