Although the LA Time Festival of Books isn’t until this weekend (Sat 4/24 and Sun 4/25; 10-6 and 10-5 respectively), sales of popular, rare, out of print, foreign, and one-of-a-kind editions from the Nin house in Silver Lake are already available and selling.
Anyone looking for that title one can no longer find (and with the special provenance of having been in Anaïs Nin’s and Rupert Pole’s personal library) can seize this chance either by attending the Festival of Books in Los Angeles or by perusing the list of titles in the new online store and beating the rush.
Nin fans, collectors, and scholars alike can benefit from this opportunity. Spread the word.
The Anaïs Nin Trust will be offering books from the library of Anaïs Nin’s and Rupert Pole’s fabled Silver Lake house at the 2010 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Saturday and Sunday, April 24 and 25. Titles include first editions of Nin titles from publishers around the world, some of which are rare and vintage. Each book’s provenance will be authenticated and books present in the library during the time Anaïs Nin lived in the house (until her death in 1977) will be further documented. Virtually every Nin title will be present, and prices range from a few dollars on up, depending upon the book’s condition and publishing history. Titles will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. This is a rare opportunity for Nin fans and book collectors alike.
The Nin Trust will be at booth #656 in Zone F, from 10-6 Saturday and 10-5 Sunday. To find out more about the Festival of Books and to see a list from which the titles which will be offered, visit the new Anaïs Nin Trust web site: http://anaisnintrust.com/
In late 1947, Anaïs Nin went to Acapulco with her lover Rupert Pole, with whom she’d been involved for most of that year. Her stay there was remarkable in that it inspired her to write the novel Solar Barque, which evolved into Seduction of the Minotaur.
The central character, Lillian, who appears in several Nin novels, is a pianist who has come to Mexico to escape her drab role as wife to Larry and mother of two children. “With her first swallow of air she inhaled a drug of forgetfulness…” in the city she calls Golconda, which was “Lillian’s private name for this city which she wanted to rescue from the tourist-office posters and propaganda. Each one of us possesses in himself a separate and distinct city, a unique city, as we possess different aspects of the same person. She could not bear to love a city which thousands believed they knew intimately. Golconda was hers.” Acapulco, or Golconda, during the 1940s, although beginning to draw tourists, was not far removed from the fishing village it had historically been.
In Volume 5 of The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Nin describes (actually in retrospect) her arrival in Acapulco: “I am lying on a hammock, on the terrace of my room at the Hotel Mirador… The sun, the leaves, the shade, the warmth, are so alive that they lull the senses, calm the imagination. This is perfection… It is eternal, it overwhelms you, it is complete.”
In the novel, the hotel “was at the top of the hill, one main building and a cluster of small cottages hidden by olive trees and cactus. It faced the sea at a place where huge boiling waves were trapped by crevices in the rocks and struck at their prison with cannon reverberations.” The Hotel Mirador, overlooking the famous cliffs from which daring young men dive for the tourists, exists to this day. The hotel bar where many events occur in the novel is actually La Perla, which Nin mentions in the Diary. Once such event is her rendezvous with a Dr. Hernandez, who is the model for the character of the same name, and whom Nin befriended.
Dr. Hernandez was originally assigned the village as an intern and decided to stay on, leaving his wife and children in Mexico City since Acapulco had insufficient schools. His life is quite accurately depicted in the novel as a selfless man who devoted himself to fighting disease and immunization of the villagers, while begrudgingly caring for the tourists: “…half of their ills are imaginary. Most of the time they call me because they are frightened of foreign countries and foreign food.”
Another character in Seduction of the Minotaur is Diana, who is an earthy, passionate painter who represents the free sensuality of Golconda, and who is based on Annette Nancarrow, who was married to the composer Conlon Nancarrow, mother of two young children, and friendly with Orozco and Diego Rivera, among many other luminaries in the Mexican art world. In the Diary, Nin says her eyes “were caught by the brilliant colors of [Annette’s] dress. I watched her for several seconds… She had a mass of short, curled hair aureoled around her head, unruly, in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec women, and under this a delicately chiseled face, a small straight nose, fawn-colored eyes, and a slender neck poised on a voluptuous body. Her movements have a flow and sweep and vivacity and seductiveness. She undulates her hips, her breasts heave like the sea, she is never still.”
In Seduction, Diana “thrust her breasts forward, as if to assert that hers was a breathing, generous body, and not just a painting. But they were in curious antiphony, the quick-turning sharp-featured head with its untamed hair, and the body with its separate language, the language of the strip teaser; for, after raising her breasts upward and outward as a swimmer might before diving, she continued to undulate, and although one could not trace the passage of her hand over various places on her body, Lillian had the feeling that, like the strip teaser, she had mysteriously called attention to the roundness of her shoulder, to the indent of her waist.” Diana becomes the symbolic temptation and a sort of test for a young American man who has hitchhiked to Mexico to ponder his forthcoming marriage, which mirrors the theme of the novel: enslavement to convention versus a more natural state of being.
Nin and Annette Nancarrow became friends, and while Nin never fulfilled her dream of establishing a house in Acapulco, Annette did, living in the shadow of Hotel Mirador.
Another character is based on an American engineer named Hatcher, married to a Mexican woman and living in a remote area near San Luis, north of Acapulco. He was attempting to “go native,” which Nin (and Lillian in the novel) assumed meant living simply, from the land, without possessions, close to nature. However, attached to Hatcher’s house was a storage room, described in Seduction as “enormous, as large as the entire front of the house. As large as a supermarket. With shelves reaching to the ceiling. Organized, alphabetized, catalogued.
“Every brand of canned food, every brand of medicine, every brand of clothing, glasses, work gloves, tools, magazines, books, hunting guns, fishing equipment.
“‘Will you have cling peaches? Asparagus? Quinine?’ He was swollen with pride. ‘Magazines? Newspapers?’
“Lillian saw a pair of crutches on a hook at the side of the shelf. His eyes followed her glance, and he said without embarrassment: ‘That’s in case I should break a leg.’
“…She had imagined Hatcher free. That was what had depressed her. She had been admiring him for several weeks as a figure who had attained independence, who could live like a native, a simplified existence with few needs. He was not even free of his past…”
When Lillian flies home from Mexico, she “was bringing back new images of her husband Larry, as if while she were away, some photographer with a new chemical had made new prints of the old films in which new aspects appeared she had never noticed before. As if a softer Lillian who had absorbed some of the softness of the climate, some of the relaxed grace of the Mexicans, some of their genius for happiness had felt her senses sharpened, her vision more focused, her hearing more sensitive. As the inner turmoil quieted, she saw others more clearly. A less rebellious Lillian had become aware that when Larry was not there she had either become him or had looked for him in others.”
The parallel between Lillian’s stifling, conventional life and Nin’s marriage to Hugh Guiler, her banker husband back in New York, is obvious. While Nin could not write about her marriage in the Diary (Guiler had forbidden any mention of him), she could by way of fictional characters in Seduction of the Minotaur address these intimate issues.
When Nin pitched the original version of the novel, Solar Barque, during the mid-1950s, she was met with the usual disdain from the New York publishers, so she decided to publish it herself, using the printer Edwards Brothers in Ann Arbor, Michigan (which, I’m proud to say, produces Sky Blue Press’s A Café in Space) in 1958. Upon publication, which was commercially unsuccessful, Nin decided after she was signed by her first true American publisher, Alan Swallow, to add a coda to the book which completes the character of Lillian by examining—through flashbacks—her relationships with the other key Nin characters Jay, Sabina, and Djuna, and the novel was renamed Seduction of the Minotaur. It is possible that Nin felt the addition necessary to create a fitting conclusion to the “continuous novel” she entitled Cities of the Interior, publishing in a single volume Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, The Four-Chambered Heart, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, physically tying the roman fleuve together as a unit.
Seduction of the Minotaur is now available on Kindle. It joins Under a Glass Bell, The Winter of Artifice, A Spy in the House of Love, and Children of the Albatross as a digital book, with more titles soon to come.
Children of the Albatross, which has just been published on Kindle, is considered by many to be one of Anaïs Nin’s most beautiful books; it is also a groundbreaker in that it eloquently addresses androgyny and homosexuality, which few literary works dared to do in 1940s America. What follows is an “unprofessional” analysis of the book, in which we are introduced to three of Nin’s most iconic characters: Djuna, Lillian, and Sabina, all of whom represent different aspects of Nin’s character—serenity, earthiness, and the femme fatale, respectively.
The novel is divided into two sections, “The Sealed Room,” in which we follow Djuna’s developing perception of sexuality, and “The Café,” in which the nature of each of the three female characters’ relationships with the powerful, omnipotent painter Jay, whom Nin fashioned after Henry Miller.
In “The Sealed Room,” young Djuna is in an orphanage, perhaps a metaphor for Nin’s sense of abandonment by her father at the age of ten, and is confronted by the “watchman,” a vile man who trades freedom for sexual favors. Later she is molested by her dance teacher. Symbolic of Nin’s own struggle to free herself of overly powerful, masculine men (Paco Miralles—dance teacher who tried to seduce her; her father—incest; Henry Miller—emotional betrayal), Djuna’s quest for freedom was for Michael, a young effeminate man (based on her cousin Eduardo Sánchez), with whom she seeks a complete love but fails because of his homosexuality. Djuna encounters Donald (after Robert Duncan), Lawrence (“Pablo” of the diary), and the seventeen year old Paul (Bill Pinckard) with whom she shares a nurturing (and sexual) relationship.
“The Café” brings together the three female characters (Sabina, Lillian and Djuna) with Jay (after Miller), who is a painter with whom all three woman have had a relationship. In this segment of the novel we find out, through the characters, how Nin’s relationship with Miller had different stages and levels. Just as the female characters have conflicts in their approach to Jay, Nin’s internal conflicts regarding Miller ultimately resulted in estrangement. The book concludes after Michael and Donald appear at the café, in effect bringing relationships from various times and places together as Jay drags Djuna from her “cities of the interior” into life.
It is interesting to note that the title “The Sealed Room” is a reference to Anaïs Nin’s house in Louveciennes, France, which had one window that was eternally shuttered and appeared to be present for symmetry alone. The “room” which didn’t exist behind this window became an important metaphor for Nin’s interior vision. She also compared the sealed room to her diary, which was the repository that fed her fiction. This reminds us of the fact that Nin was criticized (and indeed she criticized herself at times) for not being able to invent, to compose fiction purely from the imagination. But what she did was to use the components of the diary as an ingredient in what can be considered a sort of “alchemy,” what she termed a “distillation” that became a unique type of fiction that was, unfortunately, almost totally incompatible with the times (1930s to 1950s) during which it was published.
There are several levels at which her fiction can be read—there is the remarkable and distinct prose, which some compare to French surrealism and which uses words in unique ways (consider the word “ensorcell,” for example); there is the psychological aspect of her writing, in which there is a constant search for identity, the understanding of the dynamics of relationships, and the impact of the past on the present; there is the struggle for self-awareness and self-evolution, which makes her writing relevant to this day. We see ourselves, our struggles, our pain, our hell, in Nin’s work, and when her characters somehow survive and grow, we are inspired. Her work can be considered a mirror in which we see ourselves, which gives it a sort of secret personal touch that is sometimes missing in contemporary fiction. It is also why few can agree on the particulars of Anaïs Nin’s body of work, because we all see it in our own way.
When Children of the Albatross was first released by Dutton in 1947, it met with mixed reviews—one of the usual complaints was that Nin’s fiction is light on plot and heavy in the sorts of things that, although they wouldn’t admit it, the critics simply didn’t understand. In the 1940s, literary critics were looking for realism, sequence, solid characters with solid descriptions. Nin offered none of these characteristics in her fiction and therefore it was difficult to get a decent review or to sell many copies to middle American readers.
Today, because it offers deep insight into Nin’s inner life within its beautifully written passages, it is considered one of her most effective works, and it is also recognized as one of the first American titles by a female author to consider male homosexuality.