Jane Bowles’s letters are long and exuberantly written, although their tone could not often be called happy. “I have never yet enjoyed a day,” she wrote, “but I have never stopped trying to arrange for happiness.” The important letters for admirers and critics of her work are those in which she talks about her writing. There are many. She agonizes over her difficulties in completing projects and discusses her extreme isolation in subject, theme, and style from other writers, such as her contemporary Carson McCullers. A number of these work-related letters were written to Paul Bowles during the periods in which she produced her novel Two Serious Ladies, her play In the Summer House, and her short stories.
Jane Bowles’s letters give her readers some sense of the challenges and texture of her life. Because she struggled so hard to produce her work—against writer’s block, uncertainty about her talent, and finally an irreversible illness—Jane Bowles’s life fascinates those who enjoy her fiction. A fall from a horse at age fourteen led to a two-year treatment in a Swiss sanatorium for tuberculosis of the knee. During this period of confinement, she wrote the novel Le Phaeton Hypocrite. (The manuscript was lost.) She later was required to have surgery to stiffen her knee permanently, which left her with a characteristic limp.
Bowles led an exotic life. She traveled in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Her...
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