Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Out in the World contains one hundred and thirty-three letters written by Jane Bowles between 1935 and 1970. They were edited by her biographer, the writer Millicent Dillon, whose understanding of her subject informed her decision to intersperse the letters she chose with brief excerpts from Bowles’s unfinished novel. Jane Bowles had hoped to call her second novel Out in the World.

Jane Bowles produced a relatively small but powerful body of work. Her first novel, Two Serious Ladies, was published in 1943. Her play In the Summer House had three productions from 1951 to 1953, including one in New York. Plain Pleasures, a collection of stories, was published in England in 1966, the same year in which The Collected Work of Jane Bowles was published in the United States. Her letters underscore her obsession with verbal precision as well as concerns in her life that prevail as themes in her writing: her search for a place to feel at home in the world, and her experience as a woman living at times independently of men.

The first few letters are high-spirited, stylish narratives that reflect her youthful bohemianism and her determination to write. Bowles wrote them in her late teenage years to friends in New York City, where she was living with her mother. The opening letter to George McMillan, a young man who worked in a Greenwich Village club, shows her talent for narrative and flair for dialogue. After having run away from home and come back, she describes with compassion and merciless humor her mother’s and her aunt’s distress over her defiance and her lesbianism. The letter shows that she did not mind revealing her foibles to her friends: “George, pardon the tone of all this but I’m trying to counterbalance all the emotion and drama that’s been hanging between us so that we could hardly see each other.”

There follows a group of letters that were written during the early 1940’s when she was working on the novel Two Serious Ladies in Mexico, after her marriage to writer-composer Paul Bowles. These letters are written...

(The entire section is 869 words.)