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Two Serious Ladies: A Novel Paperback – February 25, 2014

3.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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From the Back Cover

The only novel by avant-garde literary star Jane Bowles, the highly influential wife of legendary writer Paul Bowles, Two Serious Ladies is a modernist cult classic, mysterious, profound, anarchic, and funny, that follows two "respectable" women as they descend into debauchery—updated with an introduction by Claire Messud, bestselling author of The Emperor's Children and The Woman Upstairs.

Christina Goering, eccentric and adventurous, and Frieda Copperfield, anxious but enterprising, are two serious ladies who want to live outside of themselves. Old friends, each will take a surprising path in search of salvation: during a visit to Panama, Mrs. Copperfield abandons her husband, finding solace in a relationship with a teenage prostitute; while Miss Goering, a wealthy spinster, pursues sainthood via sordid encounters with the basest of men. At the end the two women meet again, each radically altered by her experience.

About the Author

Jane Bowles has long had an underground reputation as one of the truly original writers of the twentieth century. Born in New York City in 1917, she lived in Tangier, Morocco, with her husband, Paul Bowles, from 1952 until her death in 1973. Though she wrote only one novel, one short play, and fewer than a dozen short stories over a roughly twenty-year span from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s, Jane Bowles has long been regarded by critics as one of the premier stylists of her generation.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (February 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006228312X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062283122
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
With shrewd wit, candour and a touch of the bizarre, Two Serious Ladies follows the demise into debauchery of two very dissimilar yet equally stodgy women, who aquire a fondness for eccentric personages. Christina Goering - rich, saintly spinster - turns high class call girl, whilst Frieda Copperfield - caught in a respectable, though staid marriage - abandons her husband for Pacifica, a Panamanian prostitute. The restless, autonomous, asexual female seeking self determination independent from men is a poignant theme which Jane Bowles explores with remarkable cleverness, hilarity and ruthless originality.Two Serious Ladies is a marvellous example of Jane Bowles' extraordinary talent as a writer of contemporary fiction - often obscured by her small literary output and the talent of her husband, writer Paul Bowles ... unfortuately so.
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My goodness, I had no idea what I was getting myself in to when I opened up Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles. Quirky characters in search of experiencing things that are alien to them. The dialogue is darkly humorous at times, the plot, unpredictable. I was fully engaged from start to finish.
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I feel totally comfortable admitting that it was the cover of the new Ecco edition of Two Serious Ladies that initially intrigued me. I knew nothing about Jane Bowles previously, but the premise sounded interesting enough for me to give it a go.

And I'm really glad I did. It wasn't until I was halfway through the book that I realized it was written and first published before my parents were even born. Two Serious Ladies was ahead of it's time.

The novel follows two acquaintances, the two serious ladies the novel is named for, and their unusual decent from respectable statuses into debauchery. One elects to sell her fine childhood home to live in poverty with a random gathering of new friends who urge her not to but follow nonetheless. The other, while on a trip with her husband, befriends a young prostitute who she comes to adore. Both continue in unusual directions. But what makes the novel so bright is the feeling that they're making all their choices in total earnest and each with their own unique code of ethics. They follow their morals endearingly, until their choices are no longer frustrating to the reader but expected and appreciated.

Both may appear from the outside as total train wrecks to their friends from before, but both have gained control of their lives in their own eccentric ways, and it's a delight to read. Though there is darkness in both of their stories, there is also inspiration. Both women push themselves out of necessity to grow and improve upon themselves, and they do it for no one else. Two Serious Ladies is about self discovery and following your own path as you continue to learn. As Christina Goering states at the beginning of the novel:

"...
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Format: Paperback
"It wasn't exactly in order to have a good time that I came out. I have more or less forced myself to, simply because I despise going out in the night-time alone and prefer not to leave my own house. However, it has come to such a point that I am forcing myself to make these little excursions." – Miss Goering

Two Serious Ladies was an absorbing literary train wreck that I just couldn't avert my eyes from! I was reminded of why I loved the documentary series Grey Gardens and The Beales of Grey Gardens. It's not like I can rightly explain why it's a huge favorite of mine, or why the two eccentric women at the center of the nonexistent plot steal my heart with each viewing. Questions that follow each viewing include: what is the definition of "normal" or of a "conventional" life?

Christina Goering and Frieda Copperfield are two women desperate to live their lives devoid of fear despite their restrictive roles in society. Throughout a momentous year, Miss Goering pursues asceticism in hopes of reaching sainthood, and Mrs. Copperfield chooses to take the reigns of her life back from the hands of her overbearing husband. In the process, the women meet a slew of shady hangers-on and degenerates. Equally hilarious and grotesque, I had a wonderful time reading this little book. Bowles has a unique way of writing; what she chose to share and omit really created an element of suspense and mystery.

Esthetically, I am so in love with my copy of this book, published by Ecco Books. I'm kind of a typography geek, and I loved the typeface used throughout the book. Check out the page numbers! The cover art, designed by Suet Yee Chong, is also awesome eye candy as well; it definitely reflects Bowles's avant garde style.
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Format: Paperback
This is fiction for persons who can accept of their fiction the same things they expect of life: slipping, sliding, blind-turning, colliding, parting, bewilderment, and a great deal of sly humor. Life does not dole out sane rational narratives. The eternal mystery is why people expect fiction to do so. Does fiction for them represent a means of imposing form on life?
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This is a very strange book about two strange women and their oddball adventures. I greatly enjoyed it for its subtle humor and a social commentary that sneakily peers out from under the bed. Recommended for people who like art novels that are a bit off the beaten track.
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