Anais Nin, who had written the novel A Spy in the House of Love, was having great difficulty getting it published. None of the big New York publishers were interested in Nin’s ethereal fiction, preferring instead Hemingway or Mickey Spillane novels; in other words, uncomplicated and in-your-face good ol’ American writing.
One of the many publishers Nin contacted was Pellegrini & Cudahy, and below is a rejection letter written by a certain Coley Taylor, who decided to be “honest” in his assessment of the novel. What makes this somewhat unusual was Nin’s response to the rejection letter; Nin usually vented in her diary, not in letters to the publisher. Her to-the-point response makes her frustration with the American publishing scene very clear, as you shall see.
I was not angry at your frankness and everyone has a right to his personal opinions. However I find that under cover of honesty and personal reactions if you expressed a lack of tact of human courtesy and a limited insight. The whole cause for the deterioration of publishing and writing lies precisely in this lack of literary objectivity and this substitution of unskilled emotional reactions to writers. It is you who are bored, who failed to see the continuity or the revelation of character. Maturity in evaluation consists precisely in examining your inner subjective reactions so as not to inflict them upon writers as criticism. It does not harm me because I am a veteran, but your so called honesty harms young writers. Your letter was insensitive rather than honest, destructive and irresponsible if it had been addressed to a beginner who believes that publishers are impartial, objective mature critics, men of taste capable of evaluating writing.
Nin’s claim that she was unharmed is to be taken with a grain of salt. The repeated and unrelenting rejection of her work in America took its toll on her. It would be another nine years before she was to find the publisher who would put all her fiction into print: Alan Swallow.
To see more about A Spy in the House of Love, click here.
To read Nin’s response to a critic, click here.
To purchase A Spy in the House of Love, click here.
To purchase Cities of the Interior (which includes Spy), click here.