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Gunther Stublmann provides a highly enlightening introduction to this publication of Under A Glass Bell. He traces the impact of WWII on Anais Nin, her move to the United States and her struggles to create a space for herself in the world of U.S. literature. I much appreciated this background material. It situated where Nin was in her thinking and her struggles to become a recognized author. This book, but not Stublmann’s introduction, was first published in 1944.
While the collection is completely of very short stories, I found the writing much more interesting as poetry than as storytelling. Nin’s language is often magnificently creative and poetic, but not very often is the story nearly as satisfying. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading the collection just to come across those marvelous descriptions here and there which didn’t necessarily advance the story, but were just brilliant on their own as bits and pieces of poetry.
Below I briefly comments on each of the stories, trying to treat them as stories, but having some difficulty along the way.
In this dreamy reflection the narrator is first lost in a small park, the Labyrinth of the title, and she wanders around, lost, amazed, stimulated, a young child alone, almost like a thoughtful drunken adult.
Eventually she emerges from the park and is now confronted, virtually overcome, with the city outside the park. Yet she wanders on, lost, amazed, entranced in thought and fearful meditation.
It is a very eerie experience, following this young girl’s reflection.
This opening story also sets a tone of a mix of unreality set in a very tactile concrete world.
The narrator is sitting in front of an old glass bell. Inside the bell is a scene of what appears to be an 18th century drawing room of a quite wealthy family. The narrator imagines and creates a life for the three main characters, a young woman (the narrator and seemingly Nin herself) and her two brothers.
The imagination is creative, sensitive, gripping and believable. It is gentle, touching and forces the reader to enter into the author’s imagination and this reader couldn’t help but picture each scene as it unfolded in Nin’s imagination. It is a very lovely, soft and gentle scene.
The narrator (who seemingly is Beatrice Cenci) is imagining a world of medieval Florence and she is under the influence of Savonarola, whom she thinks is actually threatening her.
As best I can tell Savonarola and Beatrice Cenci never actually met. Cenci lived in Rome about the same time as Savonarola was in Florence and both were under the inspection of Vatican officials for alleged anti-Church activities. However, in real life one of Nin’s lovers was Antonin Artaud. He often referred to her as Beatrice Cenci. He was associated with the “Theater of Cruelty” which is mentioned in Nin’s story. Interestingly part of their mutual attraction is the silences they have with one another.
In the story the woman says of her lover:
“I looked at his mouth whose edges were blackened with laudanum. Would I be drawn towards death, toward insanity? To be touched by Pierre meant to be poisoned by the poison which was destroying him. With his hands he was imprisoning my dreams because they were like his, he was laying heavy hands on me.”
I wasn’t sure if this was just a memory clip she was writing, or some reflection on their own relationship. This was a very curious “story.”
This very short piece appears to be a sort of biography of a painter whom Nin knew. His paintings always had an eye somewhere at the edges and that eye was the place from which his painting, his vision flowed. However, drink and perhaps a wider form of madness intensified the role of the eye in this mad painter’s life.
I don’t know the painter, however, it’s clear that Nin both respected him, but recognized him to be insane.
This very short piece describes an elderly Mohican Indian living in Paris just before WWII. He was into esoteric studies of the future, especially the lives of those around him, including Anais Nin. Nin’s writing in these few pages is electric. It is exciting, descriptive, creative, mystical, poetic and vivid. I would suggest reading it simply for the language, images and vocabulary. The story of this very strange man is a feast for the reader’s imagination.
This is a brilliantly written story. The female narrator has a houseboat docked illegally on the Seine in the heart of Paris. Nin writes beautifully of the differences between the Paris of “above” and the life on the Seine from the drunks along to bank, the regulars on their rickety houseboats, her own leaky boat.
Of course the river is front and center. At one point she tells us:
“The river was having a nightmare. Its vast whaleback was restless. It had been cheated of its daily suicide. More women fed the river than men – more wanted to die in winter than in summer.”
This is much less a short story than an extended prose poem. Some of the images were just breathtaking and very surprising, creative and fitting. The piece is more like a string of beautifully connected images than lining out an actual story.
Anais Nin has a woman working for her who is terrified by most everything, always thinking she will be punished by her employer. She gets pregnant and causes her own abortion. But she has a bad reaction and need hospitalization, but no hospital will help.
Nin simply lays out this woman’s situation and her “mouseish” behavior. It’s a very sad, but believable tale.
This is a vivid short picture of a woman having an extremely painful and dangerous delivery of a baby. The woman both wants the child and doesn’t, frightened by the possibility of her own death. Well told, but disturbing.
When she was just 11 they had passed through Cadiz on their way to the U.S. But Cadiz didn’t really touch her. Rather, at age 20 her life was changed by a period of time in Fez. The complete “other” of the life of the very desperately poor Muslims of Fez touched her greatly. She became herself, lived in an environment of brutal Arab poverty of the city and learned to “let go,” to put aside her “supposed to be self” and to just be herself.
This is a very short walk into her past, and her memory’s view of her life.
She arrives at the door of a very special man in her life. As she awaits him to answer the door she reflects on his life and hers. He was traumatized as a child when he didn’t win a violin prize and his mother so mocked him and denounced this silly dream of his, that he simply never recovered. But the violin was always “… the archeologist of his own soul…” He searched for meaning in his travels with hundreds of trinkets he collected to remind him. He fell in love with “. . . the Unknown Woman of the Seine,” a legendary beauty.
She reflects, as she stands at his door, on how each of them saw the other as free. Yet in truth they each had different sorts of holds on each other and on life itself.
Two people, a beautiful black South American woman and a guitar playing European live and struggle in a slum of Paris. Each lives a life of struggle and pain, but in their meeting and love they have a child whom they call Pony. She is the joy that the accidents of their lives have created.
Hejda is a very rich young woman with some mean tendencies. She is a Muslim who had to be veiled at all times. At 17 she left her life in the “Orient” (Nin’s term for the Middle East) and she left her veil, moved on to Paris. However, she kept the “air” of being veiled.
She continued to cover herself fully in dress, just without the veil. Her persona, however, was as guarded as though it had a veil. People couldn’t understand her. She was “. . . the woman of the orient who wants to be a woman of tomorrow.”
She studied painting where she met a Rumanian fellow who much like her, had “Oriental” ways. He is Molnar and they marry. At home he dominates her. But in the public world he is retiring, even submissive and she dominates there, yet becomes even smaller at home.
Hejda is nearly destroyed, but eventually they separate and slowly, but surely, she once again emerges and becomes much more like the free spirit she was as a child.
I found this story to be quite strange. Nin sets out to capture the inner and outer life of a rag picker. Objects that are whole and fully functional are of little interest to the rag picker. He lives on the edges of the world, piecing together bits and pieces of this and that from which, presumably, he can create some sort of living and life for himself and his family.
Nin reaches deeper into her imagination in this short attempt to reveal another worldly world, but it just didn’tBob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com