Review: Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

IMG_2763Christina Goering and Frieda Copperfield are going all out. Christina, who is a little too obsessed with religious habits and washing away other peoples sins (“Do you want to be forever condemned?”) is embarking on late night visits to men she has just met, which makes her question the moral framework of her upbringing:

“[…] it is against my entire code, but then, I have never even begun to use my code, although I judge everything by it.”

She ends up selling her house and living with in an awkward constellation of a newly acquired friend, a possible suitor and his father. She also stumbles into being a high–class call girl. Frieda on the other hand has travelled with her husband to Panama but soon exchanges their hotel room for a brothel and the company of prostitutes.

Social conventions might be something to consider for other people but these two are certainly not going to live by them. Not only are Christina and Frieda extremely headstrong and independent; they also don’t really take anyone’s advice.

Female freedom in all its messy and confusing glory is what this quirky novel is all about. These two women might be making a lot of questionable decisions, but at least they make their own. If however the paths that Christina and Frieda have chosen for themselves are paths that will lead them to happiness I am not sure. I am however convinced that this is beside the point. They are unhappy as it is and their happiness is only met with dismissal and even disbelief:

“I’m unhappy,” she said. “Again?” asked Mr. Copperfield.

The things they could loose, like their public image, their wealth and health are of no value to them. They are concerned only with their happiness. And it is a happiness that can’t be bought:

“What makes me happy I seem to catch out of the sky with both hands; I only hold whatever it is that I love because that is all I can really see.”

To me a lot of the novel is a reflection on manners, moral convention and etiquette. The choices that society allows Christina and Frieda are minimal and extremely restrictive. And even though the novel portrays such interesting female characters and questions the destiny that a lot of women had (have?) to face, the story line does at times unfortunately become a little random. Things just keep happening without reason and I have felt a bit lost in the meaning of certain aspects of the story. In the end the characters were a little two-dimensional, sometimes there wasn’t that much reasoning for their actions, apart from the fact that they wanted to do it. I did have the urge to grab Christina by the shoulders and shake her, but maybe that was just me. I wanted to like this novel, but I must admit that I only liked certain aspects of it. The idea might have been great but its execution was not as engaging as it could have been.

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