New Edition of Anais Nin’s Ladders to Fire on Kindle

Ladders to Fire, Anaïs Nin’s first full-length novel, was originally published by Dutton in 1946 with a prologue by the author. Since then, it has been in and out of print, and was finally collected in the series of novels, or, as Nin put it, the “roman fleuve,” Cities of the Interior, self-published in 1959. Alan Swallow republished the novel in the 1960s, and Cities of the Interior was republished by Swallow Press in 1974.

LaddersToFireLost in the many incarnations of the book were Nin’s prologue and any sense of connection with the other novels in the series (Children of the Albatross, The Four-Chambered Heart, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur). What this new authoritative edition offers is a publishing history, descriptions of the main characters (all of whom appear in the other novels in the series), a chronology of Nin’s life and work, and the original prologue by Nin.

As the other novels in the series are recast in the “authoritative edition series,” it is our hope that the collection will finally achieve the “flow” from one novel to the next that Nin originally intended.

To preview and/or order Ladders to Fire, click here.

For more on this title, click here.

 

Anais Nin Reads: Lillian, Djuna, and Sabina

Promotional photo for This Hunger

Promotional photo for This Hunger

Beginning with the novel This Hunger, which was later incorporated into Ladders to Fire, Anaïs Nin expressed herself through three key female characters: Lillian, Djuna, and Sabina.

These female characters (as well as certain male characters, such as Jay) appear throughout the five novels in the Cities of the Interior collection: Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, The Four-Chambered Heart, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur. While all three female characters appear in Nin’s earlier fiction (see Benjamin Franklin V’s Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary), they were redefined and reintroduced in Ladders to Fire. As Nin sought acceptance in New York’s harsh literary climate in the 1940s, she ran into criticism about the lack of realism and plot in her stories, and her characters were declared “nebulous.” Nin’s response to this broad misunderstanding of her work was expressed in two works about her theories on writing fiction: Realism and Reality (1946) and On Writing (1947), both of which were, in part, incorporated into The Novel of the Future (1968).

In this reading, held in Washington, D.C. (the date is uncertain, but it is most likely pre-1966), Nin reads passages from Ladders to Fire and A Spy in the House of Love that serve as introductions to her female characters. Nin also mentions that each of them appear in the “party section” of Ladders to Fire.

Note how Nin never skips a beat (except for a giggle) when someone apparently trips over some furniture while she is reading.

To listen to the nine minute sound clip, click here. (Recording courtesy of The Anais Nin Trust)

For information on each of the novels from Cities of the Interior, see the links below:

For a complete list of digital Nin titles, visit our e-bookstore.

 

 

 

 

 

Anais Nin Myth of the Day #16

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:

In her published Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4, Nin describes a party shortly after the release of her Ladders to Fire, when one of the partygoers noticed smoke pouring into the room. Nin says:

“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.

Anais Nin’s Response to a Critic

When Dutton published Anaïs Nin’s first full-length novel, Ladders to Fire, in 1946 (which then contained a section entitled “Stella”), the critics railed against Nin’s use of language in general and her distillation of characters in particular. Nin had revolted against America’s tradition of detailed and realistic descriptions in favor of symbolism, striving to describe the events occurring beneath the surface. 1940s America was not, perhaps, ready for her work, which scholars agree today was far ahead of its time, and thus began the war between Nin and her critics.

One critic in particular raised Nin’s hackles: The New York Times’ Herbert Lyons, whose review was entitled “Surrealistic Soap Opera.” In it, Lyons not only stated that Nin’s male characters were “pale, weak young men,” but also said,

Insomuch as the “avant garde” may not listen to the radio, it is perhaps worth noting that numerous daytime serials are almost exclusively devoted to less fancy variations on this same theme of woman’s struggle to understand her own nature… As in much of modern music, there is little originality. The novel contains traces of Djuna Barnes, Henry Miller, and Edmund Wilson and a large deposit of French surrealism. These days many things get by under the banner of complexity and super-sensitivity; artiness and obscurantism, as always, are sometimes disguises for second-rate talents. But Miss Nin’s novel has a certain interest as a pastiche of contemporary preciousness.The New York Times, October 20, 1946

Nin’s response in a letter dated shortly thereafter:

Dear Mr. Lyons: When it comes to modern literature you show yourself to be almost totally illiterate. You cannot decipher the simplest facts and resort to distortions.

You see a book full of pale, weak young men when there is only one of them and he plays a minor role. The rest of the men are more than full length, ruddy, lusty characters.

Number One: Bruno. An able bodied and most satisfactory lover whose only handicap in Stella’s eyes lies in his loyalty to his wife and children which is clearly described in the book as being only a problem to Stella’s lack of confidence.

Philip: also a healthy, humorous, confident character, guilty of merely liking too many women.

Stella’s father. Equally powerful and dominant.

Lillian has a perfectly adequate husband.

Jay is big, healthy, joyous. “He sat like a workman before his drinks, he talked like a cart driver to the whores at the bar; they were all at ease with him.”

Djuna, you say, also has trouble with various men, but Djuna has no relationship to any man in the book.

No pale weak men appear at the party. Nowhere in the book can you find that Sabina represents modern woman.

The men in the book are in fact powerful and self confident. You must be one of the pale weak young men of our times to identify so exaggeratedly with one of the minor characters.

Sincerely yours,

Anaïs Nin

Gore Vidal, 1940s

Gore Vidal, 1940s

Not only did Nin berate Lyons, but Gore Vidal (who was an editor for Dutton at the time, and, since he promoted Nin to his superiors, may have had self-interest in mind) lambasted him with his own diatribe:

Dear Sir:

I have just finished reading Herbert Lyons’ review of Anais Nin’s new novel LADDERS TO FIRE. I consider his attack on her work absurd, irresponsible, and an excellent example of sloppy reviewing. Since Anais Nin is a literary figure of considerable stature, I wish to come to her defense and to examine the Lyons review.

After making his case, he sums up with:

It is certainly healthy to disagree on the merits of a writer. Mr. Lyons might very well be on the right side, but he has not, certainly, proven his case. He has written an emotional and inaccurate review, bristling with antagonism and not much else. It is sad for authors to read reviews like his; one has the feeling that books can be reviewed by anyone, that reputations can stand or fall on the opinion of some near-illiterate with an axe in need of grinding.

Gore Vidal

Of course, Nin’s and Vidal’s responses fell upon deaf ears, and for most of her life, until the Diaries were published in 1966 when she was 63 years of age, she would endure the harshness of the New York literary establishment.

***

Anaïs Nin’s Under a Glass Bell is now being offered in mulitple formats on Smashwords. Other Nin titles on Kindle are: 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. 

Anais Nin’s Ladders to Fire on Kindle

ladders-cover1

Ladders to Fire (Dutton)

Anaïs Nin’s first full-length novel, Ladders to Fire, has undergone many incarnations and has a history that includes several key Nin titles. When the original version of The Winter of Artifice (Paris, Obelisk Press, 1939) was gutted for reasons of censorship in America, the lost story “Djuna” was reconstituted in Ladders to Fire, parts of it reappearing in radically different form throughout the text. The rewrite of “Djuna” illustrates not only the change in Nin’s writing style, but also in her attitude towards the inspiration of its central male character (Hans in Winter and Jay in )—Henry Miller. When Nin wrote The Winter of Artifice, which Miller helped her edit, she was still his lover and in need of his guidance in both personal and professional matters. By the time she rewrote “Djuna,” in the early to mid-1940s, her affair with Miller had ended with bitterness and disappointment. She felt he was weak and had lost his lust for life and writing, and this attitude is reflected in the sharp contrast of “Djuna” and its rewritten counterpart in Ladders to Fire. It makes for a fascinating comparison when one is read in conjunction with the other.

Ladders to Fire was first published by Nin’s Gemor Press in 1945 as This Hunger, which today comprises the first half of the novel. Nin’s famous character collage was taken to promote This Hunger (this is mentioned in “L’homme Fatal,” which is an excerpt from Nin’s unpublished diary found in A Café in Space, Vol. 7, 2010. When Nin signed a contract with E.P. Dutton, she expanded the book by adding the story “Stella” and the last half of the present-day version entitled “Bread and the Wafer.” “Stella,” which some critics consider a sequel to the story “Winter of Artifice” (from the book of the same name) and not compatible with the rest of Ladders to Fire, was cut from later editions and can be found in the current Swallow Press version of Winter of Artifice.
Promo shot for This Hunger

Promo shot for This Hunger

So, today’s version of Ladders to Fire consists of two parts: “This Hunger,” and “Bread and the Wafer.” “This Hunger” introduces us to one of Nin’s key characters throughout the five novels of the Cities of the Interior series, Lillian, a concert pianist, who, after going through several broken relationships, is married with two children, a family that she largely ignores in favor of self-realization. When she realizes the disconnect between her and her husband, she meets another famous Nin character, Djuna, who, as an orphan, was starved for love and affections but has developed a strong and compassionate personality. Djuna recognizes the “orphan” in Lillian and takes a strong interest in her well-being. Both women are involved with Jay, a bohemian painter. It would not be rash to say that the two female characters represent aspects of Nin that reacted to Henry Miller in very different ways.

In the second portion of the novel, “Bread and the Wafer,” Nin further explores the Jay character and introduces Sabina, who one could view as either based on June Miller or the part of Nin that had affinity with her. Sabina here is the counterpart of Johanna from “Djuna” in the original The Winter of Artifice, and the storyline is altered in one very significant way: in “Djuna,” when Johanna and Djuna (Sabina and Lillian respectively in Ladders) contemplate consummating their intense feelings for each other sexually, it is Johanna who rebels and rejects Djuna after accusing her of loving Hans; in Ladders, it is Lillian who subjects Sabina to the same treatment. This marks a very shift in approach and severely changes the balance between the characters. It also could mean that Nin had changed her feelings towards June Miller a decade after their famous blow-up (recorded in Henry and June).

“Bread and the Wafer” finishes famously with Nin’s surrealistic treatment of “The Party,” based on real events and people, many of whom are represented by the characters of Ladders to Fire.

Critics in the 1940s were largely split over the book, Edmund Wilson considering it a big step forward in Nin’s writing, and others branding her as not fit for mass consumption. Today, when seen as part of the mosaic that makes up Cities of the Interior, Ladders to Fire takes its place alongside Nin’s best prose.

The new Kindle version of Ladders to Fire correctly retains the present day version of the novel and is available from Amazon.com. It joins other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur.