(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “Under a Glass Bell,” Anaïs Nin describes the lifestyle of Jeanne and her two brothers, Jean and Paul. The narrator, presumably Jean, first describes the family residence, a well-appointed French mansion where many generations have lived. The furnishings, while beautiful, are so fragile that the butlers are careful not to touch anything. The rooms are lighted by glass chandeliers that the narrator refers to as “blue icicle bushes.” Giving off an indirect light, these “icicle bushes” cast an aura that makes everything in the house appear to exist “under a glass bell”—the kind of glass bell often used to preserve bouquets of flowers.

Next, the narrator records a long monologue in which Jeanne, her face seeming to be “stemless,” tells of her relationship with her brothers and her mother. Speaking for her brothers as well as for herself, Jeanne insists that their relationships to one another are more important than their relationships to their spouses or their children, that all three scorn the demands of the real world in which their bodies age, and that the three need to live heroic lives, a present-day impossibility. That seeds of this unusual relationship were clearly planted by the mother becomes evident when Jeanne calls her mother the “true” queen of France, who retreated from daily existence by taking drugs and by having hallucinatory talks with Napoleon Bonaparte.

Then the narrator tells the story of...

(The entire section is 511 words.)