Apprenticed to Venus: My Secret Life with Anaïs Nin by Tristine Rainer

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“I knew how she was, adamant about others keeping her secrets, but careless in exposing the intimacies of others.”

That quote stayed with me the most after having read Apprenticed To Venus. Anaïs was obviously the sort of person that fished confessions, revelations, and intimacies out of people with ease. Most people are hungry for a confidant, people love to give away their juiciest parts, so long as they have an audience they think they can trust, after-all even criminals talk, stories need to be told, it’s human nature. I’ve said before, the marrow of Anaïs Nin’s writing is in her diaries. She edited them for an audience, but even if she were writing for herself alone, something is always held back for self-preservation. We can hardly be honest with ourselves, about ourselves, how can it be any different in the records we keep of our life or revelations about others? How can we expect pure honesty with each other?  Anaïs as feminist truly was a persona she wore, not much different than celebrities of today. She was a great manipulator, as the famous often are, and knew how to seduce men and women alike. That Anaïs  used a very young Tristine Rainier, and set her up as an accomplice in her deceptive life is wildly evident in this memoir.

Anaïs knew how to charm people and she was just as gifted at cutting them out until they begged, willing to do anything just to be let back in her ‘circle.’ Take youth and the hunger to escape one’s monotonous existence, to live in the present and taste the very essence of life so one day they may take those moments and ‘write so they can taste life twice’. Is it any wonder that Rainier was lured in by artists, musicians, and all the exciting places? There was artifice in Anaïs that anyone can see has grown to astronomical proportions in celebrities of today, but never have I read about someone who was able to live a split life with two husbands for countless years and be in the public spotlight without exposure! Reading about her spicy sexual adventures and love affairs didn’t inspire, it downright exhausted me and to think I am decades younger than she was. How do you keep up with so many lies, always a step away from disaster? Her life was complete farce, to look at your beloved (or beloveds) and live with the shame of your betrayal day in and day out? I’m not made of such stern stuff. It’s a gut rot, those lies.

The diarist is a sort of murderer, you can’t fully trust what you read about people because all stories, false and true, are told from one perspective. Often, people are caricatures- the diarist takes only certain moments and expands on them. All of us can be monstrous or angelic, depending on who is doing the writing and how they feel about us just in the that one moment. I cringe looking back at my own journals, the assassinations of character because someone hurt me, or the gushing praise for another because of tender feelings of happiness and let’s face it- how much is any sane person going to publish about themselves that reveals their own monsters? Most people don’t want to be seen as they really are when no one is looking. Anaïs knew how to sell an image, faking it half the time, but even so there are always slips and cracks. The real person bleeds through, now and then. Are we any different these days with our online personas, our ‘best foot forward’ and all that?

As mentor to Tristine Rainier, there was certainly genuine connection, in fact I think Anaïs fell in love with people until they no longer interested her or were of use. People were curiosities to her, pets that she maybe adored and then got sick of. I think about her incestuous relationship with her father, having read other memoirs about women in similar forbidden, shocking relationships one has to wonder just how damaged she was and how that affected every bond she had with others. Everything she did seemed to have a man at the core. A feminist wouldn’t need to lie, she wouldn’t need to ‘compartmentalize’ her life as Anaïs did. Would a true feminist abuse other women, through her selfishness? It’s strange, but Anaïs in many ways was like the sort of men she felt were vulgar. Her fictional stories weren’t the best but I am a staunch fan of the diaries, because the writing is expressive and beautiful- her ‘non-fiction’. Remember, even diaries are a sort of fiction, aren’t they?

It’s always interesting how people are crushed when their favorite celebrity is just like the rest of us, selfish, weak, liars when it suits their purposes, insecure… but Anaïs was also cultured, strong, supportive, loving, articulate and an artist, because in the end her life was performance art, wasn’t it? The problem is, when you create yourself to be seen in a certain light, you lose your own meaning.

Anaïs Nin’s  protégé, Tristine Rainier, was seduced by Nin’s bohemian existence and is now able to reveal the secrets she held close, because although her mentor abused the confidences of her closest friends, Rainier held her own tongue proving her loyalty. This memoir is one of the best I have read about Anaïs Nin, by turns shockingly shameful and yet, fascinating. There is a struggle still between what’s acceptable sexually for a man as opposed to a woman. The world is bursting with true stories about men keeping several wives, even entire families secret, but strangely a woman being a bigamist comes off as just as distasteful to me, because at the core it is not about male/female but betrayal. Nin’s life didn’t seem free to me, chained as she was by lies, desperate enough to manipulate her young  protégé and others. Is that really what we women want? To be equally vulgar? Women have a right to their sexuality as much as any man, but neither should abuse others. Human nature loves to deceive though… fame, pleasure, greed seems to be a driving force. I kept thinking, there are people who kill to keep their secrets. Isn’t that strange? That she contained her life much in the same way dangerous people do?

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

Skyhorse Publishing

Arcade Publishing




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