July 2008

Melynda Fuller

fiction

The Winter of Artifice by Ana´s Nin

Reading the reissue of The Winter of Artifice, a facsimile of Anaïs Nin’s original 1939 edition of the often censored collection of novellas, is like peeking at a budding artist hard at work in the studio. First published in a limited run in France, Nin’s third book and second collection of fiction was heavily edited upon being published in the U.S. years later and, according to Nin, eventually banned. Three short novellas, “Djuna,” “Lilith,” and “The Voice,” comprise the original and reprinted book, while a forward by Benjamin Franklin V offers a deeper context.

The first novella, “Djuna,” is a loosely fictional account of a young woman’s affair with a boorish but genius American writer (Hans). It’s widely known that Nin had an ongoing affair with Henry Miller and his wife June and here is where she first divulges the details. (Later, the relationships would make their way into the nonfiction book Henry and June -- the movie version was the first to receive an NC-17 rating in the U.S.) The opening line: “The café table was stained with wine. His blue eyes were inscrutable, like those of a Chinese sage” begins Nin’s passionate and tumultuous tale of Djuna’s romps through Paris in the 1930s. Color and sound create a rich literary landscape of the city and Djuna’s own awakening as an artist and lover. As the situation between Djuna, Hans and his wife June becomes more complicated -- essentially everyone is sleeping with everyone -- Djuna continues to possess a self-awareness that allows for poignant self-reflection. Just as interesting as the text are Franklin’s notes in the forward. He offers insights into Miller’s effect on Nin’s writing by revealing her unedited, fledging paragraphs beside Miller’s notes and edits. At the time, Nin was not yet used to writing in English; she had only ever written in French and it’s clear that Miller held an influence.

“Lilith,” the second novella, is loosely based on Nin’s diary accounts of her strange relationship with her own father and is believed to lay ground work for her novel House of Incest. A young woman’s father returns after years of estrangement and demands that she devote herself to him. The thick tension between the characters adds a sickly anxiousness to the prose as the reader wonders exactly how the relationship will develop.

“Lilith,” in particular, also showcases Nin’s early talents as a writer. As Nin writes her way in and out of a stream of consciousness, the reader is sucked into her frantic thought process, all the while feeling vaguely uncomfortable. She writes as she sits in a bedroom with her father: “The voices that carried us into serenity, the voices which made the drum beat in us, sex, sex, sex, sex, desire, the bow of the violins passing between the legs, the curves of women’s backs yielding, the baton of the orchestra leader, the second voice of locked instruments, the strings snapping, the dissonances, the hardness, the flute weeping.”

Nin finishes the collection with “The Voice,” a story about an omnipresent, disconnected male voice that listens to the lamentations of a circle of disturbed women. Djuna and Lilith both show up again in this story, dealing with neuroses briefly touched upon in their earlier namesake novellas. As the women in the story become stronger, the man, who is known only as “the voice,” is slowly destroyed as he allows himself to become caught up in the lives of his patients. As with the other stories in this collection, the lead female characters begin small and damaged and eventually emerge at the other side more complete people at the expense of the men in their paths. But Nin accomplishes this with such delicacy and style that one would swear there was no other way.

The Winter of Artifice by Anaïs Nin
Sky Blue
ISBN: 0977485110
289 Pages