I’m keen on all sorts of my fellow females — broads, gold-diggers, career girls — but the best is the adventuress. According to Merriam-Webster, she is ‘a) a woman who seeks dangerous or exciting experiences; b) a woman who seeks position or livelihood by questionable means’. To me she is an admirable character who simply seeks to make life an awfully big adventure rather than be merely hatched, matched and dispatched as women historically were expected to be. If people are either radiators or drains, she is a blast furnace determined to use her youth and beauty as fuel to be burned rather than fruit to be preserved. She makes the corny lines about life not being a dress rehearsal — often seen as the screensaver of scared souls living lacklustre lives — gloriously flesh. So I’m pleased a modern twist on this type, Ms Meghan Markle, is soon to marry into the House of Windsor.
Adventuresses have always been with us — think of Lilith, Delilah and Salome forever stirring up the ancient neighbourhoods with their wayward antics — but an adventuress without options may become a slut, which often ends in tears. A hopeful adventuress needs to be mobile, to jaunt when things are good, to flee when they are not, so the modern age of mass transport saw her come into her own; adventuresses are keen on planes (private), trains (sleepers) and automobiles (top down). In Breakfast At Tiffany’s, one of literature’s loveliest says it thrice on her apartment name-slot card — MISS HOLIDAY GOLIGHTLY, TRAVELLING — and we first get a hint of Becky Sharp’s intent when on leaving school she throws her prize dictionary from a moving carriage. Alpha-adventuress Amelia Earhart, in a letter written to her husband and delivered to him on the day of their wedding, wrote: ‘I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.’
Adventuresses can be arty — Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Edna St Vincent Millay (but not Dorothy Parker; too short and sad). Adventuresses are above all resilient, and nowhere is this better seen than in the case of the film-star sort: Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich and Hedy Lamarr all swerved the suicide practically mandatory for screen sex symbols and lived on till good ages. As did Liz Taylor, of course, who took the top prize when she was denounced by the Vatican as ‘an erotic vagrant’. (That mobility thing again.)
Not only popes are opposed to the adventuress: little men generally are scared of her, and she is a rebuke to those women who have lived life cautiously — who have married for money or been doormats for love — and ended up castrated, frustrated, envious and embittered either way.
Adventuresses can end badly, of course; a thwarted adventuress is a sad thing, like a peacock stuffed into a goldfish bowl. It will please Markle’s haters to note that royalty is not generally a good thing for her kind; both Princess Margaret, who was born royal and ran aground trying to be an adventuress, and Wallis Simpson, who experienced the reverse journey, ended up living half-lives, ghosts of their former swashbuckling selves. But then again, loyal wives and steadfast mothers can end up badly too, ditched by spouses who find them dull — and at least an adventuress will have fun on the way.
She’s a thoroughly modern minx who won’t wear the traditional fur and fracas of the professional vamp, but I’d love it if Meghan Markle turned out to be an adventuress as well as a woman in love. (You have to admit that posting the ex-husband’s ring back was a hopeful sign.) The fearsome words ‘American divorcee’ have been aired, the press is squared, the middle class is quite prepared — bring on the bunting.