The Charles Bukowski novel Women is considered by many to be one of his best. The women Charles Bukowski writes about are the familiar prototype in the rest of his work, at least for the most part. Many of them can keep up with Bukowski in the drinking department, and can certainly hold their own in the argument department. It’s an inside look in what it was like to date the man, for better and worse.
Bukowski alter ego Henry Chinaski is experiencing the first taste of literary fame, as he’s begun to get his work published and, rather begrudingly, begins giving public poetry readings. While he doesn’t like to give readings, it pays the bills, keeping him from having to return to the factories whence he came. It also affords him a new-found opportunity to meet lit groupies.
Chinaski’s experiences with these women drive the plot of Women. Most notably it outlines his relationship with his longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend Linda King (called Lydia Vance in the book), as well as Bukowski’s relationship with Linda Lee Beighle (called Sara in the novel), whom he’d later marry. Linda Bukowski and Charles Bukowski remained married until his death in 1994.
Have you read Women? Let us know what you thought of it, and where it stacks up against his other novels in your opinion in the comments below.
Charles Bukowski Women Quotes
“‘You been married?’
“‘Mental Cruelty,'” according to the divorce papers.’
‘Was it true?’ she asked.
‘Of course: both ways.'”
“I found Pete and Selma. Selma looked great. How did one get a Selma? The dogs of this world never ended up with a Selma. Dogs ended up with dogs.”
“Education was the new god, and educated men the new plantation masters.”
“We split up at least once a week – ‘Forever’ – but always managed to make up, somehow. She had finished sculpting my head and had given it to me. When we’d split I’d put the head in my car next to me on the front seat, drive it over to her place and leave it outside her door on the porch. Then I’d go to a phone booth, ring her up and say, ‘Your goddamned head is outside the door!’ That head went back and forth….”
“‘You don’t understand. I’m going to be great. I have more potential than you have!’
‘Potential,’ I said, ‘doesn’t mean a thing. You’ve got to do it. Almost every baby in a crib has more potential than I have.'”
“When I was drunk and Lydia was insane we were nearly an equal match.”
“I disliked weekends. Everybody was out on the streets. Everybody was playing Ping-Pong or mowing their lawn or polishing their car or going to the supermarket or the beach or to the park. Crowds everywhere. Monday was my favorite day. Everybody was back on the job and out of sight.”
“Dee Dee poured another glass of wine. It was good wine. I liked her. It was good to have a place to go when things went bad. I remembered the early days when things would go bad and there wasn’t anywhere to go. Maybe that had been good for me. Then. But now I wasn’t interested in what was good for me. I was interested in how I felt and how to stop feeling bad when things went wrong. How to start feeling good again.
‘I don’t want to fuck you over, Dee Dee,’ I said. ‘I’m not always good to women.’
‘I told you I love you.’
‘Don’t do it. Don’t love me.’
‘All right,’ she said, ‘I won’t love you, I’ll almost love you. Will that be all right?’
‘It’s much better than the other.’
We finished our wine and went to bed….”
“Still, I kept thinking about Lydia. The good parts of our relationship felt like a rat walking around and gnawing at the inside of my stomach.”
“Donny brought the drink and he and Dee Dee talked. They seemed to know the same people. I didn’t know any of them. It took a lot to excite me. I didn’t care. I didn’t like New York. I didn’t like Hollywood. I didn’t like rock music. I didn’t like anything. Maybe I was afraid. That was it – I was afraid. I wanted to sit alone in a room with the shades down. I feasted upon that. I was a crank. I was a lunatic. And Lydia was gone.”
“There is nothing worse than being broke and having your woman leave you. Nothing to drink, no job, just the walls, sitting there staring at the walls and thinking. That’s how women got back at you, but it hurt and weakened them too. Or so I like to believe.”
“Dee Dee knew that what happened to one happened to most of us. Our lives were not so different – even though we liked to think so.”
“Pain is strange. A cat killing a bird, a car accident, a fire….Pain arrives, BANG, and there it is, it sits on you. It’s real. And to anybody watching, you look foolish. Like you’ve suddenly become an idiot. There’s no cure for it unless you know somebody who understands how you feel, and knows how to help.”
“The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd.”
“Dee Dee ordered another round of drinks. ‘Why can’t you be decent to people?’ she asked.
‘Fear,’ I said.”
“She kissed me and left. I turned off the t.v. and opened another beer. Nothing to do on this island but get drunk. I walked to the window. On the beach below Dee Dee was sitting next to a young man, talking happily, smiling and gesturing with her hands. The young man grinned back. It felt good not to be part of that sort of thing. I was glad I wasn’t in love, that I wasn’t happy with the world. I liked being at odds with everything. People in love often become edgy, dangerous. They lose their sense of perspective. They lose their sense of humor. They become nervous, psychotic bores. They even become killers.”
“‘Did you write today?’
‘Was it good?’
‘You never know until 18 days later.'”
“I was naturally a loner, content just to live with a woman, eat with her, sleep with her, walk down the street with her. I didn’t want conversation, or to go anywhere except the racetrack or the boxing matches. I didn’t understand t.v. I felt foolish paying money to go into a movie theatre and sit with other people to share their emotions. Parties sickened me. I hated the game-playing, the dirty play, the flirting, the amateur drunks, the bores.”
“‘How can you learn anything about people if you don’t meet them?’
‘I already know all about them.’
‘Even when we go out to eat in a restaurant, you keep your head down, you don’t look at anybody.’
‘Why make myself sick?’
‘I observe people,’ she said, ‘I study them.’
‘You’re afraid of people!’
‘I hate them.’
‘How can you be a writer? You don’t observe!’
‘O.K., I don’t look at people, but I earn the rent with my writing. It beats tending sheep.’
‘You’re not going to last. You’ll never make it. You’re doing it all wrong.’
‘That’s why I’m making it.’
‘Making it? Who the hell knows who you are? Are you famous like Mailer? Like Capote?’
‘They can’t write.’
‘But you can! Only you, Chinaski, can write!’
‘Yes, that’s how I feel.’
‘Are you famous? If you went to New York City, would anybody know you?’
‘Listen I don’t care about that. I just want to go on writing. I don’t need trumpets.’
‘You’d take all the trumpets you could get.’
‘You like to pretend you’re already famous.’
‘I have always acted the same way, even before I wrote.’
You’re the most unknown famous man I ever met.'”
“‘Well,’ she said, ‘are you frightened?’
‘Not so much anymore. I like you.’
‘You look much better than your photos,’ she said. ‘I don’t think you’re ugly at all.’
‘Oh, I don’t mean you’re handsome, not the way people think of handsome. Your face seems kind. But your eyes – they’re beautiful. They’re wild, crazy, like some animal peering out of a forest on fire. God, something like that. I’m not very good with words.'”
“Lydia’s tone had suddenly calmed down. I felt better. Her violence frightened me. She always claimed that I was the jealous one, and I was often jealous, but when I saw things working against me I simply became disgusted and withdrew. Lydia was different. She reacted. She was the Head Cheerleader at the Game of Violence.”
“Two policemen stood at the door.
‘Hello,’ I said.
‘We’re answering a disturbance of the peace call.’
‘Just a little family argument,’ I said.
‘We’ve got some details,’ said the cop standing closest to me. ‘There are two women.’
‘There usually are,’ I said.
‘All right,’ said the first cop. ‘I just want to ask you one question.’
‘Which of the two women do you want?’
‘I’ll take that one.’ I pointed to Lydia sitting in the chair, all pissed over herself.
‘All right, sir, are you sure?’
The cops walked off and there I was with Lydia again.”
“Few beautiful women were willing to indicate in public that they belonged to someone. I had known enough women to realize this. I accepted them for what they were, and love came hard and very seldom. When it did it was usually for the wrong reasons. One simply became tired of holding love back and let it go because it needed some place to go. Then usually, there was trouble.”
“I was in love again, I was in trouble…”
“‘I don’t want to interfere with your writing.’
‘There’s no way I can stop writing, it’s a form of insanity.'”
“The beginning of a relationship was always the easiest. After that the unveiling began, never to stop.”
“There was something to be learned about writing from watching boxing matches or going to the racetrack. The message wasn’t clear but it helped me. That was the important part: the message wasn’t clear. It was wordless, like a house burning, or an earthquake or a flood, or a woman getting out of a car, showing her legs. I didn’t know what other writers needed; I didn’t care, I couldn’t read them anyway.”
“I’ve got to get back to the typewriter, I thought. Art takes discipline. Any asshole can chase a skirt.”
“There is a problem with writers. If what a writer wrote was published and sold many, many copies, the writer thought he was great. If what a writer wrote was published and sold a medium number of copies, the writer thought he was great. If what a writer wrote was published and sold very few copies, the writer thought he was great. If what the writer wrote never was published and he didn’t have the money to publish it himself, then he thought he was truly great. The truth, however, was that there was very little greatness. It was almost nonexistent, invisible. But you could be sure that the worst writers had the most confidence, the least self-doubt. Anyway, writers were to be avoided, and I tried to avoid them, but it was almost impossible. They hope for some sort of brotherhood, some kind of togetherness. None of it had anything to do with writing, none of it helped at the typewriter.”
“Once a woman turns against you, forget it. They can love you, then something turns in them. They can watch you dying in a gutter, run over by a car, and they’ll spit on you.”
“That night I gave another bad reading. I didn’t care. They didn’t care. If John Cage could get one thousand dollars for eating an apple, I’d accept $500 plus air fare for being a lemon.”
“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”
“‘None of us quite know how to use sex, what to do with it,’ I said. ‘With most people sex is just a toy – wind it up and let it run.’
‘What about love?’ asked Valerie.
‘Love is all right for those who can handle the psychic overload. It’s like trying to carry a full garbage can on your back over a rushing river of piss.’
‘Oh, it’s not that bad!’
‘Love is a form of prejudice. I have too many other prejudices.'”
“‘Buy me a drink,’ I asked her.
She nodded to the barkeep. He came over.
‘Vodka-7 for the gentleman.’
‘Thanks, Babette. My name’s Henry Chinaski, alcoholic writer.’
‘Never heard of you.’
‘I run a shop near the beach. Trinkets and crap, mostly crap.’
‘We’re even. I write a lot of crap.'”
“‘You don’t want to get too bombed,’ said Joe. ‘You really start slurring your word.”They don’t give a damn. They just want me on the cross.’
‘$500 for an hour’s work?’ asked Dudley. ‘You call that a cross?’
‘You’re some Christ!'”
“‘What do you think of women?’ she asked.
‘I’m not a thinker. Every woman is different. Basically they seem to be a combination of the best and the worst – both magic and terrible. I’m glad that they exist, however.'”
“I kept mixing drinks and soon we ran out. I phoned the liquor store. ‘I want…’
‘Wait, my friend,’ he said, ‘we don’t start making home deliveries until 6 pm.’
‘Really? I push $200 a month down your throat…’
‘Who is this?’
‘Oh, Chinaski…What is it you wanted?’
I told the man. Then, ‘You know how to get here?’
“It was a Mexican place in a snide hippie district of Hermosa Beach. Bland, indifferent types. Death on the shore. Just phase out, breathe in, wear sandals and pretend it’s a fine world.”
“Women: I liked the colors of their clothing; the way they walked; the cruelty in some faces; now and then the almost pure beauty in another face, totally and enchantingly female. They had it over us: they planned much better and were better organized. While men were watching professional football or drinking beer or bowling, they, the women, were thinking about us, concentrating, studying, deciding – whether to accept us, discard us, exchange us, kill us or whether simply to leave us. In the end it hardly mattered; no matter what they did, we ended up lonely and insane.”
“When I was young I was depressed all the time. But suicide no longer seemed a possibility in my life. At my age there was very little left to kill. It was good to be old, no matter what they said. It was reasonable that a man had to be at least 50 years old before he could write with anything like clarity. The more rivers you crossed, the more you knew about rivers – that is, if you survived the white water and the hidden rocks. It could be a rough cob, sometimes.”
“People owed each other certain loyalties even if they weren’t married. In a way, the trust should run deeper because it wasn’t sanctified by the law.”
“The only time a man needed a lot of women was when none of them were any good.”