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Temporal Adventuress

Entry updated 7 November 2022. Tagged: Theme.

A figure of late twentieth-century Fantastika, where she stands out against the male-dominated storylines that dominated adventure fiction in general, and tales of the fantastic in particular; more recently, women adventurers tend to appear without arousing special attention. The roots of the Adventuress can be traced back to the nineteenth century, where precursors can be detected in characters like H Rider Haggard's She, who travels through Time by means of Reincarnation/Immortality rather than Timeslip. The most important source, however, is probably the protagonist of Virginia Woolf's Time Opera Orlando (1928), who begins life in Elizabethan England as an androgynous-seeming young man, becomes a woman in Turkey (see Transgender SF), timeslips back to Augustan England, jumps a further century forward, and finally into 1928, effortlessly escaping, through these shifts and jumps, any attempts to define her role, her Gender, her being. There is a slippery invulnerability about her passage which conveyed a dreamlike appeal to later writers, though it irritated Angela Carter, whose own temporal adventuress-like figures almost constantly pay for every somersault they make from sex to sex, from world to world; Jeanette Winterson, on the other hand, was comfortable with the implications of the figure, as demonstrated in The Passion (1987). After Orlando, the central model for the Adventuress may be the swashbuckling figure of Jirel, a Sword-and-Sorcery freelance who appears in several stories by C L Moore, variously collected but most conveniently assembled in Jirel of Joiry (coll of linked stories 1969; vt Black God's Shadow 1977). She supplies a necessary element of athleticism to the model.

All these influences are wedded together in two characters – Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius – who appear throughout Michael Moorcock's Cornelius sequence, most specifically in The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century (1976; cut vt The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius 1980), engaging in espionage, philosophy and debate, jumping from one aspect of the Multiverse to another whenever cornered, always surviving. There is something of the Temporal Adventuress in Joanna Russ's Alyx; further examples may be found in Mary Gentle's White Crow sequence and Chris Roberson's Celestial Empire sequence; she appears in Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (2006). In Iain Pears's Arcadia (2015), the bold scientist Angela Meerson escapes via Time Machine from a future Dystopia into more than one world.

If there is a problem with the Temporal Adventuress, it is perhaps that the feminist (see Feminism) message she promulgates can justify a certain smugness in her depiction. She tends to be all too smoothly immune to the anguish and death she herself is quite capable of creating, and of timeslipping costlessly out of reach of consequences. [JC]

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