I have very mixed feelings about Jane and Paul Bowles and there is a lot about my frustration with them that is outlined in this little trailer to a movie that I've seen. But on the other hand, I can't help but like the Sheltering Sky.
And here—God, they are compelling but also so difficult, but I kind of love/hate this:
THE ODDEST COUPLE: PAUL AND JANE BOWLES
The strange marriage of Paul and Jane Bowles, two extraordinarily eccentric characters, exemplified the change in mores from the Edwardian to the modern era and anticipated many of the sexual practices that became common after the social revolution of the 1960s. Both bisexual writers, with wildly different personalities, often separated but closely bound to each other, preferred to have sex with their own kind. Far from hiding their homosexuality, marriage allowed them to express it. The mysterious question of what held them together, as they encouraged each other's work but became rivals in fiction, fascinated and baffled their friends.
Paul Bowles (1910–1999), born in New York and raised on Long Island, was the son of a cruel, tyrannical father, a frustrated would-be violinist who became a dentist. While still in his teens Paul published poems in the French avant-garde magazine transition. He left the University of Virginia after one semester, lived in Paris, studied composition with Aaron Copland, and met Gertrude Stein and many other writers. Always nomadic, in his twenties he traveled extensively in Europe, North Africa, and Central America and composed concert works as well as incidental music for ballet, theater, and film.
Jane Auer (1917–1973) was born to an affluent New York family and moved to Long Island when she was ten years old. Her father died three years later; and in 1931, while at a girls' school in Massachusetts, she broke her leg in a serious riding accident. In the early 1930s she was treated in a Swiss sanatorium for tuberculosis of the knee. After returning to New York in 1937, she met Paul and impulsively invited herself to join him and his Dutch friends on their trip to Mexico. But she hated the primitive country and, soon after arriving, flew straight back to America—not a promising start for their future travels together. Paul and Jane had a certain amount in common. Both were only children, grew up on Long Island, had lived in Europe, and were fluent in French. They did not want to have children, who would interfere with their work and their travels, were essentially homosexual, and felt free to pursue their own sexual interests. In 1938 they surprised all their friends by getting married.
Paul was blue-eyed, thin and elegant, with handsome features and a finely shaped head. Allen Ginsberg—noting Paul's unusual detachment and unwillingness to become emotionally involved—described him as "short frail blond, closecropped hair, nylon suit, very courteous & lively, also a little mechanical or remote somewhere." Jane looked boyish, with a mop of curly and unruly dyed red hair, thick lips, and teeth that seemed too large for her mouth. She wore bright red lipstick and smoked Cuban cigars. The fall from her horse had left her with a permanent limp.
Jane remarked, "Paul and I are so incompatible that we should be in a museum." She had been spoiled and indulged as a child, he had been oppressed and mistreated; she was childlike, he was paternal. She was extravagant, he was careful with money. Jane showed her feelings and was out of control, he hid his emotions and was disciplined. She was volatile and dependent, he was reserved and self-contained—though Jane enabled him to release emotions that he normally repressed. Jane was constantly frightened, Paul loved horrific situations. She was an entertainer, he was an observer—the perfect audience for her zany performances. She drank heavily but hated drugs, he didn't drink but constantly smoked kif (hashish) and considered using narcotics a vital part of his creative process. Jane was stationary, reluctant to move and happiest in familiar surroundings; Paul loved exotic locales, was restless and always eager to move on to the next place. She was tormented by self-doubt, he was calm and confident. Jane, lazy and irresponsible, disliked writing; Paul, hard-working and conscientious, liked it, and she resented his success when he overtook her. Jane was wild and sexually promiscuous (most of her affairs were humiliating disasters), Paul was guarded and circumspect about his sex life. She was miserable, hysterical and jealous; he was patient, even- tempered, and usually quite tolerant. She hated his Arab lovers; he feared her lover Cherifa, who eventually dominated and destroyed Jane's life.
Before her marriage, Jane had slept only with women. When she first met Paul, she immediately recognized him as her enemy, and he didn't realize that he threatened to undermine and perhaps extinguish her lesbianism. On their first night together, after necking and getting into bed naked, Jane, speaking in French as they usually did, said she intended to remain a virgin until she married. Paul failed to seduce her and nothing else happened. Jane's mother, who'd given up on her daughter and (after ten years as a widow) wanted to marry her own fiancé, was ecstatic about Jane's plans to marry Paul. Though Paul's maternal grandfather was Jewish, his anti-Semitic father—whom he hated—was furious with his son for marrying someone he called "a crippled kike."
Their motives for getting married were irrational and empirical, bewildering and complex. Paul wanted to shock and anger his father by choosing a Jewish wife. Though Jane's mother, a decisive factor, was all for the marriage, Paul wrote in his autobiography, "Jane and I used to spin fancies about how amusing it would be to get married and horrify everyone, above all, our respective families." He also mentioned practical and rather prim sexual reasons: "We got married in 1938 and it would not have been possible for us to travel together if we were not married. She was a virgin and couldn't consider living with a man out of wedlock." Both of them were lonely and tired of their solitary lives. Jane, then quite ambitious, wanted to break into literary and musical circles by marrying a well-established and well-connected composer. Repeating the word "amusing," Paul declared, "Jane was so amusing and I thought it would be great fun to be with her all the time."
The actuality of their marriage was even stranger than their motives for marrying. Paul loved Jane but wasn't in love with her. He remarked, "Jane was an ideal companion, and given her needs, I think I was, too. We slept together and had what I considered very good sex." But Jane surprised him by wanting to be with him all the time and, at first, developed an inordinate desire to have sex with him. Their sex life "had gone on for a year and a half after the marriage. Then it had ended. . . . He had tried to renew their sexual relationship, but she did not want to. Later, she came and spent the night with him a few times, but they didn't sleep together, though he tried to persuade her to." He believed she began to decline after their sexual life together had ended.
What thoughts you, my crosstalk literati? I find them elitist, classist, colonialists who also had a side of them that were social revolutionaries who were willing to put themselves in pretty significant lines of fire to live their life like they wanted. And they were talented. But insufferable.