Women's Herstory Month Series: Anaïs Nin
Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell (February 21, 1903 – January 14, 1977), known professionally as Anaïs Nin, was an American diarist, essayist, novelist, and writer of short stories and erotica. Born to Cuban parents in France, Nin was the daughter of composer Joaquín Nin and Rosa Culmell, a classically trained singer. Although Nin spent some time in Spain and Cuba, she lived most of her life in the United States, where she became an established author.
|Anaïs' father Joaquín Nin|
Beginning at age eleven, Nin wrote journals prolifically for six decades and even up until her death. Her journals, many of which were published during her lifetime, detail her private thoughts and personal relationships, as well as her sexually abusive and incestuous relationship with her father. Her journals also describe her marriages to Hugh Parker Guiler and Rupert Pole, in addition to her numerous affairs, including those with psychoanalyst Otto Rank and writer Henry Miller, both of whom profoundly influenced Nin and her writing.
In addition to her journals, Nin wrote several novels, critical studies, essays, short stories, and volumes of erotica. Much of her work, including the collections of erotica Delta of Venus and Little Birds, was published posthumously amid renewed critical interest in her life and work. Nin spent her later life in Los Angeles, California, where she died of cervical cancer in 1977.
Anaïs Nin was born in Neuilly, France, to Joaquín Nin, a Cuban pianist and composer of Catalan Spanish descent, and Rosa Culmell, a classically-trained Cuban singer of French and Danish descent. Nin was raised a Roman Catholic but left the Church at the age of 16. She spent her childhood and early life in Europe. Her parents separated when she was two; her mother then moved Anaïs and her two brothers, Thorvald Nin and Joaquín Nin-Culmell, to Barcelona, and then to New York City, where she attended high school. Nin would drop out of high school in 1919 at age sixteen, and according to her diaries, Volume One, 1931–1934, later began working as an artist's model. After being in the United States for several years, Nin had forgotten how to speak Spanish, but retained her French and became fluent in English.
|Anaïs and 1st husband Hugh Guiler|
|Anaïs posing as a flamenco dancer|
In the late summer of 1939, when residents from overseas were urged to leave France due to the approaching war, Nin left Paris and returned to New York City with her husband. (Guiler was, according to his own wishes, all but edited out of the diaries published during Nin's lifetime; his role in her life is therefore difficult to gauge.) During the war, Nin sent her books to Frances Steloff of the Gotham Book Mart in New York for safekeeping.
In New York, Anaïs rejoined Otto Rank, who had previously moved there, and moved into his apartment. She actually began to act as a psychoanalyst herself, seeing patients in the room next to Rank's, and having sex with her patients on the psychoanalytic couch. She quit after several months, however, stating: "I found that I wasn't good because I wasn't objective. I was haunted by my patients. I wanted to intercede.”
|Dr. Otto Rank|
In the third volume of her unexpurgated journal, Incest, she wrote about her father candidly and graphically (207–15), detailing his sexual abuse of her at age nine.
Previously unpublished works are coming to light in A Café in Space, the Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, which includes "Anaïs Nin and Joaquín Nin y Castellanos: Prelude to a Symphony—Letters between a father and daughter."
So far sixteen volumes of her journals have been published. All but the last five of her adult journals are in expurgated form.
Nin is hailed by many critics as one of the finest writers of female erotica. She was one of the first women known to explore fully the realm of erotic writing, and certainly the first prominent woman in the modern West known to write erotica. Before her, erotica acknowledged to be written by women was rare, with a few notable exceptions, such as the work of Kate Chopin. Nin often cited authors Djuna Barnes and D. H. Lawrence as inspirations, and she states in Volume One of her diaries that she drew inspiration from Marcel Proust, André Gide, Jean Cocteau, Paul Valéry, and Arthur Rimbaud.
According to Volume One of her diaries, 1931–1934, published in 1966, Nin first came across erotica when she returned to Paris with her husband, mother and two brothers in her late teens. They rented the apartment of an American man who was away for the summer, and Nin came across a number of French paperbacks: "One by one, I read these books, which were completely new to me. I had never read erotic literature in America… They overwhelmed me. I was innocent before I read them, but by the time I had read them all, there was nothing I did not know about sexual exploits… I had my degree in erotic lore."
|Anaïs and Henry Miller|
Faced with a desperate need for money, Nin, Henry Miller and some of their friends began in the 1940s to write erotic and pornographic narratives for an anonymous "collector" for a dollar a page, somewhat as a joke.(It is not clear whether Miller actually wrote these stories or merely allowed his name to be used.) Nin considered the characters in her erotica to be extreme caricatures and never intended the work to be published, but changed her mind in the early 1970s and allowed them to be published as Delta of Venus and Little Birds. In 2016, a previously-undiscovered collection of erotica, Auletris, was published for the first time.
Nin was a friend – and in some cases lover – of many literary figures, including Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Antonin Artaud, Edmund Wilson, Gore Vidal, James Agee, James Leo Herlihy, and Lawrence Durrell. Her passionate love affair and friendship with Miller strongly influenced her both sexually and as an author. Claims that Nin was bisexual were given added circulation by the Philip Kaufman film Henry & June about Henry Miller and his second wife June Miller. The first unexpurgated portion of Nin's journal to be published, Henry and June, makes it clear that Nin was stirred by June to the point of saying (paraphrasing), "I have become June," though it is unclear whether she consummated her feelings for her sexually. To both Anaïs and Henry, June was a femme fatale—irresistible, cunning, erotic. Nin gave June money, jewelry, clothes, often leaving herself broke.
Nin was also the author of several works of non-fiction: Her first publication, written during her years studying psychoanalysis, was D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study (1932), an assessment of the works of D.H. Lawrence. In 1968, she published The Novel of the Future, which elaborated on her approach to writing and the writing process.
According to her diaries, Vol.1, 1931–1934, Nin shared a bohemian lifestyle with Henry Miller during her time in Paris. Her husband Guiler is not mentioned anywhere in the published edition of the 1930s parts of her diary (Vol. 1–2) although the opening of Vol. 1 makes it clear that she is married, and the introduction suggests her husband refused to be included in the published diaries. The diaries edited by her second husband, after her death, tell that her union with Henry Miller was very passionate and physical, and that she believed that it was a pregnancy by him that she aborted in 1934.
In 1947, at the age of 44, she met former actor Rupert Pole in a Manhattan elevator on her way to a party. The two ended up dating and traveled to California together; Pole was sixteen years her junior. On March 17, 1955, while still married to Guiler, she married Pole at Quartzsite, Arizona, returning with him to live in California. Guiler remained in New York City and was unaware of Nin's second marriage until after her death in 1977, though biographer Deirdre Bair alleges that Guiler knew what was happening while Nin was in California, but consciously "chose not to know."
Nin referred to her simultaneous marriages as her "bicoastal trapeze." According to Deidre Bair:
"[Anaïs] would set up these elaborate façades in Los Angeles and in New York, but it became so complicated that she had to create something she called the lie box. She had this absolutely enormous purse and in the purse she had two sets of checkbooks. One said Anaïs Guiler for New York and another said Anaïs Pole for Los Angeles. She had prescription bottles from California doctors and New York doctors with the two different names. And she had a collection of file cards. And she said, "I tell so many lies I have to write them down and keep them in the lie box so I can keep them straight."
In 1966, Nin had her marriage with Pole annulled, due to the legal issues arising from both Guiler and Pole trying to claim her as a dependent on their federal tax returns. Though the marriage was annulled, Nin and Pole continued to live together as if they were married, up until her death in 1977. According to Barbara Kraft, prior to her death Anaïs had written to Hugh Guiler asking for his forgiveness. He responded by writing how meaningful his life had been because of her.
After Guiler's death in 1985, the unexpurgated versions of her journals were commissioned by Pole. Five volumes have appeared (Henry and June, Fire, Incest, Nearer the Moon, and Mirages). Pole died in July 2006.
Nin once worked at Lawrence R. Maxwell Books, located at 45 Christopher Street in New York City. In addition to her work as a writer, Nin appeared in the Kenneth Anger film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome(1954) as Astarte; in the Maya Deren film Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946); and in Bells of Atlantis (1952), a film directed by Guiler under the name "Ian Hugo" with a soundtrack of electronic music by Louis and Bebe Barron. In her later life, Nin worked as a tutor at the International College in Los Angeles.
Anaïs Nin, speaks from a Pacifica Radio Archives recording "The New Woman" from 1974, part of a radio series produced by KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles called, Ramparts Reports. Here she expresses "Why I Write."