Greenpoint, October, 2015

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Serious Ladies of Staten Island - Part I

      "I am sure that the island has certain advantages too, which you know about, but perhaps prefer to surprise us with rather than disappoint us."
      "I know of none at this moment," said Miss Goering. "Why, are you coming with us?"

In 1938, returning to the States after a honeymoon in South America and summer in France, Paul and Jane Bowles rented a farmhouse on Woodrow Road on Staten Island. They lived there just short of two years. Paul completed the short story,"Tea in the Sahara," and Jane worked on the novel, Two Serious Ladies. The farmhouse provided the model the novel's "four-room frame house... surrounded by woods," to which Miss Goering abruptly removes herself, along with  her companion, Miss Gamelon, and their hanger-on, Arnold (the one looking forward to the island's advantages).

The farmhouse at 1116 Woodrow Road was torn down long ago, and the property divided into lots for suburban homes like the one above. When Jane and Paul Bowles lived there, the address was R.F.D.#2--Rural Free Delivery. One house from that time does remain, across the road from where the Bowles' farmhouse would have stood.

They had no car. Like Miss Goering, Jane would set off for the station to catch the "little train that meets the ferry." Miss Goering decides to walk along the highway rather than cut through the woods at night; they frightened her. There are few vestiges of the forests that covered much of that part of the island. A copse remains here and there, like this one alongside the playground in Carlton Park.

When she reached the station, Jane (and Miss Goerring) would catch the "little train" not for St. George and the ferry for Manhattan but for Tottenville and, from there, the much smaller ferry for Perth Amboy. Here's how Miss. Goering describes Tottenville and Perth Amboy beyond: " land in a little town that is quite lost and looks very tough, and you feel a bit frightened, I think, to find that the mainland opposite offers you no protection at all."

I didn't follow the Goering/Bowles path further than the train station in Prince's Bay. The ferry to Perth Amboy is long gone, of course. It would be fun, though, to try and find a bar there that Jane might have drank in, perhaps the model for the Pig Snout's Hook? According to Paul, quoted in Millicent Dillon's biography of Jane, she loved the bars of Perth Amboy: "She thought there was something sinister in them."

On my way back, I passed the Huguenot Park Library, the closest branch to the old Bowles place. As I expected, no copies of either of the their books on the shelves. Ghosts have other means.


  1. I am an English professor at St. John's U, Staten Island Campus. I'm teaching this novel for the first time this semester, and was hoping to find information on the Staten Island connection. Thank you so much for this trove of research and pictures! All best, Rachel Hollander

  2. Rachel,
    Thanks for your comment. I am so pleased to hear TSL is being read and taught on SI!