Anaïs Essay - Critical Essays

Noel Riley Fitch


Fitch’s Nin emerges as a woman of dramatic paradoxes. At once vain and insecure, prudish and nymphomaniacal, willful and yielding, Nin managed the pieces of her fragmented nature like an artist working in mosaic. A control freak often ready to fly into pieces, she found her life’s work and worth in a career of self-making centered in the diary enterprise. The discipline of the diary held her together—or, at least, kept her from further destruction and dispersion. She took Wordsworth’s dictum that we half create what we perceive and applied it to her very self. Fitch’s careful and compassionate study reveals the psychic machinery of this process and its accompanying web of deceptions.

Nin’s repression and sublimation of her childhood trauma lies with its many, often concurrent, love affairs. This hidden trauma lies behind the diary as firmly as the diary lies behind the fiction. Only fragments of evidence for the traumatic scene emerge, yet Fitch’s extrapolation is skilled and compelling. Wisely, she does not make too much of it, and thus she avoids running the risk of an absurdly reductive approach. She knows that this buried trauma, while it adjusts our vision, does not explain everything.

Just as Nin’s own writings have led many women to a greater sense of security, possibility, and understanding, so Fitch’s biography will further—albeit with modifications—the Nin legend and its consequences. The demystification process that begins with this book is healthy and long overdue, but in putting a more human and more accessible face on the many faces of Anais Nin, Fitch leaves us only so much more in awe of Nin’s struggle and achievement. The newly displayed warts do not take anything away. Nin’s need for illusion does not have to infect her readers, those to whom her writings bring a unique mixture of excitement, comfort, and insight. She can be admired for who she was just as much as for the woman (or women) she thought she was and wanted to be.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIX, August, 1993, p.2030.

Boston Globe. October 3, 1993, p.39.

Chicago Tribune. October 24, 1993, XIV, 3.

Detroit News. November 24, 1993, p. C3.

Library Journal. CXVIII, September 1, 1993, p.183.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 26, 1993, p.6.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, October 17, 1993, p.18.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, June 28, 1993, p.61.