Cookie Consent by
Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer

Special Issue Articles

Vol. 5 No. 1 (2023): The Childfree Woman in Literature, Film, and Television

"Marriages ought to be secret": Queer Marriages of Convenience and the Exile Narrative

January 12, 2023


In histories of exile and migration, LGBTQ+ people have often entered marriages of convenience. Within these arrangements, a gay man and lesbian woman typically enter a marriage to expedite immigration processes or to placate conservative family members. Most commonly, these relationships do not produce children, and they consequently call into question the pronatalism that is often associated with hetero-normative conceptions of marriage. This article explores the complex dynamics of these relationship structures through an analysis of childfree married women in the novels of two female queer exile writers: Jane Bowles and Patricia Highsmith. In Bowles's Two Serious Ladies (1943), a US-American upper middle-class couple, Mr. and Mrs. Copperfield, journey to Panama, where Mrs. Copperfield begins an affair with a female sex worker called Pacifica and refuses to return to the United States with her husband. In Highsmith's Ripley Under Ground (1970), the union between the US-American Tom Ripley and the French heiress Heloise Plisson provides a cover for Tom's ambiguous sexuality, as well as his diverse criminal activities, and allows Heloise to enjoy a life of aimless pleasure. In both these novels, queer marriages of convenience permit transnational mobility within unions that are markedly non-procreative and thereby occupy non-future oriented temporalities. This article demonstrates how these writers used the alternative temporal organization of the marriage of convenience plot to undermine the conventional structures of patriarchal genres, including the modernist quest narrative and suspense or crime fiction.


  1. Acosta, Katie L. "'Everything Would be Solved if Only We Could Marry:' Queer Marriages and US Immigration Policy." Sexual Politics of Desire and Belonging, edited by Nick Rumens and Alejandro Cervantes-Carson, Brill, 2007, pp. 21–40,
  2. Benstock, Shari. Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900–1940. U of Texas P, 1986.
  3. Bowles, Jane. Out in the World: Selected Letters of Jane Bowles, 1935–1970, edited by Millicent Dillon, Black Sparrow Press, 1990.
  4. Bowles, Jane. Two Serious Ladies. My Sister's Hand in Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, pp. 1–201.
  5. Dillon, Millicent. A Little Original Sin: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles. U of California P, 1998.
  6. D'Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970. U of Chicago P, 1983.
  7. Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Duke UP, 2004.
  8. Freeman, Elizabeth. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Duke UP, 2010.
  9. Freeman, Elizabeth. The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture. Duke UP, 2002.
  10. Friedman, Ellen G. "Where Are the Missing Contents? (Post) Modernism, Gender, and the Canon." PMLA, vol. 108, no. 2, 1993, pp. 240–252,
  11. Friedman, Ellen G. and Miriam Fuchs. "Contexts and Continuities: An Introduction to Women's Experimental Fiction in English." Breaking the Sequence: Women's Experimental Fiction, edited by Friedman and Fuchs, Princeton UP, 2014, pp. 3–51.
  12. Gentile, Kathy Justice. "'The Dreaded Voyage into the World:' Jane Bowles and Her Serious Ladies." Studies in American Fiction, vol. 22, no. 1, 1994, pp. 47–60, https://doi:10.1353/saf.1994.0025.
  13. Greven, David. Intimate Violence: Hitchcock, Sex, and Queer Theory. Oxford UP, 2017.
  14. Halberstam, Jack. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York UP, 2005.
  15. Hesford, Victoria. "Tom Ripley, Queer Exceptionalism, and the Anxiety of Being Close to Normal." Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, vol. 23, no. 1, 2018, pp. 102–115,
  16. Highsmith, Patricia. Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941–1995, edited by Anna von Planta, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2021.
  17. Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. St Martin's Griffin, 1983.
  18. Highsmith, Patricia. Ripley's Game. [Ripley Novels I-III], by Patricia Highsmith, Everyman's Library, 2001, pp. 593–877.
  19. Highsmith, Patricia. Ripley Under Ground. [Ripley Novels I-III], by Patricia Highsmith, Everyman's Library, 2000, pp. 291–592.
  20. Highsmith, Patricia. Ripley Under Water. Bloomsbury, 2010.
  21. Highsmith, Patricia. The Boy Who Followed Ripley. Virago, 2015.
  22. Hilfer, Tony. The Crime Novel: A Deviant Genre. U of Texas P, 1990.
  23. Houlbrook, Matt. Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957. U of Chicago P, 2006.
  24. Huang, Shuzhen and Daniel C. Brouwer. "Negotiating Performances of 'Real' Marriage in Chinese Queer Xinghun." Women's Studies in Communication, vol. 41, no. 2, 2018, pp. 140–158,
  25. Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Harvard UP, 2007.
  26. Mullins, Greg. Colonial Affairs: Bowles, Burroughs, and Chester Write Tangier. U of Wisconsin P, 2002.
  27. Peters, Fiona. Anxiety and Evil in the Writings of Patricia Highsmith. Routledge, 2016.
  28. Plain, Gill. Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body. Edinburgh UP, 2001.
  29. Prieto-Pablos, Juan A. "The Paradox of Suspense." Poetics, vol. 26, no. 2, 1998, pp. 99–113,
  30. Radia, Pavlina. "The Tawdry Frontiers and Nomadographies of Jane Bowles's Two Serious Ladies." Women's Studies, vol. 39, 2010, pp. 747–64,
  31. Ramsdell, Kristin. "Romance: Marriage – Convenient or Not." Library Journal, vol. 134, no. 3, 2009, pp. 89–91.
  32. Skerl, Jennie. "The Legend of Jane Bowles: Stories of the Female Avant-Garde." Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 41, no. 3, 1999, pp. 262–79.
  33. Stephens, Chuck. "Scarlet Nights and Lavender Days." Film Comment, vol. 49, no. 1, 2013, p. 18.
  34. Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Duke UP, 2009.
  35. Sutherland, John. "Chronology." The Boy Who Followed Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, Virago, 2015, p. xvii.
  36. Tipton, Nathan. "Others from a Southern Mother: Southerning the Queer in Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train." South: A Scholarly Journal, vol. 48, no. 1, 2015, pp. 129–50.
  37. Trask, Michael. Cruising Modernism: Class and Sexuality in American Literature and Social Thought. Cornell UP, 2003.
  38. Trask, Michael. "Patricia Highsmith's Method." American Literary History, vol. 22, no. 3, 2010, pp. 584–614,
  39. Wilson, Andrew. Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith. Bloomsbury, 2003.

Similar Articles

1-10 of 100

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.