Linotte: Reflections on the Adolescent Diary of Anais Nin

Linotte: The Early Diary of Anais Nin, 1914-1920 Translated from the French by Jean L. Sherman, with a preface by Joaquin Nin-Culmell. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, London, 1978.

January 11, 1915 “Today went by in the usual way. We went to school, I work as hard as I can but that doesn’t interfere with my doing the things I like best. I am now writing a story, ‘Poor Little Boy.’ I only like things that are sad or funny. “I now hate school and everything American. Why, Maman asked me and my aunt too. Why? Here is the answer. Because I love only silence and here there is noise all the time. Everything here is dark, enclosed, severe, and I love sunny landscapes, I love to see the sky. I love to admire the beauties of nature in silence and here the buildings are so high, so high that one sees nothing, or if one sees a little something out of the window, it isn’t a beautiful sky that is pale blue, pale pink or a calm white. No, that isn’t what one sees here. One sees a dark sky, heavy, mournful, soiled and darkened by the vanity and pride of modern men and women. I say that because I don’t like anything modern. I would like to live in the first century in ancient Rome, I would like to live in the time of grand castles and gracious ladies. I would like to live in the time of Charlotte Corday when every woman could become a heroine, and so on. The truth is I would like to save France from its afflictions, but we are no longer living in the era of Joan of Arc or Jeanne Hachette, and the best thing I can do is keep quiet and out of sight. Where was I when I asked why I don’t like America and got into the period when I would like to live? I shall go on and I’m sure my diary has guessed the answer and I can give my imagination free rein. Oh, if I could rise up and annihilate all those ambitious countries that are the cause of Belgium’s misfortune and France’s tears. But once again I must bow my head and give way to older people who will come along later, perhaps, as I hope. I have to recognize that I am crazy, but since my diary is the diary of a madwoman, I can’t write only reasonable things, and if I did they wouldn’t be my own thoughts. So while I await the great woman who will save France, I shall go to bed.” p. 42-43

This passage is classic early Linotte. Anais is at a period where she loathes school and terribly misses the manners and customs of the old country. She misses her bohemian life in France and Belgium, even her more difficult life in sunny Spain with her beloved granmere and sour granpere. Ofcourse most of all she misses her papa and the “better” life she deludes herself into thinking they had together. She is still in the stage of her early life where she believes in heroines and fables and suppliments her ardor for ‘Christ’ in mass each Sunday with her secret ardor for her father. Her heart is broken but her mind is also quite awake and active. She is reading books alphabetically in New York Public Library, making friends and spending time with her mother’s spillover of expatriate Bohemian musician friends from Europe and South America, especially from her longtime home in Cuba. World War One is striking a heavy blow on France and on Anais, who reads about heroines Charlotte Corday and Jeanne d’Arc fervently into the night by candlelight and imagines herself a grown woman of invincible power, who can swoop down upon France, lead her nation of heroic men and “save France” from the ‘German tyrants’. After her reveries she invariably sinks back into reality in her diaries by noting she is “only a girl” a small nothing of a girl who cannot save France. She is limited by her age, size, health and the historical times. For women of her time, most are to be wives and mothers, not heroines (or for the most part, writers and artists as sole occupations, either) and Anais senses this about her future. She examines her life in “dreary oppressive New York” as it progresses. More “womanly duties” are pressed upon her such as cooking, cleaning and above all else sewing, and she is scolded for staying indoors too often and “scribbling” in her “silly book”, the Diary.

At the point where Anais is almost 15 years old she still pines for her Papa but has given up hope of him ‘magically’ appearing in New York for Christmas. They maintain a long correspondance (more fervently and regularly on Anais’ part). Joaquin and Thorvald (her brothers) are growing quickly, but Anais still towers over them. They live in the city, in a large house now, renting out rooms to boarders. John O’Connell, a blue-eyed, gentle, well behaved younger boy from school, is Anais’ first innocent ‘romance’. Anais detests school…she does like the temporary public school right now, except for English Grammar classes and Math. She is learning how to sow, cook, clean and keep the house together. She is still fervent about France and the War but talks about it less. She dicusses the difference between dreaming and reality, and how there are two sides to her nature. Some days she chooses Life [Reality] and some days she chooses Dreaming. She writes stories…she reads Hugo, Eliot and other great authors. An artist wants her to sit for a portrait because of her Catalan features inherited from her father. Anais confides in her diary that she is secretly pleased by this. Rosa (her mother) tries to make life fun for the children while working very hard and she still manages to sing in operas sometimes. Anais writes poetry and dances in a Jeanne d’Arc d’onfrey play. She discovers the real goings-on of backstage life which both enchants and disillusions her. Anais has many little girlfriends now and a club of well wishers and do gooders…and edits a small magazine of poetry, stories and pictures. She prays France wil be saved from the Germans. She still hopes to see her father one day again. She still dreams of meeting her other half, her shadow, a man like the heroes in her books, a blue eyed stranger who will understand her.

Anais, at 16, is very introspective, very full of life, in her joy and in her despair, and she is really growing at this point in her life. She is also very innocent in many ways and very loving and gentle hearted. She is intelligent and writes a diary that is compelling and playful and serious and meaningful and intimate and humourous. She writes with a depth and gravity, even while dreaming of violinists and the French Academie. She writes about her interior life and her impressions above the daily grind.

Linotte is the essence of who Anais was in her early life, a fragment of her self she carried with her her entire life. Her thoughts, her dreams, her beliefs, her doubts, her regrets, her ideals, her problems, her questions. It is a journey of one writer’s life as they evolve from child to young woman. Many readers unfamiliar with the breadth of her work picture Anais Nin as a bestselling erotic writer or famed Diary writer with a risque’ and bohemian past. Some view her in relation to any number of her friendships with celebrated artists and writers. Some readers (and critics) cannot see past her sexual exploration later in her life, and view her as only writing in a certain vein. But Linotte is a portrait of an immigrant girl in the early part of the 20th century writing a love letter to her absent father which eventually becomes her life’s masterpiece; the first chapter in her acclaimed series of Diaries.

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