Renée Schwarzenbach was the daughter of Swiss General Ulrich Wille and Clara Countess Bismarck, which meant she was a granddaughter of Count Friedrich Wilhelm Bismarck (1783-1860), the famous German soldier, writer and diplomat. Her father was head of the Swiss army during World War 1. In 1904 she married Alfred Schwarzenbach, a wealthy businessman in the silk industry. They had five children.
She lived an intensive life without compromise. She was a passionate horsewoman, photographer (which she first became interested in at the age of 14) and music-lover—in particular of Wagner. After her marriage she chronicled the family life on their country estate in a detailed photographic diary—at her death she had filled 64 photo-albums. Although she devoted herself to her husband and family she also had a long-term affair with the German opera singer Emmy Krüger.
Although she documented her short life, she had a difficult relationship with her second daughter Annemarie, writer, photographer, traveller and drug-addict, partly due to her (Renée's) controversial right-wing views. Renée held political sympathies towards Germany, whether the Kaiser, Hitler or Adenauer was in power. During her many stays in Munich with her mistress, she saw the rise of Nazism as a way of overcoming the humiliating Treaty of Versailles. After World War 2 she helped out those Germans who had fled to Switzerland to escape the Allies.
- Bilder mit Legenden. Alexis Schwarzenbach (Scheidegger & Spiess Zürich, 2001, ISBN 3-85881-169-6)
- Schwarzenbach, Alexis (2004). Die Geborene - Renée Schwarzenbach-Wille und ihre Familie. Zurich: Scheidegger & Spiess. ISBN 3-85881-161-0.
- Maillart, Ella (1947). The Cruel Way. London: William Heinemann.