Henry Miller

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1684

As I write these lines Anaïs Nin has begun the fiftieth volume of her diary, the record of a twenty-year struggle towards self-realization. Still a young woman, she has produced on the side, in the midst of an intensely active life, a monumental confession which when given to the world...

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As I write these lines Anaïs Nin has begun the fiftieth volume of her diary, the record of a twenty-year struggle towards self-realization. Still a young woman, she has produced on the side, in the midst of an intensely active life, a monumental confession which when given to the world will take its place beside the revelations of St. Augustine, Petronius, Abelard, Rousseau, Proust, and others….

The diary is full of voyages; in fact, like life itself it might be regarded as nothing but voyage. The epic quality of it, however, is eclipsed by the metaphysical. The diary is not a journey towards the heart of darkness, in the stern Conradian sense of destiny, not a voyage au bout de la nuit, as with Céline, nor even a voyage to the moon in the psychological sense of escape. It is much more like a mythological voyage towards the source and fountain head of life—I might say an astrologic voyage of metamorphosis. (p. 33)

This diary is written absolutely without malice. The psychologist may remark of this that the pain inflicted upon her by the loss of her father was so great as to render her incapable of causing pain to others. In a sense this is true, but it is a limited view of the matter. My own feeling is rather that we have in this diary the direct, naked thrust which is of the essence of the great tragic dramas of the Greeks. Racine, Corneille, Molière may indulge in malice—not the Greek dramatists. The difference lies in the attitude towards Fate. The warfare is not with men, but with the gods. Similarly, in the case of Anaïs Nin's journal: the war is with herself, with God as the sole witness. The diary was written not for the eyes of others, but for the eye of God. She has no malice any more than she has the desire to cheat or to lie. To lie in a diary is the height of absurdity…. Though the way is tortuous the direction is always the same, always inward, further inward, towards the heart of the self. Every encounter is a preparation for the final encounter, the confrontation with the real Self. To indulge in malice would be to swerve from the ordained path, to waste a precious moment in the pursuit of her ideal. She moves onward inexorably, as the gods move in the Greek dramas, on towards the realization of her destiny.

There is a very significant fact attached to the origin of this diary, and that is that it was begun in artistic fashion. By that I do not mean that it was done with the skill of an artist, with the conscious use of a technique; no, but it was begun as something to be read by some one else, as something to influence some one else. In that sense as an artist…. [The] diary is a silent communion with the father who has deserted her,… a gift of love which she hopes will re-unite them…. [The] father and child are kept apart for many years. In the legends which treat of this theme it happens, as in this case, that the meeting takes place when the daughter has come of age.

And so, in the very beginning of her diary, the child behaves precisely like the artist who, through the medium of his expression, sets about to conquer the world which has denied him. Thinking originally to woo and enchant the father by the testimony of her grief, thwarted in all her attempts to recover him, she begins little by little to regard the separation as a punishment for her own inadequacy. The difference which had marked her out as a child, and which had already brought down upon her the father's ire, becomes more accentuated. The diary becomes the confession of her inability to make herself worthy of this lost father who has become for her the very paragon of perfection.

In the very earliest pages of the diary this conflict between the old, inadequate self which was attached to the father and the budding, unknown self which she was creating manifests itself. It is a struggle between the real and the ideal…. (pp. 37-9)

Throughout the diary the amazing thing is [her] intuitive awareness of the symbolic nature of her role. It is this which illuminates the most trivial remarks, the most trivial incidents she records. In reality there is nothing trivial throughout the whole record; everything is saturated with a purpose and significance which gradually becomes clear as the confession progresses. Similarly there is nothing chaotic about the work, although at first glance it may give that impression…. It is a great pageant of the times patiently and humbly delineated by one who considered herself as nothing, by one who had almost completely effaced herself in the effort to arrive at a true understanding of life. It is in this sense again that the human document rivals the work of art, or in times such as ours, replaces the work of art…. We move amid boundless horizons in a perpetual state of awe and humility. We enter, with the author, into unknown worlds, and we share with the latter all the pain, beauty, terror and illumination which exploration entails. (pp. 40-2)

In the diary of Anaïs Nin there is a kind of desperation, almost like that of a shipwrecked sailor thrown up on a desert island. From the flotsam and jetsam of her wrecked life the author struggles to create anew. It is a heart-breaking effort to recover a lost world. It is not, as some might imagine, a deliberate retreat from the world; it is an involuntary separation from the world! (p. 42)

Nobody sees with his eyes alone; we see with our souls. And this problem of putting the soul into the eye is the whole problem of a diarist such as Anaïs Nin. The whole vast diary, regarded from this angle, assumes the nature of the record of a second birth. It is the story of death and transfiguration. (p. 44)

Whereas in the earlier volumes the accent was one of sadness, of disillusionment, of being de trop, now the accent becomes one of joy and fulfilment. Fire, audacity, dynamite, laughter—the very choice of words is sufficient to indicate the changed condition. The world spreads out before her like a banquet table: something to enjoy. But the appetite, seemingly insatiable, is controlled. The old obsessional desire to devour everything in sight in order that it be preserved in her own private tomb is gone. She eats now only what nourishes her. The once ubiquitous digestive tract, the great whale into which she had made herself, is replaced by other organs with other functions. The exaggerated sympathy for others which had dogged her every step diminishes. The birth of a sense of humour denotes the achievement of an objectivity which alone the one who has realized himself attains. It is not indifference, but toleration. The totality of vision brings about a new kind of sympathy, a free, noncompulsive sort. The very pace of the diary changes. There are now long lapses, intervals of complete silence in which the great digestive apparatus, once all, slows up to permit the development of complementary organs. The eye, too, seems to close, content to let the body feel the presence of the world about, rather than pierce it with a devastating vision. It is no longer a world of black and white, of good and evil, or harmony and dissonance; no, now the world has at last become an orchestra in which there are innumerable instruments capable of rendering every tone and colour, an orchestra in which even the most shattering dissonances are resolved into meaningful expression. It is the ultimate poetic world of As Is. (pp. 46-7)

There are some volumes, in which attention is focused almost entirely on one or two individuals, which are like the raw pith of some post-Dostoievskian novel; they bring to the surface a lunar plasm which is the logical fruit of that drive towards the dead slag of the ego which Dostoievski heralded and which D. H. Lawrence was the first to have pointed out in precise language. There are three successive volumes, of this sort, which are made of nothing but this raw material of a drama which takes place entirely within the confines of the female world. It is the first female writing I have ever seen: it rearranges the world in terms of female honesty. The result is a language which is ultramodern and yet bears no resemblance to any of the masculine experimental processes with which we are familiar. It is precise, abstract, cloudy and unseizable. There are larval thoughts not yet divorced from their dream content, thoughts which seem to crystallize slowly before your eyes, always precise but never tangible, never once arrested so as to be grasped by the mind. It is the opium world of woman's physiological being, a sort of cinematic show put on inside the genito-urinary tract. There is not an ounce of man-made culture in it; everything related to the head is cut off. Time passes, but it is not clock time; nor is it poetic time such as men create in their passion. It is more like that aeonic time required for the creation of gems and precious metals; an embowelled sidereal time in which the female knows that she is superior to the male and will eventually swallow him up again. The effect is that of starlight carried over into day-time.

The contrast between this language and that of man's is forcible; the whole of man's art begins to appear like a frozen edelweiss under a glass bell reposing on a mantelpiece in the deserted home of a lunatic. In this extraordinary unicellular language of the female we have a blinding, gemlike consciousness which disperses the ego like stardust. (pp. 50-1)

Henry Miller, "Un Etre Etoilique," in The Criterion, Vol. XVII, No. LXVI, October, 1937, pp. 33-52.

Sharon Spencer

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5843

There is a particular sense in which Anaïs Nin's art is related to the Surrealist ideal of magical creation through combinations of entities drawn from different categories. But her work is not itself Surreal, and it is easier to understand the application of the collage idea in terms of a broad definition. Collage includes all works in which components belonging to separate intellectual or perceptual categories are combined, regardless of the nature of the materials or the techniques used to combine them…. (p. 5)

The degree of displacement in Anaïs Nin's writing is relatively slight, even though there is considerable variety among her works. Her most experimental book, the one in which displacements are the greatest, is Collages itself. The early books. House of Incest and the pieces collected in Under a Glass Bell, display juxtaposition less in a structural sense than in stylistic combinations. Nin's diction is based on collage; she chooses words from a wide variety of sources and is usually successful in achieving a striking yet authentic image, phrase, or descriptive passage. A lover of words as words, Nin uses them if they appeal to her, regardless of standards of usage; she also draws upon far-flung vocabularies…. Guided by the unpredictable lure of free association, Nin combines into a novel the incidents that seem most strikingly to project her characters' inner lives. (pp. 5-6)

Like Anaïs Nin's fiction, her Diary is also a collage composition. The assembled elements are the bits and pieces of her life…. Selected from the mass of materials of the unpublished diary, the passages that comprise each published volume are themselves a collage composition presenting a phase in the life of their creator. (p. 6)

[Collages] is a superb example of how an inventive writer can adapt a technique from the visual arts to literature, in this case fusing a variety of apparently unrelated materials into a striking composition. A more ambitious, a deeper book than its easy surface and gentle humor suggest, Collages is composed of nineteen short blocks of prose, beginning and ending with the same passage. This circular structure contains some twenty-two characters in an abundance of quickly sketched settings…. Collages gives the impression of having been put together from Nin's writer's scrap bag, conceived from the energy of her determination to create something interesting out of her leftover characters, situations, and settings. Again, she wants to use everything. (p. 9)

Collage art, like all art, works magic transformations. In this book Anaïs Nin repeatedly shows fantasy and dream enriching life, providing the loves that a narrow "reality" denies, dissolving the boundaries between the natural and the perverse, the impossible and the marvelous, comforting and reassuring the lonely and the isolated…. In Collages imagination is sovereign. (p. 10)

The concept of the self is very important in any exploration of Nin's writings, and it is difficult to isolate a single definition of "self," notwithstanding the many references to it. Nin does not seem to be concerned with the self as essence. Instead, she writes about the self in motion, in relationships with others, learning, searching, suffering, recovering, gathering still more experience. In short, Nin writes about the self as a process, almost as an urge toward the discovery and completion of itself. Gradually, though, it seems that Nin has come close to adopting a basically Jungian idea of the self…. It is particularly important to distinguish between the self and the persona, the mask or socialized dimension of a human being. (p. 12)

In dramatizing the journey of an "I" toward recognition of its self, again and again Nin chooses to explore the complexity of relationships or the impact of two selves on each other. She uses the terms "fusion" and "merging" to describe intense personal relationships. (p. 13)

The discovery of self becomes possible [for Nin] in the process of living relationships, of constant interaction between the individual and phenomena, the individual and other people. (p. 14)

House of Incest portrays the psychic torment of a woman who can experience love but not her physical nature. She cannot express sensuality or sexuality. The language of Nin's book evokes an oppressive atmosphere of erotic tantalization and paralysis; impossible pleasures beckon from every direction. The unnamed "I" is the center of the design. (p. 15)

Like the "I" of House of Incest, the young woman at the center of "Winter of Artifice" seeks to expand her identity through an act of psychic fusion. The novella is a collage of relatively homogeneous elements that are held into design by the consciousness of the dominant—again unnamed—central personage. Again, too, a psychic adventure with fusion has a strong individual tone which gives the book its appropriate metaphors and rhythms. Projecting the love of daughter and father, Nin in "Winter of Artifice" evokes and interprets the ambivalence of fusion that she described in her book on Lawrence, defending this ambivalence as an essential factor in all relationships of deep involvement.

Again the reader is shown that fusion, though necessary to the ego of the developing self, poses serious risks to identity. (pp. 15-16)

The quest that is traced again and again in Nin's writings actually involves a very radical concept: the abandonment of the idea of the self as a given fixed entity or essence. We create ourselves as we live, Nin explains poetically in her books and in the example of her own life that is revealed in the Diary. The idea of the self as a collage of experiences is central to Nin's psychological vision. (p. 17)

Nin has been searching for "another kind of language, the inspirational, which is the one that penetrates our unconscious directly [italics mine] and doesn't need to be analyzed or interpreted in a cerebral way. It penetrates us in the way that music does, through the senses." In denoting or pointing to objects and even to concepts, the word is more precise than the musical note or phrase, but verbal expression is more abstract, less direct in sensuous power than are the sounds, colors, forms, and rhythms of the nonverbal arts. That is why Nin, like so many other twentieth-century writers, has borrowed as widely as possible from the other arts. (p. 22)

Dispensing with plot and with the framework of conventional chronology, Nin portrays her characters again and again in a series of "shots" that depend for their power on the imagery of highly selective detail. Her language is metaphorical but never purely decorative. It is the language of lyrical poetry through which a personal attitude is compressed in a few words or phrases that express an individual sensibility. Nin does not describe. She interprets, and in the act of interpretation she re-creates her subjects over and over again, as she must do if she is to be faithful to their complexity and their growth…. Nin's writing is filled with patterns that are natural and spontaneous, having emerged from associations. The form is organic; it consists of repetitions; inversions; superimpositions; and, more and more often in Nin's later prose, of improvisatory flights in which images are often treated as are themes in jazz. Fluency, fluidity, a sense of motion, and of continuity are what Nin seeks in her writing, an orchestration of a great many elements into a composition that moves through time horizontally and vertically at the same instant, expressing emotion with a power that is impossible to attain in conventional realistic fiction. (p. 23)

[Two] of the main themes of Nin's later work [are found in Under a Glass Bell]: woman's conflicts (particularly with the role of mother) and the struggle of the artist to achieve joyous, unrestrained power of expression. The metaphors that Nin introduces in this collection appear again and again in her later work. She uses them not only to bind together her impressions in a single sketch but also to weave a unifying strand through the book. (p. 25)

The images of these early pieces appear again and again in Nin's fiction and in her Diaries: water, boats, musical instruments, mirrors, labyrinths, veils, shadows and fogs, blood, birds, voyages, dreams, births. But each image has an individual history of variations in presentation, diversity, and complexity, as Nin explores each one in a variety of moods and at various periods in her own development. (pp. 25-6)

["Winter of Artifice"] is a mature work, very sophisticated technically, in which Anaïs Nin first fully displays her talent for adapting the structure of the nonverbal arts to fiction. It is a ballet of words in which music and movement are so skillfully balanced and so subtly interwoven that, though the perceptive reader may be always aware of a musical quality as he reads, he isn't likely to be distracted by the search to identify the predominating musical medium….

Dance unites several of Nin's most important themes: the power of art, which is itself its own goal; the possibility of turning to beauty for therapy and for healing; the association of movement and pattern with the life process. It is essential not simply to move but to move to a meaningful rhythm….

Nin often imitates dance structure in alternating solos or duets with large group scenes. Parties and café ensembles occur throughout the novels of Cities of the Interior like rituals, bringing disparate elements into moments of splendid unity, moments of celebration. (p. 31)

The practice of alternating group scenes with more solitary or intimate ones gives a structure of alternating rhythms and moods. Thematically, this alternation stresses the subjective and objective worlds that Anaïs Nin constantly strives to bring together into moments of fusion…. Anaïs Nin ends each novel by reminding her characters—and readers—of new worlds. Instead of closing down with a neat, rounded-off (classical) resolution, she makes her novels open up at the end, exploding into a variety of surprising directions…. (p. 32)

When the five novels are regarded as a single composition, Cities of the Interior may be compared tn an abstract expressionist composition whose organization is dominated by huge areas of strong primary colors: yellow for Lillian who is exuberant and strong, garrulous, chaotic, passionate but inhibited; red for Sabina, a wild, dissatisfied woman who is always burning with unfulfilled desire; blue for the wise, reserved, self-controlled Djuna. These stand out against a more subtly colored background. Imagined in this way, the canvas seems to have been created by a series of improvisations. It is unfinished; it will lend itself to further elaboration, to the elimination of some elements and the addition of others, to redistribution of emphases, or even more drastic changes in the overall design. (p. 36)

In Anaïs Nin's writing perhaps no word appears so frequently in so many contexts or with so many nuances as the word "dream." Nin's vision of the dream gives continuity and profundity to her meaning as woman and artist alike. Dream provides the controlling image of unity and transformation in her fiction…. Her belief in the positive nature of the unconscious has given Nin many valuable insights. Even more importantly, it has given her processes for healing that range from the discoveries and consolations of psychoanalysis to a philosophy of creation that connects a theory of the development of the self with that of the artist. Although Nin's concept of the dream has altered slightly as she has experienced her life, it remains basically a vision of human love. (p. 44)

In particular the dream has given her a personalized approach to the creation of fictional characters, along with certain convictions about the structure and language that have by now become accepted tenets of twentieth-century thought. Her experience with psychoanalysis gave Nin personal proof of Bergson's theoretical and Proust's esthetic views of space, time and personality. Like the theory of relativity, which was made public at about the same time as Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, dreams show how time and space have meaning only when fused; they are not themselves reality but ways of orienting oneself toward it. (pp. 48-9)

The great importance placed by psychologists on the unconscious is the single most influential factor in Nin's approach to characterization…. The goal of Nin's fiction is the portrayal of her characters' hidden selves. She achieves this not with continuous linear description, but by portraying them quickly but repeatedly at certain highly selective moments. (pp. 49-50)

Nin's emphasis on states of feeling and awareness has meant that her readers miss such familiar guides in traditional characterization as family names, ages, occupations, places of residence, and similar details of surface. (p. 50)

One of the most common complaints against Nin's fiction is that her characters are "all herself." To voice this as a negative feeling is to reveal a misunderstanding of how characters in fiction are created; all are projections of some part of the author's self. It would be more to the point to criticize a novelist for drawing shallow characterizations based more nearly on observation than on empathy and emotional understanding. The women of Cities of the Interior are individuals; yet each symbolizes an aspect of woman: "Djuna, perception [it is she who bears the closest resemblance to Nin's public self]; Stella, blind suffering; Sabina, the free woman; Lillian, the one who seeks freedom in aggression." Nin's characters are perfectly individualized…. (pp. 52-3)

The position of the dream at the center of Nin's art may be wonderfully illustrated by looking at one of her most brilliant pieces, "The Voice." Here the dream is truly a vehicle of mobility. "The Voice" is a virtuoso piece that spins off from contrasting motions: soaring, plummeting, floating, sinking, spiraling, rushing, or flowing, along a horizontal or lying quietly on a bed to daydream. This thoughtful work is neither a story nor a sketch, but an animated essay or exposition of ideas through seemingly random selections of characters and incidents. (p. 58)

The spiral figure used by Nin to represent the dream [in "The Voice"] is a subtle choice, for its sweeping movement has four dimensions: from right to left; left to right; upwards; and downwards. At the center from which arises the spiraling dream, is the self. Passing beyond this center in one direction there is confrontation with self—life. (p. 67)

One of the remarkable aspects of the adventure of Nin's life has been her determination to explore the nature of woman as fully as time and energy would permit. An even more dangerous ambition has been her desire to make of this exploration an assertion of her own multi-dimensionality…. She has insisted that one role is not enough for a woman, particularly when this is a biologically determined role that covers but a third of her life span and makes no allowance for any but biological capabilities. Again and again Nin has proclaimed and has shown by her life that woman, like man, is complex and possesses the energy and the flexibility to play a variety of roles simultaneously. (pp. 68-9)

The Christian ideal of woman, worshipped and adored for centuries, is that of the Virgin Mary. Mary is a mother yet she is chaste. The supreme image of woman in the Western world combines two obviously irreconcilable conditions: virginity and motherhood. No woman can possibly live up to this ideal. (p. 69)

So powerful an influence has the Christian ideal of woman had on Western culture that woman feels ennobled by her own sacrifices and enriched by her own suffering…. Nin's books trace her own and her characters' struggles against the mother in themselves, for whether it is her sexuality or her impulse toward work that is blocked, the woman must—in each case—bring out of her self a will toward individuation that is strong enough to counter the force of the internalized mother image. (p. 71)

In Nin's writings the sexual woman is represented by Sabina, an important presence since House of Incest….

In House of Incest Nin depicted—and with unmistakable agony—the split in modern woman which has divided her into parts, the body cut off from the emotions. The "I" of House struggles to attain a sense of union with her body, her sensuality and sexuality. Self-aware, responsible, the "I" is capable of love but cannot express her sexuality. (p. 80)

Nin goes beyond questions about woman's sexuality to probe the vast and very troublesome area of how individual sexual fulfillment can be reconciled with the human need for devotion, loyalty, and stability in a union of two. (p. 84)

The recovery of woman's complexity, which Jungian thought makes possible, has been immensely valuable to Anaïs Nin. The ancient relationship of woman to the moon serves to restore or bring back into the open two aspects of feminine nature which Judaism and Christianity have condemned and attempted to repress: her destructive power and her sexuality. Anthropologists and other scholars now know that the idea of a "virgin" goddess did not originally indicate a sexual condition but a social and psychological one. A "virgin" was—simply—unmarried….

Anaïs Nin's discovery of this older ideal of woman had rich consequences, as well it might, for it enabled her to conceptualize a fuller, more complex idea of woman than that she inherited from Spanish Catholicism. As mother, woman is endowed with tremendous powers of destruction, something Nin had longed for ever since she met Henry Miller and grew to be in awe of his straightforward devotion to writing. (p. 89)

Rarely does Anaïs Nin receive credit for her daring social views or for writing about areas of experience that have previously been forbidden to women by force of public opinion. Her predecessor, the absolute mistress of the realm of eroticism and love, is Colette…. In their writing both women have explored homoeroticism and homosexuality (male and female); the friendships between homosexual men and heterosexual women; love between the older woman and the younger man; adultery; the psychic complications of the love triangle; and the grief and anger of the woman who, aroused, fails to achieve orgasm. Besides the topics that she shares with Colette, Nin has written of fantasized incest (see especially "Winter of Artifice"); or onanism ("The Voice"); of the white woman's sexual exploitation of the black man (Spy); of fellatio (Collages); and, most notoriously, of the female Don Juan. The last topic has never, as far as I know, been explored in the serious literature of England or the U.S. It is not surprising that A Spy in the House of Love was turned down by 127 publishers or that this book, once printed at Nin's own expense, met with misunderstanding and condemnation (even from women). (p. 91)

Nin's literary values have for too long been neglected, especially in the United States. The fact that she has expressed these values in so many ways places her at the center of a new movement, perhaps a countermovement, in American literature. Traditionally, writing that is intuitive, introspective, delicate, tentative, explorative, meditative, has been ridiculed as "precious" or "feminine"; this fact says more about our cultural values than about literature itself. Nin's statement of her beliefs, her articulate opposition to Miller and Durrell, gave her courage, once she saw her own thoughts in words. And now this courage has spread to other writers, male and female alike, who feel a greater confidence in their "sensitive" orientation toward writing. The Novel of the Future is "dedicated to sensitive Americans. May they create a sensitive America." (p. 112)

As the years passed and Nin developed as a writer, she began to make her Diary a work of art. It was never a typical writer's notebook or the "sketchbook" into which Otto Rank at one time hoped to transform it. Nin's Diary gradually became a work in its own right, one with all the polish and distinction of art. As a woman, with responsibilities and obligations to others that often seemed more important than her personal concerns, Nin has used her Diary to fill out her life; it is a complement; it is the expression of the dimensions of her self that her life has not always had room for. Nin's Diary is a more authentic, certainly a more complete, deeper, and fuller expression of her self than the actual life she has lived. Although her reasons for keeping the Diary have changed somewhat through the years, her faith-fulness to it would seem remarkable were it not for the fact that this Diary has come to represent a self, a more developed, a vaster and more powerful self than that of the woman who wrote in it. (pp. 118-19)

Anaïs Nin's Diary is neither a diary in the usual sense—a candid, uncensored record of the events of a life—nor is it a work of fiction like the frankly autobiographical "novels" of writers like Leiris, Celine, or Henry Miller. From the 1930s on Nin clearly regarded her Diary not as a notebook but as a self-justifying and self-sustaining work…. [The] great paradox of the Diary is that, though it tells us much more than we have known about any living person, it tells us far less than we would like to know. (pp. 121-22)

Each volume of the Diary represents a phase in the unfolding life of the artist who is its author. Everything she records is filtered through a sensibility as fragile as a spider-web that vibrates to every nuance of feeling yet is as tensile as a construction of fine steel. The individual Diaries are self-sustaining, each with a movement and a structure of its own; yet each moves from one to another in a fluent prose that is filled with the details of cultural history as the personal story evolves in a depth that probes the unconscious along with the external world. Comparable in this respect to the individual novels of Cities of the Interior, the individual Diaries are autonomous works that nevertheless assume an enhanced value and a richer texture when each is seen in context of the overall composition.

Viewed as a design, the Diary may be said to represent a spiral circling in a clockwise direction that signifies creative motion. The spiral rises from the central point of Nin's self, the voice that controls the Diaries; this spiral signifies the relationship between unity and multiplicity; it is related to the mandala. The spiral is also associated with dances of incantation that are used for healing purposes, and thus remind us of the circling dancer who is evoked at the close of House of Incest. It reminds us as well of the elaboration of the spiral as a metaphor for the dream that is part of the final rhapsody of "The Voice." A symbol of the evolution of the universe and of personal growth, the spiral of Nin's Diaries sweeps into motion from the point of the self, the "I" whose power of perception makes possible the apprehension and the interpretation of all that we experience. (pp. 123-24)

In being the first, Diary I has the advantage of announcing the unique qualities of the entire project. The impact of this book purely as confession can scarcely be underestimated. Hypnotically, it draws even a reluctant reader into the author's terrifying yet fascinating confusion, into the tangle of fears and desires, the sense of a psyche in labor (to use a perhaps impossible metaphor). The absorption with self seems unprecedented. For the introspective reader, it is a surprise that lures him deeper and deeper into the depths of Nin's personal reality, a maze of perceptions among which she gropes in an attempt to emerge with a lucid understanding of herself. (p. 124)

Beneath its apparently unorganized flowing surface there lies concealed a traditional structure based upon the ancient theme of the search for a father. In this case the search is conducted not by a young man, as in the epics of the past, but by a woman whose quest is for the artist father she has lost, along with a way of life she yearns to recover. (p. 125)

The second Diary describes a period of sadness, disappointment, and threatened loss. A different sort of struggle permeates its pages. The structure arises from conflict, various types of conflict in an interwoven presentation: the individual and the collective; Nin's personal determination to live and to create art contrasted to the struggle of Spain to free herself from political and economic tyranny; the undercurrent of the alliances and misalliances that were to lead to World War II…. Although the diarist often expresses depression and even a sense of defeat, the reader is always aware of her tenacious commitment to survival and growth. (p. 126)

The bright and glowing area of Diary II is an important journey to a source of artistic inspiration and personal renewal. This is the trip to Morocco…. Her language becomes brilliantly painted and pungent with odors, everything animated by her joy of discovery and fascination with the strange. The city of Fez especially attracted the author…. Nin burst forth with an articulate formulation of the goals that she was to adopt with growing assurance during the later decades of her career. "Woman must not fabricate. She must descend into the real womb and expose its secrets and its labyrinths. She must describe it as the city of Fez, with its Arabian Nights gentleness, tranquility and mystery." (pp. 127-28)

Diaries III and IV, 1939 to 1947, describe Nin's second enforced removal from France to the United States against the background of her continued war with herself and her absorption in the lives of a host of personages who were part of the cultural life of New York City….

The theme of Diary III is loss. Again and again Nin laments the loss of Europe, its friendliness toward artists, the sense of camaraderie found in the busy yet relaxed cafes, the acceptance of the life of the senses, compared to the fear and disapproval of the Americans…. (p. 128)

Diary IV is the story of the writer's emergence into public life…. The great growth that animates Diary IV is found in Nin's speculations about the arts, their interconnections, and their influence on her own style and approach to literary structure. In the 1940s Nin's Diary began to become, in part, a meditation on literature. Meanwhile, the style of the diary adapted subtly to the new emphasis on ideas; there are fewer passages of self-analysis and many more brief essays on writing, literature, and the other arts.

Diary IV is populated with creative people, not celebrities but the young writers, dancers, and musicians with whom Nin identified in her sense of exclusion from the New York literary establishment. (pp. 129-30)

Near its conclusion Diary IV suddenly opens into the vista of a journey. Its author has grown. She has begun to think deeply about writing. She has resisted the neurotic lure of involvement with the sort of man she knows is bad for her. She is beginning to see through the "transparent" children and to understand how they exclude her. (p. 131)

The brilliant gold face on the jacket of the fifth Diary announces a rebirth. This is the presence, now vivid and magnificently self-confident, of the writer as a woman, for the emphasis of the fifth book reverses that of the third and fourth to bring us into the evolving consciousness, the newly asserted physical life of the woman. It seems that Anaïs Nin, having achieved her confidence as a writer, returns during the phase from 1948 to 1955 to balance her developing powers as artist with a renewal of sensuous feminity. (pp. 132-33)

Intermingled with the joyous mood of Diary V is a quiet sadness in the form of a new recognition; it is death that Nin admits to her writing at this time: the death of Dr. Hernandez in Seduction of the Minotaur; in her Diary the deaths, first, of her father, then of her mother. While the father dominated the earlier Diaries, Nin's mother is the central figure here….

The air of gentle acceptance that pervades Diary V softens the moments of grief as they are not softened in earlier volumes. (p. 134)

Diary V, finally, is a success story. Privileged to share the life of a woman who is determined to seek her own evolution, the reader also shares her success…. This book is a tribute to tenacity. The success it depicts is entirely free from materialism or the desire to interpret one's success as a proof of superiority over others. A spiritual quality manifests itself in the pages of Diary V. There is an acceptance of a destiny that is very far indeed from a narrow concern with self….

The sixth volume of the Diary brings Nin the realization of a cherished dream: the publication of Diary I…. Diary VI is strikingly different from its predecessors. Nin herself is now firmly established in the realm of the external. She is a mature artist with a total view of reality and of people that is a contrast to the delicate, tentative, evanescent feelings of the earlier volumes. Diary V glows with an aura of the sensuous. Diary VI is sometimes almost crisp. (p. 135)

In Diary VI the emphasis shifts from Anaïs, the woman who struggles to maintain her image as an artist, to the culture in which her battle for recognition is taking place. Volume VI is more nearly historical than any of the earlier volumes….

Another of Nin's many faces is revealed in Diary VI. She becomes active as a critic of the arts. (p. 136)

Although the emphasis of Diary VI is on the outer life, the personal theme is always present, and the great concern in both spheres is transformation. As always psychoanalysis is Nin's personal faith and her means of achieving the transformations she desires in her personal life. And during the period chronicled in Diary VI the enemy that Nin had constantly to combat was the bitterness she felt at being overlooked by the literary establishment of the U.S. (p. 137)

To read Diary VI, which spans a decade ending in 1966, is a strange experience in which there is a measure of dramatic irony. Today we know what Nin did not know when she concluded her Diary entries for 1966: that she achieved recognition and fame; that she established an exchange of feelings and ideas with the world; that she was intensely involved in the process of transforming the cultural values of the U.S.; and that she was moving closer and closer to achieving her proper evaluation and respect as an artist. Although Volume VII of the Diary is not yet in print, the recent collections A Woman Speaks and In Favor of the Sensitive Man give a full portrait of the Anaïs Nin who emerged into public life after the Diaries began to appear in 1966. The woman who spoke in the 1970s was a gayer, happier, more powerful, and more fulfilled woman than the one we met in the Diaries of the earlier years. The woman herself was a tribute to her own steady belief in growth and in maturity.

It is an irony worth noting that Nin achieved fame in the culture in which she had felt uneasy for decades, and which she had frequently criticized for its insensitivity and its neglect of the artist. The explanation of this irony is not simple. It is partly that there actually is a subtle and gradual transformation of values occurring (to some extent as a result of Nin's influence); but it is also partly because Nin herself fit into the tradition of the popular American myth of the person who, without many advantages, "makes good" by virtue of persistence and hard work. Nin has often said that her "genius" is really a quality of tenacity. She was persistent in developing her talent, in combating her own self-defeating feelings and actions; in fighting illness; in maintaining artistic integrity against the pressure of more or less steady critical disdain; in sustaining a faith in the future of serious writing in this country (a faith that is more and more difficult for writers to sustain); and in her devotion to her friends and fellow writers. Nin's commonsense and her generosity are always evident. (p. 140)

The literary work that Nin's Diary most closely resembles is Proust's roman-fleuve, the great masterpiece of autobiographical fiction, A la recherche du temps perdu. This is both because of a profound affinity between the two authors and because of direct influence. (p. 142)

Proust's use of his own life to create the Remembrance gave Nin a magnificent example of what can be created in art by a sensitive and thorough exploitation of one's self…. Nin has defended Proust's power of realism for she sees that his vision, like her own, is comprehensive: an art of surfaces and of depths projected simultaneously within a flowing structure. (p. 143)

Nin's eye for … absurdity is sharp, but her empathy prevents her from mocking. Nin's evocations of places are as detailed and as appealing as are her portraits of the hundreds of people who appear in the pages of the Diary. When printed alone, Nin's descriptions of foreign cities and countries are self-sustaining and impressive, but they take on added vitality when read in the context of the Diary among the monochromatic scenes of Paris or New York…. The way that travel breaks the rhythm of Nin's life, giving it variety and providing periods of renewal, is an essential part of Nin's experience, and the alternating pace is a part of the Diary's underlying structure.

As in the Remembrance, in the Diary the structure wrought by the meditation of consciousness upon its own experience knows no boundaries; the flowing movement is a "tale without beginning or end." It is vast, capacious, and easily accommodates all that Nin responds to vividly before recounting these experiences in vivid language. Nin's Diary, like Proust's novel, is an act of devotion to art. He called his novel "a cathedral." Nin's Diary is the only sustained meditation on art that exists in the literature of the U.S.… In Nin's and Proust's writing alike, the love of art is so fervent that it cannot be satisfied by the act of making a work of art, but must also—and simultaneously—comprise a meditation upon itself. (pp. 149-50)

Nin has repeatedly given Proust credit for teaching her how to break down conventional chronology…. (p. 151)

Continuity and discontinuity. Both describe the nature of the self. The self is continuous because there is a center unique to each individual that remains stable, but not fixed, as it evolves through a lifetime. (p. 152)

Not everybody will wish to lay claim to Nin's Diary, and this is partly because Nin speaks with the voice of a woman, speaking not only for women and, beyond this, for the "sensitive Americans" to whom she dedicated The Novel of the Future. It is extraordinary but true that the first autobiography of the artist in the United States has been written by a woman. (p. 157)

Sharon Spencer, in her Collage of Dreams: The Writings of Anaïs Nin (© 1977 by Sharon Spencer; reprinted by permission of Ohio University Press, Athens), Swallow, 1977, 188 p.

Blake Morrison

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 124

For readers who find it hard to stay with Anais Nin's novels for more than several pages (no, let's be fair: for more than one page), the publication of her collected fiction isn't going to be the major event which Sharon Spencer's introduction would have us suppose. Nin herself described Cities of the Interior as 'an endless novel', and for anyone wading faithfully through 589 pages of such sub-Lawrentian wisdom as 'A breast touched for the first time is a breast never touched before' the description is going to sound all too appropriate. Still, somewhere within all the gushing are a few pleasantly erotic moments. (p. 631)

Blake Morrison, "Looking Backwards," in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 96, No. 2486, November 10, 1978, pp. 630-31.∗

Emma Fisher

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711

In fiction [Anais Nin] tried to do something new, and she saw it as intricately linked with the fact that she was a woman; she was anti-intellectual, relying on feeling, and she was one of those people who believe that 'It is man's separateness, his so-called objectivity, which has made him lose contact…. Woman was born to be the connecting link between man and his human self.'… She wanted also to be a great artist; what is there in her books for people who do not find psychological guidance in the Diaries, and are not converted to her beliefs about men and women?

She was fond of using music, also painting and dance, as metaphors for writing. She wanted to communicate directly, to make words serve her intuitions that went beyond words. Rather than show you, she tells you, in fantastic, bright, rich images, woven together like a dazzling carpet. She often writes in the imperfect, less often in the past—describing the inner evolution of feelings over a span of time, rather than surface events moment by moment. Repetition is an essential part of the musical effect she wants. Her concern is always to see, to understand clearly the meaning of events for each character…. Because her female characters are all faces of Woman, it sometimes does not seem to matter which woman one is reading about; the characters melt and dissolve into each other, and indeed want to become each other.

By now it must be clear that I don't like her novels very much. She succeeds in making one feel immensely guilty about saying anything against her, because of her courage, goodness and persistence. She has an answer to most criticisms; if you say she was too self-absorbed, she will answer that it is only by concentrating on the personal, by sorting out one's own experience, that one can approach truth. But this is not what I have against the novels. 'I am not interested in fiction. I want faithfulness,' she said in an early volume of the Diary. She attacks Proust for his 'generalisation', adding: 'If only Proust had spoken for himself.'… [In her novels she herself] both generalises and says 'I, Anais', and the two do not fuse. The novels do not transcend their didactic origins: 'I would like to convert the diary into a long novel … I do want to dramatise the conflicts of woman. Conflict between maternal love and creation. Between romanticism and realism. Between expansion and sacrifice.' And yet, as well as being most of the characters in the novels, Nin is the air they breathe, the world they inhabit, and the way they think is the way she thinks. In fact she, the sensitive and brilliant writer, is too obviously doing their feeling and thinking for them.

Of course her method is not entirely unsuccessful. In The Four-Chambered Heart, the middle book of the five making up Cities of the Interior, the repetition, the revolving of the same situation as it gets worse and worse, is particularly suitable for the subject—the three-cornered relationship between Djuna, the fictional personality closest to herself, her lover Rango and his wife Zora…. This is a straight life from Nin's own life and she tells it movingly. But I am moved in spite of her rolling, relentless style, with its many appositions and restatements. She speaks like a seer. The art of understatement is foreign to her. The states of mind she describes are real and powerful, but they produce in me the desire to escape, to flatten their reality and get out of the book, instead of a desire to believe and (to put it bluntly) to read on.

Her book of essays, In Favour of the Sensitive Man, is characteristic. As usual, she bravely plunges in with unsupported generalities about men and women, art and music, and the volume ends with travel pieces…. Her susceptibility to beauty makes her travel writing almost unreally beautiful; can Bali really be the Paradise she describes? Her optimism … is part of this desire for the best; admirable but not entirely convincing. (pp. 21-2)

Emma Fisher, "Female Faces," in The Spectator (© 1979 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 242, No. 7854, January 20, 1979, pp. 21-2.

Rosalyn Drexler

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 383

Anaïs Nin, better known for her diaries but better sold for her pornography ("Delta of Venus"), has left us another peep show in "Little Birds," a volume of 13 short stories that threaten to stir the erotic imagination.

In the preface to "Delta of Venus" she says that it was hunger that drove her and a number of starving writer and poet friends to collaborate on these droll tales….

Her mysterious client had specifications: his orders were to "leave out the poetry and descriptions of anything but sex. Concentrate on sex." Nin felt that it was this exclusion of poetry from his life that forced him to resort to literary aphrodisiacs….

The lubricous and sexually curious might, in time of need, find this volume of nostalgic sexware just the right thing to prod a lazy fantasy life; things are named, yet never become explicit enough to be judged obscene…. One imagines the wealthy gentleman who commissioned this charming curio to be a circumspect and discriminating connoisseur with a penchant for all sorts of erotica, one who would be shocked by today's insistence on the clinical close-up or the use of four-letter words in place of punctuation.

As I read "Little Birds" a common refrain seemed to unite the stories, that of impotence at the very moment it was inopportune to be so. Also rampant was the sadistic withholding of sexual favors, and the preference by males for females who were either virgins, statues or corpses (or acted as if they were)….

Are these perhaps attempts by Nin to help the male reader identify with her amorous heroes? The lapses of tumescence are only momentary, though, and every story in "Little Birds" becomes a sexual success story. Why not? The value of the stories lies in putting to rest feelings of fear and guilt, burying them at a great distance from the source. Once sex (in "Little Birds") is consummated, the object of desire and fantasy is allowed to disappear, never to bear witness against the main orgasmic character (or reader). This is ideal, is it not? Pleasure without repercussions? And this is what the reader will get from "Little Birds."

Rosalyn Drexler, "Peep Show Encore," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 8, 1979, p. 28.

Linda Tamkin

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 182

Underneath the coarse brown cover [of Little Birds: Erotica] lies a treasure. Nin awakens the mind and senses with thirteen well-crafted tales. The settings range from a Parisian artist's studio to a moonlit beach. The combinations of lovers and settings mix the exotic with the erotic. Like a haiku poem, Nin captures with one image what other writers explore through endless words. The oriental quality is not surprising, since many of the stories draw upon material from the Kama-Sutra.

Nin was supposedly paid a dollar a page to write erotica. Yet her patron warned her to "leave out the poetry." Her glorious failure to heed his warning is evident. It is as if she wraps hardcore pornographic material in delicate gauze. The sexual gems on each page are rounded out with a luxuriance of detail. Unlike most writers of erotica, Nin's writing defies boredom….

This collection continues the tradition established by the best-seller, Delta of Venus. (p. 43)

Linda Tamkin, "Books in Review: 'Little Birds: Erotica'," in West Coast Review of Books (copyright 1979 by Rapport Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. 5, No. 4, July, 1979, pp. 43-4.

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