book review: the diary of anaïs nin (vol 1. 1931-1934)

After years of searching (not exhaustively) used bookshops I found a copy of the first volume of The Diary of Anaïs Nin for $3.50 Northampton, MA in April. I was quite pleased. I refrained from reading it while I was in the States or back home so I had a reason to bring it with me to Australia so my girlfriend could also read it when she arrives.

I read the diary slowly and I’m glad I did. It would have felt disrespectful somehow to blow through it, when Anaïs so clearly poured so much into the diary. It’s about a few years of her life in France and features Henry Miller, a couple of psychotherapists, her estranged father and endless ruminations about art and how life should be lived.

I write about little things because the big ones are like abysses.

There’s so much in here about being an artist, about the pull to live and to write about life. There are people who embody those pulls, and because it’s a diary you’re pulled along with Anaïs as her opinions of them change without seeming predestination. She refers to the diary, to writing in it as her opium, and she sets down lies and sees so clearly.

The thing the diary didn’t answer was where her money came from. This is something I’ve been thinking about more since reading Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing, where he was very critical of fiction that didn’t acknowledge the economic realities of human existence. She has a beautiful home and by the end of the book she’s paying to have Tropic of Cancer printed, but you don’t get a sense of how that happens. There are other realities she’s much more interested in than how to pay for her dinner (or her psychoanalysis). It’s outside the dream.

If I delved into the history of the diary’s publication I wouldn’t be surprised to discover this is a heavily-edited version. It’s not as sexual as you might expect, though still filled with feeling. She was kind of an amazing woman.

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