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Jane Bowles

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 6 months ago


"Jane Bowles was an American author of surpassing qualities, although her modest oeuvre remains well outside the consciousness of the general reading public, particularly in the United States. Best known for her novel Two Serious Ladies, published in 1943, she also wrote a number of notable short stories, including "Guatemalan Idyll," "A Stick of Green Candy," and "Tea on the Mountain," as well as the play In the Summer House. These were reissued in the collection entitled My Sister's Hand in Mine, which included a laudatory introduction by Truman Capote, who cited her "... subtlest comprehension of eccentricity and human apartness." Other luminaries have praised her writings: Tennessee Williams called her "the most important writer of prose fiction in modern American letters," and John Ashbery found her to be "one of the finest modern writers of fiction in any language."

Her work was, in Williams's words, "the heart of her life." And Jane's life-animated and exotic, even quixotic-reached and resonated well beyond perceived limits imposed by borders and conventions. Not incidentally, it presaged by a generation the struggle of Western women towards a less-fettered psychology.

With her humor, linguistic abilities (she was fluent in several languages), skill at mimicry and genuine bonhomie, she and husband Paul Bowles were indispensable invitees on the guest lists of the New York art cognoscenti during the 1940s. After the Bowleses moved to Tangier, they found themselves the cynosure of the city's international community throughout the 1950s and 1960s. As Gore Vidal wrote: "Although unknown to the general public, the Bowleses were famous among those who were famous; and in some mysterious way the art-grandees wanted, if not the admiration of the Bowleses (seldom bestowed), their tolerance."


Despite Jane Bowles's relative obscurity, the unique aesthetic sensibility she brought to her life and work has continued to attract a small but steadfast following.


Jane Bowles moved from New York to Tangier in 1948, where she lived with Paul. After a prolonged illness that began with her first stroke in 1957, she was admitted to a hospital in central Málaga in 1967 and was sent the following year to the city's Clínica de Reposa de Los Angeles. She made a brief return to Tangier, then came back to the clinic in 1969, where she remained until her death on 4 May, 1973.

The day after she died she was buried in San Miguel Cemetery in an earthen plot identified only by a wooden shingle.


During the 1980s and 1990s, concern arose in Málaga that the graveyard where Jane Bowles and others were buried was going to be converted to a freeway. Families in Spain must prepay fees in order to obtain a long-term lease for the burial plot or niche of the deceased; otherwise, the remains eventually are removed, and reinterred in a new, common grave. Paul Bowles, living in Tangier, had paid for a lease on Jane's burial plot only for a period of ten years. He was not enamored with the elaborate rituals and memorials associated with religious institutions. Neither his background nor temperament disposed him to believe in a supreme being or a hereafter. And he did not favor a marker for her grave. From Millicent Dillon's You Are Not I: A Portrait of Paul Bowles:


"But, Paul, a lot of people will want to come to her grave," Virginia Sorensen Waugh protested gently.


"That's nonsense," he insisted coldly. "The marker would be a symbol that someone is there. But she was never there. Only the body is there. We have not progressed from savagery," he added. Then, in a strange transition he told an amusing and terrifying story of a man who drank a cocktail into which had been mixed the ashes of a corpse.

So it was not surprising he failed to maintain her gravesite beyond the initial ten-year period. Perhaps another reason for Paul's indifference was the issue of Jane's conversion from Judaism to Catholicism (which permitted her burial in a Catholic cemetery). Whether Jane was compos mentis at the time is subject to dispute. Though Paul had consented to the conversion, he remained convinced that it was done under the nuns' duress.

Unless someone was willing to fund a grave for Jane, her remains eventually would be consigned to a common burial site, thereafter untraceable."

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