When Anaïs Nin met Lawrence Durrell in Paris in 1937, she was instantly drawn to his young, ardent mind, as was Henry Miller, who’d been corresponding with him beforehand. Durrell, a young Englishman by way of India and Greece, was an aspiring writer who was heavily influenced by Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, the scandalous novel that Nin helped get published in 1934.
Shortly after meeting and realizing their affinities, they dubbed themselves the “three musketeers,” and out of Miller’s Villa Seurat apartment, they wrote and published three titles under the moniker “Villa Seurat Series”—Nin’s The Winter of Artifice, Miller’s Max and the White Phagocytes, and Durrell’s The Black Book, all published by Obelisk Press.
War separated the musketeers, each going in his/her own direction (Nin to New York, Durrell to Greece and eventually Egypt, Miller to Greece with Durrell and then New York). Each went on to have successful writing careers, although none of them happened overnight. While all three wrote in what might be loosely considered a post-modernist style, each had a significantly different approach to writing: Miller’s works were often carried by his use of explosive language, Nin’s were increasingly introspective and psychological in nature, and Durrell’s were multi-layered texts heavy in symbolism.
Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet, consisting of four novels (the first of which, Justine, came out in 1957) about the same events occurring in wartime Alexandria, but told from different perspectives, was his tour de force. The Quartet is still the main topic of discussion among today’s Durrell scholars, three of whom contribute their vast knowledge to A Café in Space, Vol. 3 (2005), just released on Kindle:
Richard Pine, director of the Durrell School of Corfu, writes about the three musketeers in his “The End of Our Romantic Life: The psychic hinterland of Nin, Durrell, and Miller.” In a comparison of how each of their lives affected their literature, he states: “…all three recognized the inevitability not only of writing their lives, but of writing them as both fact and fiction. From this descends the concept of the dual self or of multiple selves, of the reader-as-writer and of the fictional character as a real self.” In correlation with these observations, Pine also examines the role Otto Rank, the psychologist who penned Art and Artist, had in influencing the writing of the three authors.
Nabila Marzouk, professor at Fayoum in Egypt, compares the approach to literary homosexuality in Durrell’s work and that of Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian novelist. After examining homosexuality in Durrell’s Quartet and Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley, she observes: “Durrell represents homosexuality as a positive, enriching experience,“ whereas “Mahfouz’s characters are flesh and blood who are not meant to be taken for more than they are… [Alley character] Kirsha is a mere pervert who delights in his pleasures of the flesh.” She also adds that there is no word in Arabic for “homosexual,” and the one that comes the closest means “sexual abnormality.”
James Clawson, a young American Durrell scholar, writes about the Mediterranean as it appears in Durrell’s work. He notes: “This ‘Sea in the Middle of Durrell’s World’ is more than canvas backdrop. Just as Alexandria uses its inhabitants as flora and precipitates among them various conflicts, so too does the Mediterranean provide an ‘invisible constant’ to influence the peoples around it. For this reason, Durrell’s Mediterranean has by likened to Poe’s Virginia and Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.”
Also included in Volume 3 are reviews of Durrell scholar Michael Haag’s Alexandria: City of Memory, Pine’s Lawrence Durrell: The Mindscape, and Lawrence Durrell and the Greek World, edited by Anna Lillios.
To order the Kindle edition of Vol. 3, click here.
To see the table of contents and/or order a print version of Vol. 3, click here.
To see all available digital titles by Anaïs Nin, visit our Nin e-bookstore.
To order books from the Nin house in Silver Lake (Los Angeles), visit the Anaïs Nin Trust bookstore.
A brief history of The Winter of Artifice: After years of incubation, Anaïs Nin fictionalized three major events in her life: 1) her affair with Henry Miller and the subsequent infatuation with his wife, June; 2) the reunion with her father after a twenty year absence, which resulted in a series of incestuous encounters; 3) the analysis (and affairs) she experienced with pyschoanalytical pioneers René Allendy and Otto Rank. These events resulted in the following novellas, respectively: “Djuna,” “Lilith,” and “The Voice.”
Only weeks after Anaïs Nin held a copy of her new book in her hands, two events occurred that were to redirect its future—war broke out, and the editor of Obelisk Press, Jack Kahane, died. Because of the war, Nin fled Paris for New York with a few copies of her book, and once in America, she realized that The Winter of Artifice would never survive the censors because of its explicit nature, especially that of “Djuna.” A few copies of Paris edition ended up in the hands of Nin’s friends and associates, but it was largely absent from the market in Europe and impossible to distribute in America or England.
These novellas comprised Nin’s second work of fiction, The Winter of Artifice, which was published by Obelisk Press in the summer of 1939 as part of the Villa Seurat Series—Miller’s Max and the White Phagocytes and Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book made up the other titles. The series name came from the three authors’ unofficial headquarters, Miller’s apartment on Villa Seurat in Montparnasse.
Nin set about altering the contents of The Winter of Artifice for an American audience. She completely eliminated “Djuna” and cut out or drastically altered several passages in the remaining two stories. Her gutted prototype, made from an Obelisk Press copy, still exists. When Nin could not interest any American publishers in the book, she decided to publish it herself, buying an old printing press and setting up shop with her collaborator and lover, Gonzalo Moré. In 1942, the handset Winter of Artifice was finished, under the imprint Gemore Press, containing the two novellas, one untitled (formerly “Lilith”) and “The Voice.”
The book underwent further incarnations: In 1947, the untitled novella was revised and titled “Winter of Artifice,” and, along with the revised “The Voice,” was included in the 1947 English edition of Under a Glass Bell (Editions Poetry London). In the 1948 Dutton edition of Under a Glass Bell, the two revised novellas were included, but “Winter of Artifice” was renamed “Djuna,” not to be confused with the “Djuna” of the original edition. In 1961, Swallow published Winter of Artifice, which included facsimiles of the text the now-renamed “Winter of Artifice, “The Voice,” and Stella, taken from the 1946 book Ladders to Fire, “Stella.” The current Swallow edition is much the same.
The original “Djuna” ended up being heavily revised and incorporated into Ladders to Fire, with very little remaining of its erotic spirit. Later in life, Nin claimed that “Djuna” contained “bad writing,” but there is good evidence that she wanted to avoid public scrutiny of her affair with Miller, not to mention her changed attitude towards him after their break-up in the early 1940s. Miller, after all, was instrumental in the development of the prose contained in the story—for a detailed look at this, click here. His heavy influence in her writing was something she didn’t want publicized.
Many scholars are unaware of the original edition of The Winter of Artifice and the explicit representation of the Henry-June-Anaïs triangle in “Djuna.” Benjamin Franklin V, an important Nin scholar, recognized this gap in Nin scholarship and was the momentum behind a facsimile of the Paris edition of The Winter of Artifice being released in 2007. With this edition, Nin readers can finally experience Nin’s early foray into realistic prose—a turnaround from the heavily veiled The House of Incest (1936)—which was lost by circumstances and life-forces beyond anyone’s control. And now, with the new Kindle edition, Nin’s writing has finally entered the world of digital text, with other titles to follow.
In the winter of 1958/9, Anaïs Nin wrote: “When Larry Durrell wrote to me in Paris to look up Jean Fanchette, and I did, I did not know that he was giving me a link with France. I sat waiting at the Deux Magots, and there came a young and beautiful Negro, slim, not tall, delicate features like those of the Haitians, small straight nose, soft, warm eyes and a sensuous mouth. He was a student of medicine. He published a small newspaper for medical students. He had just received a prize for his poetry. He was full of charm, with a balance between earth and poetry. He had written a critique of Durrell, and Durrell had spent much time with him in Paris” (Diary 6 190). Fanchette, a Mauritian, was in the process of creating the bilingual (French and English) literary journal Two Cities. He told Nin that he’d already garnered promises from Durrell, Henry Miller, George Sykes, Richard Aldington and others for contributions. The meeting would not only shape the future of the publication, but it also resulted in a roller-coaster friendship between Nin and Fanchette, punctuated by miscommunication and misunderstanding. Inspired by Fanchette’s praise of her work, Nin readily agreed to help Two Cities get off the ground. The inaugural issue came out only months later, April 15, 1959, and Nin was not only a contributor, but the “American Editor,” one of the dozen editors listed on the title page.
At the time, Henry Miller, according to his then wife Eve, was “dissolving,” cut off from his source of inspiration: Paris. In a letter to Nin, she wrote, “Henry needs France. This hunk of veritable Paradise [Big Sur, California] in which he’s put down taproots is insidious for him, and he refuses to recognize it… He is another person in Europe. How long can an artist feed on himself? The stimulus is there, not here” (Diary 6 178). Miller’s decision to write for Two Cities and to revisit France was vigorously encouraged by Eve, who confided that part of her insistence was based on her own growing annoyance with the “inertia” of life with him in Big Sur: “I doubt he has ever asked me once, in these entire seven years together, what my hopes and dreams might include!” (Diary 6 178) The trip and the article did come to fruition, but the marriage, like all of Miller’s marriages, was doomed. Some time after Eve and Henry Miller were divorced, Eve committed suicide. There is debate whether the years spent with Miller had contributed to this tragedy.
Nin said, “I helped the magazine. I was grateful for Fanchette’s understanding. I count him as my best friend in France. The magic link. It was strange that at the time I felt bad to be returning to the same old constellation, Miller-Durrell. It seemed like regression.
But then I realized it was not a return to Miller and Durrell, but to France and to Fanchette. The present asserted itself” (Diary 6 180).
What also enticed Nin was Fanchette’s comments about her work: “The gift of Anaïs Nin is to name and define the alchemy of body and soul, to explore the roots of obscure instincts, define them” (Diary 6 180). Statements like this were sustenance to a writer who’d been denied for decades by the publishers and critics, and she, out of a mix of desperation and gratitude, gravitated to those who fed her including Fanchette. Her feelings are described in a letter from Nin to French agent Marguerite Rebois: “Jean feels something will happen [with my work] after Two Cities appears because he is writing an article on l’Art d’Anaïs Nin. This is to me a symbolic link with France. As you know, the reason I have been so obsessed with getting published in France is that I was afraid that my failure in America would influence all of Europe, and it has. I have been made to feel that I belong there, not here, and want to return there gradually” (Diary 6 175-6).
Fanchette went a few steps further in ingratiating Nin—he not only flattered her by asking her to help with Two Cities, but also offered to present her novel Spy in the House of Love to his publisher in Paris, and, if it were accepted, would translate it into French. In return, Nin began to dispatch letters to her literary friends, encouraging them to contribute to Two Cities. In a letter to Durrell, she said: “This month I gave my energy to Two Cities, which will be good for all of us. I want to thank you for introducing me to Jean Fanchette. His friendship is a delight” (Diary 6 182).
By the time Two Cities came out, it had morphed into a partial “hommage à Lawrence Durrell,” with Miller’s article, “The Durrell of the Black Book days” leading off, followed by Alfred Perlès’s “Enter Jupiter Jr,” Frederic J. Temple’s “Contstruire un mur de pierre sèche,” Richard Aldington’s “A note on Lawrence Durrell,” and Edwin Mullins’ “On Mountolive: Durrell answers a few questions.” The rest of the issue contained articles not associated with Durrell, including Nin’s “The writer and the symbols,” and Fanchette’s “Pour une préface,” the article Nin mentioned to Rebois, which lauded House of Incest (1936) and Solar Barque (1958, later incorporated into Seduction of the Minotaur), and much of what written in between. He proclaimed Spy in the House of Love her best novel. Undoubtedly, Fanchette won Nin’s allegiance with this article, but there was already trouble brewing.
Nin’s unconditional acceptance of Fanchette’s offer to promote not only Spy but her other titles to French publishers rankled her young agent, Gunther Stuhlmann, who was trying to organize Nin’s work into a cohesive package to be presented in a consistent manner. His approach ran counter to Nin’s, who had historically (and mostly unsuccessfully) used friends and contacts to get her work out. In a letter dated April 29, 1959, Stuhlmann, who’d usually handled Nin with kid gloves, blasted her: “At this point, we can’t just give [Fanchette] carte blanche with the other books—he was only involved with Spy as I recall… I firmly believe we ought to conduct all business discussion as to terms and contracts etc. through our office and subject to your and our scrutiny so that we go not get into [a] situation which would be embarrassing to all of us” (A Café in Space Vol. 3 110).
In an undated letter some weeks later, Nin wrote to Stuhlmann complaining of Fanchette’s refusal to publish some of Nin’s friends’ articles, which caused her great embarrassment: “It is so discouraging that I offered to resign. Then he threatens me with loss of his friendship!” (A Café in Space Vol. 3 112). In spite of this, Nin continued supporting Two Cities, even asking Stuhlmann to find an American distributor, which he reluctantly agreed to do (although was not successful). In the meantime, Fanchette’s failure to so much as return the articles Nin had solicited from her friends was causing rifts between them and her, and she was losing patience. In the fall of 1959, she wrote to Fanchette, telling him she could no longer continue as American Editor of Two Cities, but that she would send along good writing when it came along. She continued, “I begged him to send me the material he did not want to use. I explained I was losing friends and creating enemies for Two Cities. No answer” (Diary 6 205).
By the fall of 1961, more than two years after Fanchette’s agreement to translate Spy in the House of Love, the result was what she termed “rough,” which frustrated Nin since she was trying to market the novel in Europe as a source for a movie script. (Despite years of trying, Spy was never made into a film). Around the same time, she reported a drunken Fanchette shouting to her in Paris: “I met you too late. You could have been my first mistress, the mistress one never forgets!” (Diary 6 293).
Two Cities continued to be published until 1964, with Nin friends such as Daisy Aldan taking turns at editorship. Two Cities ETC (Paris) released a limited edition of Letters to Jean Fanchette1958-1963 by Lawrence Durrell. Subsequent Fanchette publications included his poetry volumes Identité provisoire in 1965, Je m’appelle sommeil and La visitation de l’oiseau pluvier in 1977, as well as essays and a novel. His poetry was anthologized by Stock shortly after his death in 1992, under the title L’Ile Equinoxe, a new edition of which has recently been released by Editions Philippe Rey, Paris, with a preface by J.M.G. Le Clézio, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 2008.
While the relationship between Nin and Fanchette had ended on a sour note, she reminisced in her diary more than a decade later: “The Diary has one blessed function. When a friendship breaks, the good is erased. Only the disappointment is engraved in the memory. In the Diary, I found the friendship with Jean Fanchette intact, in its period of honeymoon” (Diary 7 312).
[Qualifying statement: One of the most consistent questions regarding diary content--especially Nin's--is whether it should be considered fact. Nin said that her truth was "pyschological" and not literal. Her comments and portraits of characters appearing in her diary are, in part, her creations, something she readily admits. Therefore, when Nin describes a personage, it must be remembered that it is her version--she rarely wrote with the idea of pleasing those populating her diary. This blog is largely based on the diary and therefore anything that is repeated therefrom must be regarded through the lens of how the diary came to be--part of Nin's intimate thought process, a tool for her survival in a world she often felt unfit for habitation.]
During the 1950s, New Yorker Daisy Aldan (1918-2001), poet and renegade publisher, gained notice for her revolutionary translation of enigmatic French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s masterpiece, “Un Coup De Des” (“A Toss of the Dice”), and was the first to open the door to serious study of Mallarmé in the English-speaking world (the translation can be found in To Purify the Words of the Tribe). She founded Tiber Press in 1953, publishing her own work and that of Village poets such as John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, James Schuyler, Storm De Hirch, Charles Olson, and Harriet Zinnes, as well as the artwork of Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchel, Larry Rivers, Robert Motherwell, and Grace Hartigan. Her Folder Magazine was for years a home to the work of then-unknown artists whose careers in many cases became stellar.
Although a recipient of many awards and Pulitzer Prize nominations, Aldan’s own career never achieved the heights of some who filled Folder Magazine’s pages. To support herself, she worked as a teacher at New York’s prestigious High School of Art and Design, where her presence became an institution; she retired in 1973 to devote herself to her writing. To this day, her former students’ blogs remember her glowingly.
In 1959, Aldan befriended Anaïs Nin, who at that time was a struggling novelist with a small but dedicated following. Aldan and Nin shared bold points of view, and both suffered the trials of self-publishing. Both women had to wage fierce battles to be heard and put into print. Nin noted in her diary, “Daisy is a magnificent poet, of the highest quality, yet she has to publish her poetry herself. Her teacher’s salary goes into that.”
Daisy Aldan and Anaïs Nin collaborated on many projects, including a 1960 reading of “Un Coup De Dés” at the Maison Française in New York, where Nin read the original French, and Aldan read her English translation. The reading was recorded and broadcast on radio. Aldan was also one of Nin’s New York friends who helped her keep her “trapeze life” (her bicoastal relationships with Rupert Pole and Hugh Guiler) from imploding. She often took calls from Rupert Pole (whom Nin told she was staying with Aldan) and explained that Anaïs “had just stepped out” and would have her return the call. She then referred to a card index upon which Nin’s schedule was written, call her with Rupert’s message, and she would then call him back, never missing a beat. According to Aldan, she was but one of many who partook in this very complicated process.
During the early 1960s, Aldan took over the editorship of poetry for the French/English literary magazine Two Cities which Anaïs Nin had co-edited. Contributors included Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and Richard Wright. In the meantime, Aldan’s poetry was gaining recognition, and it was during this time (1963) she, through Two Cities Press in Paris, published her first acclaimed volume, The Destruction of Cathedrals and Other Poems (all of which is now included in her Collected Poems of Daisy Aldan), with several more to come. There was never an end to her experimentation in style, whether it was poetic or visual. She worked until her health began to decline in the mid-1990s, still managing to publish the translations Mallarme’s major verse poems in 1998, and her Collected Poems was published less than a year after her death in 2001.
The late Stanley Kunitz, when he was Poet Laureate of the United States, said of Aldan: “The world that engages her imagination lies beyond the ‘merely temporal and physical.’ Like Mallarmé, to whom she has devoted much of her primary and influential work as a translator, her poems evoke an interior landscape of dream and reverie, from which she ‘wakes to the miraculous.’”
In the summer of 2008, the Lawrence Durrell Society held its biannual conference at Université Paris X at Nanterre, France, at which I was scheduled to speak about the lost book of the Villa Seurat Series—Anaïs Nin’s The Winter of Artifice. We stayed in Vincennes, outside of Paris…you couldn’t visually tell it wasn’t Paris, except it was outside the périphérique, the freeway that encircles the city. But once you walked the streets and went into the first fruit stand or café, you realized you were in a place with a definite and unique identity. First, no one speaks English. Second, people don’t treat you as an inconvenience because they are not overrun by tourists—instead you are welcomed with a warmth that arises from curiosity. The first person I talked to was a drunk. I was buying ingredients for lunch (wine, cheese and fruit, basically) and he asked if he could cut in front of me with his two bottles of cheap liquor. When I let him go ahead, he thanked me profusely, and then struck up a hilarious conversation, including the clerk, whom he knew well for obvious reasons, in his banter. When I get into this sort of conversation, I feel warmth throughout my entire body. I get loose, relaxed, and the blood flows. I get emotional (not weepy, but exalted). On the way back to the apartment we’d rented, there was a man leaning on the rail from his first floor room smoking a cigarette. He hung out so far there was barely room to walk around him, in his white singlet, a long black page boy haircut, huge dark eyes and a well-worn face. I saw him there every day, and he would talk to the woman with a baby carriage, want to see the baby, talk to the postman, talk to anyone he recognized. The street was his café; he was a fixture that added character to the entire neighborhood.
I became cozy with the fruit stand people, the Turkish guy who served up the best lamb I’ve ever gotten on the street (that’s not fair, because how often do you get your lamb on the street?)…the proprietor at the bistro, etc., etc. We got familiar with the haunts there, and our apartment windows overlooked the streets, which were in the shadow of the ancient Chateau of Vincennes, where Marquis de Sade was held prisoner for a while.
Thus, going to Paris, as great as the city is, almost was a letdown. Suddenly you are surrounded by the tourists and all those who prey upon them. Accosted so many times by opportunists who want something from you, trying to trick you, make a fool of you if you let them. How many times can a woman pick up a gold-colored ring from the street, vainly try to fit it on her finger, then give it to you for good luck, and demand money from you if you’re gullible enough to take it, before you decide to cuss them all out? One woman I met in Louveciennes told me that she took such a ring, put it in her handbag and ran away, laughing. I suppose that is a better response. But I do love going to the bookstores and trying to sell my books, as well as finding a few rare treasures on the way, such as Christopher Isherwood’s diary or a worn Henry Miller novel.
The last bookstore we visited was Shakespeare & Company. I’d given up years ago trying to sell them anything—it’s the sort of place where you feel honored if they sell a book you’ve given them. So, with this in mind, I asked to see George Whitman, who was 94 years old at the time and has owned the place for decades. He used to be omnipresent in the store (see the video, which runs about an hour), but he doesn’t see many people now. He no longer runs things—his daughter has taken over the daily operations. A very suspicious woman at the cash register told me his health is bad, that he sleeps most of the day, only comes down (he lives upstairs) on occasion, and, like a relic, sits in a special chair and reads while people come to pay their respects. But I told her I had a gift for George. She reluctantly referred me to George’s daughter, who agreed, after scrutinizing me carefully, that I would be allowed upstairs to his living quarters to visit. I was accompanied by a young woman who was my “chaperone”—in other words, to make sure I wasn’t some sort of opportunist or maniac. I was led to a room I’d seen many times previously, but I barely recognized it. It once was crammed with bookshelves and stacks of books so tall they looked as though they were defying the laws of physics. Now, it was cleaned out. There was a table and a bed. Beyond the door was George’s room.
When the door opened, dozens of strange insects came flying out, hovering like tiny silent helicopters. George came out in his pajamas, unshaven, disheveled, but, in a way only he can master, hauntingly handsome, proud, with an air of noble defiance. He recognized me from my previous visits. We sat down at the table, and the chaperone, satisfied nothing terrible was about to occur, left us alone. George told me that ever since he ceased running things he has lost his sense of purpose. “I felt alive when I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the floors,” he told me, “but now all I want to do is to sleep. I never should have given up the store.” He still has a spring to his walk, his voice is still strong, and he was impressed with the book (The Winter of Artifice) I gave him. He told me he was going to put it into the reading room, where patrons can sit all day and read for nothing. This, to me, was even better than selling it. He asked me if I was a writer. I said yes, I’ve written things. He patted the bed and said if I ever need a place to stay, I could stay there for as long as I like, gratis. He told me people have written entire novels in his store. I’ve had this offer each time I’ve visited, and I regret not having taken him up on it—but a friend of mine told me that there were insects in the bed and in the breakfast, and if I didn’t mind that sort of thing, perhaps I’d enjoy the stay. He also added that Shakespeare and Company is perhaps the one place left in which you can experience the Paris Henry Miller describes in Tropic of Cancer, a place where, “In America…you wouldn’t dream of living in a joint like this. Even when I was on the bum I slept in better rooms than this. But here it seems natural—it’s like the books you read” (Tropic of Cancer 117).
To read more on Nin’s and Miller’s Paris, get Britt Arenander’s Anais Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939, which contains vintage photos, maps, and historical context of the many places they inhabited and frequented.
To see a sample or to purchase Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.
To view a sample interactive map drawn from the book, click here.
Visit our Anaïs Nin e-bookstore here.
anais nin, henry miller, george whitman, shakespeare & company, paris, vincennes, marquis de sade, christopher isherwood, tropic of cancer, the winter of artifice, lawrence durrell
Two years after my last visit to Louveciennes in 1994, the Anaïs Nin house was finally sold to someone who not only restored the main building, where he lived, but also developed the grounds to include a few maisons particulaires, which were to serve as apartments. My friend Jacques, who kept tabs on developments there for me during my absence, told me the house had been repainted in a burnt orange color, which he termed affreux (hideous), but that it was finally, after decades of neglect, habitable once again. This was wonderful news, for I had spent an inordinate amount of time fearing the place would eventually be demolished. I was told, however, that the new owner had no interest in Anaïs Nin and did not particularly care that she once lived there—therefore, he had no inclination to entertain Nin fans who occasionally stopped by to take pictures or to sit at the gate with her Diaries in hand. During the several years away from Louveciennes, although I was still heavily involved with Nin’s work, I had lost hope of ever seeing the house from the inside.
But in 2002, Jacques wrote me an exuberant e-mail, telling me that it had been sold once again, this time to an academy award nominated French actor, Jean-Hugues Anglade. Jacques, through the Director of Culture in Louveciennes, managed to secure a rendezvous at the Nin house on February 21, 2003, Anaïs’s 100th birthday. Not only would we finally gain entry to the house, but on Anaïs Nin’s centennial. This was too good to be true, I thought, but did not hesitate to book a flight to Paris. I kept waiting for something awful to happen, such as an airline or rail strike, but nothing did.
While in Paris, a woman who’d once romanced Lawrence Durrell, Claudine, took me on a wonderful tour of Durrell’s and Miller’s Montparnasse, walking the same routes they took, stopping at the same haunts, and the result was an article in the premier A Café In Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal (2003). I invited her to attend the rendezvous in Louveciennes, thinking it would have special meaning for her, since Nin, Miller, and Durrell were linked by their budding artistry in the Paris of the 1930s. I found out that a famous actress from the Comédie-Française would be in attendance, as well the Director of Culture, and other actors and actresses from the theater. Of course, Claudine couldn’t resist the idea of visiting the house of one of Durrell’s friends and collaborators.
On the train to Louveciennes, we reacquainted ourselves with Anaïs’s descriptions of her house:
My house is two hundred years old. It has walls a yard thick, a big garden, a very large green iron gate for cars, flanked by a smaller gate for people. The big garden is in the back of the house... (Diary 1 3)
We had lunch at Jacques’ house, devouring a meal that was traditionnelement français, washed down with wine, topped off with cheeses of every sort. Jacques then pointed to his watch: it was time to leave, first to the Director of Culture’s house, where we would meet the other guests before going on to the Nin house. After a light-hearted gathering, we set out for the ultimate: the laboratory of the soul, some seventy years after its most famous resident had lived there.
We parked on the narrow rue de Monbuisson, and Jean-Hugues Anglade met us at the pedestrian gate of the Nin house. Handsome, soft-spoken, and dressed casually, he shook everyone’s hand, and we entered into the courtyard where we all stood in awe. The grounds were well-kept, and the flowers were already beginning to bud. It was a fine day: sunny, warm, still. Jean showed us the outbuilding which once served as a garage for Hugh Guiler’s car—he been reading the Diary to discover the significance of each feature of the house and garden from Nin’s point of view. He expressed a desire to find the now-buried fountain and pool and to restore them. He’d located the same garden furniture Nin had used and displayed it prominently in the front of the house. There was a massive tree in the garden that looked as though it had been severely pruned at some point—Jean-Hugues told us that during World War II, much of it had been cut up for firewood.
All this was proving to be too much—the front door was ajar, beckoning us, and my mind was racing. Was this actually happening? “Entrez,” Jean-Hugues said musically… “Entrez, entrez…”
I could not feel my feet touch the floor in the foyer. I looked to the left, ahead, and to the right. Everything looked clean and fresh, hardly like the photos Noel Riley Fitch had taken 13 years earlier. The room to the left of the entrance, which once contained the pool table Henry Miller referred to in his entry in Nin’s diary (Incest 80-85), now housed a mini-stage with rock band equipment. The chandelier was gone, and the fireplace was restored, but not as it was when Nin lived there. The old mosaic tile had been replaced. I kept thinking about how silent it must have been in this room during the years when the house was empty—and now it would be filled with music. Alive, I felt. The house was alive again. Someone lived here again, created here again. Voices, music, the sounds of life filled the void again.
I chose the house for many reasons. Because it seemed to have sprouted out of the earth like a tree, so deeply grooved it was within the old garden. It had no cellar and the rooms rested right on the ground. Below the rug, I felt, was the earth. I could take root here… (Diary 1 4)
Jean-Hugues opened what appeared to be a closet door near the front entrance. Inside was a cool, dank room lined with solid stone, gravel on the floor—the earth. “In here,” he said, “you can see all the way back to the revolution.” Here were the guts of the house, a place no one, not even time, had touched since the beginning. The air smelled of antiquity. To the right of the entrance was a parlor, and behind it was a large kitchen. The kitchen was modern, clean, airy, well-lit. A door led out to the garden. The parlor was large with one window through which the afternoon sun poured, creating a silhouette of every person in the room. Suddenly they all became timeless…they could have been anyone, from any time. It could have been Anaïs leaning on the doorway and not the actress…they could’ve been Miller, Hugo, Anaïs’s father, June…
Once we were all seated and enjoying fruit punch and sweets, Jacques began to tell his stories about the history of Louveciennes, acquainting its newest resident with information he could have gotten nowhere else. We raised a toast to Anaïs and fell silent for a few moments. I noticed the actress had a copy of Incest with her, with a place marked in the book, as if she were going to read aloud some passages…but she didn’t. I wasn’t sure why not. We took the grand tour of the house. I had been dying to get upstairs. The narrow, winding staircase was not made for someone of my height—I’m certain Hugo must have had to duck just as I did to avoid crushing his skull on the ceiling. I then recalled reading on the train the passage from Diary 1:
There are eleven windows showing between the wooden trellis covered with ivy. One shutter in the middle was put there for symmetry only, but I often dream about this mysterious room which does not exist behind the closed shutter. (4)
In House of Incest, Nin evokes the imagery of one of her dreams:
In the house of incest there was a room which could not be found, a room without a window, the fortress of their love, a room without window where the mind and blood coalesced in a union without orgasm and rootless like those of fishes. (52)
I sought this “room,” the place behind the shutter. Today, all the windows are open, but I came upon a narrow space in which the ceiling slanted severely, the ancient wooden beams making it impossible to pass by. On the wall was a window. Had I found the “room which could not be found”? It seemed to be in the right place, in the middle of the house.
We passed from room to room, as in a dream. The dimension of time seemed to be missing. All the modern trappings—a computer, a child’s toys, modern furniture—seemed to drop away, leaving only the essence of a dreamscape.
Nin said in her Diary:
Every room is painted a different color. As if there were one room for every separate mood: lacquer red for vehemence, pale turquoise for reveries, peach color for gentleness, green for repose, grey for work at the typewriter. (5)
We found reverie: a portion of the paint on one wall had been peeled back, layer by layer, and beneath was turquoise. In the bathroom was an antique bathtub, the porcelain worn off around the edges from the hands of all those who’d lifted themselves in and out. From one of the upstairs windows, we looked out at the massive green gate, which Nin had described as a prison gate, keeping her locked in and away from the artistic and bohemian Paris she was just beginning to discover.
The shadows in the room began to lengthen and the day was growing old. The conversations in the parlor were scattering. It was time to leave. This dream of mine, to enter this house, had finally been realized. I still believe that I was incapable of understanding fully the significance of the moment, to feel it fully. My gratitude to Jacques is eternal.
Claudine, knowing French architecture well, felt the house was not built for aristocracy, citing the bare beams on the ceilings and inexpensive building materials. She noted that the many small rooms and their layout suggested that the house was perhaps built as lodging for workmen on a plantation or a vineyard (and history tells us that wine was once produced in the region). There is no documentation of the house from before 1803, which would make it seventy years newer than what Nin was led to believe. The house’s origins are still mysterious.
A in-depth article on the 2003 Louveciennes visit (as well as Neuilly) with more photos can be found in A Café In Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal Vol. 1.
Epilogue: Only a year or two after our visit, Jean-Hugues Anglade sold the house for reasons unknown to me. At the time of this posting, it is once again on the market for 1.65 million Euros.
To read more about Louveciennes, get Britt Arenander’s Anais Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939, which has descriptions and an interactive map that includes the house on rue de Montbuisson.
To see a sample or to purchase Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.
To view a sample interactive map drawn from the book, click here.