Anais Nin’s problem with American publishers

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.

Rejection

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Nin’s response:

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.

 

 

Anais Nin’s A Spy in the House of Love

One of Anaïs Nin’s most recognizable titles, A Spy in the House of Love, comes closer to the psychological truth of Nin’s tormented life during the 1940s, a life of conflicting passions and identities, and sexual adventures, than any other publication, including her Diary.

spycoverSabina, the lead character in this novel, is sometimes considered a composite of Nin and June Miller, Henry Miller’s wife—or she could be looked upon as a certain facet of Nin’s personality that was mirrored by the mysterious bohemian June, with whom Nin became emotionally involved in the early 1930s. It can be said that June helped “awaken” Nin to her own subterranean longings for sexual power and freedom, which she first lived out with the voracious and lusty Henry, who “taught her things,” some of which she’d only imagined were possible, and others she never dreamt of.

As Nin’s sexual identity developed, honed by Miller’s tutelage, she began to realize that it, like her persona, was multi-dimensional, and she began to experiment with other men, psychoanalyst Otto Rank and the Peruvian Gonzalo Moré among them. By the time she’d returned to New York at the onset of World War II, partly inspired by her sense of rootlessness and her sexually stifled marriage, she began to seek love and security in increasingly younger and more diverse men. Seeking the one man with whom she could feel secure and be loved completely was a tumultuous journey, leaving Nin feeling at times desperately alone and even suicidal.

A Spy in the House of Love does in a concise, distilled sense what Anaïs Nin was unable to do in any other form—to reveal the torn, fragmented, conflicted life she was experiencing at the time, the fragments mirrored by five very different men: Alan, Sabina’s stolid husband (based on Nin’s husband Hugh Guiler); Philip, an exuberant and sexually charged Viennese singer (based on Edward Graeff, with whom Nin had a sporadic but prolonged affair); Mambo, an exotic black islander (inspired by Albert Mangones, a Haitian with whom Nin had a torrid sexual relationship); John, a wartime rear gunner who’d been grounded (based on the young ex-soldier John Paanecker, whom Nin met on a hellish, lonely holiday in East Hampton, Long Island); and Jay, a painter with whom Sabina had an affair some years earlier in Paris (based on Henry Miller).

Sabina despairs at only being able to live out a piece of herself with each man, and yearns for unity—which is exactly what Nin was vainly seeking—and a man who could love all parts of her. Like Nin, Sabina, in spite of her very complicated life which required monumental lies and deception to maintain, finds the resolve and strength to not give up, to continue the struggle.

The prose in A Spy in the House of Love alternates wonderfully between realism and surrealism, and is always verbally economic and poetic. Consider this passage, which describes Sabina and Philip escaping a nightclub to make love:

“They fled from the eyes of the world, the singer’s prophetic, harsh, ovarian prologues. Down the rusty bars of ladders to the undergrounds of the night propitious to the first man and woman at the beginning of the world, where there were no words by which to possess each other, no music for serenades, no presents to court with, no tournaments to impress and force a yielding, no secondary instruments, no adornments, necklaces, crowns to subdue, but only one ritual, a joyous, joyous, joyous, joyous impaling of woman on man’s sensual mast.”

A Spy in the House of Love was first published in 1954 by the British Book Centre and was republished by Avon Publications in 1957; Bantam Books in 1968; Penguin in 1973; Swallow Press, who has the current print edition in the USA; and Sky Blue Press, 2010, in a Kindle edition, the first time this title has been made available in digital form. It was Nin’s first commercially successful novel, the Avon edition having sold over 100,000 copies during the 1950s, more than a half decade before the Diary was published. 

A Spy in the House of Love joins The Winter of Artifice and Under a Glass Bell on Kindle, with more titles to come.