I realize the irony of following a post about submissive wifehood with one about Anais Nin, but Anais has had an equal – if not greater – impact on me.
Nearly a decade ago, my poetic downstairs neighbor introduced me to Anais Nin by drawing parallels between our styles of writing (Perhaps he was hoping for other parallels, who knows?). He ranted and waggled his eyebrows and waved his wine glass enthusiastically enough that I picked up a copy of Henry and June. I was shocked, horrified, and relieved.
She was dissatisfied with her marriage, and I immediately realized that her feelings about Hugh did echo mine about my my then-husband’s, a Baptist preacher I’d met in Fundy U. He was safe, boring, and most of all oblivious. When I read further into her work, though, I was appalled. While I turned pages she went through lover after lover after lover, squeezing four into a week, sleeping with both Henry Miller and his wife, June (who denied the whole thing). I couldn’t understand the depravity, the feeling of loving more than one person at a time, the raging hormones involved with a libido that active. My neighbor asked if I thought someone could be in love with more than one person at a time. No, I said flatly.
When I was in high school, I had a sex-ed course that consisted of learning the moral virtues of abstinence until marriage. The end.
The more I read of Anais Nin’s journals, the less I understood but I knew that my relationship at the time felt as unfulfilling as her marriage seemed to be. If I was that unhappy, I decided, I should hold out for a Henry of my own (although I was even more repulsed by Tropic of Cancer than by Henry and June). I promptly dropped my Hugh. Her writings gave me the courage to take the leap out of my hopelessly incompatible marriage to a good man and explore my sexuality. What I failed to realize was that Anais never dropped her Hugo; she kept him around like a shadow. Mere months after my ex moved out, I was in a serious relationship with the man I married and had a child with (in no particular order), and the books saw me through that divorce and some dating afterwards.
This compulsion to understand her, to see if she found happiness ran the course of the Expurgated Diary volume one, The Little Birds, A Spy in the House of Love, two volumes of the Early Diaries, Incest, and The Novel of the Future.
What I’ve learned is that Henrys are never far away, but true to character they are undependable and selfish. I learned that it is possible to be in love with more than one person at a time, but it shreds you to fragments (and generally doesn’t go over well with them, either). Instead of being illuminated by my reading, my path has grown dimmer, twistier, wider. Now I know that there are worse sins than being boring, that love is often oblivious, and that a woman’s emotions can change her life if she lets them – and not necessarily in the way romance novels incite us to believe. Most of all, now I know that hedonism doesn’t work for me. I’ve come out of the Anais Nin experiment feeling a bit like someone that’s gorged herself on fruit from the forbidden tree.
I still have a bookmark in my copy of Fire, but I’ve been dragging it out for the last couple of years. After watching Anais’ gradual descent into megalomania, I finally put the writings down and skipped to the last chapter in a biography. It seems she died of uterine cancer while maintaining a bigamous bi-coastal marriage and Henry Miller went blind (gee, I wonder…) and spent the last year of his life in delirium. They weren’t together. (I think he died alone, but I’m not sure about that.) It sounds like a sermon illustration. But at the end of her life she said she was finally happy. I’m not trying to moralize, but I’m not sure if she was. If she was, I don’t understand how she got there. I guess what I mean to say is that my quest to understand her is finally over. I don’t need to search for answers in her any longer: I finally understand myself.
“The entire sky a warm blanket of eyes and mouths shining down on her, the air full of voices now raucous from the sensual spasm, now gentle with gratitude, now doubtful, and she was afraid because there was no Sabina, not ONE, but a multitude of Sabinas lying down yielding and being dismembered, constellating in all directions and breaking. A small Sabina who felt weak at the center carried on a giant wave of dispersion. She looked at the sky arched overhead but it was not a protective sky, not a cathedral vault, not a haven; it was a limitless vastness to which she could not cling, and she was weeping “Someone hold me – hold me, so I will not continue to race from one love to another dispersing me, disrupting me… Hold me to one…”
– Anais Nin in A Spy in the House of Love
NOTE: I purchased all of these books for my own personal gratification, and am not being paid to endorse any of them. However, if you’d like to earn me some money, feel free to shop in my Amazon store.