THERE WERE SIX OF US at dinner that New Year's Day 10 years ago in Greenwich Village. Among us were the novelist Marguerite Young, whose gargantuan Miss MacIntosh, My Darling Anais Nin referred to as the American Ulysses; Nin's husband, the financial consultant who had insisted on being omitted from the diaries; the young professor from Montana who appears in this volume of the diary often, as confidante, acolyte, earnest appologist in academe -- superseding the bawdy, chauvinist mentor of volume one of the diary, Henry Miller. Our hostess was Anais Nin.
Nin was already a cult figure: the valentine of the diary. A few years later when Nin was dying, Marguerite Young said, gloomily, "There will be too many people at the funeral." Without the phenomeon of Nin's personality, which transfixed audiences, Young worried that the diaries and the anemic fiction would also be emtombed.
For Anais Nin's presence was her masterpiece. In an auditorium, in a letter to a reader, at a small dinner party, she had the ability -- and, always, the desire -- to make you feel like a favored one. She looked intently, and saw, enveloping you in precisely the same bold, tender light which, in the diary, she focused upon herself.
Volume one, more than the others, conveys this gift for perception, and I think it will endure. It has already had an enormous effect on two generations of young women. At its worst, the first Nin diary is just a Bohemian analogue to the me-generation; at its best, it is an affirmation of liberation that could be understood even by the politically naive. A reader called to Nin's publisher: "Tell Anais Nin I am going to commit suicide." Nin telephoned: "Well, we'll talk," and the woman decided to live.
The reader of Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther opted for suicide; the readers of Nin tried to learn how to live. Arriving at the same time as Sylvia Plat's confessional poetry of despair, Nin's first diary spawned a gritty, confessional school in prose. Kate Millett's reckless Flying would not have been possible without Nin; nor would Renata Adler's coolly idling Speedboat, which was published in 1977, the year Nin died.
But much that appears in the later diaries is sentimental dross.
This final, mostly euphoric volume reports culminations the flowering of fame, which came when she was well past 60; and, very soon thereafter, cancer.
There is a catalogue of the tiresome responsibilities of celebrity: "Three days in Paris inside the Hotel Pont Royal constantly interrogated by journalists . . . out only . . . to meet more critics or to go to the radio station. Personal friendships, home life sacrificed to public life . . . This is against what I believe."
But there is really little posturing: "I am so happy that I have received all a writer can dream of -- all of the love I gave has been returned." Periodically she lists achievements -- honorary doctorates, commencement speeches, interviews, compliments from Julio Cortazar, the Argentine surrealist novelist and poet.
The actual fabric of volume seven is rather threadbare -- much of it being woven from letters she wrote (she must have made carbon copies) and received, and from snatches of lectures and articles.
But there is some fine handiwork here -- portraits of Joanne Moreau, Marguerite Young, a blighted Tennessee Williams. There is surprisingly little venom in the book, although Nin repeatedly espouses her mistrust of "the power men: Maller, Vidal, Roth, hateful all." They represent a rival current in American letters, and they are, she feels, a pernicious enemy.
So, on occasion, are the more radical fringes of the women's liberation movement, when [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] to [WORD ILLEGIBLE], the kind which gullotined anyone with clean nails." But Nin was a feminist, even if she was not always politically "correct."
Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of this diary is her jousting with the movement, whose criticisms she initially regards as a betrayal, then as ignorant. Finally she digs in her heels: "Everyone knows now that I have at least half of the feminist women behind me, and many more who are not feminists but consider me a pioneer in independence, a heroine, a legend, a model." It was so easy to forget that she was nearly half a century older than we were.
In New York, I remember her saying to an audience, which did not know that she was entering the hospital for cancer treatment in the morning, "We must have the courage to relinquish those we cannot rescue." Nin's genius was for living; but she was not so bad at dying either. Long before the final illness overwhelmed her sensibility, she takes leave of us. The diary ends in [WORDS ILLEGIBLE].