If you’re not a lesbian, get the hell out

Lidija Haas

  • BuyEverything Is Nice: Collected Stories, Sketches and Plays by Jane Bowles
    Sort Of, 416 pp, £10.99, December 2012, ISBN 978 1 908745 15 6

‘He’s my enemy,’ Jane Auer recalled telling a friend when she first met Paul Bowles. But she immediately followed him to Mexico even so and, though she had been and would always be much more drawn to women, married him less than a year later. The instinct to court an ‘enemy’ rather than an admirer may have been a shrewd one: it seems to have been especially difficult for Bowles’s admirers to do her justice. Once greeted with hostility and bemusement, her writing has now been rescued several times over: Everything Is Nice gathers most of her published work apart from Two Serious Ladies, her only novel, bringing together material – including the few unfinished pieces Paul Bowles took from her many notebooks after her death, and a handful of letters – from several earlier collections. Yet the temptation to romanticise or over-identify with Bowles herself remains. Her biographer, Millicent Dillon, who did much to draw people’s attention to her in the 1980s, names the many Bowles acquaintances she encountered in her research who remarked on ‘how much I looked like Jane’. Bowles’s emotional and physical troubles – anxiety and indecision grew into an insurmountable writer’s block; a stroke at forty attacked her powers of language and imagination – invited people to read her work through her problems, and her reputation was eclipsed early on and steadily by the juggernaut that was her husband’s.

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