Stella, a lesser-known work written by Anais Nin in 1945, is an examination of self-discovery and self-worth, a theme central to much of her fiction. The title character is loosely based on actress Luise Rainer, with whom Nin had a contentious friendship. Stella is faced with the contrast between her love affair with a public that adores her for her film roles and her personal inability to find human love. The men in Stella’s life include an ex-husband, a Don Juan lover, and a father who is not unlike Nin’s own.
It is ironic that Stella, like Rainer herself, is an orphan, since the novella itself is somewhat of a orphaned child. Nin experimented placing it in her 1946 Dutton edition of Ladders to Fire, and eventually in Swallow’s 1961 edition of Winter of Artifice, where remains today, as well as in Sky Blue Press’s 2010 anthology The Portable Anais Nin. Nin herself expressed the difficulty of finding Stella a home, so it only makes sense to offer it as a single title.
According to critic Oliver Evans, who compares Stella to D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, the novella “remains one of [Nin’s] most thoroughly realized performances. She has taken the timeworn theme of the possessive female and examined it through her microscopic lens from new and interesting angles.”
To see and/or purchase Stella at Amazon.com, click here. (The cover art is based on an engraving by Ian Hugo, aka Hugh Guiler, Nin’s husband.)
To see all current Anais Nin titles on Kindle, you can visit our Anais Nin ebookstore.
Today, Vol. 6 of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal was released on Amazon’s Kindle. Vol. 6 (2009) contains the remarkable letters between Anaïs Nin and her father, composer Joaquín Nin, during the time just before and after the first nine days of their incestuous relationship in the south of France. Also included are essays by several prominent Nin scholars, such as Tristine Rainer and Sarah Burghauser, analysis of Henry Miller’s writing, feminist literary theory, poetry, and reviews of Nin-related events.
For more information about the contents of the journal, and/or to order the print version, click here.
To order Vol. 6 of A Cafe in Space on Kindle, click here.
Myth #16: Anais Nin didn’t have a sense of humor.
Fact: In his 1969 interview with Nin, Duane Schneider asked: “Do you have a sense of humor?” Nin was surprised by the question, but said: “I think the Diary is humorous; I think Collages is humorous… I don’t think I have what is called humor in the American sense. I have playfulness, and fantasy. But my humor is quieter; it’s more like the Japanese. I don’t like farce, broad humor” (A Cafe in Space, Vol. 5, p. 111).
What follows are some examples of Nin’s brand of humor:
“I telephoned the fire department. But the man who answered heard my French accent, and the gaiety in my voice, and believed it was a student hoax. I called out to Kendall: ‘You talk to him. He does not believe there is a fire because of my accent.’ We were laughing, uncontrollably, because we could not really believe the fire, because it seemed so absurd, because Jimmy stood there with his manuscripts, and because he said: ‘Oh, Anaïs, this is a publicity stunt, of course. On the occasion of Ladders to Fire, we set fire to the house and we will have to come down a ladder.’ We opened the windows. The house was only two floors high and we would fall on the grass and bushes, if the ladders to fire did not arrive soon. We heard the sirens. A huge fireman opened Jimmy’s door, ready to rescue us. How do you rescue people taken with uncontrollable laughter? ‘It was a publicity stunt,’ we said. He thought it was the champagne. There was a lot of noise around. Neighbors had come to watch. Two engines were standing there. And the climax came when the fireman said: ‘No danger. It was the lady downstairs, who left a cake in the oven, and that made all the smoke’” (Diary 4, pp. 171-172)
In a letter to Rupert Pole, dated Nov. 20, 1961, Nin, who was in New York, had their dog, Piccolo, “write” an addendum:
“Dear Rupert—there is a serious shortage of dog psychiatrists. Nobody understands I only pee at the United Nations just to be polite and international, I pee on the 57th St. corner of Tiffany’s just to be fashionable, but I reserve my fullest pee for my temporary home, to assert my temporary ownership, and each time the old German elevator man comes out and grumbles. It’s true I’m not paying any rent—but he should know dog psychology. Cold rainy day—Anaïs tells me you had the same. She hangs on that phone—I don’t feel I own her whole heart! But she brought me a leftover meal from her dinner with rich cousins. Love Piccolo” (A Cafe in Space, Vol. 5, p. 89).
In the novel Collages, which, in her dedication, she calls her “humorous book,” Nin describes a scene with her characters Renate and Bruce, based on her friends Renate Druks and Paul Mathiesen:
“And then one day at Christmas, the terrified animals ran down from the mountains. Renate saw them running before she heard the sound of crackling wood or saw the flames leaping from hill to hill, across roads, exploding the dry brush, driving people and animals down the canyons and pursuing them satanically down to the very edge of the sea. The fire attacked houses and cars, lit bonfires above the trees, thundered like burning oil wells.
Planes dived and dropped chemicals. Huge tractors cut wide gashes through the forest to cut off the spreading fire. Firefighters climbed up with hoses, and vanished into the smoke.
Somewhere, a firebug rejoiced in the spectacle.
Around Renate’s house there was no brush, so she hoped to escape the flames. She wrapped herself in a wet blanket and stood on the roof watering it down. But she could feel the heat approaching, and watch its capricious somersaults, unexpected twists and devouring rages.
Bruce helped her for a while and then climbed down. She was still holding the hose and soaking the house when she looked down and saw what first appeared to be the portrait of Bruce walking. The large, life size painting was moving away from the house and two feet showed below the frame, two feet in shoes just below the naked feet of the painting.
The first thing he had asked of her was to stop painting animals and women and to paint a portrait of him. He had shown her the long hairs which grew on his ear lobes and said: ‘You know that I am Pan, and I want you to paint me as Pan.’ He had posed nude, in the red-gold afternoon sun of Mexico, always showing the same half-smile, the pleasure loving, non-human smile of Pan. He loved the painting, admired it every day. It was the god of the household. When they traveled, it was he who had packed it lovingly. He would say: ‘If any injury came to this painting, it would damage me, something fatal would happen to Pan.’
And so today this was Bruce rescuing Bruce, or Bruce rescuing Pan in himself. At first the painting turned its luminous face to her, but as he proceeded down the hill she saw him behind the painting in dungarees and a thick white sweater. She saw a group of firefighters below; she saw the expression on their faces as the painting walked towards them, as they saw first of all a naked Pan with faunish ears, a walking painting with feet, and then the apparition of the same figure dressed in everyday costume upholding its twin, duplicate half-smile, duplicate hands; and they looked startled and puzzled, as if it were superfluous to rescue a mere reproduction of an original.
So Bruce saved Pan, and Renate saved the house but the fire seemed to have finally consumed their relationship” (Collages, pp. 27-28).
Nin’s relationship with her Peruvian lover, Gonzalo Moré, while fiery and chaotic, was also one in which humor thrived in their conversations. In the unpublished diaries from the 1940s, there are several examples of their discourse:
During a romantic tryst:
“Gonzalo unfastening my new panties with the garters attached and saying: ‘It looks like a pulpo (octopus)—how many pulpos do I have to unfasten?’”
A lazy conversation on a summer evening in New York:
“I said to Gonzalo how strange it is that the spermatozoa sometimes lingers in the womb before fecundating the egg. Gonzalo said: Yes, it’s slumming!'”
I said to Gonzalo: “Janet saw a hermaphrodite, half of her body a man’s, half a woman.” “And the sex,” said Gonzalo, “was it a banana split?”
He talked to me for a whole evening about the activity of the microbes. Coming home we saw lovers sitting in Washington Square. Gonzalo said: “I wonder what makes people fall in love!”
“Don’t tell me it’s microbes,” I said.
After one of their many quarrels:
“I said: ‘Last night I was enmerdé (bored stiff), and I was looking for you in the rain, and I was out for a fight, in fact all ready to throw lightning around and you must have felt it and you ran, off to the movies. You escaped a big scene!’
‘What was it,’ said Gonzalo, laughing.
‘I wrote about it and so it’s all in a book, and you’re safe.’
‘Estoy contento,’ he said. And slept with his hand on my leg.”
From a Spanish newspaper Nin and Moré read together:
“A man has to deliver a coffin. He takes it on the bus as soon as the deliveries are paralyzed after the Spanish revolution. There is no room in the crowded bus. He is sent up to the top. It is raining hard. He is getting soaked. He decides to get into the coffin and cover himself. More people come to sit on the top of the bus. They sit with their backs against the coffin. The man inside of the coffin listens to their conversation, gets bored, lifts the top of the coffin, sits up and says: ‘Is it still raining?’ The people threw themselves off the bus with fright, broke their legs.”
In the 1940s diary, Nin describes going to the staid home of Virginia Admiral:
“At Virginia’s house Hugo said: ‘It looks like the House of Crime and Punishment.’ I answered: ‘But it’s the House of Punishment without Crime.’”
A conversation with Robert Duncan in the 1940s diary:
“Wrote an article on astrology to order. Was nervous about it, being told it might be for Vogue. Wrote it lightly but Robert and Hugo thought it was not light enough. Robert took it up to make it humorous. I was sad…not to be able to be flippant.
I said: ‘I can’t flip!’
Robert said: ‘You must flip! Start on me if you wish. Make fun of me.’”
Special thanks goes to Rebecca (@anaisnin on Twitter) for inspiring this post.
After Anaïs Nin self-published the revised Winter of Artifice (1942) and Under a Glass Bell and Other Stories (1944), she was faced with a formidable dilemma: to begin writing new material—the two previous publications were largely written before 1939, the year Nin fled Paris for New York because of the war, and they were both described as ethereal and dreamlike, neither of which interested the big publishers.
In New York, Nin’s life was in upheaval as she tried in vain to adjust to the indifference her work received and the arid climate in which she did not feel creative. Her personal life, too, was in tatters, and she often confessed to her unpublished diary that she was suicidal. Her relationship with Henry Miller was finished, bitterly, and Gonzalo Moré, her lover of some seven years, was weighing Nin down with his shiftlessness, his suffocating dependency, and the burden presented by his neurotic wife, Helba Huara. Because of these glaring and harsh realities, Nin, for the first time, was forced to face the true nature of her situation and those to whom she’d allied herself. She said often that she created those in her life by seeing them through the eyes of a dreamer, a mystic, which filtered out everything except what she found endearing, beautiful, miraculous.
At first, Nin’s forced awakening put her in unfamiliar territory—the real world, reality, unfiltered, undistilled, in all its ugliness and toxicity. She foundered, not able to find the footing, the philosophy, on which to create her new fiction. On a vacation at the beach house of her friend, Irina Alexander, where Nin went to recuperate from her severe bouts of depression, she was to find the symbol of her new direction:
July 23, 1943
The image which has supported, inspired me, upheld me, put me to shame, is strangely that of the woman Captain Soviet Valentina Orlikova with whom Irina had a friendship. Her photograph gave me the same shock I felt when I first saw it in a magazine cover and heard about her life. A shock of admiration, of love, of identification.
She is born February 22.
La vie frappe. Il faut y faire face, recevoir le coup, et continuer… [Life beats you down. One must face it, receive the blow, and continue…] Every day Valentina faces death, separation from her husband and child, the great tragedy of war, greater catastrophes, universal tragedies. Il y a une self-indulgence dans la souffrance. [There is self-indulgence in suffering.]
Nin became inspired to emulate this “woman of action,” and she found herself buying a coat she would call “Harper’s Bazaar elegance,” rather than her now old and somewhat tattered (but exotically unique) clothing from her Paris years.
Sept. 21, 1943
Symbolically, I fell I love with a Coat—a coat that represents the great change in me. It is not the coat of fire-fish or peacock, but of the woman captain. It is a very beautiful, masculine-material, tailored coat, fitted, with a velvet collar
and cuffs. It is expensive, aristocratic, simple, very pure, for action—and far from mirages or Byzance or the dream! I shall wear it a long time. It is enduring, of good quality. I chose it boldly, in an expensive shop. Then I hesitated because of the high price. But Hugo then insisted I should make him feel like a man of power able to get such a coat for his wife, and when I saw it was a symbol for him too then I yielded. The coat for a new life…
Armed with new inspiration came the excitement of designing an entirely new philosophy of writing, that of selflessness, like the woman captain’s. The seeds just begin to sprout in the following passage:
Sept. 14, 1943
I cannot begin a work casually. Have a concept of something big. Cannot begin—select, eliminate. Feel whatever I do will have to be all encompassing.
What happens if I leave myself out? Then everyone will be restored to his natural value, not mythical, not romantic, not enlarged—not symbolic.
With me absent and only the other characters present, I shall be in a human world, purely of feeling, which is my link with all the world. Irina [Alexander, Nin’s friend] said she always understood my emotions, not my interpretations or analysis of these emotions. Possibly if I eliminated myself as representing the legend, the vision, the far reaching and the cosmic, I might get into direct contact with the natural aspect of human beings. It is only in relation to me that they become “poetized” or translated into a dream. […] No one will see the poetic Gonzalo—only the fêtard [reveler] and the masochist, the adventurer and the masochist. It will be a diminished world. A natural world, not an intensified one. Me absent, passion and intensity will be removed, [as well as] the mirror reflecting people’s potential selves. It might be a way into the human. While I am there it will be mystical and mythical.
It might be good to begin writing about characters as unrelated to me. For example, I see […] the impossible woman, my mother, the extension of her. In a state of destructive revolution—the black anima.
If I disappeared as a character and became merely the vision—if I disappeared as an ego and used myself as the chemical which brought certain elements to light, I might accomplish the objective work of human dimensions which might relate me to the present. For the dream and the myth situate one in the past or the future but not in the present. They cause tragedy and not happiness. They destroy life in favor of the eternal.
These early thoughts laid the groundwork for Nin’s greatest volume of fiction, the novels which would make up the Cities of the Interior series, beginning with This Hunger, which would be published in 1945.
Stay tuned for other posts examining the development of Nin’s writing philosophy.