The Delicate Prey and Other Stories

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The Delicate Prey and Other Stories
First edition
AuthorPaul Bowles
CountryUnited States
PublisherRandom House (US)
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages307 pp

The Delicate Prey and Other Stories is a collection of 17 works of short fiction by Paul Bowles, published in 1950 by Random House.[1] [2]

Typical of Bowles's oeuvre, the majority of the stories in this volume are set in Latin American and North Africa. Only two are set in the United States.[3][4][5]

Bowles, at the time of its publication, was known primarily for his work as an American modernist composer. The Delicate Prey and Other Stories established him as a notable literary talent.[6][7][8] The stories published in this collection include a number of chef-d'oeuvres, including "A Distant Episode", "Pages from Cold Point" and "The Delicate Prey".[9]


Theme and style[edit]

"What is immediately striking--and particularly characteristic of Bowles's fiction--is the distanced, clinical, quietly confident, and authoritative tone; the rigorously unadorned, quasi-journalistic prose style; the sleek, controlled elegance of his sentences…Bowles's approach to his material and to his characters is relentlessly anthropological, unbiased by either contempt and derision on the one hand or by sympathy and affection on the other…"—Francine Prose, in Harper's Magazine (2002)[10]

"In the stories of The Delicate Prey, 1950, the medium's limitation seems to enhance the basic virtue of Bowles, his tight control of savage and baleful situations, and to foreshorten his main weakness, the inability to conceive and develop characters dramatically."—Ihab Hassan in The Pilgrim as Prey: A Note on Paul Bowles (1954)[11]

One of the unifying features of the stories in this collection are their settings: many of them occur in regions foreign to most Americans, including North Africa and Latin America. From these settings arise Bowles's "thematic concerns."[12] Author Gore Vidal notes that "Landscape is all-important in a Bowles story" and Bowles himself remarked: "It seems a practical procedure to let the place determine the characters who will inhabit it."[13][14] The characters are impelled towards alien and strange territory, both physically and psychologically, challenging their Western cultural assumptions.[15][16]

Bowles's "unmistakably modern" thematic concerns" are demonstrated by his "depiction of violence and terror."[17] The violent episodes that appear in the stories of this collection have been widely remarked upon, as well as the style in which they are rendered.[18][19][20] Literary critic Allen Hibbard, though recognizing the "thorougly pessimistic" themes, traces Bowles's literary style to that of 19th Century authors, such as Flaubert, Turgenev and James:[21]

Transgressive acts, as shocking as they may be, are contained within traditionally crafted forms. Generally, the Bowles' story is told in a fairly straightforward, linear manner [which] supports no moral comment on the actions that take place.[22]

Bowles, commenting on his own style: "I don't try to analyze the emotions of any of my characters. I don't give them emotions. You can explain a thought but not an emotion. You can't use emotions. There's nothing you can do with them."[23]

Literary critic Francine Prose observes:

Bowles's fiction is the last place to which one would go for hope, or even for faint reassurance that the world is anything but a senseless horror show…It would be hard to think of another writer so unmoved and uninterested in the traditional values and virtues that we associate with Western humanism (compassion, generosity, empathy), just as it's difficult to find one genuinely heroic character or act of heroism, selflessness, or sacrifice in Bowles's oeuvre.[24]


  1. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p. 3: Random House "...brought out [the collection] in November, 1950..."
  2. ^ Good Reads description
  3. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p. 3, And p.xi: "One of the most distinguishing features of Bowles's fiction is his use of foreign settings."
  4. ^ Vidal, 1979: "The stories fall into rough categories…Mexico and North Africa are the principal settings. Landscape is all-important in a Bowles story."
  5. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p. 237
  6. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p. 12
  7. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p.ix: Vidal: "His stories are among the best ever written by an American…as a short story writer, he has few equals in the second half of the twentieth century."
  8. ^ Hibbard, 1993: The collection "established a range of themes…helped secure Bowles's literary reputation. These early works were responsible for creating in large part the image most readers and critics have of the author today [1993]."
  9. ^ Hibbard, 1993: "...'The Delicate Prey' and 'A Distant Episode, two stories for which Bowles is perhaps best known."
  10. ^ Prose, 2002
  11. ^ Hibbard, 1993 219: Hassen quote originally in The Western Review, 19 (1954): 23-36
  12. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p.xii: "Bowles's thematic concerns arise from the experiences of his characters have in these foreign landscapes."
  13. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p.xi: "One of the most distinguishing features of Bowles's fiction is his use of foreign settings."
  14. ^ Vidal, 1979: "The stories fall into rough categories. First, locale. Mexico and North Africa are the principal settings. Landscape is all-important in a Bowles story.
    Hibbard, 1993 p. 237
    Hibbard, 1993: Bowles: "It seems a practical procedure to let the place determine the characters who will inhabit it."
  15. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p.xii
  16. ^ Prose, 2002: "Paul Bowles's obsessive subject is the tragic, even fatal mistakes that Westerners so commonly make in their misguided and often presumptuous encounters with the mysteries of a foreign culture."
  17. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p.xii
  18. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p.xii: "A sense of terror to which he subjects his characters and readers." And p. 239: Joyce Carol Oates: "...a horror far more persuasive than anything in Edgar Allan Poe."
  19. ^ Tóibín, 2007: Tennessee Williams: "It wasn't the Arabs I was afraid of while I was in Tangier; it was Paul Bowles, whose chilling stories filled me with horror.
  20. ^ Vidal, 1979: "...a sense of strangeness and terror…" in 'The Delicate Prey' and 'A Distant Episode.'"
  21. ^ Tóibín, 2007: On the passage in which the professor's tongue is cut out in "A Distant Episode': "The passage has all the hallmarks of Bowles. It is clearly written, coldly imagined, cruel and sensual at the same time."
  22. ^ Hibbard, 1993 p.xiii: "The teller's presense is intensely felt, yet at the same time he is distant, coy, cold, or simply out of reach."
  23. ^ Tóibín, 2007
  24. ^ Prose, 2002