The Adventuress 1983–85

Visual novel shows a man on one page holding a woman with his back to the viewer. The opposite page reads "And carried her gently away."

Audrey Niffenegger, The Adventuress, 1983–85; Gift of United States Department of Education

Niffenegger conceived, printed, and handbound The Adventuress, her first visual novel, when she was a 21-year-old student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The most surreal of Niffenegger’s visual novels, The Adventuress tells a story of impossible love, loss, betrayal, and death.

This tale of a nameless adventuress, who was created by an alchemist, is typical of Niffenegger’s works in its inclusion a few details related to the artist’s personal life—she owns cats and has book-filled rooms, both of which are featured prominently in the imagery.

This dreamlike narrative follows the adventuress as she is kidnapped and forced to marry an old man; escapes and transforms herself temporarily into a giant moth; has a love affair with Napoleon Bonaparte; and gives birth to a cat, whom she treats as a beloved child. She eventually dies, heartbroken, after a betrayal by the doomed emperor.

As in many of Niffenegger’s tales, the dead and the living coexist and interact with all the joy, despair, and complexity that characterize human relationships. 

National Museum of Women in the Arts