Volume 9 (2012) of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal has been released on Kindle. The print version is coming soon as well. This issue explores the details of Nin’s early “trapeze life,” the swinging back and forth between her New York husband and Los Angeles lover, which was to last for 30 years. Kim Krizan, the Academy Award nominee for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, visited the UCLA archives and shares the fascinating discoveries she made in her article “Anaïs Nin: Typical American Wife—life with Rupert Pole, 1953.” Not only does Krizan discover that after six years with Pole Nin finds herself in the same role she was in some thirty years earlier with her young husband Hugh Guiler—a “typical American wife” baking pies, tidying the house, shopping, mending—but unlike the Guiler relationship, the one with Pole was punctuated by hypnotic sex scenes so powerful that, in spite of her better judgment, Nin was compelled to create an elaborate double life, one that would last until her final days.
Also in Volume 9, to complement Krizan’s article, are excerpts from Nin’s 1950 diary and correspondence to Pole from the same time period. “The Tree and the Pillar,” culled from Nin’s diary, gives us an idea of what Nin thought about her
relationship with Pole and how conflicted she was about it. Consider this passage:
Five years ago I began to use naturalization as one of the many myths to justify my departures. Americanization. Divorce. Jobs. Lectures. Magazine work. Publication of books. Christmas holidays with my family. Illness of [my brother] Thorvald at a New York hospital. Problems of A Spy in the House of Love. Disguises. Metamorphoses to cover my trips—my other life. The questions put by Rupert are answered with more lies. Only the passion and the love are true, so deeply true, so deeply true—but do they justify the lies told to protect it?
This should be a joyous moment, a moment of finding each other again after I conquered all the obstacles which pull me away. [Rupert] does not know each return is a victory, that each return has taken great efforts, great planning, great lavishness of acting in New York.
When one considers the fact that Nin not only had to create an impossibly complicated scheme to keep Pole unaware that she was still married to and living with Guiler in New York, but she had to convince Guiler that her trips to California were for the sake of her health and her writing—and she had to do this each and every time she made her trips from one to the other—and she kept it up for nearly three decades—it is mind-boggling, to say the least.
To give the reader an idea of how far Nin went to maintain this lifestyle, a selection of letters written to Pole explaining her trips to New York are presented. Entitled “A Web of Lies,” a term Nin herself used to describe them, these letters are so detailed that it seems impossible that they could be almost pure fabrication. All of the jobs she describes, and the people with whom she works, the writing she does for various magazines, her residences, are fictional, and yet she keeps up a narrative that accommodates all of seemingly illogical twists and turns of her schedule (usually caused by changes in Guiler’s plans), why Pole was not allowed to call her (because she was with Guiler and not in some friend’s apartment), and where the money she was bringing in was coming from (she claimed her work brought it in, whereas it was Guiler’s money), etc. This short snippet of correspondence is a mere fraction of Nin’s efforts to keep up the façade.
And how was Nin able to develop such ability for spinning webs of lies? Nin scholar Simon Dubois Boucheraud writes of Nin’s “fake diary,” which was one of Nin’s earliest attempts to keep her husband unaware of the fact that she was having
an affair, this time with Henry Miller in Paris in the early 1930s. Guiler had read one of Nin’s diaries that described a sexual encounter with Miller. In order to counter this stunning turn of events, Nin’s plan was to keep a fake diary which she hoped Guiler would read “by accident,” one in which she writes of how the diary Guiler read was actually a diary that contained her fantasies. This so-called “real” diary, which was actually fiction, would then cause Guiler to think the actual real diary was fake. It is an amazing journey with incredible detail—and it foreshadows her future “trapeze life.”
We will include further explorations of Volume 9 of A Café in Space in future posts.
To order Volume 9 from the Kindle store, click here.
Marguerite Young, author of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, a book that Anaïs Nin championed, lived a few blocks away from the apartment on Washington Square in New York that Nin and her husband Hugh Guiler inhabited. Nin describes her first impressions of Young, recorded in the fall of 1959:
Her smile and her talk are enchanting. They are a continuation of her writing, an accompaniment to it. There is an extraordinary force of her imagination and language there… Her hair hangs absolutely straight on each side of her face. She monologues, without pauses… Everyone in her eyes is beautiful. She endows all her friends with beauty; but her own charm lies in the kaleidoscopic variations of her imagination, her power of storytelling, her human warmth. (The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 6)
As the friendship between Nin and Young grew, Nin and Guiler often recorded their phone conversations with Young. On November 15, 1964, more than a year before Anaïs Nin’s Diary 1 was published, Young called Guiler to give her reactions to the manuscript, which Guiler apparently had lent her.
This conversation captures Young’s prophetic predictions about the impact Diary 1 would have—money, fame, a youthful following—most of which came to pass after the diary’s release in 1966, ending Nin’s long history of obscurity.
Guiler, when he could get a word in (Young, as Nin noted, was a monologist), also expresses the uniqueness of the writing (an enthusiastic response in spite of the fact he elected to not be included in any of the diaries).
The conversation turns to Nin and Guiler’s “New York dog,” Chico, who was ill, revealing the compassionate natures of Guiler and Young.
To hear the 11 minute conversation between Young and Guiler, click here.
Volume 8 of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal will be released after Anaïs Nin’s 108th birthday, February 21, 2011.
This issue contains letters from Anaïs Nin, Hugh Guiler, and Rupert Pole, between 1975 and the end of 1977. Never seen before, these letters shed light on two very important considerations near and just after Nin’s death: first, the degree to which Nin’s marriage with Guiler had deteriorated; second, the amazing alliance Pole and Guiler forged after Nin’s death. Guiler’s very first letter begins:
Dear Rupert: As we are going to be communicating with each other from now on I think it is well that I do what I can to make things as easy as possible for us both, and I want to start by being quite frank with you.
And then he reveals that he had been aware of the “special relationship” that Pole and Nin had “for more than ten years.” In what could have been a bitter exchange, Guiler instead reached out to Pole, and the two men developed mutual sympathy and ultimately respect. Volume 8 contains the first two letters between Pole and Guiler and subsequent correspondence as well.
Nin’s illness and subsequent death was the backdrop for this group of letters, and her illness was something she never publicly discussed or wrote about, except in her unpublished diaries, The Book of Music and The Book of Pain. Now, one of Nin’s friends during the last two or three years of her life, Barbara Kraft, has written a memoir entitled Anaïs Nin: The Last Days, from which the preface and first chapter are included as an introduction to this difficult and mostly unknown period.
Most of us are aware of the effect Nin’s father’s abandonment had on Nin’s love life, of the psychological need to re-conquer him through other men, and finally by trysting with her father himself. But there were other ramifications as well, which Kim Krizan highlights in her article, “Anaïs Style.” Nin is known to have dressed exotically, to have created her own outfits, to always have stood out from the crowd no matter her age. Where did this fascination—and even obsession—come from? Krizan insightfully makes a connection between the scars left by Nin’s father’s abandonment—and perhaps just as importantly, his exclamation of “How ugly you are” when she was ill as a little girl—and her need to dress beautifully, to “de-uglify” herself. Using quotations from the childhood diary, Krizan makes her case that Anaïs Nin’s lifelong fascination with style was actually an act of self-healing.
Tristine Rainer, a friend of Nin’s, was also close to another Nin friend, Renate Druks, the heroine of Nin’s final novel, Collages. In a sometimes humorous and sometimes distressing film treatment, Rainer uses Druks’ own commentary to tell the saga of her torrid affair with a young and tragic sports hero, Ronnie Knox, in her “The Bohemian and the Football Player.”
Also in this issue are criticisms of Nin’s writing by Nin scholars Joel Enos and Sonya Blades; a critique of the relationship between Nin and Maya Deren by Japanese scholar Satoshi Kanazawa; an analysis of Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Henry and June for his movie of the same title by Anita Jarczok; a recollection of Rupert Pole’s father, Reginald Pole, by Harry Kiakis (followed by the editor’s research on the once-famous Shakespearian actor); the introduction to The Portable Anaïs Nin by Benjamin Franklin V; photography, art, fiction, poetry, and reviews.
A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Vol. 8 will be released in a limited edition, so be sure to reserve your copy now. You may order in three ways: by credit card; with PayPal; or by snail mail. Price is, as always, $15.00.
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.
Volume 7 (2010) of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal (the only current Nin journal anywhere) has just been made available on Kindle. In this issue are some amazing articles and excerpts from Nin’s unpublished diary, not to mention an interview with Nin biographer Deirdre Bair and John Ferrone’s account of the birth of Delta of Venus. Eventually, we hope to have Vols. 1 through 6 published as e-books as well.
Our aim is to make the journal easy to obtain no matter where one is, and to make the price one that is easy on the pocketbook ($3.99). There’s nothing like the print version in one’s hands, but the quality, photographs, and extra bells and whistles, such as an interactive table of contents, are all there in the e-book. We hope you will support our efforts!
To visit the Amazon.com location for A Café in Space, Vol. 7, click here.
To see a description of the contents of Vol. 7, click here.
Our other Nin titles on Kindle are: The Portable Anais Nin, House of Incest, Collages, The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with more to follow.
The Portable Anaïs Nin, the first comprehensive Nin anthology in nearly forty years, has just been released as an e-book, available from Amazon.com for $9.99. It is the equivalent of more than 300 printed pages of the most compelling and representative writings of Anaïs Nin, arranged chronologically over a broad spectrum of genres: passages from the edited and unexpurgated diaries, works of fiction (including House of Incest, “This Hunger,” “Houseboat,” and “Stella”—all in their entirety), erotica, critical writing, and a previously uncollected—and revealing—interview.
Because Nin scholar Benjamin Franklin V has arranged the works in the order they were written (for the table of contents, click here), the entire book presents us with a sort of autobiography, beginning with young Anaïs’s views on her parents’ separation, and ending with facing death, and just about every major event in between. Topics from her diary include her early relationship with Hugh Guiler, a failed affair with John Erskine, her ménage à trois with Henry and June Miller, incest, abortion, Otto Rank, Gonzalo Moré, Robert Duncan, Gore Vidal, her family members, writing philosophy, fictional character sources, failure, editing the diaries, and fame. Franklin has chosen fiction that follows Nin’s life experiences so the reader can see how plots and characters evolved from the diary, and how portraits changed as Nin’s perspective and attitudes shifted. When read thus, The Portable Anaïs Nin becomes Nin’s life story.
Still, each portion of The Portable Anaïs Nin stands on its own, and the book can be read selectively. In this way, as Nin agent and literary collaborator Gunther Stuhlmann once envisioned, the collection is a sort of guidebook that invites a new generation of readers to sample her work and thus be able to make informed selections when diving more deeply in to Nin’s writing.
It occurred to me while reading the book several times (as a proofreader and publisher) is that there is yet another facet of the experience of reading Anaïs Nin, and that is of time. It was 20 years ago almost to the day when I first read Nin’s Henry and June, for example, and at that time it evoked a personal response from me. As I read it today, even though the words are exactly the same in every passage, it inspires something quite different, which reinforces my opinion that Nin holds up a mirror in her work in which we see ourselves—and as we change, so does the reflection.
So, no matter where one comes from in terms of reading background and experience, the bond formed between the author Anaïs Nin and the reader is unique and always evolving, sometimes in new and unforeseen dimensions. It is precisely why Benjamin Franklin V and I believe that The Portable Anaïs Nin possesses real value to readers of every sort.
Our other Nin titles on Kindle are: House of Incest, Collages, The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with more to follow.
In 1948, when Anaïs Nin first began writing her novel The Four-Chambered Heart, she described it as her “last act of love” for Gonzalo Moré, the Peruvian radical and bohemian with whom she’d been locked in a torturous, doomed relationship for more than a decade. “It is the monument that he will not be able to destroy as he destroyed our life,” she says in her unpublished diary.
In the novel, the character Djuna falls in love with Rango and becomes entangled in his chaotic life. She is introduced to Zora, Rango’s wife, a former dancer who has fallen into a morass of hypochondria and self-centered manipulation. These characters, of course, are modeled after Nin, Moré, and his wife Helba Huara.
When Nin first met Gonzalo in Paris in 1936, she astutely recognized him as a “tiger who dreams. A tiger without claws.” Helba was “the woman whose dance without arms inspired the dancer in House of Incest” (Fire243). Henry Miller, during his first visit to Nin in Louveciennes in 1931, said he’d seen Helba dance, but that “her husband is the interesting one.” Indeed, Gonzalo knew and was the intellectual equal of literary figures such as Antonin Artaud, Pablo Neruda, and César Vallejo. In 1931, Nin had “walked out of Helba’s first small recital, disgusted with her grotesque exaggerations, and Gonzalo was on the stage as accompanist and I did not see him—five years before we met.” But years later, Nin “saw the monstrous quality of the demon in Helba and was interested—not repulsed” (unpublished diary). Indeed, for a time during the 1920s and early 1930s, Helba was acclaimed as an exotic dancer embodying Incan culture who performed all over Europe and on Broadway.
By 1936, however, Helba had become a self-created invalid, using imaginary illness to manipulate Gonzalo and anyone with whom they associated, and she and Gonzalo were impoverished, living in the squalor of a dungeon-like basement room.
Nin’s love affair with Gonzalo was unlike her concurrent affair with Henry Miller—waves of sexual fury and romance, violence followed by serenity, and above all a Latin emotional connectedness, which she lacked with Miller. The words Nin records in her diary reflect the passion she and Gonzalo shared, as he whispers to her while dancing: “Anaïs, Anaïs, you are so strong, so strong and so fragile, such strength. I fear you…the most beautiful music your father ever produced was your voice…you’re all sensitiveness…the perfume of all things, how unique you are, Anaïs.” She continues: “All this in Spanish. My blood hears Spanish…through dark subterranean channels” (Fire 247).
Acting on a dream she’d once had, Nin rented a houseboat on the Seine, which she and Gonzalo used as a setting for their explosive amorous rendezvous. The houseboat became a key symbol in Nin’s fiction, appearing in some of the stories from Under a Glass Bell, as well as The Four-Chambered Heart.
Because she truly loved Gonzalo, the revolutionary too lazy take up arms, the artist without creations, the worker without a clock, the intellectual mind dimmed by drugs and alcohol, Nin fought against impossible odds to rehabilitate him. She overlooked the obvious flaws and recognized his keen intelligence, charisma, fiery passion, and humor. However, the inertia of his personality, his uncontrolable jealousy, and Helba’s constant meddling slowly began to drag Nin into their hell.
After fleeing France for New York when the war began, Nin set up her own printing press and employed Gonzalo to work with her. She even named the business after him—Gemor Press—and felt she’d finally helped him develop a craft and a sense of self-worth. However, by the mid-1940s, she was the one doing most of the work, and anything left to Gonzalo was usually left unfinished or poorly done. Not only was she disillusioned by Gonzalo, she grew to hate Helba. In late 1943, she writes in her unpublished diary: “I meditated for two days how to kill Helba to save Gonzalo, to free him—calling it to myself a mercy killing. This is insanity.“
The relationship continued to wither until Nin collapsed under the ever-growing burden. By 1947, Nin asked herself “how I turned to this sick sick sick primitive for fire, and who had this useless, raging, blind, destructive fire in the center of his being…this fire leading nowhere, a wasted, destructive fire.“
Hugh Guiler, Nin’s husband, after years of knowingly (and often unknowingly) supporting Gonzalo financially, finally cut him off, but not before setting him up with Social Services, in order to give him time to find a job, which, characteristically, he never did.
Nin says in her 1948 diary: “The Gonzalo I loved is dead. The one I knew at the end, without illusion, I did not love. People create an illusion together and then it is disintegrated by reality.“
The relationship, after many cataclysms, was finished.
Nin sought to distill hundreds of diary pages into a highly concentrated document, to tell “the story of Gonzalo without its sordid, degrading end, for Gonzalo, like June [Miller], had the power to descend to the greatest vulgarities and I cannot even transcribe the slime into which our love dissolved.” What resulted is a book that truly does stand as a shrine to Anaïs Nin’s powerful love for Gonzalo Moré, and has been described by critics as comparable to the works of D.H. Lawrence and Carson McCullers. In the following passage, for example, Nin explains how an exterior force (Rango’s jealousy of Djuna’s former lover Paul) affects the interior, a familiar Lawrencian theme:
“[Rango] was driving the image of Paul into another chamber of her heart, an isolated chamber without communicating passage into the one inhabited by Rango. A place in some obscure recess, where flows eternal love, in a realm so different from the one inhabited by Rango that they would never meet or collide, in these vast cities of the interior.”
The Four-Chambered Heartwas published by Duell, Sloane and Pearce in 1950. It was later published by Swallow Press and then incorporated into Nin’s “roman fleuve,” Cities of the Interior.
Now, Sky Blue Press has published The Four-Chambered Heart on Amazon’s Kindle as an e-book for the first time. It joins several other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, with others to follow.
In late 1947, Anaïs Nin went to Acapulco with her lover Rupert Pole, with whom she’d been involved for most of that year. Her stay there was remarkable in that it inspired her to write the novel Solar Barque, which evolved into Seduction of the Minotaur.
The central character, Lillian, who appears in several Nin novels, is a pianist who has come to Mexico to escape her drab role as wife to Larry and mother of two children. “With her first swallow of air she inhaled a drug of forgetfulness…” in the city she calls Golconda, which was “Lillian’s private name for this city which she wanted to rescue from the tourist-office posters and propaganda. Each one of us possesses in himself a separate and distinct city, a unique city, as we possess different aspects of the same person. She could not bear to love a city which thousands believed they knew intimately. Golconda was hers.” Acapulco, or Golconda, during the 1940s, although beginning to draw tourists, was not far removed from the fishing village it had historically been.
In Volume 5 of The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Nin describes (actually in retrospect) her arrival in Acapulco: “I am lying on a hammock, on the terrace of my room at the Hotel Mirador… The sun, the leaves, the shade, the warmth, are so alive that they lull the senses, calm the imagination. This is perfection… It is eternal, it overwhelms you, it is complete.”
In the novel, the hotel “was at the top of the hill, one main building and a cluster of small cottages hidden by olive trees and cactus. It faced the sea at a place where huge boiling waves were trapped by crevices in the rocks and struck at their prison with cannon reverberations.” The Hotel Mirador, overlooking the famous cliffs from which daring young men dive for the tourists, exists to this day. The hotel bar where many events occur in the novel is actually La Perla, which Nin mentions in the Diary. Once such event is her rendezvous with a Dr. Hernandez, who is the model for the character of the same name, and whom Nin befriended.
Dr. Hernandez was originally assigned the village as an intern and decided to stay on, leaving his wife and children in Mexico City since Acapulco had insufficient schools. His life is quite accurately depicted in the novel as a selfless man who devoted himself to fighting disease and immunization of the villagers, while begrudgingly caring for the tourists: “…half of their ills are imaginary. Most of the time they call me because they are frightened of foreign countries and foreign food.”
Another character in Seduction of the Minotaur is Diana, who is an earthy, passionate painter who represents the free sensuality of Golconda, and who is based on Annette Nancarrow, who was married to the composer Conlon Nancarrow, mother of two young children, and friendly with Orozco and Diego Rivera, among many other luminaries in the Mexican art world. In the Diary, Nin says her eyes “were caught by the brilliant colors of [Annette’s] dress. I watched her for several seconds… She had a mass of short, curled hair aureoled around her head, unruly, in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec women, and under this a delicately chiseled face, a small straight nose, fawn-colored eyes, and a slender neck poised on a voluptuous body. Her movements have a flow and sweep and vivacity and seductiveness. She undulates her hips, her breasts heave like the sea, she is never still.”
In Seduction, Diana “thrust her breasts forward, as if to assert that hers was a breathing, generous body, and not just a painting. But they were in curious antiphony, the quick-turning sharp-featured head with its untamed hair, and the body with its separate language, the language of the strip teaser; for, after raising her breasts upward and outward as a swimmer might before diving, she continued to undulate, and although one could not trace the passage of her hand over various places on her body, Lillian had the feeling that, like the strip teaser, she had mysteriously called attention to the roundness of her shoulder, to the indent of her waist.” Diana becomes the symbolic temptation and a sort of test for a young American man who has hitchhiked to Mexico to ponder his forthcoming marriage, which mirrors the theme of the novel: enslavement to convention versus a more natural state of being.
Nin and Annette Nancarrow became friends, and while Nin never fulfilled her dream of establishing a house in Acapulco, Annette did, living in the shadow of Hotel Mirador.
Another character is based on an American engineer named Hatcher, married to a Mexican woman and living in a remote area near San Luis, north of Acapulco. He was attempting to “go native,” which Nin (and Lillian in the novel) assumed meant living simply, from the land, without possessions, close to nature. However, attached to Hatcher’s house was a storage room, described in Seduction as “enormous, as large as the entire front of the house. As large as a supermarket. With shelves reaching to the ceiling. Organized, alphabetized, catalogued.
“Every brand of canned food, every brand of medicine, every brand of clothing, glasses, work gloves, tools, magazines, books, hunting guns, fishing equipment.
“‘Will you have cling peaches? Asparagus? Quinine?’ He was swollen with pride. ‘Magazines? Newspapers?’
“Lillian saw a pair of crutches on a hook at the side of the shelf. His eyes followed her glance, and he said without embarrassment: ‘That’s in case I should break a leg.’
“…She had imagined Hatcher free. That was what had depressed her. She had been admiring him for several weeks as a figure who had attained independence, who could live like a native, a simplified existence with few needs. He was not even free of his past…”
When Lillian flies home from Mexico, she “was bringing back new images of her husband Larry, as if while she were away, some photographer with a new chemical had made new prints of the old films in which new aspects appeared she had never noticed before. As if a softer Lillian who had absorbed some of the softness of the climate, some of the relaxed grace of the Mexicans, some of their genius for happiness had felt her senses sharpened, her vision more focused, her hearing more sensitive. As the inner turmoil quieted, she saw others more clearly. A less rebellious Lillian had become aware that when Larry was not there she had either become him or had looked for him in others.”
The parallel between Lillian’s stifling, conventional life and Nin’s marriage to Hugh Guiler, her banker husband back in New York, is obvious. While Nin could not write about her marriage in the Diary (Guiler had forbidden any mention of him), she could by way of fictional characters in Seduction of the Minotaur address these intimate issues.
When Nin pitched the original version of the novel, Solar Barque, during the mid-1950s, she was met with the usual disdain from the New York publishers, so she decided to publish it herself, using the printer Edwards Brothers in Ann Arbor, Michigan (which, I’m proud to say, produces Sky Blue Press’s A Café in Space) in 1958. Upon publication, which was commercially unsuccessful, Nin decided after she was signed by her first true American publisher, Alan Swallow, to add a coda to the book which completes the character of Lillian by examining—through flashbacks—her relationships with the other key Nin characters Jay, Sabina, and Djuna, and the novel was renamed Seduction of the Minotaur. It is possible that Nin felt the addition necessary to create a fitting conclusion to the “continuous novel” she entitled Cities of the Interior, publishing in a single volume Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, The Four-Chambered Heart, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, physically tying the roman fleuve together as a unit.
Seduction of the Minotaur is now available on Kindle. It joins Under a Glass Bell, The Winter of Artifice, A Spy in the House of Love, and Children of the Albatross as a digital book, with more titles soon to come.
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.
Sabina, 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.
Months after returning to New York from France at the beginning of World War II, Anaïs Nin discovered she was pregnant. By whom is a matter of speculation. Possibilities are her husband Hugh Guiler, or one of her lovers, Henry Miller and Gonzalo Moré. What follows are excerpts from the unpublished diary that describe her encounter with a young American woman with whom she shared the danger and humiliation of illegal abortion. Her views on abortion rights, astounding given the era, are made clear.
(Excerpted from the unpublished diary of Anaïs Nin, which is more fully reproduced in Volume 1 of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, 2003.)
Aug. 22, 1940. Saturday I discovered I was pregnant—three months! Days of anguish over the money and the complications I feared. Dr.____ put me in the hands of a good German Jew who works for rich women. He said it would have to be done in two operations, one to insert the bag which dilates the womb (this is done without ether) and then the final one done with ether. I set the date for the 21st, Wednesday. Arrived at 9:30. Was strapped like an insane person, even wrists tied, arms, waist, legs. A strange sensation of utter helplessness. Then the doctor came in. As he begun to work he found the womb dilating so easily that he continued the operation, in spite of the terrific pain. And so in 6 minutes of torture I had done what is usually done with ether! But it was over. I couldn’t believe it. And today I am home, lying down most of the time.
The only wonderful moment in all this was when I was lying on a little cot in the doctor’s office, and another woman came. The nurse pulled the curtain so that I could not see her. She was made to undress and lie down—relax. The nurse left us. Soon I heard a whisper to me: “How was it?” I reassured her—told her how I had been able to bear it without ether, so it would be nothing with ether.
She said: “How long were you pregnant?”
“I only two—but I’m scared. My husband is away. He doesn’t know. He must never know.”
I couldn’t explain to her that [he] knew, but that my lover had to be deceived and made to believe I had no relations with [my husband]. Lying there whispering about the pain—I never felt such a strong kinship with woman—woman—this one I could not see, or identify, the one who was also lying in a cot filled with primitive fear and an obscure sense of murder, of guilt, and of an unfair struggle against nature—an unequal struggle with all the man-made laws against us, endangering our lives, exposing us to inexperienced maneuvers, to being economically cheated and morally condemned—woman truly the victim now, beyond the help of her courage and aliveness. How much is to be said against the ban on abortion. What a tragedy this incident becomes for the woman. At this moment she is hunted down, really. The Doctor is ashamed, deep down, falsely so. Society condemns him. Everything goes on in an atmosphere of crime and trickery. And the poor woman who was whispering to me, afterwards, I heard her say to the Doctor: “Oh, doctor, I’m so grateful to you, so grateful!” That woman moved me so much. I wanted to know her. I wanted to pull the curtain and see her. But I realized she was all women: the humility, the thoughtfulness, the fear and the childlike moment of utter defenselessness. A pregnant woman is already a being in anguish. Obscurely each pregnancy is a conflict. The break is not simple. You are tearing off a fragment of flesh and blood. Added to this deeper conflict is the anguish, the quest for the doctor, the fight against exploitation, the atmosphere of underworld bootlegging, a racket. The abortion is made a humiliation and a crime. Why should it be? Motherhood is a vocation like any other. It should be freely chosen not imposed upon woman.