Anais Nin’s Response to a Critic

When Dutton published Anaïs Nin’s first full-length novel, Ladders to Fire, in 1946 (which then contained a section entitled “Stella”), the critics railed against Nin’s use of language in general and her distillation of characters in particular. Nin had revolted against America’s tradition of detailed and realistic descriptions in favor of symbolism, striving to describe the events occurring beneath the surface. 1940s America was not, perhaps, ready for her work, which scholars agree today was far ahead of its time, and thus began the war between Nin and her critics.

One critic in particular raised Nin’s hackles: The New York Times’ Herbert Lyons, whose review was entitled “Surrealistic Soap Opera.” In it, Lyons not only stated that Nin’s male characters were “pale, weak young men,” but also said,

Insomuch as the “avant garde” may not listen to the radio, it is perhaps worth noting that numerous daytime serials are almost exclusively devoted to less fancy variations on this same theme of woman’s struggle to understand her own nature… As in much of modern music, there is little originality. The novel contains traces of Djuna Barnes, Henry Miller, and Edmund Wilson and a large deposit of French surrealism. These days many things get by under the banner of complexity and super-sensitivity; artiness and obscurantism, as always, are sometimes disguises for second-rate talents. But Miss Nin’s novel has a certain interest as a pastiche of contemporary preciousness.The New York Times, October 20, 1946

Nin’s response in a letter dated shortly thereafter:

Dear Mr. Lyons: When it comes to modern literature you show yourself to be almost totally illiterate. You cannot decipher the simplest facts and resort to distortions.

You see a book full of pale, weak young men when there is only one of them and he plays a minor role. The rest of the men are more than full length, ruddy, lusty characters.

Number One: Bruno. An able bodied and most satisfactory lover whose only handicap in Stella’s eyes lies in his loyalty to his wife and children which is clearly described in the book as being only a problem to Stella’s lack of confidence.

Philip: also a healthy, humorous, confident character, guilty of merely liking too many women.

Stella’s father. Equally powerful and dominant.

Lillian has a perfectly adequate husband.

Jay is big, healthy, joyous. “He sat like a workman before his drinks, he talked like a cart driver to the whores at the bar; they were all at ease with him.”

Djuna, you say, also has trouble with various men, but Djuna has no relationship to any man in the book.

No pale weak men appear at the party. Nowhere in the book can you find that Sabina represents modern woman.

The men in the book are in fact powerful and self confident. You must be one of the pale weak young men of our times to identify so exaggeratedly with one of the minor characters.

Sincerely yours,

Anaïs Nin

Gore Vidal, 1940s

Gore Vidal, 1940s

Not only did Nin berate Lyons, but Gore Vidal (who was an editor for Dutton at the time, and, since he promoted Nin to his superiors, may have had self-interest in mind) lambasted him with his own diatribe:

Dear Sir:

I have just finished reading Herbert Lyons’ review of Anais Nin’s new novel LADDERS TO FIRE. I consider his attack on her work absurd, irresponsible, and an excellent example of sloppy reviewing. Since Anais Nin is a literary figure of considerable stature, I wish to come to her defense and to examine the Lyons review.

After making his case, he sums up with:

It is certainly healthy to disagree on the merits of a writer. Mr. Lyons might very well be on the right side, but he has not, certainly, proven his case. He has written an emotional and inaccurate review, bristling with antagonism and not much else. It is sad for authors to read reviews like his; one has the feeling that books can be reviewed by anyone, that reputations can stand or fall on the opinion of some near-illiterate with an axe in need of grinding.

Gore Vidal

Of course, Nin’s and Vidal’s responses fell upon deaf ears, and for most of her life, until the Diaries were published in 1966 when she was 63 years of age, she would endure the harshness of the New York literary establishment.


Anaïs Nin’s Under a Glass Bell is now being offered in mulitple formats on Smashwords. Other Nin titles on Kindle are: Collages, The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with more to follow. 

Revised Anais Nin study is published

Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art, a book-length study by Rochelle Lynn Holt, was first published in 1997. Now, after thirteen years, Holt has published an updated version of the title.

anaisunderstandingherartHolt traces Nin’s growth as a writer while intertwining the major events in her life with the work—everything from Nin’s introduction to the work of D. H. Lawrence to Holt’s hypothesis that Nin was suffering from an undiagnosed case of bipolar disease. Holt creates a unique vision of Nin’s work informed not only by her long correspondence and friendship with Nin, but by vast knowledge of her work, as evidenced by several excerpts from the diaries and fiction selected to support her theories. The result is a text that will encourage the reader to rethink what they know about Anaïs Nin and how her writing came to be the powerful force that it was and still is.

This revised edition includes a look at what has occurred in Nin scholarship since 1997, including literary criticism, previously unpublished works by Nin, and the explosion of Nin-related internet sites, including this one.

Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art can be ordered by clicking here.

Rochelle Lynn Holt can be contacted by e-mail at this address:

Anaïs Nin: Woman of the Dream—a reading of the play

A reading of the play Anaïs Nin: Woman of the Dream, written by Doraine Poretz, will be staged at the Electric Stage in Venice, California, on August 1, 2010 at 7:30PM.

The play incorporates simultaneous appearances of Nin at various ages (as a young girl; as a young woman in Paris; as an older woman just before publication of the diary) who have sometimes contentious conversations across the years that highlight personal growth and its associated conflicts, disappointment, and fears, while maintaining and purifying the thread of Nin’s essence. Other characters include Joaquin Nin, Anaïs’s father, Henry and June Miller, and Gonzalo Moré.

The reading is free of charge. The seating is limited, so early reservations are encouraged. Reservations can be made by telephone (323-935-2944) or e-mail (


Anais Nin in a Digital World

When I published Sky Blue Press’s first book, Anaïs Nin: A Book of Mirrors, 14 years ago, there was then only one truly viable format: paper. The nearly 500 page manuscript was sent to a massive press, which began spitting out gigantic sheets on each of which several pages of text appeared. The pages were cut, assembled, and forged into a thick, heavy book, which was placed into a cloth cover with gold stamping, shrink-wrapped, and placed into weighty boxes. Unpacking that first box, ripping through the plastic, I was able for the first time to hold this treasure in my hands. It was elegant, heavy, and the cover felt rich and luxurious. Opening it released the fragrance of fresh paper and ink. The sensation of opening a real book in one’s hands evokes reactions from many senses simultaneously, and readies one for the act of reading in a way similar to that of standing in the grand foyer of the Opéra with a crowd of stylish people before seeing a ballet. Everything is in context. The experience is heightened by an interconnection similar to that of a mosaic, no matter how insignificant each individual piece may be.

When I took the book to the famed Gotham Book Mart in New York, desperately hoping to have it placed on its sacred shelves, I encountered a harried, overly busy, impatient product evaluator, who was known for his brutal honesty and stinginess. “What is it you want?” he asked, while bending his head over a phone receiver. I, unable to speak coherently, handed him a copy of the book. He stiffly took it, but as I watched he began to melt as he hefted it and ran his hand over the cover. He hung up the phone and crooned over the feeling of cloth in his hands. He then took it into a back room where he wanted to read a few pages undisturbed. He came out and told me he had read an article entitled “Looking for Anaïs,” which was written by a medical doctor in California about placing an ad in the personals and his experiences with each of the “Anaïses” he encountered. It was a crude article, to put it mildly, and yet the buyer loved the irony of this piece appearing in such a handsome volume—he was sold. He bought several copies on the spot—and this was a man who, according to Anaïs’s agent Gunther Stuhlmann, never paid for anything, ever.

Anais Nin at work at her Gemor Press

Anais Nin at work at her Gemor Press

The point here is that a book is like a person—one’s interior must be taken in context with the exterior in order to perceive one’s overall character. We can argue that it is the content that really matters, and Anaïs would be first to do so, but she never failed to make her self-published books beautifully crafted works of art. So, in this increasingly digital age, publishers and readers alike must ponder the introduction of naked text cast upon a screen, a screen indifferent to the title, author, age, and origin of the work. 

On the other hand, electronic reading devices can contain thousands of titles. When relocating recently, I realized that nearly half of my possessions, according to weight (and therefore moving expenses), were due to hundreds, if not thousands of books—and these are just the ones I have purchased over the years for my own education and reading pleasure. If all these titles were on my Kindle, half (literally) of my logistical headaches would be cured.

Another issue is the physical limitations of books. One beautiful but breezy afternoon I was sitting in a chaise longue reading an old volume of Proust. The binding broke under the weight of its more than 1,000 pages, and the wind began to scatter several of them here and there, leaving me to run and gather them up, resort them, and stuff them back into the ruined casing. None of these problems exist with a Kindle, iphone, or other portable device. But as I sat there with the withered Proust, its pages stained with grass and violently wrinkled, the bits of dried, aged glue falling out of the binding, the cover sagging, I felt a sort of compassion for the death of a book, which I certainly would never feel if my Kindle’s batteries died.

So it is with mixed feelings that I have continued my labor of love—getting Anaïs Nin in front of readers—by digitizing her words, reducing them to binary zeros and ones, and placing them on the electronic platform. It is the same ambivalence I feel when I shoot off concise e-mails to friends rather than writing four page letters. I haven’t forgotten the thrill of receiving in the mail a fat envelope from someone special, the excitement when tearing it open and unfolding the handwritten pages within, pages upon which the impressions left by the pen measured the intensity of the writer. One trades sensation for instantaneousness, emotion for convenience, soulfulness for readiness. When I announce another Nin title on Kindle, or Smashwords, or some other platform, I realize that I am involuntarily depriving the reader of the chance to feel what the buyer at Gotham felt, that feeling which melts one, readies one for the reading experience.

However, electronic books make it possible for anyone, anywhere, to obtain any title they wish—and there is no having to go to the bookstore only to find the book is sold out, out of print, or too expensive; no having to find a way to travel with books taking up valuable luggage space; no having to search through boxes upon boxes to find your lost treasure. One must grow, change, adapt, to meet the expectations of the customer, and publishers above all find themselves in the midst of a revolution, with new technologies swirling about, morphing almost daily. As far as publishers go, it’s cheaper and easier to produce e-books, but then again the profit margin is much lower, and then there’s the issue of piracy—I have lost track of how many sites offer Anaïs Nin’s erotica illegally. For readers, it’s extremely convenient and economical to purchase an e-book—it takes seconds and costs little, not to mention that it’s like walking into a book store with several hundreds of thousands of titles from which to choose.

What really matters to the publisher is connecting readers with authors, and in order to fulfill this purpose, especially now, we must do whatever it takes. Like those first conversationalists who realized that the newly invented telephone disembodies the speaker and listener, we forge ahead—but we must not forget what it means to hold a book in our hands.

Anaïs Nin’s Under a Glass Bell is now being offered in mulitple formats on Smashwords. Other Nin titles on Kindle are: Collages, The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with more to follow. 

The Characters of Anaïs Nin’s Collages: Renate Druks

The character who serves as a sort of Master of Ceremonies in Anaïs Nin’s final novel, Collages, named Renate, is based on one of Nin’s closest friends, Renate Druks. When Paul Mathiesen, one of Anaïs Nin’s many young homosexual friends at the time, paid her a visit in Sierra Madre in 1953, he mentioned Druks, a “Viennese painter” with a young son from a previous marriage. Shortly thereafter, Nin met her at Druks’ Malibu home and was instantly enamored. She’d found a soul not unlike hers: “Renate’s gift is a heightened mood which communicates itself to others. She creates in a state of natural intoxication” (Diary 5, 132).

Renate Druks and Paul Mathiesen

Renate Druks and Paul Mathiesen

It was Druks and Mathiesen who concocted a masquerade party for which guests were encouraged to “Come as your madness,” and this inspired one of the guests—avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger—to create Inauguration of the Pleasuredome, [the entire 38 minute film can be watched by clicking here] in which Nin, Druks, and Mathiesen appeared. One of the most iconic scenes is an abstraction of the costume Nin wore at the party, which she describes below:

I wore a skin-colored leotard, leopard-fur earrings glued to my naked breasts, and a leopard-fur belt around my waist. Gil Henderson painted on my bare back a vivid jungle scene. I wore eyelashes two inches long. My hair was dusted with gold powder. My head was inside of a birdcage. From within the cage, through the open gate, I pulled out an endless roll of paper on which I had written lines from my books. The ticker tape of the unconscious. I unwound this and handed everyone a strip with a message. (Diary 5 133)

Anger was a mutual friend of Nin and Druks, and through him both were introduced to Marjorie Cameron, a painter who appeared in Pleasuredome. According to Nin, “Curtis [Harrington], Kenneth [Anger], and Paul talked of Cameron as capable of witchcraft. She was the dark spirit of the group. Her paintings were ghostly creatures of nightmares. In connection with her, this was the first time I heard about [occultist] Aleister Crowley. There is an aura of evil around her. Her husband [Jack Parsons] was a scientist [with JPL] who delved in the occult. He was blown up during an experiment in his garage” (Diary 5131). (Today, there are those who wonder how it was possible a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer could wind up killing himself during a home experiment—but that’s a whole other consideration.) It is said that Nin largely dissociated herself from Anger and his circle because of her distaste for the occult—indeed, Nin only mentions one other meeting with Anger, in Paris in 1960.

"Come as Your Madness"

“Come as Your Madness”

Druks’ relationships with gay and bisexual men proved to be extremely painful. In Collages, the character Renate has a similar problem with her companion Bruce, who is a composite character of both Mathiesen and football player Ronnie Knox. Renate detests Bruce’s secret rendezvous with his young male lovers and is tormented by the lies and deception. Bruce then devises a method by which Renate can feel secure:

“It is my secrecy which makes you unhappy, my evasions, my silences. And so I have found a solution. Whenever you get desperate with my mysteries, my ambiguities, here is a set of Chinese puzzle boxes. You have always said that I was myself a Chinese puzzle box. When you are in the mood and I baffle your love of confidences, your love of openness, your love of sharing experiences, then open one of the boxes. And in it you will find a story, a story about me and my life. Do you like this idea? Do you think it will help us to live together?”

Renate laughed and accepted. She took the armful of boxes and laid them away on the top shelf of a closet. (Collages 29)

Of course, what Renate discovers in the boxes is too honest, too explicit and ultimately destroys her relationship with Bruce. In Nin’s diary, one can see from where the idea of Chinese puzzle boxes comes: “I have only seen [Mathiesen] angry and fierce once. Renate…is born to open Pandora’s box. Paul’s soul is like those Japanese boxes one can only open with infinite patience… (Diary 6 33). Paul says severely: ‘You insisted on entering a world which was locked to you. You crashed through. And now what you found hurts you… I have never given anyone what belongs to you (Diary 5 195). Renate and Paul eventually parted ways.

Druks’ son, Peter Loomer, as a young child was full of dreams and expressed himself through drawings that were far ahead of his age in their maturity. Nin collected several and eventually used some in her limited-edition paperback Solar Barque, privately published in 1958. Tragically, Peter committed suicide in December 1964 at the age of 21, just after the release of Collages. It was emotionally devastating to Druks, who, according to Nin, never truly recovered: “Renate went through an agony which was as terrible as the death itself. It was a nightmare from which she could not awaken…a period of insane grief. She wailed, and wept and lamented…her voice over the telephone was a long cry of pain. This was a bitterer sorrow than the ordinary death of a child. It was an unbearable burden on a mother’s sense of responsibility for her child” (Diary 6 371).

Although Druks and Nin remained friends till Nin’s death in 1977, the details of Druks’ life afterward is fuzzy, especially during her last years. According to a genealogy site, she died in 2007, but many of her friends today were, or perhaps still are, unaware of this. She seems to have dropped off the planet, so to speak, and those who tried to contact her during the past decade or so were given vague answers as to her whereabouts. Even her artist’s web site (now defunct) did not acknowledge her death. So there is a good deal of mystery surrounding Renate Druks, one of Anaïs Nin’s most loyal friends. Anyone having any information about her is encouraged to contact us at

Sky Blue Press has published Collages as an e-book for the first time. It joins several other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with others to follow.