A Spy in the House of Love Characters

Anaïs Nin

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although characters in the novel, with the exception of Sabina, tend to be shadowy, having little or no separate identity apart from their relationship to her, they function variously as lovers, confidants, or composite beings symbolic of Sabina’s divided personality. In musical counterpoint, each character is symbolized by a particular piece. Alan, Sabina’s husband, cares deeply for her, allows her freedom to pursue her erotic adventures, but cannot dominate her will. Modeled after Nin’s husband, Hugh Guiler (also known as Ian Hugo), Alan functions as Sabina’s point of refuge; her reaction to him is symbolized by Claude Debussy’s Ile Joyeuse.

Philip, Sabina’s first romantic encounter, a handsome operatic tenor, is an authentic Don Juan, in contrast to her failed Dona Juana. Virile and assertive, his musical symbol is Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Mambo, the black musician, seems to Sabina to be a “primitive,” but he rejects her condescending attitude; his musical symbol is the drum. John, the aviator, suffers from malaria and perhaps battle shock that has driven him nearly to madness. Sabina identifies him with the moon (earlier she had been touched by Debussy’s Claire de Lune). Donald, whose caresses lack passion, offers Sabina calm to ease her “fevers.” His effect on her is the opposite of the mood evoked by Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite.

Jay, the painter-philosopher and former lover of Sabina, reminds her of “Vienna-as-it-was-before-the-war,” music of Bohemian gaiety; he introduces her to an understanding of her multilayered self, represented by Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase. In this Cubist painting she sees herself: “Eight or ten outlines of the same woman, like many multiple exposures of a woman’s personality, neatly divided into many layers, walking down the stairs in union.” Finally, Djuna restores Sabina to her inner core of serenity with Beethoven’s Quartets (probably the last Quartets, with their dense organization and the “great fugue”); from this music she discovers her essential harmony deriving from complexities.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Sabina, a thirty-year-old woman who is looking for the ultimate bliss of true love. Extremely attractive and highly sexual but continuously thwarted by guilt, she wastes her energy desperately looking for a satisfying psychosexual relationship. She is married to Alan but has a series of encounters with other men. She assumes a variety of fictive roles, ranging from the prostitute to the spiritual mother, but finds all of them frustrating. She consistently finds herself an onlooker rather than a participant in life and uses her sexual addiction as a means to avoid accepting her inner purity and goodness. She defines herself as a spy in the house of love and, therefore, incapable of sharing in its joys.

The Lie Detector

The Lie Detector, a mysterious stranger whom Sabina randomly calls on the telephone at the beginning of the novel. They meet from time to time throughout the narrative as he becomes Sabina’s confessor and absolver. He delineates for her the variety and levels of guilt and atonement and tells her that they are stratagems by which she avoids uncovering her true nature. Sabina eventually discovers that he is a creation of her own imagination.


Alan, Sabina’s thirty-five-year-old, amiable husband. Tall and extremely handsome, with graying sideburns, he protects her from the realities of life. Completely devoted to her, he is the only fixed point in her life and gives her fatherly solicitude. Although sexually desirable, he is passive and does not possess the kind of passionate desire that Sabina finds in other men; he is her guardian angel from whom she wishes absolution because...

(The entire section is 688 words.)