Today we celebrate, a day late, Jane Bowles February 22, 1917 – May 4, 1973. Jane was a writer who apart from her husband Paul, (also gay) had relationships exclusively with women. On the whole, these were short-lived. Virgil Thomson said of her
all her life Jane was promiscuous. She didn’t really care too much who she slept with, as long as they were female.
Jane, in a letter to her husband said
I slept in a different bed every night, including Iris Barry’s.
Jane’s life was short and eventful. She developed tuberculosis of the knee in her teens, and spent two years in a sanatorium. perhaps not unsurprisingly she developed a wide range of neuroses making her fearful and insecure. Her sexual relationship with her husband lasted only 18 months, and despite her hatred of travel they travelled widely, which must have been very wearing.When they lived in Paris she spent most evenings at lesbian bars, getting home at three in the morning.
Jane’s writing came almost exclusively from these early years, and she wrote relatively little, a novel Two Serious Ladies some short stories and a play.
Jane met Helvetia Perkins in Mexico in 1940, and they travelled and then lived together in Helvetica’s house in Vermont for a few years, and stayed friends throughout Jane’s life though no longer seeing much of each other.
A peculiar menage developed in the winter 1940-41 when Jane and Paul lived briefly with W. H. Auden, Chester Kallman, Benjamin Britten Peter Pears, Carson McCullers, Golo Mann, Richard Wright and his family, and Gypsy Rose Lee in Brooklyn Heights (can you imagine what breakfast was like in that household?)
Jane met Amina Bakalia known as Cherifa in 1958 when she and Paul were living in Tangiers. Cherifa lived with her until her death. No one has a good thing to say about Cherifa, indeed she was thought to have poisoned Jane and precipitated the stroke that semi blinded her in 1957. Jane’s alcoholism may have had more to do with it. The last few years of Jane’s life were marred by mental instability and she was eventually hospitalised in Malaga, Spain.
I have gone to pieces which is a thing I’ve always wanted to for years but I have my happiness which I guard like a wolf and I have authority now and a certain amount of daring which if you remember correctly I never had before.
If I’m honest, lesbian though she undoubtedly was, Jane doesn’t pass the cup of tea test. I think I would find her exhausting.