Two Serious Ladies

Jane Bowles

This is one of those books that I didn’t know anything about when I started, and now that I’ve finished I have since been reading up about it and Jane Bowles and still feel like I missed something. I heard this mentioned on Show Me Your Titles film podcast as a suitable pairing to the movie Daisies. Thinking about the two together is the only thing that has made the book make any sense. They both involve two friends who wander off the path of “goodness,” though in the movie, that seems to mean eating a lot and other ridiculous activities.

In this novel, the ladies are incredibly privileged and attempt to abandon their lives, but not in any sense that they own up to their privilege. Miss Goering seems to think she will achieve sainthood through following her whims to sell her house and live in the country, to move in with a man who calls himself a “bum,” but to then follow the next guy who pays her any mind. Mrs Copperfield goes to Panama with her husband and becomes attached to a prostitute. It seems like there are a lot of sexual aspects that are only vaguely implied. The GLBTQ encyclopedia says:

Bowles’s family and her lover, Helvetia Perkins, rejected her first novel, Two Serious Ladies, as too obviously lesbian, but despite recognition that the novel’s main theme is women’s sexuality, the novel’s lesbian content has yet to be seriously considered.

I read this out of Bowles’ collected works, which includes an introduction by Truman Capote. He mentions how she speaks several languages fluently and “perhaps this is why the dialogue of her stories sounds, or sounds to me, as though it has been translated into English from some delightful combination of other tongues.” The GLBTQ entry also mention this “curiously formal yet mocking” speech. It definitely lends an unsettling atmosphere to the story.

While I can’t say that I enjoyed this very much as I was reading it, I feel like I appreciate it more now that I’ve finished. It’s always strange when that happens.