Anais Nin’s A Spy in the House of Love

One of Anaïs Nin’s most recognizable titles, A Spy in the House of Love, comes closer to the psychological truth of Nin’s tormented life during the 1940s, a life of conflicting passions and identities, and sexual adventures, than any other publication, including her Diary.

spycoverSabina, the lead character in this novel, is sometimes considered a composite of Nin and June Miller, Henry Miller’s wife—or she could be looked upon as a certain facet of Nin’s personality that was mirrored by the mysterious bohemian June, with whom Nin became emotionally involved in the early 1930s. It can be said that June helped “awaken” Nin to her own subterranean longings for sexual power and freedom, which she first lived out with the voracious and lusty Henry, who “taught her things,” some of which she’d only imagined were possible, and others she never dreamt of.

As Nin’s sexual identity developed, honed by Miller’s tutelage, she began to realize that it, like her persona, was multi-dimensional, and she began to experiment with other men, psychoanalyst Otto Rank and the Peruvian Gonzalo Moré among them. By the time she’d returned to New York at the onset of World War II, partly inspired by her sense of rootlessness and her sexually stifled marriage, she began to seek love and security in increasingly younger and more diverse men. Seeking the one man with whom she could feel secure and be loved completely was a tumultuous journey, leaving Nin feeling at times desperately alone and even suicidal.

A Spy in the House of Love does in a concise, distilled sense what Anaïs Nin was unable to do in any other form—to reveal the torn, fragmented, conflicted life she was experiencing at the time, the fragments mirrored by five very different men: Alan, Sabina’s stolid husband (based on Nin’s husband Hugh Guiler); Philip, an exuberant and sexually charged Viennese singer (based on Edward Graeff, with whom Nin had a sporadic but prolonged affair); Mambo, an exotic black islander (inspired by Albert Mangones, a Haitian with whom Nin had a torrid sexual relationship); John, a wartime rear gunner who’d been grounded (based on the young ex-soldier John Paanecker, whom Nin met on a hellish, lonely holiday in East Hampton, Long Island); and Jay, a painter with whom Sabina had an affair some years earlier in Paris (based on Henry Miller).

Sabina despairs at only being able to live out a piece of herself with each man, and yearns for unity—which is exactly what Nin was vainly seeking—and a man who could love all parts of her. Like Nin, Sabina, in spite of her very complicated life which required monumental lies and deception to maintain, finds the resolve and strength to not give up, to continue the struggle.

The prose in A Spy in the House of Love alternates wonderfully between realism and surrealism, and is always verbally economic and poetic. Consider this passage, which describes Sabina and Philip escaping a nightclub to make love:

“They fled from the eyes of the world, the singer’s prophetic, harsh, ovarian prologues. Down the rusty bars of ladders to the undergrounds of the night propitious to the first man and woman at the beginning of the world, where there were no words by which to possess each other, no music for serenades, no presents to court with, no tournaments to impress and force a yielding, no secondary instruments, no adornments, necklaces, crowns to subdue, but only one ritual, a joyous, joyous, joyous, joyous impaling of woman on man’s sensual mast.”

A Spy in the House of Love was first published in 1954 by the British Book Centre and was republished by Avon Publications in 1957; Bantam Books in 1968; Penguin in 1973; Swallow Press, who has the current print edition in the USA; and Sky Blue Press, 2010, in a Kindle edition, the first time this title has been made available in digital form. It was Nin’s first commercially successful novel, the Avon edition having sold over 100,000 copies during the 1950s, more than a half decade before the Diary was published. 

A Spy in the House of Love joins The Winter of Artifice and Under a Glass Bell on Kindle, with more titles to come. 

Anaïs Nin on abortion rights in America, 1940

Months after returning to New York from France at the beginning of World War II, Anaïs Nin discovered she was pregnant. By whom is a matter of speculation. Possibilities are her husband Hugh Guiler, or one of her lovers, Henry Miller and Gonzalo Moré. What follows are excerpts from the unpublished diary that describe her encounter with a young American woman with whom she shared the danger and humiliation of illegal abortion. Her views on abortion rights, astounding given the era, are made clear.

(Excerpted from the unpublished diary of Anaïs Nin, which is more fully reproduced in Volume 1 of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, 2003.)

1959 article on illegal abortion

1959 article on illegal abortion

Aug. 22, 1940. Saturday I discovered I was pregnant—three months! Days of anguish over the money and the complications I feared. Dr.____ put me in the hands of a good German Jew who works for rich women. He said it would have to be done in two operations, one to insert the bag which dilates the womb (this is done without ether) and then the final one done with ether. I set the date for the 21st, Wednesday. Arrived at 9:30. Was strapped like an insane person, even wrists tied, arms, waist, legs. A strange sensation of utter helplessness. Then the doctor came in. As he begun to work he found the womb dilating so easily that he continued the operation, in spite of the terrific pain. And so in 6 minutes of torture I had done what is usually done with ether! But it was over. I couldn’t believe it. And today I am home, lying down most of the time.

The only wonderful moment in all this was when I was lying on a little cot in the doctor’s office, and another woman came. The nurse pulled the curtain so that I could not see her. She was made to undress and lie down—relax. The nurse left us. Soon I heard a whisper to me: “How was it?” I reassured her—told her how I had been able to bear it without ether, so it would be nothing with ether.

She said: “How long were you pregnant?”

“Three months.”

“I only two—but I’m scared. My husband is away. He doesn’t know. He must never know.”

I couldn’t explain to her that [he] knew, but that my lover had to be deceived and made to believe I had no relations with [my husband]. Lying there whispering about the pain—I never felt such a strong kinship with woman—woman—this one I could not see, or identify, the one who was also lying in a cot filled with primitive fear and an obscure sense of murder, of guilt, and of an unfair struggle against nature—an unequal struggle with all the man-made laws against us, endangering our lives, exposing us to inexperienced maneuvers, to being economically cheated and morally condemned—woman truly the victim now, beyond the help of her courage and aliveness. How much is to be said against the ban on abortion. What a tragedy this incident becomes for the woman. At this moment she is hunted down, really. The Doctor is ashamed, deep down, falsely so. Society condemns him. Everything goes on in an atmosphere of crime and trickery. And the poor woman who was whispering to me, afterwards, I heard her say to the Doctor: “Oh, doctor, I’m so grateful to you, so grateful!” That woman moved me so much. I wanted to know her. I wanted to pull the curtain and see her. But I realized she was all women: the humility, the thoughtfulness, the fear and the childlike moment of utter defenselessness. A pregnant woman is already a being in anguish. Obscurely each pregnancy is a conflict. The break is not simple. You are tearing off a fragment of flesh and blood. Added to this deeper conflict is the anguish, the quest for the doctor, the fight against exploitation, the atmosphere of underworld bootlegging, a racket. The abortion is made a humiliation and a crime. Why should it be? Motherhood is a vocation like any other. It should be freely chosen not imposed upon woman.

 

 

From Gemor to Kindle: Anaïs Nin’s Under a Glass Bell

Anaïs Nin began writing the stories collected in Under a Glass Bell in Paris during the mid to late 1930s and finished in New York after she fled France because of the war. When she could not find a publisher for her original collection of eight short stories, she resorted to self-publishing (with engravings by her husband Hugh Guiler) with her Gemor Press in 1944, hoping that she would win the interest of a commercial firm. It received the notice of critic Edmund Wilson, who favorably reviewed the book for The New Yorker.

The first commercial firm to republish the collection was Editions Poetry London in 1947. Because the original edition consisted of only 65 pages, Nin added another short story, “The All-Seeing,” as well as The House of Incest (her famous 1936 prose poem) and the two novellas from her self-published (Gemor Press in 1942) Winter of Artifice: “The Voice” and “Winter of Artifice.” In 1948, Nin’s then friend and supporter Gore Vidal used his clout to encourage his publisher, Dutton, to publish Under a Glass Bell as well as other Nin fiction. The Dutton edition consisted of the original eight stories, “The All-Seeing,” and four new short stories: “The Child Born out of the Fog,” “The Eye’s Journey,” “Hedja,” and “Through the Streets of My Own Labyrinth.” Also included were the two novellas from Winter of Artifice.

Hugh Guiler's cover art

Hugh Guiler's cover art

In 1957, the collection was republished as a facsimile of the Dutton edition minus the Winter of Artifice novellas by the Anaïs Nin Press. Swallow Press republished the collection of thirteen short stories in the 1960s, but in 1995 the order of the stories was changed, leading to a bit of controversy. In his introduction to the 1995 edition of Under a Glass Bell, Gunther Stuhlmann explains that his rationale for reordering the stories “chronologically” (meaning that since Nin used diary passages as source material, Stuhlmann sequenced the stories in the order of the events that inspired them), his rationale being that Nin’s growth as a writer would then be reflected in this new order.

Benjamin Franklin V, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on Nin bibliography, argued that reorganizing the stories violated Anaïs Nin’s literary intentions in his 1997 article “Noli Me Tangere” (“Touch Me Not”). In his article, Franklin quotes Nin herself from her introduction to the original edition as saying that “Everything is related and interactive,” and therefore the order of the stories was a significant ingredient in the collection’s content—reading the stories in order results in a more enriching experience, and reordering them robs the reader of this effect. Franklin went as far as proposing that the new Swallow Press edition be allowed to go out of print and the original order be re-established in subsequent editions. However, the current Swallow Press edition retains the order that Gunther Stuhlmann had placed them.

When it came time to place Under a Glass Bell on Kindle, an issue that had to be addressed was in what order to place the stories. Sky Blue Press decided to use Nin’s original placement, feeling that her intentions should be honored. So, Under a Glass Bell has come full circle after a 65 year odyssey.

An interesting set of facts compiled by Franklin is below—citations of diary sources that inspired the stories of the collection. (This list was created to illustrate that the current Swallow Press order is not exactly chronological.)

“Houseboat”: Diary II, 119 (September 1936), 126 (September 1936), 127 (September 1936), 129 (October 1936), 168 (February 1937), 176 (February 1937), 303 (Summer 1938), 318 (January 1939).

“The Mouse”: Diary II, 179 (March 1937), 186 (March 1937), 206-08 (Summer 1937), 316 (January 1939).

“Under a Glass Bell”: Diary I, 167-70 (January 1933), 171-73 (January 1933); II, 61 (October 1935).

“The Mohican”: Diary II, 85 (June 1936), 99-101 (August 1936), 134 (October 1936), 165 (February 1937), 257-58 (October 1937), 311 (October 1938).

“Je suis le plus malade des surrealistes”: Diary I, 187 (March 1933), 229 (June 1933), 230-34 (June 1933), 245-46 (August 1933); II, 188-91 (March 1937).

“Ragtime”: Diary II, 104-06 (August 1936).

“The Labyrinth”: Linotte, 3-14 (25 July-12 August 1914).

“Through the Streets of My Own Labyrinth”: Diary II, 71-81 (April 1936), 184 (March 1937).

“The All-Seeing”: Diary II, 192 (March 1937), 275-77 (November 1937), 288-89 (January 1938), 295 (March 1938), 315 (October 1938).

“The Eye’s Journey”: Diary II, 162-63 (January 1937).

“The Child Born out of the Fog”: Diary IV, 141 (April 1946).

“Hejda”: Diary III, 225-28 (Winter 1942), 233-35 (Winter 1942), 303-04 (January 1944); IV, 33 (December 1944).

“Birth”: Diary I, 337-49 (June and August 1934).

(Details of book history from Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary and Index to Diary Excerpts by Benjamin Franklin V)

(List from Studies in Short Fiction Fall, 1997)

To see or order Under a Glass Bell on Kindle, click here.

Sky Blue Press has also put the original Obelisk Press edition of The Winter of Artifice on Kindle.