Linotte: The Early Diary of Anaïs 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.

Selections by Alan Nicoll; I have also written a review of this book which you can read by clicking here.

Ellipses in original throughout.

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

February 27, 1915

"I wanted to write the evening of the 25th but I had a horrible pain in my legs; however, that isn't interesting. I want to tell about a strange dream that I had that night. First I was in a large room with gray wallpaper, very dark. I can still remember exactly how it was, but that isn't interesting. I was sitting on a small wooden chair that smelled of pine. Then a great lady dressed in black velvet and wearing a belt of diamonds or some shiny material came into the room. First she went to the grand piano in the corner and played, a long melody that was so sad it seems to me I cried, or at least I felt sad. When she had finished, she went to a large easel, took a brush and began to paint on a very dark wood. In the distance the sky was pale blue. She painted gently and in a moment had finished. Then she went to a big desk, took a pen and a big book with white pages, and first looking at me with her big blue eyes, then at the sky, she slowly began to write and she wrote pages and pages. I could see that they were long beautiful poems full of charm, tenderness and sweetness. Oh, I couldn't read them, but they seemed to me to be very beautiful. Finally she shut the book gently, laid down her pen, and came silently toward me. I heard her say, Choose. Oh, how I hesitated. First I remembered the beautiful melody she played on the piano, then suddenly I turned toward the easel, with the beautiful painting where I could describe all the lovely and charming landscapes, all the beauty of nature. But quickly I turned toward the big desk covered with books, an invisible force pulled me toward it, without even trying my hand took up the pen. Then the great lady smiled, came closer and gave me the big book, saying, Write, I shall guide you. Without any trouble I wrote some things that I think were very beautiful, for the lady pointed to a place where venerable bearded old men and also queens and beautiful ladies were seated in great armchairs, writing endlessly. If they raised their eyes, it was to question nature, the horizon, infinity. Your place is there, she said to me. As soon as she left, I gently let go of my book and my pen and went to the piano. I wanted to try it and at first my fingers moved very well, I liked what I was playing, but suddenly I stopped, I couldn't remember any more. So looking sadly at the piano, I said to myself, I can't play. I tried to paint and was doing a beautiful landscape, but I stopped and instead of paint, there was a lot of heavy daubing on my canvas, so I said, Adieu, I don't want you. Then I picked up my pen and began to write without stopping." p. 50-51

May 2, 1919

"The other day I asked Frances, whom I persuaded to start a diary, how it was going. To my surprise, and it was a surprise that made me sad, she told me it wasn't going at all. And suddenly I began to wonder what I would do without my diary. Can you answer me that, my faithful confidant? You know who I am, must I tell you again? A poet with a cracked and muddled head, a philosopher who doesn't know anything, a bad pupil and many other things like that. How and to whom could I say everything that goes through my mind? When I am angry, I write and my anger cools; when I am sad, I write and my melancholy wears off; when I am happy, I write, and I am happy every time I reread what I write; when I have no friends, I write, and you are there; when everyone calls me an ignoramus, I write and am consoled; when I bungle a poem, I write and am comforted." p. 228

June 29, 1919

"But one thing is true: the love described by poets and writers, the kind you find in books, is one thing, and love in real life is another. I don't yet know the difference, but one day I shall know. I don't want to deceive the public like that, even if it's only to make them happy. I shall write a book that describes Life exactly as it appears to my curious gaze, and that way, the generation that reads it will be ready to live when it has finished the book, whereas I have used books as my teachers, have let them fill my soul with poetry, my heart with romance, my eyes with illusions, and at present when I leave them behind, I have to begin to learn to live." p. 264

August 21, 1919

"One day I talked to Maman about the past and, as usual, it was I who asked the questions and Maman who answered. I wanted to know, after one has loved, whether there is still something to live for, whether there is any other wonderful thing to wish for. Maman told me the two important things that she would always wish for: good health and success. Love was the most important thing only when she was young." [Comment: I suspect that Maman, on reflection, would agree that the love and good health of Linotte were more precious to her even than her own good health and success."] "I wanted to know what Maman thinks about Love, but Maman said she never thinks about it. I just remembered this because I am lying in the hammock as I was yesterday, with my hair loose and my pen in hand, and for quite a little while I have been dreaming about love as it's described in books, forgetting to write. It must be the magic of silence, of solitude . . .

"When the wind passes the trees tremble, bending before its mighty breath, and the leaves fall . . . the ground is covered with them. My birds are singing, and just as at Lake Placid, I have a wonderful impression that all this murmur around me, all those vague sounds are voices, voices that speak to me---and I understand them. They remind me of stories in books, of heroes and heroines . . . and I wonder why, oh, why there is such a difference between the people I have read about and those that I know! The voices speak and make me dream. I dream about the prince who is going to come for me, and then at the same time I think about what Maman said. And then I stop writing and I think, but I can't dream any more. Oh, how I would like to know the truth, to know if the people who tell me that Life is cruel are right, or if books, which say that Life is the way I think it is, are mistaken. The people who already seem to know the answer all have wrinkles, gray hair, a sad look in their eyes, and can be compared to Autumn after Summer. Are those the results of the Great Discovery, the ravages made by wisdom and experience? So then what is the answer to my question? Are the books wrong? Are people like Charles right?

"But even if I sometimes have doubts, I am going to believe just the same in my Land of Princes and Princesses, and people like the Vicar will always exist in . . . my heart. And when the wrinkles come and my hair is gray, instead of being full of light as it is today, when my eyes are sad, if my Prince has come, if I have loved and published, if like Maman I have nothing more to wish for except two things that are as useless, in my opinion, as good health and money, then who cares! since I will have all my memories!

"And the leaves are still falling, the sun disappears, giving way to the cloud that precedes a storm, the sand flies away along with the leaves, carried on the wind. Everything changes, but nothing can change the Country in my heart. I swing in the hammock with the enthusiasm of a poet who has succeeded in writing a description of paradise, without a care . . .

"And I shall wait for my Prince, even if the entire universe assures me that he doesn't exist!" p. 308-309

September 9, 1919

"The other day I read that there are three reasons for avoiding people and wanting solitude: bitterness, indifference or sensitivity. I have too many illusions to be bitter, I feel too much pity and sympathy to be indifferent, but I know that I am extremely sensitive. Sometimes I have the impression that I see the world upside down and that's why millions of things upset and shock me---things that don't have the least effect on other people. My idea of religion, for instance, so far seems to be the opposite of most people's. For me, religion is simply beauty. Sometimes it's the chanting in church, sometimes it's the incense, the bell, the lights, the other people on their knees, the gilded statues, the flowers, the rays of the sun through the rainbow-colored windows, or the silence of the vaulted roof when the church is empty, the little red flame that burns day and night, the mysteries that move me, fill me with emotions that are impossible to describe and that make up my idea of religion. I pray most to what seems to me the most beautiful thing in church, instead of the altar itself. As for other people's ideas, I have a vague impression that they find religion a duty, a visit during which one kneels on a wooden bench, or a way of covering up acts that are not very charitable or generous. There are some who say that it's a consolation, a comfort, and others who never think about it, who do everything out of habit. Above all, what I don't understand is the people who read the words in the prayer book. Haven't they ever tried to talk, to meditate? Last Sunday at the end of Mass, Maman asked me why I never bring my prayer book or my rosary, and I almost explained this to her, but instead of that I only answered what the question required.

"Really, during the Mass, I was busy thinking about the pretty climbing plants that had entered the church through the open window and whose shadows were waving behind the windows that were closed. I was so absorbed in the beauty of the scene, in my reflections on the supreme Art of the creator of the Universe, that I didn't 'pray' one single time during the entire Mass. But would God have understood the prayer that was in my profound admiration of something beautiful which belonged to him like all the other beautiful things in the whole world? So you see, I don't know if I see religion inside out, but even if that is the case, the wrong side of everything is the more beautiful side! I have just discovered the answer to the question of a prescription for happiness: turn the world inside out!" p. 324-325

January 23, 1920

"Marcus once wrote a phrase written by a poet: 'Oh! for a life of emotion instead of thoughts!'" p. 417

January 27, 1920

"Dearest diary! Dearest diary! My Romance has come! Seeing my little Love sorrowing in front of the closed door, someone sent him to me with his precious message and I am the one who forbids him to enter. But I can open the door when I want to.

"I had written to Frances, I had read and mended stockings, also taken care of Thorvald's and Joaquinito's colds, when toward 3 o'clock the postman arrived with the letter I had been waiting for since Monday---a letter from Marcus. He says that he loves me, O little diary! And his letter is so beautiful, like a poem . . . . Never have I been so deeply troubled, shaken and touched. Still a child in my emotions! But he asks me if I love him---heavens, I don't know---I don't think so, I don't know the meaning of the Love he talks about and in my answer I offer him all that I can give him, my love, which is a sincere and deep friendship. He says that I seem to have stepped out of a book of fairy tales, so I call him my Prince, Prince Marcus. Maman liked my letter very much, and I don't know why, she had just the very slightest trace of tears in her eyes . . . .

"Marcus is going to become a poet later on, he says---that and many other things, but the last page, in which he writes my romance in letters of gold, that is the one I have reread a hundred times. He is just a boy, perhaps, but what sweetness in those words: 'I love you, Anaïs.'

"It's 'My first love'---O my diary---can you understand why my heart is beating so hard? No, I certainly didn't reach your last page without my adventure beginning---the one I dream about with the stars, the clouds, the flowers, the wind, the night---everything and always---Prince Marcus!" p. 423

January 28, 1920

"It is always with regret that I give up an old notebook. I put so much of myself into each word and each page. But here is the first page of a new notebook, and yet . . . My diary, I have managed to confide all my thoughts freely to you; you are my best friend on this earth, the most faithful, the most sincere.

"On the last page of the other notebook my Romance began! No doubt you will know how it turns out, and yet in this moment the Future in impenetrable. I am troubled by the strangest emotions. I feel as though I have just crossed the threshold of a new world, ever since the moment when I was so deliciously 'thrilled' by the Stranger. O dearest diary, if I were allowed to answer the letter from Prince Marcus all over again, I wouldn't know what to say. The tone, the sincerity, the beauty of his letter touched not only my imagination but, in a hazy way, my heart. Never have I been so aware of the presence of that heart that I thought was made of snow and ice. Yes, thanks to my unsociable nature and my reticence, I thought I was far from the emotions that I see in the sufferings of the people around me. I thought I was cold and indifferent. A little philosopher, already wise, and only occupied with observing the passions and dreams of others.

"And now my fortress has almost come tumbling down at the first sigh of the breeze that causes so many hearts to tremble! How could I write last night: 'I do not love you'? I don't know, because suddenly today the thought came to me that my Prince combines all the qualities of my Ideal. I had never thought of that, never.

"And yet something always destroys my dreams. Maman mocks me, Maman says I am a child and that Marcus is a madman. So when I am plunged into grave reflections, Maman's laughter echoes in my ears. In order not to think any more, not to count the hours between posting my letter and the reply, I plunged into the works of Plato and read 100 pages without understanding one word.

"I don't recognize myself, and I would give a great deal not to be so susceptible and impressionable. But how beautiful it is to find the keys to Fairyland like this. I have only to murmur very softly: Prince Marcus---and the wonderful stories, the enchanting landscapes, the mystery and inexpressible charm of the Thousand and One Nights unfold before me in a superb and divine procession." p. 423-424

January 29, 1920

"The other day Thorvald preached me a sermon about how little exercise I get. Walk to the village and back. I told him that in my opinion my health isn't worth two cents and that it's the same to me whether I am weak or strong. I shall never forget his answer, which was unexpected: 'Well then,' he said, 'you should never get married and have children.'

"I was shaken. I had never thought of that and it was my brother, the more uncomplicated of my two brothers, who lifted the curtain on a world that I had never suspected . . . . Life as a duty, health as a pleasure and for the happiness of others! Oh, how I fear the 'Nin' traits! How I struggle against my inclinations. What a powerful force guides my deeds, and how I have been able to overcome the most terrible faults in my nature! And yet here is another one appearing on my horizon, a heavy dark cloud: another form of selfishness.

"So I should believe in youth and in physical and moral health. In life, which is a truly sublime task, since it asks only that one understand and love it. I have a strong tendency toward melancholy, observation, philosophy, toward being shut up in my shell, physically powerless and morally sick. For my mind is unhealthy when it is mournful, always looking out for a strong emotion to make it alive.

"Oh, look at the world, made immaculate by the snow and bathed in the sun's rays! Look at my 17 years shining in the Future, a fresh young star! Look at Life, as beautiful as I want to make it! Everything sings, everything murmurs, everything seems glad to be alive. One must laugh or make others laugh. I can hear the laughter of Raymond, who has put on his first pair of long trousers, Thorvald's shouts. They are young and so happy.

"I am young, too. I will be happy some day when I have learned how. Just think, who will teach a little philosopher, poet, and linotte to laugh?

"Sometimes I think the thing that moves me the most, that makes my whole being sing, that always remains stamped on my heart and soul, is not love but Beauty. That is why I believe that Marcus, like a true poet, loves the Love and Romance in me, and that's all. Perhaps he has already found another girl, because I told him that I do not love him, and perhaps She, the other one, is as much in love with the Beauty of the emotion called: Love. What can I say? I can't think about those things, I can only feel them.

"Last night I asked Maman half in jest, half because I didn't know, what Prince Marcus would have done if I had said yes. Maman said that he would have asked me to wait for him . . . . Wait! At that I became so far-away and pensive that Maman had to laugh and break the spell.

"We talked about Papa. I wanted to know if Maman still loves him. 'Good heavens, no.' The indifference of her tone hurt me. I wondered what I would have done in her place. Then with the sincerity that I have inherited from her, I hope, I told Maman that I would have tried to die.

"'Ah, no, fifille! What about my little ones?'

"Duty again. Oh, heavens, I had never thought about that. Everything on earth seems to turn around a center, the center of the Circle. Apparently, anyone who loses his way loses his balance. Then in spite of what the poets say, Life is scientific? A circle, with a point in the center: Duty. We revolve around it, to the end. Then we leave the circle noiselessly, while the others keep on turning." p. 425-426

June 29, 1920

"I often reread my Diary to encourage myself a little, for sometimes I wonder whether the foolish things I write at certain times are good for anything. Oh! And yet, as a journalist said in his ordinary language: 'A man at forty realizes what a fool he was at twenty, and yet can't see what a fool he is now!'" p. 488

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