Jane Bowles

A picture of the author, Jane Bowles

Jane Bowles (/bls/; born Jane Sydney Auer; February 22, 1917 – May 4, 1973) was an American writer and playwright.

Early life

Born into a Jewish family in New York City on February 22, 1917, to Sydney Auer (father) and Claire Stajer (mother), Jane Bowles spent her childhood in Woodmere, New York, on Long Island. She'd had a bad knee from birth, which was later broken from falling off a horse when she was a teenager[1]. After knee surgery, she developed tuberculous arthritis, and her mother took her to Switzerland for treatment, where she attended boarding school. She also attended Julia Richmond High School in New York and Stoneleigh school for girls in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

At this point in her life, she developed a passion for literature coupled with insecurities. She developed phobias of dogs, sharks, mountains, jungles, elevators, and being burned alive.[1] During the mid-thirties she returned to New York, where she gravitated to the intellectual bohemia of Greenwich Village.[2]

She married composer and writer Paul Bowles in 1938. The location of the honeymoon inspired the setting for her novel Two Serious Ladies.[2]

Personal life

Bowles had a rich love life. In 1937, she met Paul Bowles and in following year (1938), they were married and went to a honeymoon in Central America. She visited lesbian bars while they traveled together in Paris. The marriage was a sexual marriage for about a year and a half. After the initial year, Jane and Paul were platonic companions. They both were bisexual, and mainly preferred to have sex outside of their marriage. They were unashamed of their bisexuality, and marriage allowed them to express it.

After this, Jane and Paul went to Mexico where Jane later met Helvetia Perkins, who became her lover.


In 1943 her novel Two Serious Ladies was published. The Bowleses lived in New York until 1947, when Paul moved to Tangier, Morocco; Jane followed him in 1948. While in Morocco, Jane had an intense and complicated relationship with a Moroccan woman named Cherifa. She also had a close relationship with torch singer Libby Holman[3] who was attracted to both Jane and Paul, though Paul did not reciprocate.[1]

Jane Bowles wrote the play In the Summer House, which was performed on Broadway in 1953 to mixed reviews. Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and John Ashbery all highly praised her work.[4]

In the Summer House

In the Summer House was her only full-length play. It was first performed in 1951 in the Hedgerow Theater in Moylan, Pennsylvania (Blogspot). The Broadway play opened at the Playhouse Theatre December 29, 1953 with music by Paul Bowles, her husband, where it ran for two months to mixed reviews and low attendance (The New York Times ). Around 1963, the play was revived. The play was revived again in 1993 At the Vivian Beaumont Theater with incidental music by Philip Glass. In 1994, the revival was nominated for outstanding director of a play, set design, supporting actress, JoAnne Akalaitis, George Tsypin, Frances Conroy, respectively (Playbill).

The overarching plot is the comparison of an overbearing mother and gentle daughter and a gentle mother and an overbearing daughter.[5] The plot is driven by character interaction and not action. Begins with a monolog by Ms. Gertude Eastman Cuevas, an isolated widow from southern California who marries a rich Mexican (with a singing and dancing comrades), who is oppressive towards her daughter. The other widow is Ms. Constable and her challenging daughter. The daughters are both unstable. Miss Cueva has a suitor which makes the mother feel like she needs to be more overbearing.[6] The first act closes on Ms. Cuevas and her new husband reading newspaper silently. The second act occurs in a restaurant named The Lobster Bowl and uses intensive food imagery. Bowles' complex relationship with her mother could have been inspiration for the plot.[7]


Bowles, who was an alcoholic, suffered a stroke in 1957 at age 40. The stroke affected her sight and capacity to imagine, however, she pushed through her health issues and continued to write. Her health continued to decline, despite various treatments in England and the United States, until she had to be admitted to a clinic in Málaga, Spain, where she died in 1973.


In Paul Bowles' semi-autobiographical novel The Sheltering Sky, the characters Port and Kit Moresby were based on him and his wife.[8] Debra Winger played Kit in the film adaptation of the novel.


  1. ^ a b c Bradshaw, Jon. Dreams that money can buy : the tragic life of Libby Holman. New York. pp. 260, 272. ISBN 0688011586. OCLC 11751839.
  2. ^ a b Dillon 2015.
  3. ^ "Jane Bowles, Libby Holman Reynolds and Barbara Hutton". The Authorized Paul Bowles Web Site. www.paulbowles.org.
  4. ^ Rich, Nathaniel (May 30, 2013). "American Dreams, 1943: 'Two Serious Ladies' by Jane Bowles". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  5. ^ http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2065
  6. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1993/08/02/theater/review-theater-in-the-summer-house-mothers-daughters-and-tangled-emotions.html
  7. ^ http://brbl-archive.library.yale.edu/exhibitions/cvvpw/gallery/bowles.html
  8. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/20/magazine/last-tango-in-tangier.html?pagewanted=all


  • Dillon, Millicent. "Jane Bowles: A Short Biography". www.paulbowles.org. Estate Bowles. Retrieved 2015-02-17.
  • Dillon, Millicent (1981). A Little Original Sin: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21193-6.

Further reading

Jane Bowles was often known for her strong beliefs in the importance of development and growth. As seen by one of her writings, "The challenges that you face when transitioning will allow you to grow, which may also lead to a more exciting view of the world"

Archival sources

External links

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