Karen Christenze Dinesen was born in Denmark to a family related to, though not belonging to, nobility. Her mother, Ingeborg Westenholz, came from a well-to-do family of merchants. Her father, Captain Wilhelm Dinesen, fought in the Franco-Prussian War, lived in Wisconsin with the Chippewa Indian tribe for a time, and wrote his hunting memoirs under the pseudonym “Boganis.” He committed suicide when his daughter was only ten. Many biographers have suggested that Dinesen's own biography echoes her father's wanderlust and authorial ambitions.
Dinesen married her Swedish cousin, the Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, in 1914, and the two settled in Kenya with the intention of raising coffee. Bror Blixen showed a great aptitude for hunting, but little for farming, and before long Dinesen was charged by her family investors to take over the management of the coffee plantation. Shortly after her marriage she contracted syphilis and returned to Europe for treatment. The aftereffects of the disease plagued her for the rest of her life. After they had been separated for four years, the couple divorced in 1925. During her final years in Kenya the great love of her life became Denys Finch Hatton, a younger son of English nobility and a legendary Kenyan personality. Several years of bad harvests and a depressed coffee market forced her to sell the farm in 1931. Before leaving for Denmark, she attended to the collective resettling of the Africans who had lived on her farm, an act considered eccentric and unnecessary by the British authorities. Shortly before her departure Finch Hatton was killed in an airplane accident. Overall, Dinesen had spent nineteen years in Kenya.
Her return to her native Denmark was anything but triumphant, and she later claimed that if she had not lost the farm, she would have stayed in Africa forever and never have become an author. Previously, she had published a few stories