A Spy in the House of Love Analysis

Anaïs Nin

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The best known of Anaïs Nin’s novels, A Spy in the House of Love is a surreal journey through one woman’s mind as she attempts to satisfy her sexual desire and to understand love. Like all Nin’s fiction, the narrative form of the text is experimental. Poetic impressions reflecting the complicated nature of Sabina’s personality are linked by semichronological events; supporting characters are minimally described, and only in reference to Sabina. Dialogue is restricted to the most relevant exchanges; setting and action are included only when their symbolic weight provides insight to Sabina’s frame of mind. The result is a novel that explores the various layers of a single personality, undermining the notion that a woman’s identity can be categorized or limited to a single facet.

A telephone awakens the lie detector at the beginning of the novel. Sabina has placed a call at random, seeking comfort from a strange voice in the middle of the night. The lie detector tells her that she needs to confess or she would not have called a stranger, since “Guilt is the one burden human beings can’t bear alone.” He has the call traced and finds Sabina in a bar, where he observes and analyzes her voyeuristically. At dawn, he follows her.

The point of view shifts to Sabina, where it remains for most of the rest of the work. She awakens anxiously, then hides her chaotic expression with makeup. She dresses in a black cape for its protectiveness, its masculinity, as though dressed for battle. Outside on the streets...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Before Nin, few authors writing in English had explicitly addressed the subject of women’s sexuality, and none had so thoroughly examined the topic from a woman’s point of view. Her work was considered scandalous, and A Spy in the House of Love was turned down by 127 publishers before Nin had it printed at her own expense. Many critics ignored Nin, or condemned her fiction for its erotic content, until the publication of her diaries in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Then, when thousands of women saw themselves reflected in Nin’s journals and crowded to her lectures, elevating her to celebrity status, book reviewers joined in by enthusiastically praising her work. Nin herself felt that the diaries were sketch pads next to her fiction, that she had accomplished her best work in Cities of the Interior. Even so, the majority of analysis available on Nin focuses on her diaries and her personal life.

Her views about relationships were, and still are in some circles, daringly radical. Like her literary predecessor Colette, Nin lived by the philosophies described in her books. She vehemently defended a woman’s right to experience multiple relationships, as men have for centuries. She believed that psychological and erotic liberation can only be achieved by dispensing with guilt, the single factor responsible for Sabina’s fragmentation of spirit. Moreover, as Sabina discovers, eroticism itself must be seen as multifaceted if all the aspects of human identity are to find satisfaction.

In A Spy in the House of Love, Nin examines topics previously untouched in literature: the female Don Juan figure; the exploitation of a black man by a white woman; and the frustration and anger experienced by the aroused woman who fails to achieve orgasm. In other works, Nin explored homosexuality, adultery, fantasized incest, and masturbation. She is recognized as the first to describe such aspects of human sexuality openly and is celebrated for doing so from a distinctly female perspective, without misanthropy and without violence.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bair, Deirdre. Anaïs Nin: A Biography. New York: Putnam, 1995. A massive biography by a scholar steeped in the literature of the period and author of biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. Supplements but does not supersede Fitch’s shorter but also livelier biography.

Evans, Oliver. Anaïs Nin. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968. The result of a twenty-year study of the work and life of Nin. Through extensive research, reading, and lengthy personal interviews, Evans provides new and insightful interpretations of House of Incest, Nin’s first two diaries, and other major fiction works, but omits Nin’s nonfiction works. Nin is presented as a writer in the genre of her good friend Henry Miller. Also contains detailed end notes and an index.

Fitch, Noel Riley. Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993. As the subtitle suggests, Fitch is concerned with tracing Nin’s erotic relationships and close friendships with male and female writers. A biographer of Sylvia Beach and an expert on Paris, Fitch writes with verve and expertise.

Franklin, Benjamin, and Duane Schneider. Anaïs Nin: An Introduction. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979. A complete study of the canon of Nin’s works, encompassing all of her early fiction works (Under a Glass Bell and Other Stories through Collages) and devoted to much...

(The entire section is 634 words.)