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The many loves of writer Jane Bowles

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Jane Bowles

The many loves of writer Jane Bowles

While American writer and playwright Jane Bowles was overshadowed by her husband, Paul Bowles, her own work had been regarded by her peers– and later a cult following of readers– as the work of a genius.

While her passion was her writing, she also had a string of relationships, from her husband, Paul, to her female lovers: a Moroccan woman named Cherifa and a 44-year-old divorcée Helvetia Perkins.

Coming from an affluent Jewish family in Long Island, New York City, Jane Sydney Auer suffered from tuberculous arthritis as well as a fall from a horse as a teenager that left her with a permanent limp.

But despite her insecurities, literature led her to the intellectual bohemian crowd in Greenwich Village. It was there that she met and married composer and writer Paul Bowles in 1938.

Paul and Jane Bowles: An odd couple

Paul and Jane were the quintessential opposites: the first time she met Paul, she had tagged along with him and his friends on their trip to Mexico. But she hated the place and soon fled back to the US.

Paul was emotionally distant while Jane was expressive. He loved to travel while she was happy staying in one place. And so on and so forth.

Though their reasons for getting married were complicated, the two were surprisingly devoted to each other despite being rather sexually free.

Though Jane flirted with both men and women, she slept primarily with women such that Paul once thought her lesbianism was only a phase. (Paul also had his own relationship with other men.)

Jane Bowles’ female lovers

But though her relationship with Paul was solid, her other relationship with women– not so much.

Jane met Helvetia Perkins in Mexico. They had a relationship on and off for years, and Helvetia would be one of three names Jane would dedicate her first novel to, Two Serious Ladies.

While in Tangier, North Africa, she met and fell in love with Cherifa, a bemustached grain seller who wanted Jane for her money.

Paul described Jane’s lover this way: “Cherifa carries a switchblade always, in order to castrate any male who may say good evening to her. Never knew a woman who hated men so violently. And always I’m more appalled by her than before.”

Jane Bowles’ literary life

She published her first novel Two Serious Ladies about women and their female lovers in 1943 to mixed reviews.

Likewise, she wrote a play In the Summer House about mothers and daughters in 1953 that garnered similar mixed views when it was performed on stage.

But despite these setbacks, she had strong supporters from Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, John Ashberry, and her husband, who helped edit her first novel.

Sadly, while Jane’s writing sputtered on and off, Paul’s work as a writer began to get recognition with his semi-autobiographical novel, The Sheltering Sky.

A heavy drinker, she suffered a stroke at the age of 40 in 1957.

Though she went for various treatments in England and the US, she died in a clinic in Málaga, Spain in 1973 reportedly after dancing “too wildly” at a birthday party for one of the residents.

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