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Purple Fig Club: The Diary of Anais Nin

I hope everyone's keeping up with the reading -- is life crazy right now or is it just me? And it's only March! I wasn't sure if I was going to finish this book in time (or at all) for a little while there, but fortunately I pushed through and found some spare time.

This is the kind of book that you can't speed read either because of the writing style and the content ... and it's not short! Although I don't think any of us picked particularly short books this year. This is the year of the 400- to 500-page books! (Good luck to all of us.)

I'll be blunt.

Initially, for the first quarter of the book almost, I really didn't think I was going to like it. Some of the explicit content, plus the never-ending analysis of JUUUUUNE was killing me. (If I ever meet someone with that name, they'll probably be unfairly pre-judged because I'm so tired of "hearing" it.)

It's one thing to read a memoir or autobiography by someone you're familiar with. For me, jumping into a journal by someone whom I've only heard about vaguely was a little rough because I didn't already have an interest in her. It didn't help that, although I've heard of Henry Miller, I also don't think I've ever read anything by him or knew anything about his life. So, from the start, I had trouble caring about their repetitive conversations.


As things moved forward, I started to find more to enjoy. Anais' description of Otto Rank and his psychoanalysis was one of my favorite sections, and I also began to appreciate her internal observations and musings. I'm not sure I agree with all of her opinions (if you read a general overview of her later in life, she does seem to be a somewhat odd person, but then lots of artistic people are), but I still appreciated reading her perspectives.

It just goes to show that no matter how different someone else is from you, they still see some of the world in the same way. For example, I've had this thought before, both about books and TV/movies:

"'That's the danger of it, it prepares you to live, but at the same time, it exposes you to disappointments because it gives a heightened concept of living, it leaves out the dull or stagnant moments. You, in your books, also have a heightened rhythm, and a sequence of events so packed with excitement that I expected all your life to be delirious, intoxicated.' Literature is an exaggeration, a dramatization, and those who are nourished on it (as I was) are in great danger of trying to approximate an impossible rhythm."

It's the reason we enjoy stories -- they allows us to hear about specific events in a person's life (fictional or not) without any of the moments where they have to go to the bathroom or are totally bored and staring at a wall. But it also makes me feel at times like I lead a boring life; I don't get to skip my own still moments.

I also enjoyed this description of her thoughts when she first looked up Otto Rank in the library:

"When you know someone from his writings you think he will live forever. I considered Otto Rank a legend even after Henry visited him. He was a legendary character until I came across a list of his works in the Psychoanalytical Library and saw on the card, on the left-hand corner, the date of his birth, and on the right-hand corner, a blank left for the date of his death. This shocked me into awareness of his temporary presence. His life span was already over half spent, and I must talk to him now. He was not eternal. On the right-hand corner of a library card lay the inescapable proof of his inescapable fate."

Her analytical musings about her relationship to her father were also some of my favorite parts. The relationship of father to daughter, and especially in her case, with a father whose idea seemed better than the reality, was interesting to read about.

Then, the question of whether spending a lot of time with someone who is almost exactly the same as you is actually good for you or if it is better to let opposites attract in order to challenge yourself. Here are a series of quotes around that idea that I found interesting. The first about the idea of being around your twin and the latter two about being around your Double or, as she describes it, the person who is like the part of you that you don't want to be.

"Yet I wonder if it is good to ally similarities, one agreeing with the other, as twins might, so that this might give an illusion of balance, reassure us about our orientation, whether we should seek this by contrast with others, in extreme opposites as Henry is to me?"

"The Double, or the shadow, was often the self one did not want to live out, the twin, but in the sense of the dark self, and the self which one repudiated. If Don Quixote was a dreamer, why did he annex to himself his opposite, the good, earthy Sancho Panza...?"

"We love best those who are, or act for us, a self we do not wish to be or act out."

Well, I won't inundate you with quotes, but I found all of that worth stopping to think about. Sometimes I think I agree and other times, I don't. It's interesting to think about how our interactions with different types of people so powerfully shape who we are.

The only other fault I found with this book wasn't really the book's fault ... Apparently, the man Anais Nin was married to throughout the entire period of this volume did not want to be mentioned when it was published, so all excerpts referencing him were removed. This made for a large gap in the picture I formed of Nin -- the main one obviously being that she was married and did not live alone. Additionally, her multiple affairs (Henry Miller, Otto Rank) were not mentioned at all. The entry of her getting pregnant was abrupt and confusing.

What did you think? Did you find the writing style easy or difficult? Did she seem entirely foreign to you or did you find any similarities you could relate to?

Copyright 2004-2020 Elizabeth Shiver