Life Among the Ninnies

The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume Seven (1966-1974)

edited and with a preface by Gunther Stuhlmann
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 355 pp., $14.95

Anaïs Nin
Anaïs Nin; drawing by David Levine

Art teaches us how to levitate, Anaïs Nin was fond of saying, and in Volume Seven of Nin’s Diary her toes seldom touch earth. It isn’t art that’s keeping her aloft, however, it’s fame, favorable reviews, rapt adoration. Volume Seven covers the final years of Nin’s life, as she emerges from the whispering shadows of cultdom to glide from lectern to lectern in her new role as the counter-culture’s Lady Oracle. (Nin died in 1977, after a long bout with cancer.) In the closing pages of Volume Six, Nin celebrates the cloudburst of approval which greets the publication of the Diary’s first volume in the spring of 1966. Lawrence Ferlinghetti showers her with rose petals in a Berkeley bookshop, love letters crowd her mailbox, and reviewer Robert Kirsch swoons at length about her “poetic and supple” prose in The Los Angeles Times. As Volume Seven opens, Nin is still soaking happily in the ironies of success: “The same publishers who turned down my work beg for my comments on new works they are publishing,” she notes with rueful pride. Even media personalities lower their knees in homage. “Television interview with Arlene Francis very deep. She knew my work. She is enormously intelligent and wise.” Once you’ve tasted the wisdom of Arlene Francis, lesser fizz won’t do.

Her genius vindicated, Nin finds herself constantly on the wing. She travels to Morocco, Japan, Germany, Bali, Cambodia; she descends upon hundreds of campuses, giving sixty lectures in a stretch from autumn 1972 to spring 1973; she stars and tours with a documentary by Robert Snyder titled Anaïs Nin Observed; and everywhere she goes she’s bombarded with love. In Paris, Nin and Jeanne Moreau discuss a film adaptation of Nin’s novel A Spy in the House of Love. Though Spy was never made, Moreau later directed and starred in Lumière, a film that (unwittingly, one assumes) captures the haughty narcissistic glamour of life among the Ninnies. Surrounded by women who adore her and men who worship her unblemished soul, Moreau’s Sarah Didieux also seems to be exaltedly aloft. “At the end of the week,” writes Pauline Kael in her review of Lumière, “she wins something like the Academy Award, except it’s at a ceremony where she is the only one being honored, and her girlfriends and boyfriends are all there, gathered around, to be happy for her.” Like Lumière, Volume Seven of the Diary is a cozy get-together. Sandlewood incense wafts through the air, wind-chimes tinkle, and into Nin’s hands tremulous coeds press flowers, cookies, rice cakes, unfinished novels. The self-trumpeting climax of this celebration begins on page 200, where Nin lists tributes from readers whose lives have been transformed by the Diary. Sample comments:

When I read the Diary, it took wings! All was transcended. Like some immense swan, it took me on its back lifting me into the air—that now familiar air…

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