Karin Michaëlis was the daughter of a telegraph official and noted Freemason, Jacob Anthonius Brøndum (1837–1921), and his wife Nielsine Petrine Bech (1839–1932). Her mother contributed to the family's meager income by making wreaths; her grandmother and an aunt played a large role in her early upbringing. In Pigen med Glasskaarene (Girl with Glass Pieces) (first volume of the master work Træet på Godt og Ondt, written in the period 1924-30), she gave a picture of that milieu. In school she was teased because she was small, chubby, and suffered from strabismus.
Copenhagen and marriage to Sophus MichaëlisEdit
In her youth Michaëlis was a private teacher for a few years, partly in Læsø and partly in a manor house north of Randers. In 1892 she moved to Copenhagen, to become trained as a piano teacher, where she became acquainted with the writer Sophus Michaëlis (1865–1932), whom she married in 1895. The couple earned their living predominantly through theater reviews. In 1911 the marriage was terminated.
Second marriage and writing careerEdit
The following year, Michaëlis married the Norwegian-American diplomat Charles Emil Stangeland in New Rochelle, New York. She had met Stangeland the previous year while returning from the U.S. to Denmark aboard a ship. He was a political economist, educated at Columbia University, and at the time of his marriage to Michaëlis was posted to Bolivia as secretary to the American Legation. Stangeland was unhappy with the literary and political activities of his wife, who just at this time experienced a breakthrough as an author with Den farlige Alder (The Dangerous Age). They were separated in 1917 and divorced in 1930. There were no children from either marriage.
During World War I Michaëlis was active in humanitarian work in Austria. Her great friendship with Eugenie Schwarzwald stood not only for her connection with Vienna but also for her social engagement in this country.
Early on, Karin Michaëlis warned of the danger arising from Mussolini and Hitler. In 1932 she took part in an anti-war congress in Amsterdam where she advocated conscientious objection and peace education for children. From 1933 on she took in German emigrants on her property in Thurø, including Bertolt Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel. After the rise of fascism, her books were banned in Germany and Italy. In 1940, with the invasion of Denmark, she herself emigrated to America; in 1946, after the end of World War II, she returned to Denmark. She is buried in the Thurø cemetery.
In the course of 50 years, Karin Michaëlis wrote 36 novels for adults, nine children's books, and two autobiographies, plus many other books and a number of newspaper and periodical articles.
In 1910 she published Den farlige Alder (The Dangerous Age). It is the story of Elsie Lindtner, who, after divorcing her husband, attempts to rekindle a relationship with a younger man who had once worshipped her from afar. When this relationship fails as well, she resolves to spend her life traveling throughout the world with a female friend. The book created a great sensation, because it began to cut through tabooed themes like the sexual desires of a 40-year-old woman. The novel was translated many times and filmed several times, including a 1927 version with Asta Nielsen.
Among the articles she wrote for American magazines were a two-part series for Munsey's Magazine in 1913, entitled "Why Are Women Less Truthful Than Men" and an interview with Woodrow Wilson for Living Age Magazine in 1925, "On President Wilson's Trail"
In 1914, Glaedens Skole (School of Joy) was published, about a reform school in Vienna led by her friend, the Austrian pedagogue Eugenie Schwarzwald. Michaëlis also wrote a series of books about the growing up experiences of a girl called Bibi. The Bibi books came in seven volumes from 1929 to 1939 and became a big international success. In these novels for adolescents, readers meet the stationmaster's daughter Bibi, who is motherless, but as a result free. She is an idealistic tomboy who rides free on the streetcars and fights ceaselessly for animal causes.
Finally, the autobiographies Little Troll and Vidunderlige Verden (Wonderful World) were published in the 1940s.
- "Karin Michaëlis (1872 - 1950) Michaëlis, Katharina (Karin) Marie Bech". Dansk Kvindebiografisk Leksikon (Danish). Retrieved 2011-04-28.
- "Karin Michaelis, Author, Marries" (PDF). New York Times. 25 February 1912. Retrieved 2011-04-27.
- Ward, Harry F. (1940). "Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States: Hearings before a Special Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, 75th Congress, 3rd session-78th Congress, 2nd session, on HR 282". US GPO. pp. 6227f.
- "Elsie Lindtner a Sad Heroine" (PDF). New York Times. 27 August 1911. Retrieved 2011-04-29.
- Michaëlis, Karin (13 May 1913). ""Why Are Women Less Truthful Than Men"" (readable PDF). www.unz.org. Munsey's Magazine. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
- Michaëlis, Karin (18 July 1925). ""On President Wilson's Trail"" (readable PDF). www.unz.org. Living AgeMagazine. Retrieved 16 June 2015.