Pearls: Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles

No one can ever heap enough insults upon me to suit my taste. I think we all really thrive on hostility, because it’s the most intense kind of massage the ego can undergo. Other people’s indifference is the only horror.

Further reading
Circles: Charles Henri Ford



  1. Oh, Paul, you droll little man. I just read his autobiography, and he seemed to walk around wearing gray-colored glasses his whole life. To wit: “Then I went on to Paris to join Jane [Bowles, of course] at the Hotel de l’Universite. Carson McCullers was also staying there. She had a front room, which although it was large, got all the traffic sounds from the street below. Some mornings we would take our breakfast trays up to Carson’s room and talk with her while we ate. Eudora Welty was staying at the hotel during part of that time. She lived in joyous expectation of letters from the United States, principally in order to follow the adventures of Lil’ Abner. Enclosed in each letter she received from home were all the strips that had been cut from the newspapers since the preceding letter. Never having heard of Lil’ Abner, I found her preoccupation with him the height of eccentricity.”

    Oh, Paul, we do not care about the noise in Carson McCullers’ hotel room! This dry descriptive style does lend itself to some comedic enhancement, however: “Among the people visiting Glenora [his family’s country estate that he often visited as a teen] were two brothers, Charles and Frederic Jackson. Charles wrote short stories which he read aloud to me. Later he wrote a novel called “The Lost Weekend.” I did not understand the stories, but they struck me as sufficiently sinister to be interesting. He also presented me with a copy of “Swann’s Way,” scribbling a quote from Whitman on the fly leaf. Since I despised the Good Gray Poet, having been taken to see his house as a child, the inscription somewhat dampened my desire to read the book. I read perhaps twenty pages and quickly put it aside.”

    Oh, Paul, you looked that gift gay right in the mouth. I “Oh, Paul”-ed my way right through the whole thing, as you can see. My initial intent was to find Jane stories, so I did some pre-game reading by downing “You Are Not I” in which he claimed never to have been in love, never to have had his heart broken (he asked his biographer to explain what it felt like!) and never to have understood the term “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” At least I came prepared for this adorable, infinitely talented bucket of cold water.

    • I saw the documentary ‘The Cage Door Is Always Open’ earlier this year. Poor old Paul, propped up in bed like a barely animatronic Tussaud’s version of himself. He gave the impression of always being utterly apart from and unimpressed by whatever was going on around him, even the pansexual tumult of Tangier in the 60s. At least he had an easier ride than Jane…

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