Analysis of Paul Bowles’s Novels


“Bowles holds a unique place in American literature. As an exile, he shared with 1920’s expatriate novelist Gertrude Stein, among others, a distanced perspective on his native culture. Through his translations, he earned an international reputation as an author with a North African sensibility. His fiction reflects a world akin to that written about by existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus, and indeed he has been described as America’s foremost existentialist writer, a label more likely to restrict him to a time period than to characterize his fiction accurately. Although his nihilism does strike one as a bit pretentious, it also has a modern application, reflecting as it does a dark vision of the world as contemporary as the times demand. Bowles became a guru of sorts to the Beat generation, although Bowles’s attraction for them was as much for his writings about drugs as for his generally pessimistic philosophy. Never an author of wide appeal, he has nevertheless had a loyal following among those interested in experimental and avant-garde writing, and his work has reflected a steady maturation, his 1982 experimental work Points in Time receiving praise from, among others, Tobias Wolfe, who wrote that the book was a completely original performance. Perhaps in the last analysis, Bowles will be best remembered for his originality, his willingness to challenge definitions and the status quo in his fiction. With every work, he tried to forge new ground. Because of Bowles’s small output of novels and because of his problematic relationship with American writing, his reputation has yet to be firmly established. A writer who always attracted attention, and serious attention at that, he has not been accorded sufficient critical notice to measure his significance as a writer. To paraphrase Johannes Willem Bertens, one of his most perceptive critics, who has written on the critical response to Bowles’s work, Bowles as a novelist can be classified in three categories: romantic, existentialist, and nihilist. …”
Literary Theory and Criticism
The Moroccan Paul Bowles – Brian T. Edwards


Composer and writer Paul Bowles, lying in bed with his paper and pen.

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