I’m sitting in my office at Montclair State University and mourning the recent death of my beloved mentor Anna Balakian. Anna was a fiery woman of daunting intellectual brilliance and often fiercely warm feelings. She was protective of people she cared for. The author of many distinguished books on French Symbolism and Surrealism and a magnificent biography of Andre Breton, Magus of Surrealism, Anna was the foremost authority in the U.S. on Surrealism in all the arts. As my dissertation director at N.Y.U., she inspired me to write an ambitious piece of work that was immediately published.
I will not quickly forget Anna’s challenge to a member of the English Department during my thesis defense. She threatened to walk out if he did not change his line of questioning which, she declared, was not appropriate for an oral exam. Later, when I told her I was planning to marry a Serb, she exclaimed, at a reception at the French House, “Oh! That’s wonderful! Serbs are very passionate people!”
Anna could, to some people’s surprise, laugh at herself. Given to occasional explosions, she made me laugh just before a reception at the Bobst Library. The refreshments had not been delivered. Anna said, “If the food doesn’t arrive soon, I’m going to make one of my scenes!” Then, almost plaintively, “And I don’t want to make one of my scenes!”
The occasion was a fund-raising party for the Anaïs Nin Scholarship Fund, which Anna founded. Among Anna’s many gifts to me was an introduction to Anaïs Nin. She thought I resembled–at that time–a “young” Anaïs Nin. At Anna’s suggestion, I sent Anaïs the portions of my dissertation devoted to her fiction. Her response was to telephone me at home on a Sunday morning when normally I do not expect to receive phone calls and normally do not answer them. I was astonished to hear the caller announce her identity. She invited me to meet with her. Then, in an act of daring, I thought, she asked me to add passages on Collages, which she said was her “most experimental” book. I was delighted to comply. And even more delighted to meet with her at the apartment she shared with her husband Hugh P. Guiler (Ian Hugo).
Her practice was to conceal the nature of her relationship to Hugo. But this was impossible in my case, because my husband, the photographer Srdjan Maljkovic, had worked as a color technician on some of Hugo’s films, and he had met Anaïs when she came to pick up one of the films. Actually, he had engaged her in conversation, asking whether she was a dancer. She was wearing a short violet dress with a midriff cut-out (a gift from a well-known and very popular designer, I later learned). “No, not a dancer.” Anaïs told Srdj that she was a writer. And a writer she was. This fact has been conveniently ignored by her recent biographers, Noel Riley Fitch and Deirdre Bair in their books The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin (Little, Brown and Company, 1993) and Anaïs Nin: A Biography (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995). Riley Fitch’s book is fun to read, if one can pretend that it’s not about a person one admired and loved. It’s certainly not about the Anaïs I knew, a conclusion that is shared by many in the original.
A third biography by Cologne-based psychologist Linde Salber has not been translated into English. However, I have been told by Anaïs’s long-time literary representative, German-speaking Gunther Stuhlmann that Salber also does not write very much about Anaïs’s books. Nonetheless, in his Foreword to A Book of Mirrors, edited by Paul Herron of Sky Blue Press, Stuhlmann praised Salber’s book: “A German biographer, Linde Salber, who wrote what is to date perhaps the most perceptive study of Anaïs Nin, entitles her book: Tausend und eine Frau, the story of a woman who contained within herself aspects of a thousand women.”
A disgraceful eighteen page review-essay appeared in The New Yorker in March, 1993. Penned by Claudia Roth Pierpont and titled “Sex, Lies, and Thirty-Five Thousand Pages,” this verbal assassination fails to distinguish itself by revealing any knowledge whatsoever of Anaïs’s fiction. It astonishes only by the intensity of its gratuitous hatred. The rumor vine has sprouted the suspicion that Ms. Pierpont is a “hit woman” for Gore Vidal, whose long-standing enmity toward Anaïs is well known.
None of the three biographers knew Anaïs Nin. Riley Fitch’s book is more honest but also more limited than Bair’s. Titled “The Erotic Life,” the book thereby excuses itself from studying the literature produced by its subject. Riley Fitch is neither shocked nor impressed by Anaïs’s erotic life. She builds a trite psychological analysis on an unproved and unprovable hypothesis: namely, that Anaïs was sexually abused by her father. Riley Fitch, unlike Bair, worked solely from the published materials; even though she implies that she had access to the unpublished diaries. This is untrue, according to the estate executor Rupert Pole. Bair, who did enjoy the privilege of studying the unpublished resources, frequently betrays a frank dislike of her subject by her choices of language. She calls high-school age Anaïs “a powerful manipulator” (37). Further, Bair declares that Anaïs was “having problems telling the truth in her daily life” (40). Bair refers to Anaïs’s “machinations” (203) and depicts her as “a woman shorn of reason, careening through life like an out-of-control bulldozer” (161).
Absurdly, this biographer offers the judgment that “awkwardness and infelicities appeared in her English grammar and syntax throughout her writing life” (43). This of a writer whose style is usually considered a virtuoso performance! Bair herself acknowledges that Wallace Stevens was a lifelong admirer of Nin’s writing, as was William Carlos Williams. Perhaps Williams’s evaluation of Nin’s style carries more authority than that of Deirdre Bair. In a review of Winter of Artifice he wrote: “If I say Anaïs Nin is a good writer I mean that at her best she writes devotedly, without lie [sic] or excess baggage, from some such secret source of power which I have been trying to disclose, like a pig buried under a rosebush, a secret having to do profoundly with her sex.”Williams quotes a fairly long passage from “The Voice,” then concludes: “The entire passage is worth studying carefully. In the first place it’s good writing. No hesitancy here. No posturing. No over-elaboration. The sentences are well formed, the observation is accurate, the sensitivity is unstrained. Absolutely not a touch of neurosis in the writing. Something the writer has observed and understood, something important, important enough to write about it truthfully . . . .” (quoted from The Critical Response to Anaïs Nin, edited by Philip K. Jason, Greenwood Press, 1996).
For ultra cattiness nothing Bair writes about Anaïs can surpass her description of June Miller: “She wore her favorite red velvet dress which had holes in both sleeves and several large spots and stains down its front, and a man’s snap-brim fedora and cape, clothing she affected [ital mine] throughout her life. Her face was covered with heavy white powder and she had rimmed her eyes with kohl as heavily as did Anaïs. June’s coup de grace, however, was lipstick that was either black or bilious green” (127).
In her Introduction Bair claims, in a tone that suggests she thinks she is doing Anaïs a favor, that she “will enter posterity as a minor writer, but . . . she must be judged a “major minor writer.” This invites my response in the form of an anecdote. A Professor at N.Y.U., the late M. L. Rosenthal, was both admired and feared because of his unkind wit. When a student asked him whether a certain poet was a major poet or a minor poet, Max Rosenthal scratched his head, grimaced and replied, “I really don’t know. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we take a vote.”
I thought I detected a softening of Bair’s judgmental sense of outrage at Anaïs’s life when she seemed to understand how onerous a burden was Anaïs’s double life as the wife of two men at the same time. A slight feeling of sympathy creeps into Bair’s text although respect is always a stranger to her ultimately annoying and tedious reportage of Anaïs’s lies. She does not even credit Anaïs’s resourcefulness or her tenacity in maintaining her “trapeze act” for so many years.
Now is the time to disclose publicly that since 1975 the issue of Anaïs’s biography has concealed a mystery. In 1975 Evelyn J. Hinz persuaded Anaïs to name her “official” biographer. In a brief letter which does not specify Hinz’s exclusive access to the unpublished diaries, Anaïs authorized her to proceed with research for a biography. It is now 1998. Twenty-three years later Evelyn Hinz has published nothing biographical on Anaïs and has ceased professional activity in seminars and conferences devoted to Anaïs’s life and writings.
However Hinz has struggled to bar other critics and scholars from access to Anaïs’ manuscripts and correspondence.
Consequently, many scholars and critics who wanted to study Anaïs’s art in depth have been frustrated and have turned to other subjects. Apart from a few critics, Daisy Aldan, Harriet Zinnes, Anna Balakian, Bettina L. Knapp, Rochelle L. Holt, Richard R. Centing, Benjamin Franklin V, and Philip K. Jason, the one person who has been loyally devoted to Anaïs as a woman and as an author is John Ferrone, her former editor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. He is credited with persuading her to publish the erotic stories in Delta of Venus and Little Birds. (For his account of this venture, see his contribution to Recollections of Anaïs Nin by Her Contemporaries, edited by Benjamin Franklin V, Ohio University Press, 1996). In 1976 when she agreed to publish the erotic stories Anaïs was very ill. Her concern was the enormous expense of her medical bills and the issue of inheritance to her two husbands, one of whom, Hugo, was literally bankrupt. Anaïs did not value the erotica as literature, even though other people do. More than likely she would have viewed the commercial success of these books as highly ironic, even amusing.
An especially important pioneering contribution to Nin criticism and general interest is the newsletter/journal Under the Sign of Pisces: Anaïs Nin and Her Circle and its successor Seahorse: The Anaïs Nin/Henry Miller Journal. As Jason states, both were “masterminded” by Richard R. Centing at the Ohio State University Libraries. These publications have been invaluable as networking tools for persons who were and are studying Nin’s writings, or who have been interested in following and advancing her career. Pisces, the “Cafe in Space,” as Anaïs called it, was active for twelve years. Its issues contain many primary sources, including previously unpublished materials by Anaïs. Centing’s contribution to Nin studies is extremely valuable.
Anais: An International Journal is published once a year. It is financed by the Anaïs Nin Foundation. There are now sixteen volumes. The International Journal includes translations as well as stories and articles by a wide variety of authors. On the whole, it is a valuable contribution to Nin studies.
In spite of the ongoing denigration of Nin’s work in the U. S., her books have been translated into at least twenty-five languages, including Russian, Lithuanian, Icelandic, and Romanian. Her artistry is highly respected in countries as distant as Sweden and Japan. In Japan, Anaïs has attracted more than a dozen dedicated translators and critics. In spite of Bair’s opinion that most academics are put off by the lack of truthfulness in the Diaries and, therefore, do not teach them any longer, the Diaries remain widely read and assigned by college and university professors. After more than twenty years in the profession, I am personally acquainted wih many teachers who regularly include Anaïs’s diaries and fiction in their required readings. Moreover, unlike Bair, most people with a sophisticated sense of how literature is created understand that all art is, on some level, autobiographical. “Lies” are the truth of fiction.
What is troubling about the Diaries, I concede, is that so many women were led to believe that Anaïs was self-supporting financially, only eventually to learn that Hugo sustained, not only Anaïs but also for a time her entire family. Later, her financial contributions made possible Rupert Pole’s lifestyle, including the house designed by his stepfather, Lloyd Wright. Anaïs’s deception about being self-sufficient did, indeed, encourage many women to cherish the illusion that they, too, could become economically independent when, in fact, they had no marketable skills. This is a lamentable problem and one that Anaïs could have prevented, had she been more ingenious about explaining how she maintained her own lifestyle and paid her bills. Although Bair frequently claims that Anaïs was extravagant and self-indulgent in spending Hugo’s money on herself, this was not at all the case when I knew Anaïs. In her later years Anaïs wore inexpensive Indian velvets and gauze cottons. Her only jewelry was a watch on a wide red vinyl band and a brilliant sunburst choker. Her wrap was a Salvation Army cape that she bought at a thrift shop and which, she confided to me, was embarrassing to Hugo. In a much reprinted photo by Jill Krementz Anaïs is wearing this cape.
To sum up the current state of Nin biography, then, we have three efforts, one of which is inaccessible to people who do not read German. Riley Fitch’s book displays interest exclusively in Anaïs’s erotic life; Bair’s is a workmanlike record of facts embedded in a crude and relentless attack on Anaïs’s character. Nonetheless, many dedicated critics are studying Nin’s writings, treating her respectfully as an internationally renowned writer, and these critics are creating an audience and a following among graduate students and young scholars.
The recent books are of two types: memoirs and testimonials and critical studies, primarily psychologically oriented. One of the most valuable recent books is Conversations with Anaïs Nin, edited by Wendy M. DuBow (University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1994). Representing a vast labor of collection and, no doubt, correspondence, DuBow has brought together two dozen interviews, providing diverse perspectives on the complex artist. What is especially useful about this anthology is the fact that many of these interviews appear in print for the first time, having been transcribed from tapes; others first appeared in magazines and newspapers ranging from elegant long-established publications like Vogue and Mademoiselle to “little” ones, as did my own early interview in Shantih: A Quarterly of International Writings. A number of fine interviews are reprinted from feminist publications: The Second Wave: A Magazine of the New Feminism; Moving Out: A Feminist Literary and Arts Journal; and Helicon Nine: A Journal of Women’s Arts and Letters. Academic journals are also included: Twentieth Century Literature, The New Orleans Review and Chicago Review. DuBow’s Introduction is cogent as well as informative; it is also admirably fair (a rare quality in writings about Nin). As summed up by Philip K. Jason’s Introduction to his 1996 book The Critical Response to Anaïs Nin, “Nin’s own voice is best heard in Wendy M. DuBow’s Conversations with Anaïs Nin.”This book is a very important resource for students writing theses or dissertations on Nin. In 1973 Philip K. Jason, long a student of Nin’s writings, edited the Anaïs Nin Reader (Swallow Press, Chicago). The Introduction is a much-admired essay by Anna Balakian, “The Poetic Reality of Anaïs Nin.”Besides short stories and excerpts from the fiction, Jason included important non-fiction: an excerpt from D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study; Anaïs’s Preface to Tropic of Cancer; a review of Rank’s Art and Artist; a review of The Notebooks for “Crime and Punishment”; and a fairly lengthy excerpt from The Novel of the Future.
Jason has also published more than a dozen essays on Nin, making a specialization of the Nin-Rank professional and personal relationships. See, for example his astute and suggestive essay “The Princess and the Frog: Anaïs Nin and Otto Rank” in Anais, Art and Artists, A Collection of Essays edited by myself and published in 1986 by The Penkevill Publishing Company. In 1993 Jason published Anaïs Nin and Her Critics (Camden House, Columbia, South Carolina). The Critical Response to Anaïs Nin is, like DuBow’s interview anthology, an essential reference work for serious students of Nin’s life and writings. It is part of a series, Critical Responses in Arts and Letters, edited by Cameron Northouse. Because Philip Jason has long been an aficionado of works by and about Nin, he has both the knowledge and the selective eye to choose what he considers the best works by the most insightful critics. Consequently, his book includes reprinted materials from a wide variety of authors. Following Jason’s astute and comprehensive Introduction, are thirty-one articles, review-essays and excerpts representing a spectrum of opinions. Jason’s book is thoughtfully organized into “General Assessments”; “Nin’s Shorter Fiction”; “Nin’s Novels”; “Nin’s Diary”; and, finally, “Nin Herself.” There are harshly negative pieces; laudatory ones like Henry Miller’s “Un Etre Etoilique”; and a number of closely reasoned “objective” essays. A unique contribution is a fine bibliographical article, a detailed and enlightening piece by Benjamin Franklin V, who was briefly a co-editor of Under the Sign of Pisces. This essay is called “The Textual Evolution of the First Section of ‘Houseboat.'”
Jason’s book is an immense service to Nin scholarship. It has great value for other students of her works. Finally, of particular usefulness is his lengthy Bibliography, quite recent (again, this book was published in 1996) and meticulous. In 1994, at a conference organized by Suzanne Nalbantian at the Southampton Campus of Long Island University Jason delivered an entertaining talk called “The Men in Nin’s (Characters’) Lives.”Although critical of her ability to portray men, except for stereotypical father or son types, Jason’s point of view was, I believe, quite accurate.
Anaïs Nin: A Book of Mirrors is outstanding. It is the conceptual child of Paul Herron, Editor of Sky Blue Press in Huntington Woods, Michigan. Along with the Penkevill Press edition of Anaïs, Art and Artists, Mirrors is one of the most beautifully produced books devoted to Anaïs’s influence on her fellow creative artists. The book has a Foreword by the indefatigable Gunther Stuhlmann and an exuberant, excited Introduction by the publisher. Herron’s idea was to print contributions by people who believe that they were influenced in their creative lives by Anaïs herself or by her works. Stuhlmann’s Foreword stalwartly states his dissatisfaction with Riley Fitch’s and Bair’s biographies and champions A Book of Mirrors as a superior effort: “In this so aptly titled collection, Paul Herron has assembled a large array of personal testimonials, reflections, and refractions which, for all their diversity, idiosyncratic slants and occasional factual inaccuracies, seem to accomplish, as he writes, ‘what no biography, no single study can do.'”Many of the contributors are well known to those who have followed Nin studies through the years: Maryanne Raphael, Daisy Aldan, Bettina L. Knapp, Deena Metzger, Rochelle L. Holt, Richard R. Centing, Valerie Harms, Marion Fay, Rober Zaller, Lili Bita, Judith Hipskind, and Barbara Kraft. But Herron has searched out contributions from many new voices as well: Javant Biarujia, Ted Joans, David E. Haberstich, Dolores Brandon, Judith Citrin, Rosanne Azarian, and quite a few others who have not been heard from earlier. The new voices bring freshness and diversity to Nin studies.
Also published in 1996 is Recollections of Anaïs Nin by Her Contempories (Ohio University Press). Editor Benjamin Franklin V gathered together twenty-six contributions from people who had known Anaïs personally. His intent was to obtain “honest, accurate impressions . . . of this woman all of us would agree was exraordinary, in one way or another. And so they have done. Included here are the recollections of people who knew her in varying degress of intimacy: from a niece to students to critics who met her only once and do not claim to have known her well. Some of the contributors knew her as far back as the 1940s, while others met her only a few years before her death in 1977. This collection is a treasury of personal memories, and some of them are very amusing.
My favorite is Bettina Knapp’s description of her first meeting with Anaïs. It was 1966. Knapp was preparing a book on Antonin Artaud, and she was thrilled to learn that Anaïs had known him. Knapp dressed carefully. She bought a dozen red roses for Anaïs. She made up her eyes. Well, there was a torrential rain. The green florist’s paper in which the roses were wrapped ran, staining Knapp’s beige raincoat. Worse, she wrote: “My eyeliner and mascara–put on with such care only an hour earlier–now covered my cheeks in Rorschach-like configurations. As for my once neatly combed hair the less said the better.”Nonetheless, the women’s meeting was a great success. Planned for only ten minutes, their conversation lasted more than four hours. Over the years their friendship deepened. Knapp’s friendship with Nin inspired her to write Anaïs Nin (Ungar, 1978). It is one of the most profound and insightful of the critical studies of Anaïs’ work.
Three recent books deserve special attention: in order of publication, they are: Aesthetic Autobiography: Life to Art in Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Anaïs Nin by Suzanne Nalbantian (St. Martin’s Press, 1994); Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art by Rochelle Lynn Holt (Scars Publications and Design, 1997); Anaïs Nin and the Remaking of Self: Gender, Modernism, and Narrative Identity by Diane Richard-Allerdyce (Northern Illinois University Press, 1998). These three books share psycho-philosophical theoretical anchorings, though different ones, but they vary in the extent and depth of their research. Nalbantian’s and Holt’s books are intellectually highly original. Both authors depend upon their own ideas and insights without relying on externally referential theories. Moreover, Nalbantian’s study brings Nin into the recognized canon of European modernist writers. It is solidly rooted, opening with three general chapters: “Historical Paradigms”; “Theories of Autobiography”; and Nalbantian’s own “Theory of Aesthetic Autobiography.”Taking nothing for granted, Nalbantian provides retrospective perspectives on her four subjects, as well as crucial considerations of genre. The mental sophistication and rhetorical agility of this text towers over Bair’s simplistic judgmentalism. Both Nalbantian and Holt truly understand what Nin meant when she wrote, “There is no separation between my life and my craft, my work. The form of art is the form of art of my life, and my life is the form of the art. I refuse artificial patterns” (April, 1946, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. IV, p. 142). Focussing more emphatically on Nin’s art of mythologizing the self than on psychoanalytical motivations, Nalbantian deftly sidesteps blunt autobiography in favor of presenting the unity of every aspect of Nin’s life and work. Thus, her study is called “The Mythification of Selfhood in Nin.” This original book closely articulates a brilliant synthesis.
Diane Richard-Allerdyce offers a psychoanalytical interpretation of Nin’s need to multiply not only her selves but also her friends and lovers. Richard-Allerdyce bases her study on a “Lacanian perspective,” and she does not depart from this perspective. Although she is surprisingly dependent on Bair’s biased perspective, Richard-Allerdyce has produced a book that is immaculately and extensively researched and includes acknowledgment of divergent points of view. Richard-Allerdyce, like other unskeptical critics, accepts Riley Fitch’s interpretation of Nin’s sexual victimization in childhood as truth. Consequently, she makes much too much of the wholly unsubstantiated charge that Joaquin Nin violated his daughter sexually. Therefore, she concludes that the multiplicity in Nin’s life and writings represents a strategy for defending herself, but also–more important–for healing herself as an incest survivor. This is almost as fanciful, though much more sophisticated than Riley Fitch’s hypothesis, which might have been culled from an “advice from the editor” column in a tabloid. Nonetheless, Anaïs Nin and the Remaking of Self is an admirable achievement from which a reader can learn a great deal, even while disagreeing with the author. This is virtually the only book I have ever read (and I have read a lot of books) in which the footnotes are just as intriguing as the text itself. Finally, Richard-Allerdyce’s study is presented enchantingly with a vibrant cover in two shades of orange.
Holt’s Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art is an impressive book that emerges from her persuasively argued point of view that Anaïs suffered from an undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated bipolar disorder characterized by classic manic periods rapidly followed by plunges into despair. Holt documents this point of view impeccably, and she relates it to psychological disorders experienced by other creative people. Very appropriately, she relies to some extent on the research of clinical psychologist Susan Kavaler-Adler, who has written one of the very few cogent and insightful studies of women writers: (The Compulsion to Create: A Psychoanalytic Study of Women Artists, Routledge, 1993). Holt studies Nin texts that many critics do not bother to consider: Waste of Timelessness (early stories, collected by Valerie Harms and published in 1977 by Magic Circle Press); “The White Blackbird”; “Stella”; The Novel of the Future; and Mystic of Sex. She includes a work that has received almost no recognition: Stars in My Sky by Valerie Harms (Magic Circle Press, 1976). Holt’s book admirably connects the mania for creativity with bipolar disorder. Like Richard-Allerdyce and Susan Kavaler-Adler, Holt is persuaded that Nin healed herself, or at least greatly diminished her suffering, through the transformative process of creation. Among the most engaging parts of this book is a surprising and suggestive essay comparing A Streetcar Named Desire to Nin’s novella “Stella.”Holt suggests that Tennessee Williams might, indeed, have borrowed or perhaps just been inspired by “Stella” in the writing of Streetcar. Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art is introduced by a moving poem that takes its title from Nin: “Understanding Is Love.”It is physically a very beautiful book with a cover photo of Anaïs wearing a flowing Mexican wedding dress standing in her garden with one of her beloved white poodles, Pico. Rochelle L. Holt’s Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art is an engaging and rewarding experience.
These three books–Nalbantian’s Aesthetic Autobiography; Richard Allerdyce’ Nin and the Remaking of Self and Holt’s Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art–represent the most accomplished recent Nin criticism. They are highly engaging and offer a great deal to readers who approach Nin’s writings respectfully. Nonetheless, in my opinion, there is a negative aspect to books that are either thesis-driven or that examine Nin’s writings for the purpose of deriving theories about psychological dynamics. We North Americans are said by psychologists to be left brain dominant: primarily thinking types who value intellect above intuition, logic above imagination, research above creation. I have noted that many critics today, especially those newly out of graduate school, are markedly, and often arrogantly, more interested in theory than in art. Needless to say, this is troubling to someone like myself who writes creative fiction. Recently, I read a thoughtful statement by a literary figure who argued that many books are dismissed by critics because they do not fit current trendy categories of criticism. I believe this is true, and it is lamentable. However, in Nin’s case the temptation to focus more intensely on the life than the art is made possible, ironically, by the existence of the published Diaries. Thus, in a sense, the Diaries undermine Nin’s “real” art–in my opinion, her fiction.
Of the three books I have just discussed, Nalbantian’s alone places the primary emphasis on Nin’s art. Indeed, Suzanne Nalbantian has worked tirelessly to spark and to flame continued interest in Nin’s writings: In 1997 she edited a remarkable collection of essays culled from papers originally delivered at a conference. Anaïs Nin: Literary Perspectives, opens with an implied rebuke (“Aesthetic Lies”) to Deirdre Bair’s cute effort to demean the Diary by dubbing it a “liary.”This forcefully stated prelude is followed by two radiant writings by Joaquin Nin-Culmell, “Anais, My Sister” and two letters to Hugh Guiler imploring him to share his deep knowledge of Anaïs with the world. Nalbantian has grouped the eighteen essays into five parts: “Dream Cities and Other Inscapes”; “Psychoanalysis in Nin’s Writings”; “Gender Readings of the Fiction”; “Japanese Voices on Nin”; “The Genesis and Dissemination of Nin’s Work.”Included are the familiar voices of Anna Balakian, Benjamin Franklin V, Valerie Harms, Suzette Henke, Philip K. Jason myself, and Harriet Zinnes.
However, there are also many new voices. Among these are Lajos Elkan’s paper “Birth and the Linguistics of Gender”; Harriet Zinnes’s Art, the Dream, the Self”; and Catherine Broderick’s “Cities of Her Own Invention: Urban Iconology in Cities of the Interior.”Most arresting, however, are the contributions of three Japanese women: Junko Kimura, who has translated five of Anaïs’s works, Atsuko Miyake, and Toyoko Yamamoto. In Japan interest in Nin’s writings is animated and widespread. These three Japanese critics bring fascinating new angles of vision to Nin’s works. In “Between Two Languages: The Translation and Reception of Anaïs Nin in Japan,” Junko Kimura studies the challenges of translation, stating the view that Anaïs’s style is “hard-crusted and abstract,” . . . “perhaps as a carapace to protect the “fragile innermost state.” This is, indeed, a provocative point of view, for critics in the U.S. have often denounced Nin’s style as “purple” and “woozy.”Equally fascinating is Atsuko Miyake’s piece, “Anaïs Nin’s Words of Power and the Japanese Sibyl Tradition.”Deeply respectful, this article places Nin’s works in a time-honored dignified tradition of sacred women.
Even though Literary Perspectives is flawed by many disconcerting typographical errors–the oversights of Nalbantian’s editors–it is a formidable achievement because of its diversity. Readers will learn much they did not suspect, perhaps especially the machinations of various publishers in their efforts to capitalize on the implied salaciousness of A Spy in the House of Love. This article is the contribution of Benjamin Franklin V, who is unique in having committed himself to the exploration of bibliographical issues in Nin scholarship.
Literary Perspectives is the outgrowth of a 1994 conference that Nalbantian organized at the Southampton Campus of Long Island University. Having participated, I can share my view that this was an extremely successful gathering which incited much good natured discussion and many rich exchanges among international scholars. The highlights of this three-day event were the opening address by Joaquin Nin-Culmell and the surprise appearance of the late Val Telberg, who created the photomontages for House of Incest.
A recent conference called On Miracle Ground X, “The Paris of Durrell, Nin and Miller” appeared to be a transparent attempt to expand the attendance. This event occurred in May, 1998 at the University of Cincinnati. Organized by the Durrell Society, the event focussed on Durrell, Miller and Nin in that order. Of twenty-two sessions only three were devoted entirely to Nin; however, her works were mentioned in several other sessions. The few panels on Nin seemed an afterthought. The room assignments were noticeably inferior in size and location to those in which the Miller and Durrell panels were held. The Nin seminar rooms lacked pitchers of water and microphones. Nonetheless, an excellent panel called “Nin in Context” was smoothly moderated by Kathy Silvey of Claremont Graduate University. The four presenters shared different and equally illuminating perspectives: Paul Herron, Editor of Sky Blue Press addressed “The Paris of Her Mind”; Maryanne Raphael spoke about Nin in conjunction with “Therese of Lisieux and Mother Teresa”; Diane Richard-Allerdyce explored the Durrell-Nin relationship: “Friendship, Jealousy, and the Creative Process”; Rochelle Lynn Holt, a friend of Nin and devoted critic, addressed “Enriching the Passage: Nin, Miller, and Durrell.”This panel was exceptional. Unfortunately, it was one of its kind. Of the remaining speakers on Nin two made intriguing and stimulating presentations: Mai Al-Nakib in “A Secret Proliferation: Anaïs Nin’s Diary as Deleuzian Rhizome” and Annelies Van Aller in “Nin and the Art of Living.”
In several seminar discussions following presentations on Miller and Durrell male participants spoke harshly of Nin’s personal life, using their judgments as a reason to dismiss her writings. Meanwhile, the equally incendiary sex lives of Miller and Durrell provoked no similar judgments. For Nin scholars “The Paris of Durrell-Nin-Miller” was a great disappointment. Clearly, there is a need for a major conference soon on Nin’s writings. After all, 1994 was four years ago, and new scholars are being drawn to Nin’s writings in impressive numbers.
To return to the writings, the most recent, and perhaps the most profound study of Nin’s art appears posthumously in Anaïs: An International Journal, volume 16, 1998. It is by Anna Balakian, on whom we have come to depend for brilliant comparative studies. In this article, “What Makes Anaïs Nin a Poet?” Balakian’s intent is twofold: to restore balance to the varied portraits of Nin by refocussing attention on her art and to “place” Nin in the context of European literature by drawing a sustained parallel between Rimbaud and Nin. She articulates a poetics of transformation that soars far beyond psychologically-dominated studies. I wish to quote a key passage from Balakian’s essay: “The saving grace of the self-centered persona in terms of art is, in Nin’s case, the infinite complexity of her personality, the rich and dense mosaic of her images of self that prevail after each incomplete attempt at creating ‘the other.’ These facets are all part of the same psyche, but projected on different canvases, children of the same matrix; that is what makes them evade the psychiatric pattern of the time that identified them as conflicting selves representing static obsessions mostly based in sexual inhibitions calcified in childhood. In fact, Nin’s multiplicity of selves is the enrichment a creative writer brings to the life experience, as each escapes from the original web.”
Still awaiting publication are at least three books. There may be others of which I am not aware. The first, compiled by Simone-Marie Lorenz, is a collection of especially memorable and insightful passags culled from Nin’s oeuvre. This is a very appealing concept, indeed, and when published should find an enthusiastic audience. The second is a biography of Anaïs written especially for young people. “It is called “Who Was Anaïs Nin?” The author is Maryanne Raphael whose piece “An Afternoon with Anaïs Nin” is included in A Book of Mirrors. Raphael studied writing with Marguerite Young and has written several books including Runaways, America’s Lost Youth with a Preface by Nin. Finally, Professor Anne Salvatore of Rider University has edited a collection of essays devoted exclusively to Nin’s fiction. “Nin’s Narratives” provides an admirable and much-needed focus. The authors of the essays are varied, ranging from “old-timers” to graduate students. All three of these works hold the promise of bringing new insights to Nin’s writings and attracting new readers.
So rich, daring and provocative a personality as Anaïs, with a large, challenging, original body of work to her credit, predictably invites an equally large and diverse response. There are the morally indignant shock troops, obsessed with her life and disinterested in her writings: Deirdre Bair, and Nancy Zee Scholar, author of the harshly deprecatory Twayne book, Anaïs Nin (Boston, 1984). Not a few critics have attempted to use their writings about Anaïs to serve themselves: in this category I include Noel Rily Fitch, who–and this is very unusual–no doubt earned what is probably a lot of money by scripting psychodrama about Anaïs. Evelyn J. Hinz used her book The Mirror and the Garden as a lever to become Anaïs’s self-styled “official” biographer. Deirdre Bair probably did not make a lot of money by assaulting Nin but advanced her professional status as a literary biographer.
Among more generous critics who have taken Anaïs’s writings seriously as works of art with no expectation of personal gain and have attempted to help other readers enter Anaïs’s world are Oliver Evans, Anna Balakian, Bettina L. Knapp, Richard R. Centing, Rochelle L. Holt, Benjamin Franklin V, Duane Schneider, Philip K. Jason, Suzanne Nalbantian, and, most recently, Diane Richard-Allerdyce. Not a few people think of Anaïs as a saint, a goddess, even a bodhisattva, a feminist pioneer. Among these I number Daisy Aldan, Harriet Zinnes, Wayne McEvilly, and Erica Jong. I’m sure there are many others of whom I am not aware.
In the process of reviewing and updating most, at least, of what has been written about Anaïs in recent years, I am struck–again, as always–with the extremes of opposed views. People who have been trained to think in the Western dualistic and linear manner tend to accept invitations to bifurcation automatically, uncritically. Bifurcation is a natural habit of Western thinking, or, more accurately, non-thinking. This is powerfully manifest in the vehemence of people’s reactions to Anaïs and her work. She is either a saint, resplendent with grace and generosity, or a compulsive liar and a whore (usually, the two are seen as inseparable), who took callous advantage of Hugh P. Guiler to seek out every variety of sexual experience while enjoying the financial and emotional security of their marriage. (An enlightening study could be made of goddesses and gods whose positive attributes include abundant sexual conquests.) More–Anaïs is seen as either totally self-centered (i.e., the exhausted charge of narcissism) or she is appallingly self-sacrificing. She is either angelic of temperament or rabidly “Spanish” (i.e., given to scenes). She is either delicately lovely or garishly made-up. And so it goes. Readers and critics seem to feel obliged to choose whether her “real” art is her diary or her fiction. Her Diaries are either shamelessly confessional or they are shamelessly fabricated. Finally, she is either a first class international writer or she is a “failed novelist” (another tired cliche used by people who are too mentally and emotionally lazy to enter her art).
These “either or’s” are totally unnecessary. Anaïs herself told readers her life and her work are inseparable. Her life is her art, her art, her life. I quoted this assertion in my book Collage of Dreams. All of Anaïs is one panoramic statement, one panoramic vision, one panoramic unity. But to talk or write about this overwhelming unity is difficult to accomplish in one instant of time. It is necessary to address the parts one at a time in a somewhat analytical manner.
To return to the early part of Anaïs’ complicated life, I am determined to dispel the outrageous assumption that Anaïs’s father sexually abused her. Perhaps persons who cherish this view need to be reminded that they are reviling the deceased in the absence of any proof whatsoever. The principals are dead, thereby eliminating any possibility of a forensic examination of the “truth.”There is evidence that Joaquin Nin spanked the children, and these spankings took on erotic significance for Anaïs. There is proof that he photographed Anaïs nude when she was a small child; this was a common photographic convention of the era and by no means reveals improper conduct. In 1928 the father of the famous photographer and journalist Lee Miller made nude studies of his daughter which subtly reveal pubic hair. At the time Miller was twenty-one. Two years later, in 1930 when Lee was twenty-three, Theodore Miller photographed her naked in her bath. I have not read any charges that Lee Miller’s father was guilty of sexually unacceptable behavior toward his daughter. What is known, as distinct from speculated, is that Anaïs’s father was extremely critical, sometimes of her body. Nonetheless, when her parents separated abruptly Anaïs missed her father fervently and never ceased yearning to be reunited with him until after their phantasmagoric sexual “affair” in the summer of 1933.
In an intriguing psychologically based article printed in Nalbantian’s collection Anaïs Nin: Literary Perspectives, seasoned and astute critic Suzette Henke probes this issue with sensitivity. In “Nin’s Father Loss and Incestuous Desire” Henke states in a footnote: “My attributions of sexual abuse here refer to Joaquin Nin’s scopophiliac practices, as well as to his ritual ‘spankings’. I am not suggesting that his abusive behavior went beyond the lascivious gaze and equally ambiguous beatings that made such a powerful impression on Anaïs.”So crucial a perspective on her approach to her thesis might better have served readers if it had been clarified at the outset, not in a footnote.
Although there is evidence that Anaïs seduced and rejected her father as revenge for his earlier abandonment of the family, it is more likely that their brief liaison was the predictable culmination of the dance of seduction that is so eloquently dramatized in “Winter of Artifice.”Anaïs and her father were both formidably skilled at the arts of seduction. Whatever occurred, if, indeed, something tangible occurred, was the result of their mutual desire. It appears that she broke off their relationship in spite of his wish to prolong their (presumed) intimacy. However, fairness demands this: we must remember that the only evidence of Anaïs’s sexual relationship with her father is her description of it. Although any and all readers are free to speculate, we do not know that her account is not a fantasy, as Henke concedes. This conviction is held by Valerie Harms (as expressed in “Anaïs and Her Analysts,” Nalbantian’s Literary Perspectives), by Rochelle L. Holt and, most importantly, by Joaquin Nin-Culmell, Anaïs’s surviving brother.
Anais’s legendary sexual appetite (“This Hunger” she called the opening section of Ladders to Fire) seems amply documented by many persons who were participants or confidants of participants. The multiciplicity of her relationships until she “settled down” in California (part of the time) did not seem to trouble Anaïs, Henry or even Hugo. Sympathy for Hugo, in my opinion, is simply condescending. He was quite grown up and he chose to adapt to Anaïs’s changes with changes of his own. Deep and clear insight into the reasons Hugo did not seek divorce demands an understanding of how absolutely wonderful Anaïs could make people feel about themselves when they were in her attentive and supportive presence.
In spite of his patient composure, Hugo could be sly in his efforts to discover just how much other people knew about Anaïs’s life. Before I went to California for the Celebration in Berkeley Hugo asked me if I had ever read a novel called La Menteuse. I knew, of course, that his question was a probe and I truthfully denied any knowledge of the book. He asked me this because he knew that in California I would meet “R.”In a letter sent to me before I went to California Anaïs told me about “R” and requested that I never disclose to Hugo that I had met him. At Berkeley a long-time friend of Hugo and Anaïs and co-composer of electronic music for his films, asked me whether I had ever been to Anaïs’s New York apartment. This, of course, was an indirect way of asking whether I had met Hugo. When I said yes, she responded with a knowing nod.
I do not know how long Hugo and Rupert knew about each other. My sense is that at first they did not. For a while, Anaïs’s strategies seem to have worked. But eventually they simply became too complicated and too transparent. Both men seem to have indulged her need to believe that they did not know about each other. I was present when Hugo and Rupert met for the first time. It was, of course, after Anaïs’s death. The event was a picnic at Valerie Harms’ and Larry Sheehan’s Connecticut home. Both men seemed composed; perhaps they were curious about each other. Rupert was fortified by the company of professor author and translator Kazuko Sugisaki, a long-time friend of his and Anaïs’s and a very beautiful woman. I was amused when Hugo remarked to me that he found Rupert’s companion very attractive.
I think we need not speculate about how having two husbands at the same time felt to Anaïs. Although, as we all know, simultaneous multiple relationships are commonplace for men and are sanctioned by Islam, even today many women are not likely to feel comfortable maintaining intimacies with more than one partner at a time. Not so Anaïs. For a time in the 1930s she had three “husbands” simultaneously: Hugo, Henry and Otto Rank. Nonetheless, she suffered from guilt, especially toward Hugo, who was, or who pretended to be, infinitely “good.”Hugo could have alleviated her guilt considerably by conducting love affairs openly. He refused to do this. Perhaps this secrecy was mean. However, even in advanced age he was hardly impervious to female warmth and beauty. In A Book of Mirrors lovely writer/actress/producer Dolores Brandon describes an embarrassing situation in which Hugo made unwelcome attempts at intimacy.
Anais’s efforts to seed Hugo’s path with women became obvious to me soon after I moved from Manhattan to New Jersey. At this time she gave me a key to their apartment with the suggestion that when I was in New York I might want to use her bathroom “to freshen up.”Knowing that I would never use it, I nonetheless accepted the key as a courtesy. From my first meeting with Hugo and Anaïs until his death I was alone with him in their apartment in Greenwich Village only once: January 15, 1977. This was the day after her death when I paid Hugo a visit to keep him company. Far from lamenting her treatment of him, he expressed remorse at having pressured her into playing the conventional role of hostess-wife. I was touched when he said that without her influence he would not have developed his formidable talents as an engraver and, later, film-maker. He said nothing about Henry Miller or Rupert Pole.
On an earlier occasion Hugo, like Henry, was disdainful of Rank. Hugo severely criticized him as a therapist. I do not know whether Hugo knew that Anaïs had an intense affair with Rank who, in early middle age, was wildly in love, perhaps for the first time. I have read his letters to Anaïs written during his voyage to the United States to begin a new life when the persecution of European Jews seemed inevitable. Rank was already being forced out of the profession in Europe by Ernest Jones and other members of Freud’s Viennese circle. A new life seemed a redemptive initiative in more than one respect.
A prescient and, I believe, accurate account of Rank’s and Anaïs’s relationship can be read in E. James Lieberman’s 1985 biography of Rank. Both Philip Jason and myself have written several articles on the intellectual and emotional exchange between Rank and Nin. In his book Lieberman surmised that it was Rank who broke off their relationship. This coincides with Anaïs’s account. The loss was serious for her because she treasured Rank as another “double,” another soul mate. Rank refused to accept Anaïs’s ongoing relations with Henry. It does not appear that he regarded Hugo as a threatening rival. Needless to say, Anaïs struggled to recapture Rank. But she was unsuccessful. Very soon after their break-up he married Estelle Buel, ony to die three months later.
Once again, I do not think that Hugo’s acceptance of Anaïs’s sexual adventures invites pity or ridicule. He received the gift of being the companion of an extraordinary woman for fifty-four years. When troubled, he had frequent recourse to psychotherapy. At our first meeting he told me he had been involved with therapy for thirty-five years. I inquired whether he was a psychotherapist! At the time of Anaïs’s death they were both patients of the late Inge Bogner. During his life with Anaïs Hugo grew as a man and he became an artist. Widely regarded as the “grandfather” of the underground film in the U.S., he created exquisite textured films, using complicated superimposed images enhanced by haunting music. Hugo, too, was an artist. No one I know claims to have knowledge whether Hugo had a private erotic life. I hope he did, but if so, he certainly did not give Anaïs the satisfaction of knowing his secrets. He was reticent, elegant, sometimes sly and always a gentleman. Anaïs was fortunate, indeed, to have had such a stalwart supporter of her immense ambitions.
Many people are scandalized by Anaïs’s very active sexual life. At a Columbia University conference devoted to Rank, a prominent analyst and biographer of Freud asked me whether I thought she was a “nymphomaniac.”I was taken aback by his use of this term, which I thought was no longer respectable and definitely inappropriate for a man of his professional stature. Today, sexual appetitiveness is trendily counted as just another of our many addictive behaviors. Morally dedicated people, especially if they are intense about religion, are likely to disapprove vehemently of Anaïs’s exploits. Most others who judge her harshly are simply envious of the liberties she had the audacity to claim.
However, a more profound reason, one that is forcefully articulated by Erica Jong in an essay that appears in A Book of Mirrors is that the model of sexual liberation incarnated by Anaïs threatens traditional standards of acceptable female behavior. I have known quite a few men who resented Anaïs, disapproving of her because they feared that their women companions might be inspired to imitate her sexual liberty; some of these men have stated their fears directly and unabashedly.
However, a look at the record shows that Anaïs’s most ferocious bloodhounds have been women. The model of a woman who knew what she wanted, sought it, and got it–a woman raised by a devout Catholic mother–is startling enough to strike terror in the faint-hearted. Was sexual autonomy not one of the goals of women’s liberation? Well, yes and no. Speaking personally, I admire Anaïs’s temerity but I would not even want to try to sustain the pressures of so much planning and maneuvering. I have never wanted to live as Anaïs lived. I admire her wildly surprising achievement in this area of life, and I feel certain it was inspired, not by paucity of pleasure but by an abundance, one pleasure inviting another and another and another. Noel Riley Fitch and Deidre Bair are both too inhibited and unimaginative to explain Anaïs’s sexuality except by dredging up “advice to the reader” cliches. It has been well established that a woman who has activated her capacity to be multiorgasmic can exhaust several men quite quickly.
It is unclear whether Anaïs was having physical relationships with her many male homosexual friends. In Collage of Dreams I have written about my perception of the attraction between Anaïs and young male poets, whom I regard as muse figures in her struggle fully to activate her creativity. But another motivation, a very deep one, might be called “imprinting.”Her first extremely passionate love was for her cousin Eduardo Sanchez. In her published Diary Anaïs describes her remorse at having–finally–seduced this gentle man (whom I met several times during his declining years). She learned, with regret at having hurt and embarrassed him, that Eduardo was not drawn to women physically. Nonetheless, Anaïs and Eduardo remained devoted Platonic lovers for the rest of their lives. She gave him an irreplaceable and unique gift, an introduction to Judith Hipskind, the renowned author, palmist and astrologer, who became his attentive companion until his death. For her account of their long relationship, read her contribution to A Book of Mirrors.
Children of the Albatross explores yet another motivation for intense friendships between heterosexual women and gay males: this is a shared rebellion against tyrannical fathers, a rebellion that is rooted in mutual sensitivity to life and a delight in what serious-minded people (i. e., Freud) dismiss as play. A shared sene of persecution or oppression may be the glue that cements such attachments. A marvelous film called “I Like It Like That” portrays tender moments between the heroine and her brother, who loans her his “falsies” when she wants to boost her bust in order to obtain work as a model. Later, Rene, the brother, is badly beaten by his father (or stepfather) as are women who “misbehave” sexually, or are perceived to have done so by their fathers, brothers, lovers, or husbands. Given the existence and stubborn survival of such prejudices by males who presume to adjudicate what is and what is not “acceptable” sexual behavior for women, it is not surprising that strong alliances based on empathy developed between women and gay males.
I am tempted to speculate about how the Nin family’s complex relationships might have evolved had the parents not separated. My purely intuitive point of view is that Rosa made the right decision for herself and her children by leaving her husband and Europe for the United States. The challenge and the freedom were stimulating. In Manhattan and Queens the entire family suffered but proved themselves resourceful and extremely sturdy in an environment that was not dominated by the endless egocentric needs of the faithless hypochondriac father. On the other hand, had Anaïs passed through adolescence in her father’s consistent or even occasional presence marked by his critical attitudes, his discipline sessions, and his overwhelming need to control others, she might have been a very different woman psychologically. In that case she would have grown to maturity in Europe, and that would have influenced everything except perhaps her aspiration to write in the experimental modes of her idols: Rimbaud, Proust, and D. H. Lawrence. And she would, of course, have written in French and more than likely would have received her deserved literary evaluation early in her career.
To enter into Anaïs’s “fictions”–considered so idiosyncratic in the context of U.S. and British realism–the reader must have an appreciation of the revolutionary artists, Rimbaud and Proust. Evidence of how negatively Anaïs’s books were regarded in England: when my novel with her Preface was published in Britain by Hamish Hamilton, Anaïs’s Preface was omitted because the editors thought it would damage the reception of my novel.
Anais’s association with Surrealism may also have undermined her critical reception in Britain and the U.S. Even though she was never an active participant in the movement and did not even associate with well known Surrealists, there are affinities between her work and classical French Surrealism. These are especially evident in House of Incest. Affinities continue to appear in her later fiction, primarily in her choice of startling images. Except for Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, Dorothea Tanning, Kay Sage and, in England, Ithell Colquhoun, Grace Pailthorpe, Roland Penrose, and Eileen Agar, there were and are very few British and U.S. Surrealists. For many critics in the U.S. labeling Anaïs’s works “Surrealist” is a facile way to condemn them.
Even less understood here, and seldom read except in modern French novel courses, is Remembrance of Things Past. Proust is credited with the discovery of involuntary memory, the spontaneous and often accidental retrieval to consciousness of memories stored in the unconscious. The use of involuntary memory became one of the standard techniques used by classical psychoanalysts. This technique, which the Surrealists called “psychic automatism,” has been used by many modern artists in all mediums, but it was the exclusive method of composition used by the Surrealists who claimed, not very persuasively, that they never revised their works.
By contrast, House of Incest, though composed entirely of dreams, was restructured and edited with the assistance of Otto Rank. Andre Breton’s Nadja which is ambiguously either autobiography or fiction, might be considered a hypothetical model for Anaïs’s fiction, which she began writing in the 30’s. However, it is necessary to bear in mind that without the published Diaries readers would not know the autobiographical nature of Anaïs’s novels. For example, they would not be able to identify the unifying character in Collages, the glue that holds together the elements of the collage, as a fictionalized portrait of Anaïs’s long-time friend and confidante, painter Renate Druks.
While the affinities between Anaïs’s writings and Surrealism are quite clear to anyone who is familiar with the French movement, the importance of these affinities is less because they “explain” Anaïs’s creations than that they help to explain the uncomprehending and hostile reception of these works in the United States and Great Britain, as well as the fatuous efforts of various writers, primarily Henry Miller, to “teach her how to write.”I am reminded that when Georgia O’Keeffe’s original paintings were criticized as inept by her male associates she proved to them that she could paint the same way they did by producing a few paintings in the mode they prized. After this triumphant demonstration of the painterly competence her male colleagues admired, O’Keeffe continued to pursue her own vision. For a time–fortunately brief–Anaïs did try to write in the Henry Miller style, using his vocabulary and crude depictions of sex. Later, however, she developed her own philosophy of writing, one that is decidedly feminine. Responding articulately to challenges posed by long discussions with Miller and Lawrence Durrell, Anaïs formulated her own esthetic of literary art. Having written extensively about her writing of the womb in Ellen G. Friedman’s and Miriam Fuchs’ collection Breaking the Sequence: Women’s Experimental Fiction, I shall not repeat myself here except once again to stress the French connection. Canadian scholar Margret Anderson, in an article called “Critical Approaches to Anaïs Nin” (The Canadian Review of American Studies, 1979) asserts that Nin was far ahead of her time in articulating a woman’s writing of the body, a feminine practice of writing, ecriture. Recently, Lajos Elkan has addressed this issue in “Birth and the Linguistics of Gender: Masculine/Feminine” (Literary Perspectives).
To recapitulate some of the causes of the bewildered and often vicious reception Anaïs’s works have received in her adopted country, first, I believe, is ignorance and lack of appreciation of European literature in general, but especially French. Then there is the fact that all of her books are unique and highly original, each posing new challenges. Many readers do not welcome such challenges to their conscious and unconscious assumptions. They are lazy and sometimes prejudiced as well. More difficult even than their originality, Anaïs’s books are about the emotional and sexual lives of women. When published, her books were far in advance of their time of acceptability: brother-sister incest and lesbianism viewed as a variation of incest (House); abortion (Ladders); a flirtation with lesbianism (Ladders); heterosexual women’s friendships with homosexual men (Albatross); and an emotional menage (Heart). Adultery and a woman’s efforts to embrace a free sexual life without emotional attachments (Spy); a woman on her own daring to venture into the labyrinth of self with no Ariadne to guide and save her (Seduction). (This novel is thematically the tamest of Anaïs’s fictions but artistically the most dazzling.) Another woman on her own living a largely fulfilled, satisfying creative life is portrayed in Collages. Rose-Marie Logan has contributed an excellent essay on this scintillating book to Anaïs Nin: Literary Perspectives (“Renate’s Illusions and Delusions in Collages”). Each book comprising Cities of the Interior is different in style and structure, but the fact that they portray the same three women, or aspects of women, invites readers to know them in their inconsistencies and to participate in their unpredictable rhythms of growth.
Finally, however, what sparked a bitter war between Anaïs and the New York literary establishment (in California she has always been appreciated) was her insistence on being taken seriously and reviewed with respect. Considering the vitriolic nature of the assaults she sustained, it is not surprising that she fought back, not by attacking other writers but by defending her own works and calling on her supporters to fortify her defense with articulate testimonials. It seems to me that her powerful persona and her ceaseless determination to present herself as a writer of integrity and stature only deepened the determination of the New York literati to humiliate her.
In 1966 with the publication of the first Diary she achieved instant recognition, not so much for her literary achievement as for the articulate disclosure of a woman’s amazingly adroit battle for selfhood, independence and a life of perhaps unprecedented erotic and creative fulfillment. In this connection, I think of George Sand and Colette. Eventually, however, women, many of whom have been more violent than men in denouncing Anaïs, also became her rescuers from literary damnation. Not the same women, of course. Although many feminists were put off by her affection for adornment and her struggle to remain as youthful as possible, many also offered her admiration, and often adoration. In the early 70s before she had to take to her bed for the remainder of her life, I attended many of her public talks. I had never before been present when a speaker was absolutely mobbed by people longing to talk to her. After a dialogue held at The New School for Social Research Dr. Ira Progoff reportedly felt so upstaged that he said that he felt like a white man at a Black Panther rally. (Perhaps he did not say this and I am only reporting gossip. If so, I apologize.) Later, I attended a talk by the late Marie Louise von Franz, heir to the leadership of the Jung Society in Switzerland. After she concluded with a very amusing question and answer period, she was also besieged by many people who were seeking her opinion on a variety of issues. Her throng of admirers was second only to Anaïs’s in numbers and enthusiasm. In spite of Anaïs’s illness, she countered the strains of these public appearances with grace and warmth. Anaïs’s beauty and charm were daunting and very inspiring. In the early 1970s no one who did not know would guess that she had been fighting cancer for a decade.
When I met Anaïs in the 70s she told me she had cancer and was receiving cobalt therapy. She appeared not only healthy but decades younger than her years. Nevertheless, she made it clear that she was very sad and depressed about her condition. After her death Rupert Pole told me that a large tumor in or near her stomach could not be removed without destoying other vital organs. Some people wonder whether accumulated rage at her seemingly endless battle for literary recognition gradually poisoned her and caused her cancer. It is difficult to have an opinion about this. In any case, according to Rupert Pole, she was told after the operation that the tumor had been removed. With her powerful capacity for faith in herself and her incredible tenacity, she chose to believe this and passed into the long period of remission that lasted until 1974. Recall her professional activity during this period: countless public appearances and manuscript preparations, not to mention her voluminous correspondence.
Eventually, in 1974 she was compelled to become an invalid. She remained in the Los Angeles home she shared with Pole. Valiantly, he assumed responsibility for her. He arranged an early retirement from his teaching position and cared for her nearly single-handed. She and Hugo never saw each other again. The good Dr. Bogner was their medium, communicating with Anaïs by telephone and with Hugo in person. During this period Rupert Pole became housebound: a nurse, secretary, devoted companion, and ever-alert watchdog. Unbelievably, quite a few people still made demands on Anaïs, that she read and comment on their manuscripts or write introductions to their books or grant them personal interviews. Many resented Rupert’s vigilant protective screening. The people who were allowed to visit were expected to bring an atmosphere of positive energy into the household. And those of us who were privileged to see her during this period did our best to be lively and entertaining. Some of us, including myself, even danced for her. Nonetheless, it was important to know when it was time to leave. I feel honored to have been one of the guests who was summoned during Anaïs’s last two years. I visited her several times during this period of her life and always felt astounded and energized by her courage.
Anais’s delayed fame is both touching and ironic. It is marvelous that recognition and, more important, the love affair with the world that she had wanted for decades finally came to her, and yet it came when she was sixty-six with only eight more years of life, two spent in semi-seclusion in her Los Angeles home.
In A Book of Mirrors my contribution is called “Tribute to Anaïs the Inspired Revolutionary.”This truly describes the woman whose friendship I enjoyed for a time and whose creative works will always beckon to me to excavate untold treasures of insights miraculously articulated. Anaïs died as she had lived, with unprecedented courage. Her genius deserves far better than it has received. But there is always the future, in which the name Anaïs Nin will become a central constellation in the galaxy of world literature.
1. Diary is italicized when the word refers to one or all of the published Diaries. When diary is mentioned as an augmentation or co-existing work with the fiction, it is printed with a lower case “d.” (i.e., diary).
2. Circumstances more than personal rivalry or animosity produced an impression of competition between Hinz and myself. Her book The Mirror and the Garden: Realism and Reality is the second full-length study of Anaïs’s fiction. The earlier Anaïs Nin, 1968, by Oliver Evans did not meet with Anaïs’s approval, I’m not certain why. To me it seems a sensitive book and thoroughly scholarly as well as appreciative of Nin’s writings. My dissertation study Space, Time and Structure in the Modern Novel was published in 1971, the same year as Hinz’s Mirror and Garden. My book contains extensive interpretations of Cities of the Interior and Collages in the context of European modernism. Anaïs did all she could to promote this book, even to the extent of engaging the advice of Gunther Stuhlmann and John Ferrone, her editor at Harcourt Brace; it was, however, already under contract to the New York University Press and to Swallow Press (1974).
In 1977, my work was excluded from the Mosaic collection Later, edited by Hinz because, even though I had just completed my book Collage of Dreams, published the same year, Hinz said she could not include any reprinted materials.