New Edition of Anais Nin’s Children of the Albatross

Children of the Albatross, which has just been published on Kindle, is considered by many to be one of Anaïs Nin’s most beautiful books; it is also a groundbreaker in that it eloquently addresses androgyny and homosexuality, which few literary works dared to do in 1940s America. What follows is an “unprofessional” analysis of the book, in which we are introduced to three of Nin’s most iconic characters: Djuna, Lillian, and Sabina, all of whom represent different aspects of Nin’s character—serenity, earthiness, and the femme fatale, respectively.

This new authoritative edition includes an introduction by Nin, character sketches drawn from Benjamin Franklin’s Nin Character Dictionary, and a complete publishing history of the title.

AlbatrossThe novel is divided into two sections, “The Sealed Room,” in which we follow Djuna’s developing perception of sexuality, and “The Café,” in which the nature of each of the three female characters’ relationships with the powerful, omnipotent painter Jay, whom Nin fashioned after Henry Miller.

In “The Sealed Room,” young Djuna is in an orphanage, perhaps a metaphor for Nin’s sense of abandonment by her father at the age of ten, and is confronted by the “watchman,” a vile man who trades freedom for sexual favors. Later she is molested by her dance teacher. Symbolic of Nin’s own struggle to free herself of overly powerful, masculine men (Paco Miralles—dance teacher who tried to seduce her; her fatherincest; Henry Miller—emotional betrayal), Djuna’s quest for freedom was for Michael, a young effeminate man (based on her cousin Eduardo Sánchez), with whom she seeks a complete love but fails because of his homosexuality. Djuna encounters Donald (after Robert Duncan), Lawrence (“Pablo” of the diary), and the seventeen year old Paul (Bill Pinckard) with whom she shares a nurturing (and sexual) relationship.

eduardo

Eduardo Sanchez

“The Café” brings together the three female characters (Sabina, Lillian and Djuna) with Jay (after Miller), who is a painter with whom all three woman have had a relationship. In this segment of the novel we find out, through the characters, how Nin’s relationship with Miller had different stages and levels. Just as the female characters have conflicts in their approach to Jay, Nin’s internal conflicts regarding Miller ultimately resulted in estrangement. The book concludes after Michael and Donald appear at the café, in effect bringing relationships from various times and places together as Jay drags Djuna from her “cities of the interior” into life.

It is interesting to note that the title “The Sealed Room” is a reference to Anaïs Nin’s house in Louveciennes, France, which had one window that was eternally shuttered and appeared to be present for symmetry alone. The “room” which didn’t exist behind this window became an important metaphor for Nin’s interior vision. She also compared the sealed room to her diary, which was the repository that fed her fiction. This reminds us of the fact that Nin was criticized (and indeed she criticized herself at times) for not being able to invent, to compose fiction purely from the imagination. But what she did was to use the components of the diary as an ingredient in what can be considered a sort of “alchemy,” what she termed a “distillation” that became a unique type of fiction that was, unfortunately, almost totally incompatible with the times (1930s to 1950s) during which it was published.

There are several levels at which her fiction can be read—there is the remarkable and distinct prose, which some compare to French surrealism and which uses words in unique ways (consider the word “ensorcell,” for example); there is the psychological aspect of her writing, in which there is a constant search for identity, the understanding of the dynamics of relationships, and the impact of the past on the present; there is the struggle for self-awareness and self-evolution, which makes her writing relevant to this day. We see ourselves, our struggles, our pain, our hell, in Nin’s work, and when her characters somehow survive and grow, we are inspired. Her work can be considered a mirror in which we see ourselves, which gives it a sort of secret personal touch that is sometimes missing in contemporary fiction. It is also why few can agree on the particulars of Anaïs Nin’s body of work, because we all see it in our own way.

When Children of the Albatross was first released by Dutton in 1947, it met with mixed reviews—one of the usual complaints was that Nin’s fiction is light on plot and heavy in the sorts of things that, although they wouldn’t admit it, the critics simply didn’t understand. In the 1940s, literary critics were looking for realism, sequence, solid characters with solid descriptions. Nin offered none of these characteristics in her fiction and therefore it was difficult to get a decent review or to sell many copies to middle American readers.

Today, because it offers deep insight into Nin’s inner life within its beautifully written passages, it is considered one of her most effective works, and it is also recognized as one of the first American titles by a female author to consider male homosexuality.

Children of the Albatross joins The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, and A Spy in the House of Love on Kindle.

Unsolved Anaïs Nin Mysteries

Mystery #1: What is the source of one Anaïs Nin’s most popular quotes: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”?

Clues: In Nin’s novel Children of the Albatross (1947) which is incorporated into Cities of the Interior, there is a scene in which the character Djuna (based on Nin), having just made love to Paul (based on the seventeen-year-old Bill Pinckard), sees a vase of closed tulips on a table:

She looked at the tulips so hermetically closed, like secret poems, like the secrets of the flesh. Her hands took each tulip, the ordinary tulip of everyday living and she slowly opened them, petal by petal, opened them tenderly.

They were changed from plain to exotic flowers, from closed secrets to open flowering.

Then she heard Paul say: “Don’t do that!”

There was a great anxiety in his voice. He repeated: “Don’t do that!”

She felt a great stab of anxiety. Why was he so disturbed?

She looked at the flowers. She looked at Paul’s face lying on the pillow, clouded with anxiety, and she was struck with fear. Too soon. She had opened him to love too soon! She had forced time, as she had forced the flowers to change from the ordinary to the extraordinary. He was not ready! (Cities of the Interior 180-1)

Was the quote drawn from this passage? Nowhere in Nin’s fiction am I, or anyone else I know, able to find the verbatim quote, which seems to be a distillation of the above. I have seen it cited on the internet as a “poem” entitled “Risk,” but nowhere in Nin’s bibliography (as far as I know) can such a poem be found. Was the “poem” even written by Nin, or was someone else involved? No one seems to definitively answer this question.

A couple more clues: William Pinckard appears in Diary 4 under the pseudonym of “Leonard.” Also, there is a passage in the unpublished diary of 1946 that closely resembles the passage from The Children of the Albatross.

Perhaps you can help unlock this mystery. If you have any information or ideas, please leave a comment. We will follow all reasonable leads.

PLEASE NOTE: Have we solved the mystery? Click HERE to see.