“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”- Anais Nin
I discovered Anais Nin in my second year of college . Since then, I’ve read all of her published work. She often described herself as a surrealist and that is certainly the best way to describe her novels. Being unconventional in approach and often plotless, they tend to have a limited audience of readers. Nin’s novels delve deeply into the subconscious (her favorite topic) in especially perceptive and sensitive ways. She was also a pioneer in bringing the woman’s perspective and point of view to literature at a time when that was rare and discouraged.
Nin was heavily influenced by psychoanalysis and even practiced for some time early in her life. She was also greatly influenced by D.H. Lawrence and it was her study of Lawrence that became her first published book. She was a bohemian and had an unconventional lifestyle, including living on a houseboat and traveling extensively. She had a deep lifelong friendship with Henry Miller. Other close friends in her circle later in life included Edmund Wilson and Gore Vidal.
Born to artistic parents in France in February of 1903, Nin lived throughout Europe until the age of eleven when her father abandoned them. At that point, her mother moved Anais and her brothers to New York. She returned to Paris in 1924 but fled back to the U.S. just before the outbreak of WWII.
Beyond her novels, Nin is most famous for her diaries. The diary written just before and during WWII is especially gripping. Diaries remind us how people existed “in the moment” and how frightening the War was each day. Nin noted that as a dedicated diarist, she learned to never trust memory because her memory of an event often contradicted her fresh, “in the moment” writing in the diary.
For those who enjoy reading journals or are looking for an unconventional read that probes the subliminal with a surrealist, avante garde style, I recommend these:
Diary of Anais Nin, Volume 1 through 7. (B NIN) The diaries are best enjoyed read serially but this is not essential, so pick a time period of greatest curiosity and dive in. The years span from 1931 to 1974.
Under a Glass Bell and Other Stories. (FIC NIN)Given a favorable review by Edmund Wilson, this is one of the few Nin novels that received wider readership. It is a metaphysical journey set in 1920’s and 1930’s France.
A Spy in the House of Love (FIC NIN) is about an adulterous woman named Sabrina who works with a therapist to try to understand her ways. Many readers will find this the novel more conventional in its prose and style.
For those who are intruiged by Nin but can’t connect with her avante garde novelist ways, I recommend considering these:
In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays (814.5 NIN) and A Woman Speaks: The lectures, Seminars and Interviews of Anais Nin (809 NIN). In both books, Nin gives her unique understanding of people, places, and the arts. These essays and lectures remain timeless and remind me that we still have much to learn from Nin.
“Don’t let one cloud obliterate the whole sky” ~Anais Nin
Ann Marie is the Library Director of OWL.