Jane Bowles Analysis
by Jane Auer

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In addition to her short stories, Jane Bowles wrote a novel and a play. She began several other works of fiction (including another novel) in her notebooks, selections from which have been published in various collections of her work. Her letters have been collected by Millicent Dillon in Out in the World: Selected Letters of Jane Bowles, 1935-1970 (1985).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Jane Bowles’s literary output, though small in quantity, has received accolades for its originality and experimentation. Her unique use of language and nontraditional narrative techniques has led to stories that are as unsettling in their form as they are in their content. Her characters are often drawn as both grotesque and comic, yet Bowles maintains a compassionate stance toward them—a technique that is usually absent in more experimental contemporary writing. The characters themselves can be seen as experimental: they are mostly women, either strong-willed and assertive or curiously passive, yet they behave in ways that surprise and shock the reader. Her works operate on a series of contrasts or opposing tensions; like Bowles herself, her fiction is an enigma and a delight, challenging the reader with its puzzling obscurity and its compelling humanity.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ashbery, John. “Up from the Underground.” Review of The Collected Works of Jane Bowles. The New York Times Book Review, February 29, 1967, 5. In this oft-quoted review, Ashbery calls Bowles “one of the finest modern writers of fiction, in any language.” He observes that Bowles’s work often involves a conflict between weak and strong characters; he also praises her use of local color in dialogue and details.

Bowles, Paul. Without Stopping. 1972. Reprint. New York: Ecco Press, 1991. Bowles’s autobiography sheds light on the marriage of the two authors, their life in Morocco, and Jane Bowles’s writer’s block.

Dillon, Millicent. “Jane Bowles: Experiment as Character.” In Breaking the Sequence: Women’s Experimental Fiction, edited by Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989. This essay revises Dillon’s comments in her 1981 biography (below) about Bowles’s writer’s block. Dillon asserts that the fragments that characterized Bowles’s writing (which Bowles saw as artistic failures) can instead be seen as “a valid expression of her own narrative vision.”

Dillon, Millicent. “Keeper of the Flame.” The New Yorker 72 (January 27, 1997): 27-28. Discusses the efforts of an eighteen-year-old Spanish high school student to have Bowles’s remains exhumed from a cemetery of San Miguel in Malaga (which is to make way for a freeway) and reburied in Marbella.

Dillon, Millicent. A Little Original Sin: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981. This illuminating and thoroughly researched biography gives full coverage of Jane Bowles’s life and offers insightful commentary on her work. Dillon suggests that much of Bowles’s work (and in turn, her life) was concerned with the notion of sin and its absolution, with imagination as another powerful force in her writing.

Gentile, Kathy Justice. “‘The Dreaded Voyage...

(The entire section is 735 words.)