To her literary agent, Anaïs Nin once described A Spy in the House of Love as a “poetic novel,” commenting sadly: “There is no place for the poetic novel anyway. . . . I am being true to a new form which will evolve out of the new relativity of psychological reality.” Nin’s “relativity” form—that of viewing the action of a character from multiple points of view—was not entirely original in 1954, but it certainly was in the advanced wave of fictional experimentation.
In her series she treats the psychology of composite woman from three aspects: as Lillian, whose domestic instincts are conventionally directed toward marriage and the hopes for rearing children; as Djuna, who is generally self-contained; and as Sabina, a free spirit who challenges the sexual restraints imposed by society upon women. None of these characters is “complete”; each one needs the friendship and affection of another woman to help her assert her true identity.
By dividing her characters into fragmented psychological types, each incomplete when viewed narrowly but more nearly whole when related to the pattern of a complete design, Nin’s work recalls the multidimensional fiction of other major twentieth century writers. In The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960), Lawrence Durrell similarly examined his characters as psychologically fragmented, requiring a “relativity principle” of space and time to determine their integrity. Also C....
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