Bowles's adventures in the lesbian and gay bars of Greenwich Village, and her open pursuit of women lovers, caused her mother and her family consternation. In 1937, she was introduced to the novelist and composer Paul Bowles--himself a homosexual--and agreed to marry him. The two soon recognized that their marriage would succeed only as a platonic friendship; both continued their homosexual liaisons.
In mid-May 1940 Paul and Jane Bowles travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico with Robert Faulkner, where Bowles composes a score for Roots in the Soil, a documentary film about the Rio Grande Valley for the Soil Erosion Service. They later go to Mexico and rent a hacienda in Acapulco, where they meet the still unknown Tennessee Williams. In Taxco, Mexico, Jane Bowles meets Helvetia Perkins, a divorcee living in Mexico with her daughter. In Taxco, Jane and Paul Bowles also meet a sixteen-year-old named Ned Rorem, who is travelling through Mexico with his father.
Paul Frederic Bowles was an American expatriate composer, author, and translator. Jane Bowles (born Jane Sydney Auer) was an American writer and playwright. Jane spent her life examining lesbian identity with an honest and sardonic wit. Jane's adventures in the lesbian and gay bars of Greenwich Village, and her open pursuit of women lovers, caused her mother and her family consternation. In 1937, she was introduced to Paul--himself a homosexual--and agreed to marry him.
Jane Bowles was a writer and playwright. Paul Bowles introduced Jane to Cherifa (Amina Bakalia) working in the grain market near the bottom of the Grand Hotel Villa de France, who will become Jane's live-in partner. Later Jane wrote: “I love Tangier. But like a dying person. When Tetum and Cherifa die I might leave. But we are all three of us the same age, more or less. Tetum older, Cherifa a bit younger. I’d like to buy them meat and fish and oil so that they will stay alive longer."
Jane Bowles with Cherifa, Tangier, August 1967 (photo by Terence Spencer)
Emilio Sánz de Soto, Pepe Cárleton, Truman Capote, Jane and Paul Bowles, at El Farhar, Tangier, August 1949 (photo by Emilio Sanz de Soto)
Jane Bowles, Truman Capote and David Herbert at a beach in Tangier, Morocco, in September 1949
In 1948 Paul Bowles finishes writing The Sheltering Sky. Paul Bowles introduces Jane Bowles to Cherifa (Amina Bakalia), a country woman, who works in the grain market near the bottom of the Grand Hotel Villa de France.
Bowles claimed that her novel, Two Serious Ladies (1943), was heavily indebted to Paul's editorial advice; and her biographer, Millicent Dillon, stresses that Jane relied on Paul's calm and rather detached sensibility in order to cope with the exigencies of life. At her death on May 4, 1973, Bowles was working on two novels, Out in the World, and Going to Massachusetts, which feature women who have chosen to isolate themselves.
Bowles also maintained a lively correspondence with her lovers, friends, and husband; these letters are collected and edited by Dillon in Out In The World: Selected Letters of Jane Bowles 1935-1970 (1985).
Bowles's writing is existentialist but with a unique lesbian sensibility. Like those of Djuna Barnes, her characters speak in curiously formal yet mocking tones.
The puppet play, A Quarreling Pair (1945), is a fine example of Bowles's unique blend of existentialist dramaturgy, irony, and lesbian sensibility. Two middle-aged sisters, Harriet and Rhoda, sit in separate rooms and quarrel endlessly about trivial tasks, the futility of life, and their inextricable bond. Dillon suggests that the play is a transcription of Bowles's relationship with Helvictia Perkins, but it perhaps better reflects Jane's marriage of convenience.
Bowles's family and her lover, Helvictia Perkins, rejected her first novel, Two Serious Ladies, as too obviously lesbian, but despite recognition that the novel's main theme is women's sexuality, the novel's lesbian content has yet to be seriously considered.
The two protagonists, Christina Goering and Mrs. Copperfield, seek salvation in a world that Bowles depicts as fragmented and threatening. From her childish religious obsessions to her adult pursuit of hopeless heterosexual love affairs, Goering seeks redemption from a self she believes is flawed by inherent sin. Her childhood friend, the more complacent Mrs. Copperfield, suddenly leaves her husband when she meets Pacifica, a prostitute who initiates her into the sensual pleasures of lesbian sex. Ironically, it is Mrs. Copperfield who finds the serenity that Goering desperately longs for.
Bowles's play In The Summer House was produced in Ann Arbor and then moved to Broadway in 1953. Remarkable for its strong women's roles, it was not the financial and critical success that Bowles desired. The play opens with Gertrude Eastman's long monologue in which she bemoans the hypocrisies of the world and berates her daughter Molly whose reclusive nature Gertrude regards as pathologically antisocial.
Molly's belief that she alone possesses her mother's affection is upset by the arrival of two rivals, the ingenuous Vivian, and Mr. Solares. Mr. Solares seduces Gertrude with displays of his wealth, and Vivian charms Gertrude with her clever comments. Feeling betrayed by her mother, Molly pushes Vivian off a cliff, but her action only reveals the hollowness of the Eastman home.
By allowing Molly to dream endlessly in the ivy-covered summerhouse, Gertrude has trapped Molly in childhood. Molly's passion disconcerts Gertrude, who flees into a marriage with Mr. Solares. Abandoned, Molly tries to recreate the safety of the Eastman home by marrying the equally innocent Lionel. Gertrude finds Solares's affection superficial, and she returns to Molly. The play concludes on an ambiguous note, for now Gertrude and not Molly is the seeker after absolute love.
Men are either ineffectual or disruptive forces in Bowles's shorter fiction, which is collected in My Sister's Hand in Mine: An Expanded Edition of the Collected Works of Jane Bowles (1978).
Following Paul's advice, Jane removed "A Guatemalan Idyll" from the original manuscript of Two Serious Ladies. Once again the search for peace of mind highlights this tale of Mrs. Ramirez and her two daughters who are vacationing in a Guatemalan pension. Mrs. Ramirez seduces a male American traveler who has mistakenly wandered into the hostel, but she regards his eventual departure with dispassion.
Mrs. Ramirez's young daughter, Lilina, believes that the possession of a snake owned by a local boy, Ramon, will provide her with omniscient power. After bargaining with Ramon's mother, Lilina is forced to recognize the futility of seeking salvation through the possession of another being. The snake is crushed by a passing cart, and Lilina expresses only contempt for Ramon's anguish.
In "A Day in the Country," two lesbian prostitutes toy with two unwitting Mexican businessmen whose attempts to romanticize the women are juxtaposed to the women's more calculated seduction.
"Plain Pleasures" and "A Stick of Green Candy" feature men as catalysts of destruction. In "Plain Pleasures," the widowed Mrs. Perry agrees to meet her neighbor, Mr. Drake, for dinner but, once seated, she mocks his romanticism and rejects his marriage proposal. She runs upstairs and, sitting in the vacant bedroom, recognizes the essential absurdity of existence. Her rape by the lecherous restaurant owner and the loss of Mr. Drake's friendship cannot diminish her insight.
"A Green Stick of Candy" concerns prepubescent Mary, who has her sense of self destroyed when a boy violates her clay pit where she has constructed a world. In this clay pit, she is a general, but she perceives herself as a weaker figure when her father ignores her loss.
Another set of stories explore lesbian space. In "Everything is Nice" and "East Side: North Africa," Bowles describes the games played by the women in the Moroccan markets. Writing of her relationship with Cherfia--a Moroccan lesbian who was both her lover and longtime companion--Bowles finds pleasures in these dramas of misunderstandings as she celebrates the homosocial world of Morocco.
"Camp Cataract" describes the longings of Sadie who seeks an unconditional love with her sister Harriet, who has rejected her. Obsessed with Harriet, Sadie follows her to the retreat where Harriet has sought solitude. At the camp's waterfall, Sadie undergoes the author's signature revelation scene: She recognizes herself and Harriet as one and as nothing and then commits suicide as a sacrifice to Harriet.
Bowles's recording of her particular vision of the world was halted only when she grew too blind to write. In her obituary in The New York Times, John Ashbery proclaimed her to be "one of the finest writers of fiction" despite her lack of recognition by the literary establishment--an evaluation that she would no doubt have considered suitably ironic.
Author: Gilley, Amy
Entry Title: Bowles, Jane Auer
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated May 5, 2005
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/bowles_ja.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date May 4, 2013
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates
Paul Frederic Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999) was an American expatriate composer, author, and translator. Following a cultured middle-class upbringing in New York City, during which he displayed a talent for music and writing, Bowles pursued his education at the University of Virginia before making various trips to Paris in the 1930s. He studied music with Aaron Copland, and in New York wrote music for various theatrical productions, as well as other compositions. He achieved critical and popular success with the publication in 1949 of his first novel The Sheltering Sky, set in what was known as French North Africa, which he had visited in 1931.
In 1937 he returned to New York, and over the next decade established a solid reputation as a composer, collaborating with Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams and others on music for stage productions as well as orchestral pieces. In 1938 he married the author and playwright Jane Auer. It was an unconventional marriage: their intimate relationships were with people of their own sex, but they maintained close ties to each other, and despite being frequently anthologised as a gay writer Bowles always regarded such typecasting as both absurd and irrelevant. After a brief sojourn in France they were prominent among the literary figures of New York throughout the 1940s, with Paul working under Virgil Thomson as a music critic at the New York Herald Tribune. His light opera The Wind Remains, based on a poem by García Lorca, was performed in 1943 with choreography by Merce Cunningham and conducted by Leonard Bernstein. His translation of Sartre's play Huis Clos ("No Exit"), directed by John Huston, won a Drama Critic's Award in 1943.
In 1947 Bowles settled in Tangier, Morocco, and his wife, Jane Bowles followed in 1948. Except for winters spent in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) during the early 1950s, Tangier was his home for the next fifty-two years, the remainder of his life.
Paul Bowles died in 1999 at the age of 88. His ashes are buried in Lakemont Cemetery in upstate New York.
As an adult, I rarely get so transported by a book that I forget where I am, what time it is, and whether or not I’ve checked my e-mail. But that happens to me every time I open The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. Like all of Bowles’s writing, it is strange and disturbing. The story of an American couple’s doomed trip into the dessert, it is certainly one of the most gripping novels I can think of. And the ending is so shattering, you simply cannot forget it. Bowles was married but openly gay. --Stephen McCauley
I backed into The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles through sidelong glances and full-frontal nudity found. I was 13 years-old and up late watching Bernardo Bertolucci’s film version after my mom went to bed. The story and setting and, well, everything about it turned me on. It’s about a married couple, Port (John Malkovich) and Kit (Debra Winger), on vacation with another man, Tunner (Campbell Scott, who is so obviously their boyfriend). So I searched out the book and fell into a state of love and lust with it, too, though in a different way. Bowles’ novel is quieter, yet no less vivid and erotic. It’s darker, in some ways, and more cerebral. Bowles’ does something in this book that stunned me. He writes both what Port and Kit “say” and what they really wanted to say, but don’t. This creates a level of intimacy between the reader and the characters that is one of the most intense in literature. --Aaron Krach
Shortly before the IIWW, a young Harvard undergraduate named Leonard Bernstein made one of his first visits to Manhattan. On November 4, 1937, Aaron Copland, the great gay American composer, invited the budding musician to a birthday party at his New York loft on West 63d Street. The room was filled with gay and bisexual intellectuals, including Paul Bowles (then known only as a composer) and Virgil Thomson. When Copland learned that Bernstein loved his Piano Variations, he dared the Harvard boy to play them. "It'll ruin the party", said Bernstein. "Not this party", Copland replied, and the guests were mesmerized by Bernstein's performance. --The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles KaiserDays of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
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Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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