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

Work Details

The Adventuress
Aquatint and etching on Japanese paper, hand-marbled end papers, Ultrasuede binding
11 x 9 1/2 in.
Gift of United States Department of Education
On Display

About This Work

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. 

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National Museum of Women in the Arts