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|Anaïs Nin (1903-1977)|
French-born novelist, passionate eroticist and short story writer, who gained international fame with her journals. Spanning the years from 1931 to 1974, they give an account of one woman's voyage of self-discovery. "It's all right for a woman to be, above all, human. I am a woman first of all." (from The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. I, 1966) Anaïs Nin was largely ignored until the 1960s. Today she is regarded as one of the leading women writers of the 20th-century and a source of inspiration for women challenging conventionally defined gender roles.
"I had expected a man for the demonstration of sixty-six ways of making love. Henry barters over the price. The women smile. The big one has bold features, raven black hair in curls which almost hide her face. The smaller one has a pale face with blonde hair. They are like mother and daughter. They wear high-heeled shoes, black stockings with garters at the thighs, and loose open kimono. They lead us upstairs. They walk ahead, swinging their hips." (from Journals 1931-1934)
Anaïs Nin was born in Neuilly, France, to artistic parents. After a cosmopolitan childhood in Europe, Nin came to the New York City with her French-Danish mother, Rosa Culmell Nin, and two brothers in 1914. Rosa Culmell was a classical singer and society woman. "She only had one love in all her life, my father," Nin wrote in her diary. Nin's father, the Cuban-born composer-pianist Joaquín Nin, had deserted the family when Anaïs was 11. According to Nin's memories her father fondled her and he liked to take photos of her while she bathed. In INCEST: FROM "A JOURNAL OF LOVE" (1992) she tells of her lovemaking with her father, after his absence of 20 years. However, Nin often combined truth and fiction, and many of the details surrounding her life are part of her myth, especially those published in her unexpurgated diaries. In one of her other books, WINTER OF ARTIFICE (1939), Nin also wrote about daughter's relationship to her father.
Largely self-educated, Nin spent her youth reading in public libraries and keeping a journal. She initially wrote in French and did not begin to write in English until she was seventeen. The diary was her confidante, or as she said in an interview, it was her hashish, her opium pipe, serving as a retreat from the world. In New York Nin studied art, and married in 1923 the banker and artist Hugh Guiler. Later known also as an engraver and filmmaker, he illustrated her books under the pseudonym Ian Hugo. When she began writing fiction, Nin moved in 1924 with Guiler to Paris, France, where she associated with the villa Seurat group. Especially important person in her life during this period was the American writer Henry Miller, whom she met in 1932 and with whom she started a long-time affair. He and Nin both influenced each other in their work - their correspondence was published in 1987 as A LITERARY PASSION. With Otto Rank, also one of her lovers, Nin worked as a lay analyst. When the affair with Miller had cooled off, she accused him of reducing all women to "an aperture, a biological sameness".
Nin's literary career began with the publication of D.H. LAWRENCE: AN UNPROFESSIONAL STUDY (1932). She wrote it in 16 days. Because it was not sold in the United States, Nin sent copies to Frances Steloff, who ran the Gotham Book Mark in New York City, and told her to sell them for a dollar a piece. This work was followed by several books, including HOUSE OF INCEST (1936), a prose poem dealing with psychological torments concerning her relationship with Miller and his wife, June Mansfield.
Nin's short prose pieces appeared in such journals as Dyn, The Booster, and Circle. Her most famous story, 'Birth', was originally published in the anthology TWICE A YEAR (1938), which she edited. Her early stories Nin collected in UNDER A GLASS BELL (1944) and WASTE OF TIMELESSNESS (1977). All of Nin's works have an erotic quality - "sensuality is a secret power in my body," she once said. In the early 1940s she wrote a series of specifically sexual pieces, which were edited and published posthumously as DELTA OF VENUS (1977) and LITTLE BIRDS (1979). The stories in Delta of Venus Nin produced for a dollar a page in the 1940s.
Cities of the Interior, Nin's famous series included CHILDREN OF THE ALBATROSS (1947), LADDERS TO FIRE (1946), CHILDREN OF THE ALBATROSS (1947), THE FOUR-CHAMBERED HEART (1950), and A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF LOVE (1954). Nin focused on different female types and followed their lives through lovers, art, and analysis. Ladders to Fire she first dedicated to Gore Vidal, because he got her published by E.P. Dutton when she was still unknown. From later editions the dedication was removed. "We are the two nascissi of the Forties," Vidal later said. In Vidal's Malibu house, Nin met Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, but soon dismissed her as a Southern Belle lacking in grace and charm. She was more interested in Newman, whom she regarded just as much of a narcissist as she thought Gore Vidal was.
In the early 1940s, Nin returned to New York, where she set up the Gemor Press and published her books at her own expense. During her three-day visit at Black Mountain College in 1947, she encouraged also students to print their own work. Her close friend, James Leo Herlihy, said that she "brought to the school a kind of magical presence... very simple and straightforward, and open and mysterious all at once, and delicate." With the understanding Hugh Guiler, who stayed out of the way of her extramarital affairs, Nin enjoyed a secure marriage for over 50 years. Nin was also able to have in California a second husband, Rupert Pole. For at least 25 years, she commuted between between New York and California.
In the 1940s and 1950s, she became allied with such young writers as Robert Duncan, Gore Vidal, and Jim Herlihy. Nin began to gain fame in the 1960s with her diaries. They arouse also interest in her earlier publications, which she kept in print for the people who asked for them. Her diaries cover the years from 1931 to 1974, providing an insight into her development as a woman and artist. The first volume appeared when she was 63. Nin started the diary as a logbook when her family left Spain for America. More than a biographical document, the diary is a work of art. Each volume has an unifying theme. Individuals and scenes are vivid, conversations are presented in dialogue, lengthy observations are juxtaposed with cryptic comments. Henry Miller, who was first nervous about what she was writing about himself and June, ended up liking her analyses and urged to continue. Only Rebecca West wanted to withdraw her portrait completely. "Although I wrote about her with great love, she just didn't like to be written in any way," Nin later said.
The feminist perspective of her works, psychological insight, and her search for self-knowledge made Nin a popular lecturer in the universities across the U.S. However, in A WOMAN SPEAKS: THE LECTURES, SEMINARS, AND INTERVIEWS OF ANAÏS NIN (1975), where Nin dissociated herself from the political activism of the feminist movement. She did not have faith in exchanges in systems, "because systems are corruptible", and advocated journal keeping as a preliminary requirement for a liberated self. "So I feel the great changes in the world will come from a great change in our consciousness," she wrote. The last volumes of the diaries appeared posthumously in the 1980s. Nin died on January 14, 1977, in Los Angeles. "I only believe in fire. Life. Fire. Being myself on fire I set others on fire. Never death. Fire and life. Les Jeux."
For further reading: Aesthetic Autobiography by Suzanne Nalbantian (1997); Anaïs Nin: Literary Perspectives, ed. by Suzanne Nalbantian (1997); Anaïs Nin and the Remaking of Self by Diane Richard-Allerdyce (1997); Anaïs Nin: A Biography by D. Bair (1995); Conversations With Anais Nin, ed. by Wendy M. Dubow (1994); The Erotic Life of Anis Nin by Riley Fitch (1993); Anaïs Nin: An Introduction by B. Franklin and D. Schneider (1979); Anaïs Nin: A Reference Guide by R. Cutting (1978); Anaïs Nin by B. Knapp (1978); Collage of Dreams by S.Spencer (1977); The Mirror and the Garden by E. Hinz (1973); Anaïs Nin by O. Evans (1968) - Note: Film Henry and June, dir. by Philip Kaufman, starring Frew Ward and Uma Thurman, depicted the relatioship between Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. In 1973 Nin was the subject of a documentary film, Anaïs Observed. - Note: The American critic Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was an early champion of Nin's works.