The feminine and masculine in Anaïs Nin’s Diaries vol 1

Note: I winnowed this theme from the Diaries vol1 of Nin, and found it fascinating enough to break into its own post. As an observer, I’m commenting on how Nin presented masculinity and femininity as clearly as I can from her own concepts as she discussed them in her diaries. Clearly, the concepts of the feminine and masculine have changed since Nin’s Diaries were written. The entire notion of a binary gender categorization is being dismantled by writers and commentators today.

It makes sense to note that she was a product of a Catholic upbringing in an era where gender roles were strictly defined — and that her views would have changed between the 1930s (when the Diaries v 1 were written) and her death in the 1970s.

The value in this exercise was, as a fiction writer, to learn how a woman operated in a society with strictly defined gender roles while she simultaneously turned conventions on their head. The insights are valuable when writing my own depiction of a woman who is finding her way in a dramatic shift of role and ability to self-actualize (Mayana, in the Pat Hayden Jones book).

The love triangle and a psychological triangle

Of interest to me as a reader of both Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller is Nin’s contrasting of Miller’s manifestation of self to June’s and her own. The relationship is taken in context of Nin’s romance with both Miller and June, which is clear from the unexpurgated Henry and June and hinted at in Diaries v 1 (though she seems more free to admit in the Diaries dalliances with June than with Miller or any other man).

Miller is described from her first meeting as a sensual being (in the classical sense): “warm, joyous, relaxed, natural” but simple in some ways. He is depicted as flummoxed by June, an ephemeral personality who hard to pin down. June spins, in his words “…such complicated stories, intrigues, miraculous barters.” With Nin’s description of herself as a being with only passion and compassion, the one to whom others come in order to discover their true potential, we have the setup for an incredible love triangle, and Nin does not disappoint — at least, from the psychological side (no steamy sex scenes in the Diaries).

TL:DR: In a historical context, the concepts of feminine and masculine were for the most part binary and prescribed by social mores and convention. As Diaries v 1 begins (first 100 pages or so), the story of Nin, June and Henry illustrates elemental forces in apposition. On one side, the force is (in historical context) elementally feminine — the sex with less physical strength which, in the world at the time, did not control instruments of power,  exercised its influence with persuasion, verbal acuity, concealment, subterfuge. The two women secretly mock the masculine Henry’s slowness and June asserts “the perfidious alliance of our lucidities, our quickness, our subtleties.” Henry is like a bull, often placid but at times confused or frustrated; he lashes out in anger at a world which escapes his ability to grasp.

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Book Review: Diaries of Anaïs Nin Vol 1

Note: I can’t annotate with page numbers here as my Kindle version has only ‘locations.’

TL;DR: The Diaries reveal an impassioned but (compared to the unexpurgated diaries)  composed Nin. She starts with the story from Henry and June. It is presented in a more linear, if incomplete, fashion and loses much of the impact as Nin excised all references to the steaming hot sex she was having with her lovers. Those relations lose depth as a result. The book livens up near the middle as she becomes more confessional regarding Antonine Artaud, with whom she conveniently did not sleep with. The last two-thirds of the book contain lengthy retrospectives of her first psychoanalyst, her father and her second psychoanalyst, who tries to convince her to stop with the diaries (!). The psych bits don’t interest that much and there is a lot of repetition. The story of her father is unsettling but very interesting and reveals much of her history. She closes with a tale of her pregnancy which is heartbreaking in several dimensions, finding God at the hospital, losing him when she must choose between God and psychiatry, which she’s chosen to study. Then it’s off to New York. Finis.

The Diaries vs. the unexpurgated journals

The Diaries are a fascinating read after reading the unexpurgated journal of the same time period (Henry and June, hereafter referred to as H&J for brevity). In that review, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek TL;DR describing Nin as ‘overwrought.’ I used that word for both its definitions — in a high state of excitement or anxiety, and as referring to a work which is overly elaborate. The unexpurgated diary is very stream-of-consciousnesss and records extreme levels of emotion and absorption. Here, in the originally published (and heavily-edited) Diaries, her story is more linear, more composed. She tells of her engagement with life as being at a high order of awareness: “Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.” In the first third of the book, she’s a bit stiff, and as a result, Nin comes off as a a bit precious for us normal folks, we who “never awaken.” She’s living off a stipend, after all, and for her, life is not a struggle to make the rent. (When talking of giving money to June, Nin mentions a monthly allowance). However, that changes as the book progresses and she bares more of her soul to the reader in sections about Artaud and her father.

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Book Review: Henry and June

NOTE TO READERS: Not only is it very long, but this review has adult content and language. The language used below is in the context of the work; Nin is totally frank and not delicate with her choice of words. If you’re not a grown-up, please click here to go over to Reddit and read about unicorns.

TL;DR: Henry and June is the journal of a passionate, often overwrought married woman who tells of overcoming inhibitions and freeing her inner self simultaneously through psychoanalysis, multiple sexual and/or emotional affairs (including with the psychoanalyst) and the pursuit of an intense romance with another writer who, at the end, re-unites with this wife.

How good is it?

After a mere 12 pages Nin had already left an impact on me. It didn’t stop there. At every page there is a relevation to wonder at, whether it is her development (in any number of ways, more on that later) or how her many relationships are changing. The entire book is incredibly rich with detail, impressions, analysis as well as description. It never gets boring.

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