Cheating creep. Womanizing cad. Unbelievably fiscally irresponsible jerk.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Karen's future ex: Bror von Blixen-Finecke.
Just as it's hard to see what you can dislike about Denys, it's hard to see what the heck Karen ever sees in Bror. Truth be told, all he really offers her is a title. It's marriage of convenience, not of love: he's got a noble title, she's got some money, and they both more or less get what they want out of it. People did it all the time back in the day, and nobody really looked twice.
But that's not why Bror's the worst husband ever. It's his noble entitlement that tells him he doesn't have to tell anyone about his decisions, even when those decisions affect them. Exhibit A: buying a coffee plantation, which Karen knows nothing about, after telling her that it would be a dairy farm, which she knows a lot about.
That's the kind of thing you really need to be clear about when someone's flying to the middle of Africa with you. But when she gets angry about it, he brushes her off.
BROR: You plant it. It grows.
Of course, the real reason he wanted coffee was that he could go running around with a no-doubt bewildering array of girlfriends. Never mind that Karen has to stay behind and actually figure out how to make it all work.
And that's not even the worst of it.
Those girlfriends we mentioned? One of them has syphilis and she passes it on to Bror, who passes it on to Karen. That would be bad enough in this day and age, but back then, you could die from it. Karen has to go back to Denmark for a long treatment of highly questionable effectiveness, which involves low doses of extremely poisonous chemicals.
That's enough to file for divorce, take him for everything he has, and possibly hunt him for sport, depending on the local laws.
And yet, for some reason, she actually forgives him. She even stays married to him for a while, until his womanizing continues unabated and she decides she's not ready for Possibly Fatal Venereal Disease Part II.
There's a reason she lets him stay. For all of his faults, he actually has some good qualities. He's honest with her in a weird way, and he never tries to deny who he is. He's also extremely good at not holding a grudge, and his easygoing nature makes it easier to forgive, even if the disease means she'll never really forget.
Take the way he reacts to news that Denys is her new squeeze, for example. He's actually kind of glad about it.
BROR: He's smarter than I am. It may go well.
That gives him a weird likability that's heard to deny, even in the face of Those Things That He Did. He's far from a perfect man, and he may even be a bad man, but he's not a man who you can hold a grudge against for long. The real Bror was a hugely popular guy.
The real Karen kept a lifelong affection for the unfaithful but lovable Bror. His philandering behavior wasn't unusual for their social set at the time (see our "Brain Snacks" section for more juicy details), and he became a world-class safari guide and hunter to earn money after the divorce from Karen left him broke. Toward the end of her life, someone asked Karen what she wished she could do over again.
She said it would be to go on another safari with Bror.