I've always love a good late bloomer story. So I was particularly fascinated by the tale of Jane Digby, who after multiple marriages and love affairs, didn't give up on her hunt for true love. Now, admittedly Jane was drop-dead gorgeous so she was playing at the game of love with a fully stacked deck. But even so, she followed her heart at the risk of losing family and friends (which she did), but her quest wasn't just about love, it was also about creating a life full of adventure.
Learning Lessons in Love
Born into a well-off family (her father was an admiral who seized a treasure ship -- and perhaps the source of Jane's adventurous spirit.), Jane's early years were fairly unremarkable (except for the foreshadowing time that she nearly eloped with the groom). There was the requisite early marriage to a Baron (she was 17, he was 34). Things started getting interesting, when after the birth of the couple's first son (who died in infancy), she had an affair with her dashing first cousin.
Then, there was the affair with Prince Felix Schwarzenberg. That was more serious and Jane was so in love with the Prince that she demanded a divorce (she also happened to be pregnant with the Prince's child at the time) A divorce could only be granted by an act of Parliament, and the resulting scandal meant that Jane was unwelcome in polite society. The couple moved to France and three children together, but the Prince had a wandering eye and when that relationship ended. Jane moved to Munich where she became the mistress of Ludwig, King of Bavaria, and then married again. Although, this third husband was devoted to her, Jane was not quite so enamored, and she she soon found herself attracted to a Greek Count, to the utter dismay of her husband, who challenged the Count to a dual.
Meeting and Marrying the Sheikh
Not sure if you're counting, but we're up to three husbands and many more lovers. So the relationship with the Count ends, Jane has a couple more love affairs, and then when she was forty-six years old, Jane set out on an adventure. She traveled to the Middle East (what is now Syria), where she met and fell in love with Sheikh Abdul Mijwal. Al Mezrab, who was 20 years her junior. It was during a punishing 24-hour camel ride through the Syrian desert, that he was so captivated by Jane's charm and courageousness, that he asked her to marry him. By all accounts (including hers, Jane left a detailed journal), the marriage was a happy one. Jane wore Arab clothing, learned Arabic (she was fluent in eight other languages), and spent half the year living the nomadic life of her husband. The other half of the year she spent living in a grand house that she built in Damascus. She died when she was 73. Her husband never married again nor lived in the Damascus home without her.
If you're as fascinated by this story as I was, then I recommend delving into Mary S. Lovell's biography, Rebel Heart: The Scandalous Life of Jane Digby. Jane's story is fascinating but Lovell delves into all the details -- even the most mundane, so good skimming skills come in handy. If I've just turned you off of the bio, but you'd still like to read more about Jane, then I highly recommend Betsy Prioleau's deftly written Seductress: Women Who ravished the World and the Lost Art of Love. Prioleau includes Jane in her chapter on Siren-Adventurers and but there are other fascinating portraits like that of Wallis Windsor (in Belles Laides: Homely Sirens), Mae West (Silver Foxes) and Josephine Baker (Sorcières: Siren-Artist)