‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage’ – Anaïs Nin
My love for Anaïs Nin started in an unconventional and very modern way. I found her through Pinterest. The clever quotes I was seeing, the ones which I found interesting, were often by her. Who was she? I thought. I knew she’d written some erotica a long time ago, but I didn’t know anything else about her. I began with her first diary and I fell in love with her way of thinking, her way of seeing the world.
The first volume of her “proper” diaries (not her younger ones) was written in the 1930s. I often can’t believe it. I’ve seen quite a few old black-and-white movies, and it’s hard to place Nin’s writing in the same era as Fred and Ginger getting into sweet mishaps before a final big dance number. To me, she feels incredibly modern.
The first volume of her diaries (1931 – 1934) details her meeting and befriending Henry Miller and his wife June, which became a well-documented triangle. Her interest in the interior world, coupled with her wanting to live a full and interesting life really spoke to me. In the diary, she often struggles with leaving her comfort zone. She knows that she puts more effort into her diary than she does her other writings; therefore there is a gap of a few months. It is one of the most interesting life stories I have read precisely because she was writing it without much hindsight. She makes mistakes and lives her own life. She is eloquent and seems in control of her own life. Even today bucking the status quo is difficult, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like in the 1930s.
The first novel I read by her, A Spy in the House of Love, is similar to Sex and the City in some ways (there is no blind devotion to painful shoes, alas). The protagonist has affairs unbeknownst to her nice husband. Nin turns ideas of gender around here: at the time that the book was written, married men were almost encouraged to have affairs to satiate their manly sexualities. Nin writes about women’s experiences, she places the woman as the subject of the story rather than the object of affections.
Her essays are really good too. I like the way that she thinks. I like that she does think, because many people do not. She doesn’t subscribe to any one way of thinking, saying that ‘when we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.’ This quote has inspired me to think for myself and not take everything at face value; it is easier to think that people who disagree with you are stupid, and write them off, rather than engage with them. Her work is so perceptive and still subversive. I love her personal, rather than political, style.