Anais Nin – a divided woman

I’m reading a biography of Anais Nin called The Erotic Life of Anais Nin by Noel Riley Fitch. What prompted me to read this biography of Anais Nin was after I read Henry and June: From a Journal of Love: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin 1931–1932, I wanted to know more about her.

What lead me to even begin reading Anais’s diary was fairly simple.  Being a fairly prolific letter-writer myself, I have begun to enjoy reading the diaries and letters of writers.  I am looking for creative inspiration and understanding of my own inner intensity and drive…and have always wondered about the personal lives of writers, philosophers, and scientists.  Apparently, I’m not the only one, either…

I’ve been plagued with the question – how does one make room for a creative life (be it literary creation or scientific innovation) and family life?  I can’t possibly be the only one torn between two instincts – the desire to immerse myself completely in a creative life and the desire (and necessity) to submit at least a part of myself to the life of domesticity.  I know it’s important for my husband and daughters and myself to have a tidy, efficiently run home.  And yet, here I am, writing on my blog.

There are no writers or artists in my family of origin.   Nobody even reads books for pleasure.  I come from a line of pragmatic, dispassionate, critical, unimaginative men and women.  Of my four siblings and I, I was the only one with an analytical/scientific mind AND a passion for creative writing (my brother, being a lawyer, of course shares with me an analytical mind).    I wish I had married writing mentors or creative friends with whom to discuss such conflict of needs.

I try to journal now.  I used to keep a journal as a teenager…until my oldest sister found it, read it…and told or threatened to tell my mother about the contents of it.   I don’t remember exactly what happened next, though I am pretty sure she threw it into the fireplace.   After that, instead of writing in a journal…I used to write long letters to friends.  I even got a post office box because my mother intercepted a love letter of mine once.

It’s still not easy for me to sit down and write uncensored thoughts.  I have no idea how Anais was able to write all that she had (though she took creative license with much of her journal, embellishing the truth with her romantic version of the way things transpired) and actually had no qualms about sharing her diaries with the objects of her affections and perhaps she embellished to make her life more exciting and dramatic than it really was.

Still, I thought this passage of the biography was compelling.   Fitch relates what Anais wrote as a young woman of about 18 or so describing her conflicting feelings towards relationships and the thinking/creative life:

Her love for Hugo and her dreams of the future provoke many lengthy passages in her diary about women and their contradictory beliefs about submission and intelligence.  In her public demeanor, she has found her place in shy “womanliness.”  Only by being reserved, she thinks, she has won the devotion of Eduardo, Enric, Marcus, and Hugo.  This outer behavior will not change, but the inner girl is divided…

Though she admires the virtues of spiritual purity and usefulness, her heart wants to be a Donna Juana, seductive. In the latter mood she poses before her mirror in exotic clothes and jewelry until her eye catches the bookshelf.  Suddenly, the little philosopher, as her mother calls her, plunges into thoughts about ideals.  Should she dance seductively for Hugo or engage him in deep discussion?  Should she submit or demand mental and educational equality?  Where Anais wants to “live,” she thinks, is in the world of feeling and thought; the ideal, not the real; the spiritual, not the physical.  She claims it is her artistic nature, her ancestry.   “I am the least American of the three of us,” she tells her father in a twenty-six page letter; my heart beats only for poetry and beauty, the great, sublime and spiritual things.”

There was a time in my young adult years when I said I would never marry, have kids, get tied down by domestic life but instead, have my freedom to pursue my own life without strings. I saw how unhappy my own mother was and witnessed many fights between her and my step-father. I know many instances where she mistreated my older sisters and I (partly because we came from her first husband whom she hated).  What was the point of getting married if it made you miserable?

In the end, Anais does marry Hugo, but doesn’t give up her poetry or her seductions.  I don’t judge her for her seductive lifestyle, though I don’t really particularly like the fact she had abortions, including one late-term abortion.  It’s not that I cast stones upon her for that, but I wonder how her behavior might have changed had she bore children.  Would she have found satisfaction as a mother?  Would she cease to be self-absorbed or would she have gone on to damage her children with her narcissism?  I worry about that in myself.

I really would love to get a copy of this article:

Anais Nin: A Case Study of Personality Disorder and Creativity written by Angie Kahagia, I just don’t want to spend $31 to read it.

Anaïs Nin, diarist and author of autobiographical novellas and erotica, and gregarious socialite, was known for her exotic persona and stormy personal life. The concept of personality disorder and the underlying assumption of the buffering capacity that personality affords to stressors are discussed. Against this background, evidence drawn from Nin’s diaries, short stories and two biographies suggests that she conformed to the diagnostic criteria of histrionic personality disorder (HPD), with comorbid borderline and narcissistic features, and numerous Axis I symptoms. The proposed origin of the overall dysfunctional histrionic pattern is attributed to her early developmental history, and the maladaptive cognitive mechanisms of dissociation and repression inferred from her writings and shown to conform to the HPD pattern. Finally, it is argued that while Nin may not have displayed the classic divergent cognitive style thought to underlie the association between schizotypy and creativity, her HPD psychopathology was pivotal in shaping her creative products, most famous of which is her diary.

I’m both curious and saddened that there is a publication out there labeling Anais Nin based on her writings.  Oh, well, thank God her creativity didn’t indict her as a schiztypal person – the lady might have been self-absorbed drama queen, but she ain’t a lunatic.   But aren’t we all a little narcissistic/self-serving and seek drama every now and again?  Even Bertrand Russell, back in the 1930s urges us to consider that “your motives aren’t always as altruistic as they seem to yourself.” and that “the immense majority of even the noblest persons’ actions have self-regarding motives, nor is this to be regretted, since if it were otherwise, the human race could not survive.  A man who spent his time seeing that others were fed and forgot to feed himself would perish.”  In addition, I wrote an essay on his beliefs that we in modern, developed societies vigorously pursued excitement as a cure for the ills of boredom, a belief the past 80 years has proved he was frighteningly right.

I’m saddened that her journals and writings, the products of her creative expression are being utilized to judge, condemn and label her by some modern day experimental psychology student.

I also think I’m a bit narcissistic (after all, I am a writer, I DO spend an awful lot of time self-absorbed with my thoughts and my writing).  Perhaps if I ever get famous, someone some day might come along and judge and label my writings as self-absorbed rubbish.

Ah…so what do I make of all this?

I suppose it’s good that my older and younger sisters never kept a journals, hardly anyone would ever know of their own HPD behaviors except those closest to them.  Oldest sister and youngest sister, were notorious drama queens in the family, though I have to say, a lot less troublesome to me now than they had been in the past few years.  I guess they are getting too busy to cause trouble.

Anais Nin’s writing is very poetical and beautiful.  I love her writing style…such energy, such passion and poetry.  I have felt this way…and have never been able to articulate the intensity of my creative and intellectual bent so powerfully.

If what Proust says is true, that happiness is the absence of fever, then I will never know happiness.   For I am possessed by a fever for knowledge, experience, and creation.

I share some of her beliefs:

Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.

I love some of her wisdom:

Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish it’s source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.

There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.

Truth is something which can’t be told in a few words. Those who simplify the universe only reduce the expansion of its meaning.

When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.

So I wonder…what shall I do, sit in condemnation the very woman who penned those beautiful words because she was a drama queen and a seductress?  No, I don’t think I can.

Yes, I do wish she could have written those same inspiring things and had been a devoted wife and mother.   It would help me to believe that passion for a writing life can be more than adequately blended with devotion to family.

I guess I’m looking for an appropriate female role model…a mentor…some inspiration…some hope that I’m not entirely wasting my time on frivolous thinking and writing when there is laundry and grocery shopping to be done.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
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2 Responses to Anais Nin – a divided woman

  1. Wow, people with personality disorders – survival-oriented responses usually to intolerable or overwhelming trauma as early as infancy – are lunatics? Why wouldn’t the creativity required, often unconsciously, to remain in a world that has inflicted such pain be considered laudable – especially when as in Nin’s case it seems to contribute vivacity, flair, perspective and creativity you seem to find compelling? I agree, diagnostic labelling is perhaps misplaced within a critique of her work by someone lacking due credentials, but then formative experience and symptoms of it are inseparable from people as we experience them in the present. It didn’t seem to be a moral judgment, but yours, sadly, does.

    • Casey says:

      If the “you” you are referring to means, me, the author of this post, I think you misunderstood. I was being a bit derisive, and in a tongue-in-cheek-way, about the student who analyzed her based on her writings, which were, at times, embellished according to the people she actually wrote about. You can’t psychoanalyze someone based solely on their artistic expression.

      For me, I was struggling in my own life to be a devoted wife and mother AND a creative when I was really polyamorous. I felt a LOT of similar things that Anais wrote about. And now, I’m divorced and leading a life that’s more in keeping with my vision.

      I know about personality disorders, from having family members with narcissism and borderline tendencies. I’ve read extensively about them and about trauma and recovery. I DON’T see Anais as having a personality disorder, per se. She was sexually abused by her father, though. And she was struggling with a lot of things, but mostly trying to make her own way after trauma.

      I see her as being polyamorous.

      Women aren’t allowed to be free with their bodies the way men are. It’s ridiculous.

      I admire Anais for her ability to construct her life the way she saw fit. I had struggled with the idea of being polyamorous and married with children at the time of writing this post. I AM polyamorous, but no longer married. Hence, I have no more tension in how I am and if I wrote about this publication now, the post would have an entirely different outcome. I’ve had two abortions, so there’s no moral judgment here. I was just wondering if she could have been inspired to write the same things had she been monogamous. I honestly think she HAD to be the way she was in order to write so beautifully.

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