Review by: Heather Darcy
By Margot Beth Duxler
Margot Beth Duxler was only 20 years old in 1968 when she met 65-year-old Anaïs Nin. It was two years after the publication of Nins first monumental diary, The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume I (1931-1934). Duxler was a sensitive young woman, a lover of language and music and was attending a junior college. She lived with her ultra-conservative family in suburban Chicago and was struggling with depression. Her interests in music, writing and travel were merely tolerated by her mother, whose main goal for her daughter was for her to get married and have children like a nice Jewish girl. In addition to belittling her daughters vision of her own future, Duxlers mother also brainwashed her into thinking that the only way she could be a worthwhile woman was to be pencil thin and beautiful. Duxlers father was moody and often violent to his daughter, thus, her only escape was through music and literature. She clearly needed some sort of a mentor, a woman she could respect and share ideas with.
In the spring of 1968, Duxlers English teacher gave her the first volume of Nins published diary. In short, the diary -- and her subsequent friendship with Nin --entirely changed the course of her life. The relationship lasted until Nins death in 1977.
Nin was exactly the type of woman Duxler and her contemporaries could look to for inspiration. In Nins edited diaries, most of which were published during her lifetime, she portrayed a liberated, successful woman artist and a true free spirit. She conquered numerous personal, psychological and cultural issues and emerged resplendent, with a pen in her hand. She met and wrote about the most fascinating artists alive at the time: Henry Miller, Martha Graham, Lawrence Durrell, Salvador Dali and the poet, Daisy Alden, to name a few. There had never been at that time -- and this remains true today -- a more complete portrait of woman artist as shown in her diaries.
death of cancer, at her request, the unedited versions of the
diaries were published. Everything she had taken out of the edited
versions was now published. Nin was not as independent as she
seemed. She was married two times -- the second time while she
was still married to her first husband -- and relied on both
of these men financially, as well as emotionally. The symbolically
incestuous relationships that appear in Nins fiction turned
out to be based on a consensual affair she had with her father.
Duxler, now a licensed clinical psychologist, was shocked and
felt betrayed by her mentor and friend. She began to write Seduction:
a Portrait of Anais Nin as an attempt to understand this
complicated woman she loved so much.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Margot Duxler on the phone and I spoke to her about her new book. One of the first things I asked her about was what she thought of Nins need for subterfuge. Duxler said, I think in editing the diaries, she was trying to protect the people she loved, and I also think she was trying -- through language --to seduce into being a creature that was ultimately lovable, desirable, and perfect, where I think she felt very much unlovable and quite imperfect. (photo, right, of Margot Duxler, used with permission).
I asked her why she used the word, seduction, in the title of the book and Duxler said she felt the word seduction was appropriate even in the academic usage because it suggests the effort to please others, and thats what she believes many of Nins relationships were about. The early abuse she suffered from her father and his subsequent abandonment of her family left her with this huge need to be loved, which was often expressed by her attempts to please others, to seduce them with her beauty and intelligence. She did this because she felt she couldnt be loved for herself, and she tried to become what she thought others wanted her to be, Duxler added.
When she first read the unexpurgated diaries, Duxler said, It became increasingly difficult to understand how this wonderful, generous person I knew turned out to be leading a double life. When Incest came out, the second of Nins unexpurgated diaries, [Incest: from a Journal of Love: the Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1932-1934 which contains her writings about her sexual relationship with her father] I went into a deep depression for around six months. Everything just felt off kilter -- the axis of the Earth seemed wrong.
The first part of the book, called Finding Anais, is Duxlers personal story of meeting Anais Nin. She said she felt like putting herself into the book was the most difficult task. But that is also what makes the book so unique. Doing what no other Nin biographer has done, Duxler examines Nin with compassion and uses her own personal and psychological knowledge to pull the reader deeper and deeper into her story. We are taken with Duxler on her journey to understand Nin and when we are finished, we are closer to understanding both equally courageous and fascinating women. There is also a well-researched short biography of Nin, followed by a fascinating analysis on Nins inner world. The book ends with an insightful essay about diary writing.
I asked Duxler is she had any plans to write anything else about Anais Nin. She said right now, she feels like shes written everything she needed to say and wanted to say about Nin. When I asked her how she felt when she finished the book, she said, Im beginning to feel more peaceful.