Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary and Index to Diary Excerpts by Benjamin Franklin V has been reviewed by someone who happens to know a bit about Nin bibliography—Valerie Harms, whose Magic Circle Press published Waste of Timelessness and Other Early Stories, culled from Nin’s early fiction. In Harms’ review, she concludes: “This book belongs in the personal library of all those who love Nin’s work and to university and public libraries around the world.” You can read the entire review by clicking here.
If there is any consensus about reading Anaïs Nin, it is that one sees aspects of one’s self in the work—whether it be fiction or the diary. Nin’s work is a mirror of sorts, and sometimes a distorted one. This is what makes Nin’s writing “personal,” and therefore “universal,” and is also a reason why there are so many disagreements about its meaning. A reader with a feminist point of view will see the feminism, and another will see something else entirely, and we haven’t even gotten into gender differences.
And about the erotica: one reason it has seen so little serious academic criticism is that it is generally believed that she knocked these stories off in her spare time with little thought or care at a buck a page for a collector, and then, near the end of her life, “sold out” by having them published. In his article “Claiming Ownership: Issues in Nin criticism—the diary vs. the fiction” (from A Café in Space, Vol. 6), Bruce Watson notes that “In his review of Nin criticism, Anaïs Nin and Her Critics, [Philip K.] Jason gives the Erotica a scant page of attention, prefaced by the dunning statement that: ‘Delta of Venus (1977) and Little Birds (1979) add little to Nin’s stature, even though they sold amazingly well…’ Jason’s tart commentary on Nin’s Erotica seems the stock critique of the seasoned academic when faced with popular literature; he seems to distrust it for the very fact that it is popular.”
However, today there is a growing trend to look critically at the erotica and to write about it. In fact, there are three articles that address Nin’s erotica in the current A Café in Space.
In her article “A ‘Clanging Cymbal—The Story of Anaїs Nin’s Reception,” Sarah Burghauser points out that “We […] know, and understand why some folks have a problem with [Nin]: but they oftentimes can’t see beyond their own ideas of what a woman writer should be and what sort of work she should produce.” Burghauser illustrates this idea with critic Edmund Miller’s take on Nin’s erotica: “[Miller argues] that Nin’s erotica does not work well as either fiction or erotica, saying, ‘Their [the stories] tendency to thwart arousal is partly a consequence of the loose plotting, but may have derived in part as well from a feminine misunderstanding of what works to arouse men.’ In this passage, Miller is complaining not only on the book collector’s behalf (as per his protest to poetry) but also on his own.”
One could claim that Edmund Miller is misinterpreting the erotica, but it could be that he is merely viewing it through his own prism—this is one of the reasons that criticizing Nin’s erotica specifically, and Nin’s work generally, has rarely been a unifying endeavor. If there are a dozen Nin readers, there will be nearly a dozen interpretations. The good news is that the erotica is finally getting the attention it deserves: as valued fiction, as groundbreaking women’s writing, and as a form of feminism, all valid considerations, and all debatable.
Benjamin Franklin V, arguably the world’s foremost Nin scholar, has been in the business of sorting out the facts of Anaïs Nin’s bibliography for decades. Not only did he co-establish the first true Nin periodical (Under the Sign of Pisces), he has compiled Nin’s works thoroughly and edited a book of Nin’s contemporaries’ memories of Nin (Recollections of Anaïs Nin by her Contemporaries). He also spearheaded and introduced the recently published uncut Obelisk Press version of The Winter of Artifice. Now, Franklin has given all Nin readers and scholars an invaluable gift: a complete list of descriptions and bibliographic sources for each and every character Nin use in her published fiction, more than 800 of them, from Abelard to Zora, with Djuna, Jay, Lillian, and Sabina in between. Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary and Index to Diary Excerpts also includes an index of every person, place, or title mentioned in every diary excerpt to appear outside the published diaries before they were printed, and this includes diaries that remain unpublished to this day.
This book will be released the same day as Volume 6 of A Café in Space, Anaïs Nin’s 106th birthday, Feb. 21, 2009.
There has not been a conference dedicated to Anais Nin since the centennial conference in Santa Barbara in 2003. Sometimes Nin is included within the context of other conferences, such as the bi-annual Durrell conference, but rarely has there been a gathering unique to Nin herself. Before 2003, the last Nin major gathering was in 1994 at Long Island University, which was well attended by Nin scholars, family members, and friends from around the world. Last year’s Anais at 105 (organized and hosted by Steven Reigns) evening at UCLA is proof that interest is still there–the 300 seat auditorium was overflowing and dozens had to be turned away.
I, and others such as Ruth Charnock (see our guestbook), would like to gather opinions and feedback from potential speakers and organizers. Obviously, there needs to be a venue (such as a university), and there needs to be an infrastructure through which this could be accomplished. Perhaps this blog could be such a platform for organization–I am open to any and all suggestions. Please feel free to leave comments or to e-mail me at mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org.