A LITTLE ORIGINAL SIN: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles by Millicent Dillon

A LITTLE ORIGINAL SIN: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles

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An odd, disconcerting biography: fiction-writer Dillon (Baby Perpetua and Other Stories, The One in the Back Is Medea) threads a thick theme through the life of writer Jane Bowles--""the story of the imagination as evil""--but while she makes Bowles' tragedy palpable, she fails to give her work corroborating shape. In fact, so little specific sense or flavor is offered of Bowles' canon (the novel Two Serious Ladies, the play In the Summer House, a handful of short stories) that the book is unlikely to elevate Bowles' status as a rather fey if nightmarishly tormented coterie writer. Born Jane Auer in 1917 to a suburban Jewish middle-class family, crippled young in one leg, a sensitive and fairly madcap adolescent, Jane met composer (later writer) Paul Bowles in 1937. Despite her frank lesbianism, they married, and until her death in 1973 maintained one of the more freakish, yet touchingly profound marriages on record: sexual independence yet deep emotional fealty and close proximity (Jane and Paul lived in adjoining apartments in Tangier); Jane's wit and terror of nullity, Paul's carbon-flame fascination and courting of existential zero; her quick, blithe start as a novelist, his subsequent, much greater public success (and her resulting block). Jane's drinking was disastrous, leading her to stroke, aphasia, blindness, and early death. (A letter to Paul, a year after her first stroke: ""It will be a good send to have Dionne because lauliness is my toupbist problemme ple the fear of being alonge because of these ghastly fits."") And her relationship with a Moroccan lover-become-maid, Cherifa, was shadowy with ramifications of black magic and utter surrender of will. But for all the careful chronicling Dillon has done (perhaps too careful, too extended), Jane-as-maker seldom materializes. The sharp, striking fractures of her sensibility can only be guessed at; some literary criticism, which Dillon all but eschews, might have helped greatly. As it is, we are presented with a tragically broken puppet impelled to do--and regret--something whose exact nature stays mostly in the shade of suggestion.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1981
ISBN: 0520211936
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston