My close girlfriend and I engaged in an interesting discussion upon watching the film "Henry and June" (1990), based on the same book written by Anaïs Nin, a notable Cuban-French essayist, diarist, and writer. For both of us, Nin was an important figure during our formative ages - her Bohemian, sensual, mystical, deeply individualistic, and Dionysian lifestyle spoke deeply to our own inner constitutions. Our conversation came to be an exploration of the dynamic between Henry Miller, the American novelist, his wife, June, and Anaïs - specifically the relationship between the two women. Inspired by that, I have decided to explore the phenomena of how a woman becomes a muse to another woman.
Anaïs Nin & June - Fascination and Homoeroticism
In her journals, Anaïs does not hide or tries to be modest about her fascination with June. June is seemingly opposite of the petite, sensitive, introspective, sensual and secretive Anaïs - June is tall, unemotional, her energy is focused outwardly, and she does not have the need for esoteric, transcendental pleasure that Anaïs does. June is without artistic sentiment, and would be considered shallow by the Bohemian company she was in. Still, she does not need it to provoke an inspiration - it is the way she carries herself alone that fascinates. Nin also feels that she, as a woman, sees parts of June that Henry cannot see. June's Amazonian presence is exactly what fascinates Nin. In the journals she says: “Hugo has been infinitely tender with me, but while he talks of June I think of our hands locked together. She does not reach the same sexual center of my being that man reaches; she does not touch that. What, then, has she moved in me? I have wanted to possess her as if I were a man, but I have also wanted her to love me with the eyes, the hands, the senses that only women have. It is a soft and subtle penetration.” and another “I see ashes under the skin of her face. Disintegration. What terrible anxiety I feel. I want to put my arms around her. I feel her receding into death and I am willing to enter death to follow her, to embrace her. She is dying before my eyes. Her tantalizing, somber beauty is dying. Her strange, manlike strength.”
Nin, in the excerpts above, imagines June as a sort of goddess - she is out of reach, she provokes devotion and admiration. It is almost as if Nin's affair with Henry himself, was an attempt to get to know June - to learn something about her through the man June was with. This blonde, selfish, towering goddess has a dominant presence, unlike Anaïs, who tends to be sensitive and receptive. Yet, like she says, it is not exactly the same feeling that Anaïs would get from a man - she feels that even though June carries a dominant energy, she is still a woman, and in her own way, represents the receptive, consuming principle. Anaïs wants to get lost in her grandiose personality. Unlike a man who often consumes with a forceful passion, June offers a "subtle penetration". She expresses that in the following excerpt: "I love her for what she has dared to be, for her hardness, her cruelty, her egoism, her perverseness, her demoniac destructiveness. She would crush me to ashes without hesitation. She is a personality created to the limit. I worship her courage to hurt, and I am willing to be sacrificed to it. She will add the sum of me to her. She will be June plus all that I contain." - Anaïs sees in June, to a degree, everything that she is not, but she is not envious of what she considers to be her qualities, rather she wants to go "inside" June and explore the unique world she inhabits.
However, Anaïs does not see June only as this distant, outstanding goddess, at times, she sees her as reflection of herself: "I want to run out and kiss her fantastic beauty, kiss it and say, "You carry away with you a reflection of me, a part of me. I dreamed you, I wished for your existence." and another "I told her, "We have both lost ourselves, but sometimes we reveal the most when we are least like ourselves. I am not trying to think any more. I can't think when I am with you. You are like me, wishing for a perfect moment, but nothing too long imagined can be perfect in a worldly way. Neither one of us can say just the right thing. We are overwhelmed. Let us be overwhelmed. It is so lovely, so lovely. I love you June."" - Here, June is not just an object of admiration, but rather a mirror to Anaïs's shadow - June at becomes everything Anaïs is not, but also, everything Anaïs deeply is in her subconscious. The both transpersonal and mirroring experience that the two women get is what creates a deep, and intimate relationship.
A Woman as a Woman's Muse
"(...) for with many a crown of roses
mixed with crocus and violets
you were garlanded while you were at my side
and with many a flower necklace
you encircled your tender throat,
plaiting blossoms together to make a wreath,
and with flowery perfumes
you anointed yourself
and on beds of soft luxury
you would satisfy all your longing
for that tender girl .
Never was there a festival
at a shrine or a temple where
we were absent
nor a grove or a dance" - so sung the great ancient poetess Sappho, expressing a similar feeling that is in her well-known verse: "Sweet mother, I cannot weave –slender Aphrodite has overcome me with longing for a girl." The famous poetess, and devotee to Aphrodite is often considered to be a homosexual, but her sexuality, is not the concern here, rather her usage of female form, women as a source of inspiration in her poetry. Female relationships are often caricatured as relationships full of envy, lies, and psychological games. Of course, these feelings can appear between women, however, the complexity of female relationships is rarely explored, even in literature and film. One of the recent fictional works that explores this complex world is "My Brilliant Friend", series inspired by Elena Ferrante's books - competition, closeness, inspiration, care, love, are all part of the friendship between the two protagonists.
Women artists have often taken other women as their muses. Tamara De Lempicka, Zinaida Serebriakova, are just two of the many others who have predominantly painted women, and who were fascinated by other women. For what reason, one my wonder? A world that tends to both psychologise and pathologise every human experience that is not understood through linear approach of A leads to B, would see it as nothing more but narcissism, yet every woman who has experienced that fascination, knows that it is deeper than that. It is often hardly even sexual in nature, but just like in the situation between Anaïs and June, there is the unique combination of an experience that forces a woman to go at the same time, towards another, but also to move inwards. A woman's admiration of another woman is her acceptance of another's, but also her own complexity, and subtle contradictions.