Ladders to Fire
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Ladders to Fire, Anaïs Nin’s first full-length novel, was revolutionary in that it addressed woman’s role in a male-dominated world in the mid-1940s. Through her iconic characters Lillian, Djuna, and Sabina, and their relationship with Jay, Nin was able to examine “the destruction in woman…woman’s struggle to understand her own nature.”
Lillian, trapped in a conventional marriage, was “traversing a street… She was not attacked, raped, or mutilated. She was not kidnapped for white slavery. But as she crossed the street…she felt as if all these horrors had happened to her, she felt the nameless anguish, the shrinking of the heart, the asphyxiation of pain, the horror of torture whose cries no one hears.” She confides in Djuna, provides nurturing to the needy Jay, and finds the freedom she seeks in the fiery Sabina, with whom she has a failed sexual relationship.
The prose is classic Nin—take, for example, the following passage:
“With each mouthful Lillian swallowed, she devoured the noises of the street, the voices and the echoes they dropped, the swift glances which fell on her like pieces of lighted wick from guttering candles. She was only the finger of a whole, bigger body, a body hungry, thirsty, avid.
“The wine running down her throat was passing through the throat of the world. The warmth of the day was like a man’s hand on her breast, the smell of the street like a man’s breath on her neck. Wide open to the street like a field washed by a river.”
Ladders to Fire is the first novel in the series Nin entitled Cities of the Interior, which can be read in any order. The other titles are Children of the Albatross, The Four-Chambered Heart, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur.