Linotte, by Anaïs Nin

Review by Alan Nicoll

I love this book. It is the first of Anaïs Nin's early diaries, covering the years 1914 through 1920, when she was age 11 through 17. It is difficult to summarize or draw conclusions about this beautiful and extraordinary diary. Reading it is like making the acquaintance of a charming girl, or even like falling in love with her. The last hundred pages especially are deliciously intimate and full of love.

At the start, Anaïs is very much the French patriot, worrying constantly about the war and trying to cast herself in the role of a new Joan of Arc or Charlotte Corday. She also is a loving daughter, writing letters to her distant father and talking of her mother in the most glowing terms. She is devoutly religious. She sees herself as a philosopher and poet. And she is very discontent with her life, her appearance, and above all, her character. She sees herself as frivolous, melancholy, withdrawn, and therefore bad.

By the end of the book she has long since forgotten the war and discovered boys. Her writing about her father and mother are much the same as before, but she now sees herself, at least sometimes, as pretty, a very welcome change to her and to the reader. And she is generally unable to recapture the religious feelings of her childhood, which troubles her.

Her longing for love and her uncertainties about herself are touching. Watching her grow and bloom is fascinating enough, but in addition, her writing is frequently beautiful and moving. However, I found most of her poetry tedious, which may have more to do with my usual indifference to poetry than with the quality of these early efforts.

In this book, Anaïs is introspective, intelligent, and remarkably, even brilliantly, literate and poetic. I am eager to read all her diaries, and if this volume is indicative of what I can expect from the rest, I anticipate one of the great reading experiences of my life.

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Quotations from this volume.