In the late 1920s, Anaïs Nin discovered English novelist D. H. Lawrence, whose intuitive approach to writing about sex she found astounding. She was amazed at how he, a man, was able to accurately express a woman’s feelings, and how he wrote from the entire being, including the unconscious. Lawrence, in the end, would have more to do with how Nin developed her own writing than any other, including Proust or Miller. Ironically, Nin’s love of Lawrence spurred her to declare she would “go another [way], the woman’s way” in her writing at the conclusion of an iconic discussion with Miller and Durrell in 1937 (Diary 2 231-233).
Nin wrote an essay about Lawrence in 1930 entitled “The Mystic of Sex.” At the urging of a friend, she submitted it to Canadian Forum, which accepted and published it under a pseudonym. In Early Diary 4, Nin says: “Let me think only of praise of ‘my’ Lawrence coming out in print, under a remote name, not my own yet—Melisendra. Who is Melisendra? Looking in from the outside, only at the writing, as people will, what image will they see? What new me will they create, and I, like a dutiful actress, live out?” (327). So, Anaïs Nin was finally in print for the first time, and yet she dared not share her name, perhaps due to fear of scandal (Lawrence was considered a pornographer, a pervert, by many at the time).
Nin was going through a personal turmoil during this period, having suffered a devastating unfulfilled relationship with writer John Erskine, growing discontent within her marriage, frustration with her role as hostess to her husband’s wealthy and stuffy clients, and a growing sense of sensuality that both envigorated and tortured her. Lawrence’s writing was a sort of literary fuel for the fire. She threw her passion into her study of Lawrence and began to accumulate notes on his fiction. After unsuccessfully submitting several short fiction pieces to Paris publisher Edward Titus, she blurted out to him that she was writing a book about Lawrence. He immediately expressed interest and asked her to show him her work—the problem was that she only had a scattered pile of notes. In an amazing thirteen days, she assembled and rewrote her notes and presented Titus with the manuscript of D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study, a title intended to reflect the fact that Nin was no academic. This was a courageous act, perhaps a bit impulsive, for a young woman to write a book about one of the most controversial authors of the time. The finished book contained a deep understanding of Lawrence’s work, and it also revealed Nin’s own thinking about writing, the sensuality and psychology of it.
Many critics, even to this day, have declared D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study the best criticism of Lawrence ever written—indeed, Lawrence’s wife Frieda told Nin she considered it the best.
Broken up into chapters based on Lawrence’s background, philosophy, and religion; his views on women, death, and primitivism; his poetry and major titles including Women in Love and Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Nin concisely provides the reader with the essence of his writing and the intentions behind it. She reveals how he revolutionized modern writing by writing across the entire spectrum of the human being. She states:
When the realization came to the moderns of the importance of vitality and warmth, they willed the warmth with their minds. But Lawrence, with the terrible flair of the genius, sensed that a mere mental conjuring of the elemental was a perversion.
So here are his people struggling to achieve complete life and a sincere understanding of the gods in the center of our bodies.
Imprisoned in our flesh lives the body’s own genie, which Lawrence set out to liberate. He found that the body had its own dreams, and that by listening attentively to these dreams, by surrendering to them, the genie can be evoked and made apparent and potent.
In her chapter entitled “Woman,” Nin expresses what is now considered to be a feminist point of view, not only on her part, but on Lawrence’s as well. She says:
The woman for whom the phallic worship is only half of creative divinity is the builder-artist. Lawrence was not meddling with that builder-artist direction taken by women, but with the woman within the builder-artist. Woman pure and simple—or neither pure nor simple.
She quotes Lawrence as saying:
“[W]omen are not fools…they have their own logic. A woman may spend years living up to a masculine pattern. But in the end the strange and terrible logic of emotion will work out the smashing of the pattern, if it has not been emotionally satisfactory.”
She concludes with:
He confides in the intuition. He battles for the clairvoyance of it, through many chaotic pages. And this is purely a feminine battle. His moments of blind reactions strike a response in women.
Having touched the fundamental sources of woman’s attitude and impulses, the rest would naturally follow. It is not the first time that artists and poets have come closer to the woman than other men have. But it is the first time that a man has so wholly and completely expressed woman accurately.
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