THE GUILLOTINE: Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last - No 36: ANAIS NIN

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The Independent Culture
Whose titles are these? Winter of Artifice? This Hunger? The Swans of Venice? Ladders of Fire? As you'll already have guessed, considering the context in which the question is being posed, not to mention the accompanying snapshot, they're all titles of novels by Anais Nin. Yet how unreal, how out of focus, they seem, like those bogus titles of fictional novelists that, no matter how ingeniously contrived, never quite ring true. If you're still unconvinced, just compare them to the titles of novels which are destined to endure, A Farewell to Arms, say, or The Magic Mountain or Mrs Dalloway.

Anais Nin was the Paris-born daughter of the Spanish composer Joaquin Nin (whose stock, interestingly, has risen as hers has fallen). As she registered in the diary that she kept from the age of 11 to virtually her dying day, her father had molested her as a child, an act which she subsequently "avenged" by, as an adult, seducing him. In the meantime, although married, she had countless bohemian liaisons, the most famous being her bizarre triangular relationship with her literary mentor, Henry Miller, and his wife June. Those liaisons, too, were complacently inventoried in her diary, which, given Nin's slight physical resemblance to Anita Loos, might have been titled not Gentlemen Prefer Blondes but Gentlemen Prefer Me.

That diary is now undoubtedly her principal claim to posthumous celebrity. There is, however, a paradox to the uninhibitedly confessional mode of self-expression that was both hers and Miller's. If you're such a self- obsessed egotist that you believe every single word you say, every trifling action you perform, every piffling thought which has ever passed through your head, is worth recording for posterity, then the likelihood is that you're exactly the kind of narcissist in whom posterity most rapidly loses interest. So it is, increasingly, with Nin, and so perhaps it will also be with Miller, whose own posthumous future, frankly, looks none too bright.

As a novelist, certainly, Nin has had her moment. In fact, to illustrate the extent to which she has already been forgotten, I did a rather mischievous thing. To the brief list of her novels cited in the first paragraph of this Guillotine, I added a wholly apocryphal title, one I made up myself. Did you notice? And, even now, could you say which one?

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