Nin, master of artifice, effect; The Early Diary of Anais Nin, Volume 2, 1920-1923. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 541 pp. $19.95.
Diarists fall into three general categories: chroniclers, searchers, and fabricators. The first record circumstances and events; the second and third are more concerned with ambiguous, interior phenomena. At one end of the spectrum, the searcher is embarked on a voyage of self-discovery and is intent on stripping away layers of distortion in order to see him or herself clearly. At the other, the fabricator is engaged in trying on attitudes, in applying experimental touches of clay, paint, and plaster in the work of constructing a satisfactory persona for a self. Virginia Woolf's magnificent diary stands as a monument of the paring away variety, while Anais Nin's legendary work proves her a past mistress of the arts of artifice, effect, and illusion.
Nin is the author of 17 published volumes of poetry, essays, and fiction, but she is best known for her diaries. She was the only daughter of a Spanish father , who was a pianist, and a Cuban mother, who was a vocalist. Her parents separated when she was 11. Nin, her mother, and two brothers came to the United States, where her mother had relatives and found work as a dressmaker in New York.
On that voyage to the New World, Nin began the diary that she was to keep for the next 60 years, documenting her growth as a woman and an artist. Eight volumes of diaries covering her adult life (she moved in the circles of Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and the like) have already been published. Most recently, ''Linotte,'' the first volume of her girlhood diaries, appeared. This second volume in that series shows us Nin from age 17 to 20. She moves from a most successful ''coming out'' to marriage, with poetry, housekeeping, modeling, dances, and flirtations in between.
This diary was at first a private universe, an all-approving confidante. In it the young Nin could recast events, others, and herself to appear the way she wanted them to be, a way that answered her ideas of herself as a heroine surrounded by drama, romance, and grace. She had begun the creation of her persona, and as she increased in social awareness and ease in the present volume , she refined the image. She composed it in the diaries and wrapped it about her when she went out into the public world.
Nin was a narcissist of the first order. It is telling that she often wrote seated in front of her dressing table mirror, lovingly describing the passions and poetry she saw engraved in the lines of her face. Her diaries were concerned , first and last, with her image of herself, and what she documented were the reflections she collected off every suitable surface. If all this sounds tiresome, it can be. Yet, the diaries are often enthralling.
Anais Nin had an uncommonly adult awareness of the transience of childhood and adolescence, even as she was living them. She also had achieved an eloquence at the age of 17 that most adults would be proud of. Add to this her performer's sense of the dramatic and - well, the melodramatic. Through sheer nerve, confidence, and will, Nin made of the everyday something magical. This was a gift, indeed, and it's a fascinating process to witness.