(Masterpieces of American Literature)

House of Incest was Nin’s first published work of fiction. Though she was thirty-three years old when it was published and had been writing continuously for two decades, it exhibits the youthfulness of a first work in both its indulgence and its freedom. Nin called House of Incest a “prose poem” rather than a novel and, referring to a work by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, “a woman’s Season in Hell.” She also took inspiration from Octave Mirbeau’s 1898 painting Le Jardin des supplices (The Garden of Tortures). The seven sections of House of Incest, each headed with a figure or glyph of distantly suggested astrological or mythological significance, can be seen as the seven days of creation, seven heavens, or seven hells. Rather than a story, this prose poem is a series of images and parables united by thematic patterns.

Written in the first-person voice in a highly poetic and imagistic idiom, House of Incest relates the inner experiences and sensations of a woman, or perhaps several women, in the House of Incest. Given Nin’s views of the multiplicity of personality, resolving the single or multiple nature of the protagonist is less relevant than the nature of the various interactions described. The narrative begins with the protagonist’s description of her birth, experienced as an emergence from a primordial sea.

It goes on to depict two dramatic situations: an obsessive lesbian relationship involving the dependent narrator, Jeanne, and her dismissive lover, named Sabina, and Jeanne’s guilt-ridden incestuous pursuit of and flight from her brother. The narrator then encounters cryptic figures and herself becomes a dancer deprived of her arms even as she achieves, in the closing paragraphs, harmony with her world and hope for freedom.


(The entire section is 755 words.)