When you mention the name ‘Anaïs Nin’ to many people, they automatically assume you’re in ‘erotic mode’. Because she is so famed through her erotica and her extraordinary sexual relationships, particularly her long-running relationship with Henry Miller (of Henry and June fame), it’s often forgotten that, actually, much of her work is not erotica, per se. But it is about people, emotions, desires, relationships, and everything that makes us living, breathing, sexual human beings.
Last week, I found one of the loveliest little books I’ve managed to own for a while. Anyone who has read a fair bit of my blog knows I am a real advocate of all of Anaïs Nin’s work, and when I discovered this dinky 58-page book containing her novelette, Stella, I couldn’t resist. My particular copy of the entire book fits in my palm, which I just find, well, cute! While that may be the case for the exterior, the interior is anything but cutesy.
Stella takes the reader through her ongoing relationship with the married Bruno, via the ruined relationship of her own father with his second wife, Laura. Stella progresses through the revelations she finds in memory, to her brief relationship with a new man, Philip.
I have no doubt that the thoughts Stella has about her lack of everyday permanence in her illicit love of Bruno comes from Nin’s own experiences of her relationships with married men like Henry Miller. There is a distinct quality of raw inner sadness that pervades Stella’s account of the way Bruno never manages to stay with her for an entire night, and how Stella feels his nightly desertion of her, rather than his obvious lack of intention to leave his wife and children for her, is a betrayal of her love, and likewise his insistence on hotel rooms as another betrayal.
Nin’s own fraught relationship with her father rears itself in Stella’s narrative, too, in the fictionalised version of the tempestuous relationship Stella’s actor father has with his own self-love. It is something which destroys Stella’s mother’s love for him, his second wife’s love also, and although Stella never tells him, destroys her love for this man who hides behind the facade of actor, man adored by the public, lover of many women, and who draws his energies from one-way relationships.
There are some beautiful, emotive details in Nin’s depiction of Stella’s relationship with her father, both as a child, and as an adult, as she gets drawn into playing go-between in the final split between her father and Laura. Nin contrasts and compares with beautiful anguish the disguise her father wears as a self-obsessed sponge that soaks up women’s love and gives nothing in return with the emotional nakedness of the women in his life, each self-deceivers wrapped in cocoons of their imagined love of this man for them, in order to justify their own love for him.
What is so poignant about the story of Stella is how she comes to realise that her own relationships with men mirror exactly the kinds that women have had with her father. Her new affair with Philip provides an escape from the reality—a kind of magic in her existence, a way of finding joy that she’s never had since her father left—but one day, on waiting for Philip in his home, she recognises the signs, symbols, and develops a sudden and deep awareness that Philip is exactly the same kind of man as her father.
All Stella ever wants is something genuine in her life. Unlike her father, she uses acting to seek out and pour an extension of herself into a character on-screen. Her tragedy is that, with her new self-discovery comes her own disguise. She acts, but she no longer pours her Self into her work. In a way, she becomes just like her father, no longer real but a facade, as emotionally dead as he is physically.
Stella is a beautiful, maybe self-indulgent, emotive glimpse into the ironic mirroring of two lives. There’s lots about it which reminds me of work by Françoise Sagan or Simone de Beauvoir (and if you haven’t read either of them, I heartily recommend them to you). A little book of sadness in many ways, and one which, as with every piece of Nin’s work, speaks to me. I am delighted to have it on my bookshelf.