I’ve been taken literary hostage by the Diary of Anais Nin, now approaching the end of vol. 2. So enamored by her prose, her philosophy and words, I’ve even changed my email signature to include a quote of hers.
Delta of Venus has resided in my cabinet for years, but until I found vols 1, 2, and 4 of Nin’s diary in a used book shop, I hadn’t read any of the journals themselves. Was that ever a lucky find! After finishing the first book, I quickly ordered the missing vol. 3 from my pal at our local bookstore, The Loveable Rogue.
The size and complexity of the manuscript (Nin wrote in English, French and Spanish) required entire subjects to be cut to achieve some attempt at brevity. Consequently, editor Gunter Stuhlmann explains that most of the sexual escapades and references to Nin’s husband, Hugh Guiler, have been removed from the published text, except those details absolutely necessary to the story the editor elects to tell.
Yes, it’s been edited. But Stuhlmann has retained spontaneity, keeping the journal’s effect extemporaneous and human, while allowing the spectrum of her intimates’ changing moods, eccentricities and foibles open to exposure. Her thoughts are received by the reader as conversation. Her prose is not perfect. She shifts tense. She adds extraneous words. Her philosophical premises are not always resolved.
Stuhlmann maintains a rare insight for identifying the conditions that made Nin’s diverse acquaintances operate the way they chose, keeping enough selected material from the original manuscript to convince me of his (and Nin’s) assumptions.
Conversely, the book Henry and June (gleaned from sections of the diary that Stuhlmann eliminated) revisits the emotional and sexual aspects of Nin’s acquaintances and loves. For the most complete take on her 1931-34 years, Henry and June should probably be read concurrently with the first volume of her diary, filling in the time of Anais’ and Henry Miller’s heated love affair.
Their passion accelerated when Miller’s wife, June, had gone off on a tear. That wasn’t too uncommon for June, the gorgeous (and a bit nuts) blonde who apparently took a toll on anyone she encountered
A physical relationship between Nin and Miller is hinted at in the diaries, but in no way as strongly depicted as we find in Henry and June. It’s all her words, in her style, in both works, and her gorgeous language persists, although Henry & June entertains with more emphasis on eroticism and her analysis of the topic.
Complicating the already crazy situation are Nin’s others loves, which also come to a clearer light in Henry and June. Love for her husband. Love for June, both physical desire and emotional obsession. All this in addition to apparent ‘mercy fucks’ with various artists, poets, revolutionaries, bohemians and general hangers-on to this remarkable, giving, empathic woman.
There are many compelling aspects to Nin’s work. She writes with such a soothing interior quality, enticing the reader into a world immersed in the arts. Nin’s world.
What becomes evident is the power of this charismatic woman herself. Born into a family of musical luminaries, she is constantly surrounded by celebrities: From the Baron De Rothschild to Henry Miller, Antonin Artaud, Conrad Moricand and Lawrence and Nancy Durrell, to name a few.
Not that the diary is all sophisticated social banter and positive introspective speculation. Even before I began reading Henry and June alongside the diaries, I perceived possible bi-polar tilts in her writing: one month up, next month agitated, following month down. Pychologists, psychiatrists, students of Freud. Detractors of Freud. A trip to the United States to work with Dr. Otto Rank. Nin herself becomes a therapist in NewYork.
The do-it-yourselfer seeking a fix?
The fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War plays a background to the thirties in Europe. (Although the Nazis assimilated Italian fascism and were later defeated in WW2, Spanish fascism prevailed until Franco’s death in 1975.) Anais welcomes the camaraderie and passion of the anti-Fascists, but not the violence. As a woman of action, this conundrum hangs heavy upon her. She is found evaluating the scale of resistance as she questions acceptable tools of the movement. She buys a friend a printing press to produce revolutionary material for the cause.
What a rounded ‘Renaissance Man’ of a woman.
Nin often runs with an unhealthy abandon, working herself to the edge, not sleeping; rather feeding, supporting, mothering, clothing the helpless, broken men (and women) of Paris’ emerging art scene. While self-destructives continually pop into her sphere, Nin keeps them from starving or killing themselves. She pays their rents. She buys them food. She cleans their squalid rooms. Everyone in Anais’ life wants or needs something. So far, according to her, she hasn’t yet learned to say ‘no’.
Her revelatory and poignant asides, introspective dissertations concerning the writer as artist, bring to mind Lawrence Durrell’s similar insights explored in his Alexandria Quartet. A comparison of styles and conclusions offers consistent reminders of their influence on each other’s work and philosophies.
As an ultimate chronicler of Bohemian 30’s France, Nin proves as dependable as a Pepys or a Proust in their respective times, her measured prose offering the reader clear perceptions of various states of being in Paris and beyond.
Last week, Lisabet noted that certain artistic works are to be savored. Nin’s meliflous, evocative prose—spare but rich with vocabulary and dynamism, written in monthly journal form, may be taken in little sips. Like a fine Sherry, all it takes is a sip. Nin’s words guide us through an intellectual digestive system, gently affirming precise, impressions, concise truths … or lies … uncovered within herself, her entourage … and often within ourselves.
Although there’s not much in the way of sexually descriptive imagery in the diaries, that’s not to say she avoids spontaneous introspection:
(From The Diary of Anais Nin vol 2)
The entire mystery of pleasure in a woman’s body is in the intensity of the pulsation just before the orgasm. Sometimes it is slow, one-two-three, three palpitations which then project a fiery and icy liqueur through the body. If the palpitation is feeble, muted, the pleasure is like a gentler wave, the pocket seed of ecstasy bursts with more or less energy, when it is richest it touches every portion of the body, vibrating through every nerve and cell. If the palpitation is intense, the rhythm and beat of it is slower and the pleasure more lasting. Electric flesh-arrows, a second wave of pleasure falls over the first, a third which touches every nerve end, and now like an electric current traversing the body. A rainbow of color strikes the eyelids. A foam of music falls over the ears. It is the gong of the orgasm. There are times when a woman feels her body but lightly played on. Others when it reaches such a climax it seems it can never surpass. So many climaxes. Some caused by tenderness, some by desire, some by a word or an image seen during the day. There are times when the day itself demands a climax, days of cumulative sensations and unexploded feelings. There are days which do not end in a climax, when the body is asleep or dreaming other dreams. There are days when the climax is not pleasure but pain, jealousy, terror, anxiety. And there are days when the climax takes place in creation, a white climax. Revolution is another climax. Sainthood another.
My favorite time to read Ms. Nin is in bed, heating blanket on, Anais’ sensuous passages sending me off on a lyrical drift into a deep night’s sleep. We wonder how many readers have been similarly comforted.