Genesis of a Fiction: The Diary

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Author: Oliver Evans
Editors: Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 9,197 words

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[(essay date 1968) In the following essay, Evans explores the relationship between Nin's diaries and her fiction, maintaining that "most of the ideas and the obsessions which are present in the latter are present also, and naturally more explicitly, in the former."]

Any discussion of Anaïs Nin's work must properly begin with her Diary, for from the first it has been the source of all her fiction. Long before she had any idea of becoming a professional writer she entered into this extraordinary record, begun when she was a child and now many thousands of pages in length, the raw materials from which she was later to fashion many of the situations in her stories and novels: innumerable impressions, characterizations, anecdotes, ideas, dreams, transcripts of conversations, and extracts from her correspondence. It was a vast and rather formless accumulation, overwhelming in its thoroughness, and all of it recorded with an attention to detail that bordered on the fanatical: there are whole pages devoted to the analysis of a mood, whole paragraphs concerned with the expression of a single nuance of feeling.

More than twenty-five years ago Henry Miller, to whom she had shown portions of the work, prophesied in Criterion that it would "take its place beside the revelations of St. Augustine, Petronius, Abelard, Rousseau, Proust and others." Ever since then rumors have flown thick and fast in the literary world concerning the nature of this gigantic undertaking. Gossip is generally inclined to be sensational, and literary gossip is no exception: it was whispered that the Diary recorded events so scandalous, and involving persons of such prominence, that it could not possibly be published during its author's lifetime. Most of these rumors had little or no foundation in fact. It is true that Miss Nin's journal contains passages which might conceivably shock persons of conventional morality, and it is certainly true that it mentions a great many famous people; but this is merely another way of saying that its author, who was privileged to be on intimate terms with some of the best minds of her generation, has been completely honest. If a diary has any value, it is that, for on any other basis it simply could not justify itself.

Now that portions of the work have been published, the public which imagined that Miss Nin was writing another Life and Loves à la Frank Harris has had occasion to learn how false was their impression--and, no doubt, to be disappointed. But for those whose expectations were less lurid, and particularly for those students of literature who are interested in seeing the relations between Miss Nin's fiction and her Diary, the publication of even this small a portion of it constitutes an event of first importance. It is with these relations, of course, that we are here primarily concerned,1 but first it will be necessary to show how the Diary began and how it grew; the importance which it has occupied in the writer's life; and some...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420094094