Anaïs Nin Nin, Anaïs (Vol. 1) - Essay

Nin, Anaïs (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Nin, Anaïs 1903–

A French-born American novelist and diarist, Miss Nin is noted for her experimental, probing novels which explore the female character. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14.)

Despite its dramatic scenes, the Diary eventually loses its momentum. Like any diary, it becomes repetitious and static, with its endless inquiry into self. It has the same qualities and defects as the other writings of Anaïs Nin. She renders her meticulous observations in lucid prose, but so dispassionately that they are lacking in human warmth. Apart from a harrowing sequence when she gives birth to a premature child, she seems a disembodied spectator, a creature from another galaxy like her stillborn and apparently fatherless daughter. If the most exciting passages have been selected for publication, then the rest of the Diary, thirty times as long, must be protracted beyond mortal endurance.

George Wickes, "An Astral Being," in Shenandoah, Spring, 1967, pp. 74-8.

[The] unity which Miss Nin achieves [in her novels] is accomplished largely through three devices: 1) recurring characters, symbols, and motifs; 2) direct and indirect psychological analysis; and 3) the result of the first two: the definition of a single primary character. Curiously, each of these devices is used in Miss Nin's Diary also, but with much more success than in her fiction.

Style, an amorphous subject at best, is conspicuously and consistently one of the attractive qualities of Miss Nin's art. The originality of her diction, imagery, and symbolism has led some to charge her with being too esoteric, but I think that one will find, upon close examination of her works, that she seldom introduces extraneous words and images into her writing, and that unity is a chief characteristic of nearly all her works. Miss Nin's rich vocabulary enables her, especially in the Diary, to make her pronouncements and descriptions clearly and precisely. In all of her writing she is sensitive to rhythm (and the idea of rhythm, movement, is a key symbol in her art), sensitive to rich and sensual images….

Miss Nin's published Diary resembles her fiction more than one might expect…. Both volumes of the Diary are an intriguing study of the inner life and psyche of Miss Nin, as well as a vivid portrayal of the culture and milieu in which she moved. The character of Anaïs Nin, which we must recognize as the artist's conception of herself, demonstrates explicitly that the love of creation, growth, expansion, and life can transform a sizeable portion of the world about her, and as she lives out her dreams, she cares for those around her who need to be helped….

[The] basic construction of the Diary is the same as the novels: characters appear and reappear, psychological analysis is the very essence of the Diary, and we are left, finally, with the definition of a single, primary, multi-faceted character, Anaïs Nin. The Diary stands as Miss Nin's most remarkable artistic achievement because its literary form provides the author with a more effective means to reveal her characters than her novels do. The Diary symbolizes a quest for complete self-introspection and understanding; the result of the quest is a coherent, organic, revelatory work of art.

Duane Schneider, "The Art of Anaïs Nin," in The Southern Review, Vol. VI, No. 2, Spring, 1970, pp. 506-14.

Nin's is not a writer's notebook, a diary in the sense of standing aside from the art with the intention of commenting on more important matters. ("I'm the alchemist, not the ego.") It is itself the vast production sustained, one feels, by an utter silence concerning the matter most at hand, a matter which is at once all exquisitely hidden and all artfully revealed…. [The diary] is a sustained image of dispersion which becomes, as those immediate things which it describes and reveals fade into oblivion, the agent which keeps before us life which has passed, and in so doing effectively denies that life itself passes, the revelation itself being of eternal poetic meaning….

Nin's diaries are fiction, even if true—as though the matter of corresponding truth were indeed not only inessential but magnificently, even joyfully, wide of the mark. The sense of reality is the artist's creation, and Nin writes the myth of cities, friends, domestic events, shoes and hats, dances, parties, poets, pets (an organ grinder's monkey leaps off the page, delighting children, for he is also Hanuman of the Ramayana), and the fact becomes the myth which it always was but which without the artist's—one is tempted to say compassionate—intervention and invention it would never have become. The world indeed cries out for the love of the poet, the touch of the poet, the speech of the poet, one of whose guises is that of Vishnu, the preserver.

Wayne McEvilly, "The Bread of Tradition: Reflections on the Diary of Anaïs Nin" (© 1971 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), in Prairie Schooner, Summer, 1971, pp. 161-67.

While other women are concerned with merely demanding a voice, [Anaïs] Nin is aware of the need to establish the quality of that voice. She wants woman to speak not as a mere equal or duplicate of man but as his complement. She wants a voice that is capable of expressing everything that a man can but always with distinctly female accents. In her writing she shows that this can be accomplished. (p. 3)

In the history of English fiction Nin is important as one of the early practitioners of the modern psychological novel. She began her explorations into the "Cities of the Interior" in the 1930's, shortly after James Joyce and Virginia Woolf had begun to make their inward excursions. Experienced in the methods of psychoanalysis, both as the analyzed and as the analyst, she is well equipped materially for the type of novel that she insists needs writing, the novel dealing with "the organization of the confusions within us." But she also has the necessary artistic equipment without which she could not have turned this material into literature: a talent for symbolism, a natural gift for rhythm, and an unwavering confidence in the truth of her perceptions. (p. 4)

[Although] the techniques Nin uses take her out of the category of the conventional, they do not make her work esoteric, private, or coterie-oriented. In The Novel of the Future she compares her work to that of Djuna Barnes, John Hawkes, Marguerite Young and Nathanael West. The feelings that dominate her heroines and her direct and honest presentation of them may be suitably compared to Joyce's and Faulkner's portrayal of their females. Like Proust she allows emotion and memory to select and link the various episodes in her narratives, and like James she concentrates on what her heroines feel rather than do. Her ability to externalize subjective experience, to present a "drama of the unconscious" rather than merely a factual rendition of it makes one think of the inside-out novels of Kafka. It is as important to realize that she belongs to one tradition as that she departs from the other. (p. 5)

[If] Anaïs Nin's themes owe much to the discoveries and theories of psychoanalysis, her development of them is not clinical but artistic. This point cannot be overemphasized. Of course Nin, herself, is partially responsible for this need of exaggerated emphasis through her fondness for psychoanalytic terminology; though one must admit that she never uses a clinical term without giving it artistic connotations, and that she almost completely confines her faddishness to her critical writing. In her fiction, symbolism, myth, and poetic prose transform what may have been a case-study into a perceptive and aesthetically satisfying work of art. (p. 47)

The locale of the Nin novels is not the phenomenal but the noumenal world, a world which she describes as "almost in opposition to our surface world. It is first of all ruled by flow." To retain this sense of flow is the most basic of Nin's structural concerns. One of the ways she accomplishes it—Proust's way—is to make emotion and memory the determining principles of her selection and positioning of episodes and paragraphs. (p. 53)

In addition to the individual form that each of the Nin novels inherently possesses, her work also has a canonical form. In the introductory comments to Children of the Albatross Nin writes: "The books can … be read separately or can be considered as parts of a tapestry." The whole tapestry of the Nin canon depicts "woman at war with herself." The individual novels, therefore, may be considered as variations on this theme. (p. 60)

Evelyn J. Hinz, The Mirror and the Garden: Realism and Reality in the Writings of Anaïs Nin, Ohio State University Libraries, 1971.