Anaïs Nin Short Fiction Analysis
The posthumous publication of erotica that Anaïs Nin wrote during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s to help her friend Henry Miller has, ironically, made Nin’s name known to a broad commercial market. Near the end of her life Nin agreed to publish these stories, providing a preface to Delta of Venus as well as a postscript. Written four months before her death, the postscript explains: “I finally decided to release the erotica for publication because it shows the beginning efforts of a woman in a world that has been the domain of men.” Delta of Venus and its sequel Little Birds contain sexual fantasies expressed with a delicate explicitness; they are tender, understanding, and elegant, entirely lacking in vulgarity. Both books are suffused with emotion. Delta of Venus and Little Birds are, however, tangential to the main body of Nin’s writings and do not represent the subtle psychological perceptions and the bold and ingenious imagery of her best short stories, which are found in Under a Glass Bell, and Other Stories.
In 1977, Magic Circle Press published a slim collection of Nin’s early stories titled Waste of Timelessness and Other Early Stories. The sixteen pieces represent the author’s apprentice work. In a short preface Nin warns that “This is a book for friends only”; however, Waste of Timelessness and Other Early Stories is remarkable for its humor, verbal adventurousness, and “first hints of feminism.”
Under a Glass Bell, and Other Stories
Nin’s major achievement in short fiction, Under a Glass Bell, and Other Stories is a result of thoughtful artistry; the thirteen individual pieces were written during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s and printed by the author herself in 1944 on a pedal-operated press. This edition bore the images of fantastic creatures engendered by the fantasy of engraver Ian Hugo, and it is a valuable discovery for contemporary book collectors. Oliver Evans, author of the first book-length study of Nin’s writings, claims Under a Glass Bell, and Other Stories as “one of the most distinguished short-story collections published in this country in the forties.” He reports that Nin herself said: “When people ask me what book of mine they should begin by reading, I invariably reply Under a Glass Bell. If I had to choose one book by which I would like to be remembered, it is this one.”
The second of Nin’s published fictional works, Under a Glass Bell, and Other Stories presents a series of eccentric protagonists who are imprisoned in protective but airless enclosures. All the stories are expressed with admirable stylistic virtuosity. The central unifying metaphor is, naturally, the glass bell which isolates those inside it, able to observe but not to participate in the life beyond the fetid atmosphere of their luxurious prison. The title story is a family portrait of an aristocrat named Jeanne and her two brothers, who are bound together in a triangle of psychological incest. Their castle is beautiful but they cannot escape from it: “The light from the icicle bushes threw a patina over all objects, and turned them into bouquets of still flowers kept under a glass bell.” At the end of this story the string of Jeanne’s guitar breaks mysteriously as she prophesies her own decay “in the tomb.”
The theme of threatened decay and death, caused by unconquered fear, appears in most of the thirteen stories. “Houseboat” conveys the reader on an occasionally merry but ultimately sordid voyage along the Seine. The boat is finally condemned to exile in a boatyard filled with “rotting skeletons of barges, piles of wood, rusty anchors, and pierced water tanks.” In “The Mohican” a European astrologer is terrified by the very system on which he depends to endow life with meaning: the planets, especially the recently discovered Pluto. The Mohican takes refuge in the stacks of the Bibliothèque Nationale, but his sanctuary is invaded by the German military; he is then arrested as a “celestial saboteur.” This...
(The entire section is 1696 words.)