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Two Serious Ladies

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,480 Ratings  ·  182 Reviews
Eccentric, adventurous Christina Goering Meets the anxious but equally enterprising Mrs. Copperfield at a party.

Two serious ladies who want to live outside of themselves, they go in search of salvation: Mrs. Copperfield visits Panama with her husband, where she finds solace among the women who live and work in its brothels; while Miss Goering becomes involved with various
Paperback, Peter Owen Modern Classic, 234 pages
Published August 26th 2003 by Peter Owen (first published 1943)
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1984 by George OrwellAnimal Farm by George OrwellThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
Best Books of the Decade: 1940's
152nd out of 470 books — 741 voters
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Nothing but Numbers
122nd out of 865 books — 135 voters

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Aug 31, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2015
“I’m unhappy,” she said.
“Again?” asked Mr. Copperfield. “What is there to be unhappy about now?”
“ I feel so lost and so far away and so frightened.”

Do we really need another unfulfilled-women-reach-breaking-point-and-self-destruct story? Don’t ask me – I happen to adore those. But this little gem from Mrs. Paul Bowles is not your cookie cutter crisis tale. Something inside these Two Serious Ladies has severely cracked and we’re along for the ride. These oddball seekers are a little fancy and a l
Nidhi Singh
One must allow that a certain amount of carelessness in our nature often accomplishes what the will is incapable of doing

This is a weird little book with the weirdest people I have come across. The two serious ladies are adorably weird. Adorably impulsive. They make something tap against the unopened doors. To remind that don’t we all have that eccentric ‘seriousness’ within us which we got chained and domesticated like the most docile dogs. They make something flutter within. To just go where
For one reason or another, the most likely one being I can't quite put my finger on what it is I'm getting from it, this book draws a number of other titles and times to my mind. The introduction mentioned Carson McCullers, I had suspicions of Flannery O'Connor, and then there's the famous husband and and the quoted (more?) famous playwright on the cover. I'm sure this has as high a chance of amounting to an indication of personal interest as it does the obsessions of today's academia, what with ...more
Jane Bowles is a crazy woman, and I love crazy women. She has written a great book here, which oddly has all the lightness of Kafka when he is light, but a different kind of darkness. This book is about freedom, and desire, but not exactly of the sexual kind. More like a passion for life, or alternately, a sadness for the lack of life. It is constantly surprising and hilarious, and filled with weird and somewhat naive characters who act unconventionally but in a way that makes you think "well, w ...more
Mar 31, 2016 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-s-lit
"One must allow that a certain amount of carelessness in one's nature often accomplishes what the will is incapable of doing."

Ah, if one could only plead Glib in real life. It would not exonerate me, but might get me to a halfway house earlier.

I'm sure the cultists got much more out of this than I did but, if I didn't exactly see myself in this story, I could nevertheless follow the two main characters with something like sympathy. Harm, in fiction, only comes if the author intends it, and Jane
Jul 30, 2014 Eve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014
"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 G
Oct 08, 2013 Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd read Paul Bowles long ago and vaguely knew his wife wrote but not until I heard Paul Lisicky discuss this one on Book Fight (a literary book-discussion podcast thing run/posted/performed by two grad school friends) was this one on my radar. Turns out it's a well-loved classic, deservedly so. After listening to three writers talk about it for an hour, I had some preconceptions about its apparent irregularity/unconventionality -- and I expected something crazier per the podcast. But it seemed ...more
Diane Barnes
Apr 27, 2016 Diane Barnes rated it liked it
Sorry, Doug. I've never been on a bad acid trip (or a good one either, for that matter) but this book is what I envision one to be like. I read the great reviews, even went on-line at the midway point to see what I was missing that everyone else was raving about. "Avant-guarde, modernistic, hallucinatory prose" is apparently just not my thing, although I will agree with the hallucinatory part. At the end of the mercifully short 200 pages, I still have absolutely no idea what this book was about. ...more
Dec 16, 2012 Sam rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
A thoroughly strange performance. As the title implies, the story of two serious ladies, although the story itself is too far from the usual social conceptions of light and dark to be called "serious," and you might even take exception to the word "ladies," since both the women who are the center of the book seem to be running headlong away from the conventions of femininity, looking for something very strange: maybe their own wholesale descruction, or maybe just an authentic experience of livin ...more
Nate D
Jan 31, 2012 Nate D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: whims
Recommended to Nate D by: John Waters is against my entire code, but then, I have never even begun to use my code, although I judge everything by it. (p.19)

Found via a list of John Waters' favorite five books, and general rave reviews from trusted GR sources. They did not lie. I think my enjoyment of this has already been summarized by my explanation in the comments section:

"This is all I've read of hers, and I'm not quite done, but I think I love it. What I like, beyond the characters and the situations, is how she gives the
Apr 12, 2008 Paul rated it really liked it
Ahhh, this is getting serious: another book about people who I didn't necessarily like, but that greatly reminded me of myself. What does this say about me? I must simply be a mess. Of course, unlike the characters, I hardly ever shack up with underage prostitutes (I mean, it's been WEEKS since the last time) so maybe I shouldn't draw umbilicals between us.

Having said that I didn't necessarily like the people in this book, I should cement that I did love them as characters. I found them endeari
David Corvine
Jan 19, 2013 David Corvine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two Serious Ladies: Jane Bowles.

It is a great loss to literature that due to illness, both physical and psychological, that Two Serious Ladies represents the only full-length work produced by Jane Bowles. Only from this novel and a slim collection of short stories, " Everything is nice", in particular, can it be surmised what might have resulted from her long residence in Morocco and the relationships that she formed there. It can only be speculated as to what a mine and minefield such work mig
Claire McAlpine
Two Serious Ladies introduces us to two characters Christina Goering, daughter of a powerful industrialist, now a well-heeled spinster, adrift and bored with her comfortable, predictable existence and Frieda Copperfield, married to a man who pursues travel and adventure, dragging his wife (who funds this insatiable desire) out of her comfort zone, to the untouristed, red-lit parts of Panama, where she finds solace and digs her heels in, at the bar/hotel of Madame Quill, befriending the young pro ...more
Doug H
Jan 12, 2016 Doug H rated it it was amazing

(Jane Bowles and Cherifa in Tangier, Morocco circa 1948)

A bird who tries to fly higher
Flies into the blue
A lady who strives to rise higher
She wears a high heel shoe

What made Mona Lisa smile?
(Es una sonrisa eterna)
Learn not to run when you hear it call
(La cual no puedes cambiar)
It is not a lullaby
(Su cantar es diferente)
And the call of the wild is not a difficult song
(Con su tonada bestial)
No, the call of the wild is not a difficult song
(Con su tonada bestial)

- David Byrne
By the time I felt like I was finally getting a handle on this bitter, black-hearted little novel, it was all over. As I quickly discovered, to make the acquaintance of these titular two ladies is to be initiated into a state of perpetual disorientation; I was not, I’ll frankly admit, adequately prepared, even if Bowles’s novel frequently brought to mind the work of her contemporaries Djuna Barnes and Flannery O'Connor, two favorites of mine.

All three authors have an uncanny ability to distill u
Jan 20, 2016 Jim rated it really liked it
This book was recommended by film director John Waters. I expected something a bit out of it and was not disappointed. Jane Bowles has been associated in my mind strictly with her husband, fellow writer and beard Paul Bowles. In Two Serious Ladies, Jane has anticipated the work of Argentinian writer César Aira in creating a work that drifts from event to event seemingly without any plan.

In an introduction to her work, Joy Williams wrote:
There was no discernible narrative strategy. There was no w
Aug 08, 2014 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel is a delightfully deadpan examination of female friendships and how tedious it can be when men don’t listen. The protagonists are Miss Goering and Mrs Copperfield, both of whom are unsatisfied with their dull lives and therefore move to new places and consort with eccentric personages. I found both of them wonderfully honest, unaffected, and unconventional, which consistently confuses other characters, especially men. In my favourite scene, Miss Goering tries to start a conversation w ...more
Nora Dillonovich
okay, i've been trying to only write reviews of books i am reading/ have read from 'here on out', but while cold and arthritic over the space heater at work, looking at too many wilty, bruised post- thanksgiving flowers, i remembered this book, and i felt warmer inside, as though i had sipped hot saki, or taken a large drink of whiskey. the characters are incredible, their adventures fantastic. bowles' is a clever and hilarious writer. some scenes nearly incited a guffaw... the only drawback is ...more
Russell Bittner
Aug 18, 2015 Russell Bittner rated it did not like it
I must confess, I picked this novel up only because I’d recently read that the wife of Paul Bowles (a rather well-regarded twentieth-century itinerant writer and composer) was the author and was, herself, a woman of much talent but limited repute. I believe I actually saw her described as “a writer’s writer.”

If so, I guess I ain’t no writer – or, at the very least, I can’t support that particular view of Jane Bowles’s work.

Two Serious Ladies is, in a nutshell, bizarre – and I don’t mean becaus
Jun 07, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: boozy-reviews
This is a deeply weird book that I adored and will probably pick up and read a few more times over the years. Jane Bowles (wife of Paul) produced only this novel, a play, and some short stories and letters, but she has a cult following that apparently included Tennessee Williams, who called this his favorite book.

It just so happens that there's a passage about gin that will give you a taste of her weirdly wonderful style:

"Now for a little spot of gin to chase my troubles away. There just isn't a
May 04, 2014 Sara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer
Couldn't put this one down. Two ladies who seem to make the opposite decision you would expect at any moment, given the way they think of themselves. I am fascinated by Miss Goering's sense of morality and sin, and her taste for awful people. Mrs. Copperfield's story was my favorite, though. Pacifica is easily my favorite character in the whole book. I love that, like a lot of my favorite books, there is no sense of what is going to happen, or that anything will ever come together or make sense ...more
Apr 09, 2012 Eugene rated it it was amazing
a lightning strike, a revelation. populated by persons afflicted -- the two serious ladies of its title most so -- by some hilarious strain of nutty. each too acquiring a certain kind of self-proclaimed but not entirely inaccurate sainthood. "saint" a title to use advisedly, but there is something of the seeker and holy fool about these characters. an air of privilege perfumes our ladies but their disavowal of it through the casual violation or even destruction of propriety makes it seem the tra ...more
Oct 30, 2009 Carrington rated it it was amazing
more prowess than paul by miles. i could recycle the following ad infinitum: "you have no imagination, she said, "none whatever! you are missing everything. where do I pay my bill?
Amanda Steinhoff
After finishing this book, I really am not quite sure how I felt about it! I might have renamed it "Two Curious Ladies."

I liked that it was clearly about two women who were trying to find themselves in a time when women were supposed to silently support their husbands, while ignoring their own hopes and fears. I definitely liked the sort of attitude these women had for the various male characters, as boring obstacles to either overcome or discard. There seems to be an underlying theme of rebell
Aug 21, 2014 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 18, 2015 Sean rated it really liked it
Shelves: somewhere-else, 2015

Jane Bowles wrote just this one novel, and a fine novel it is. Consisting of three only vaguely connected sections, the novel meanders along, in no rush to get where it's going, wherever that may be, fueled by the restless motion of its two main characters, Christina Goering and Frieda Copperfield, each moving along her own unique trajectory. Bowles' dialogue is the highlight here, frequently unexpected in its direction and laced with absurd non sequiturs. And it is always a welcome relief to re
Rose Gowen
Jan 03, 2015 Rose Gowen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've wanted to read this book for a long time; I'm glad I finally did. It's very strange! Not so much formally, or on a sentence level, but because the characters behave so capriciously. A man moves into the home of two women he barely knows; his father comes to visit and, once there, abruptly decides to leave his wife and live there, too.

The two serious ladies are serious because they want to lead authentic lives, and this is difficult for anyone, but especially difficult for women. One abando
May 18, 2015 Sara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Going to go all Nick Lowe on this one and say it's the cruelest and yet kindest, and definitely the queerest (in both senses of the world) novel I've read in long time, and unfortunately, her only one.
May 12, 2014 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very strange but very good. Shades of Kafka's humor thanks to some weird characters who reacted bizarrely in ordinary situations.
A. D. Jameson
Nov 21, 2010 A. D. Jameson rated it it was amazing
On certain days, the greatest novel of the 20th century.
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500 Great Books B...: Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles - Jimmy 2 23 Sep 09, 2015 10:00PM  
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  • Collected Stories and Later Writings
  • A Life in Letters
  • Stories in an Almost Classical Mode
  • Olivia
  • The Stories (So Far)
  • Sita
  • Believers: A novella and stories
  • Selected Poems
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  • A Legacy
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Born Jane Sydney Auer, Jane Bowles's total body of work consists of one novel, one play, and six short stories. Yet John Ashbery said of her: "It is to be hoped that she will be recognized for what she is: one of the finest modern writers of fiction in any language." Tennessee Williams called her the most underrated writer of fiction in American literature. During her lifetime and since her death ...more
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“True enough,” said Mrs. Copperfield, bringing her fist down on the table and looking very mean. “I have gone to pieces, which is a thing I’ve wanted to do for years. I know I am as guilty as I can be, but I have my happiness, which I guard like a wolf, and I have authority now and a certain amount of daring, which, if you remember correctly, I never had before.” 12 likes
“ is against my entire code, but then, I have never even begun to use my code, although I judge everything by it.” 10 likes
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