Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Anais Nin

By nocturne 17 on Tuesday, November 5, 2002 12:07 am
Anais Nin was born February 21, 1903 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, France and died January 14,1977 in Los Angeles, California. She moved to the United States in 1914 with her mother, singer Rosa Culmell and two brothers, Thorvald and Joaquin. Her father was Joaquin Nin, a Spanish pianist and composer, who abandoned the family after leaving his family at various intervals in his career to tour Europe and Cuba, when Nin was eleven. Shortly afterward, on the boat Monserrat, Nin began her childhood diary, "Linotte", written as an extended letter to her papa.

Anais wanted to be an artist from the very moment she could speak. She loved books, stories, artists, musicians, fine music, good food, and grew accustomed to being surrounded by the sounds of late night bohemian laughter from her parents dinner parties heard from the downstairs parlor before the two were separated. Anais was a model for her father's early photographs at this time and used to steal into his study when he was away and read all his books voraciously. She was seriously ill as a child and nearly died twice from various internal organ afflictions. If not for a kind Belgian couple and the care of three Belgian nurses, Ana's Nin might never have made the impact on literature and the feminist movement that she did later on in life, from her work spanning her Diaries written in the the tumultuous 30's to her eventual critical success in the socially aware 60's and 70's.

In New York, Ana's loved writing in her diary, dreaming, philosophizing, and recording her thoughts and reflections as she grew into a beautiful young woman with grand dreams and a host of insecurities. She wrote about her ideal "shadow", a muse, her "prince that will come one day", and about her many concieved shortcomings. She had an active imagination and preferred rainy days of reading curled up with a wonderful book or her diary at the little windowsill seat - and she loved to dance and had a connection to nature heavily influenced by poets like Byron, Blake and the New England Transcendentalists. Her Catholic faith wavered in and out due to philosophical doubts about the meaning of life and suffering, caused by her anguish over her beloved war torn France and the deep rift felt inside her since being uprooted. "I envy those who never leave their native land." she wrote in Linotte, "No one but God knows my bitter sorrow. My dreams are always about Papa. He comes back, I kiss him, he presses me to his heart. That moment is sweet, but afterward sadness comes again with the truth and my heart weeps and weeps again." Her father had let them all down, especially Anaos, and she felt abandoned and unloved in the most important of ways for a child. Gradually her idealized image of him began to fade, though she would have a lifelong fixation on him explored in her writing -and in her myriad of sexual and romantic unions. She was consumed by a tireless examination of her search for the ideal father figure in many of her lovers discussed in psychoanalysis.

After living in New York for nine years, at twenty Anais married Hugh Guiler (later known as engravist and filmaker of "Bells of Atlantis" and "Jazz of lights" Ian Hugo), a banker in the twenties and thirties, and moved back to Paris with him. Nin began writing short stories (later published as Waste of Timelessness) with publication in mind, but felt torn between her duties as a conservative banker's wife and her desire for artistic expression. Nevertheless, it was around this time that Nin published her first work, D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study (1932), which was well-recieved.

Then she met self proclaimed gangster-poet Henry Miller, a struggling Brooklyn writer in Paris, through her lawyer. Miller and especially his wife, the mythic June Mansfield Miller, enchanted Anais by their 'hard' bohemian living and their associations with the creme de la creme of Paris' underbelly (including actor and creator of theatre de cruelte, Antonin Artaud). "Henry came to Louveciennes with June." she writes about her first meeting with June in the unexpurgated diary Henry and June, "As June walked towards me from the darkness of the garden into the light of the door, I saw for the first time the most beautiful woman on earth. A startlingly white face, burning dark eyes, a face so alive I felt it would consume itself before my eyes. Years ago I tried to imagine a true beauty; I created in my mind an image of just such a woman. I had never seen her until last night. Yet I knew long ago the phosphorescent color of her skin, her huntress profile, the evenness of her teeth. She is bizarre, fantastic, nervous, like someone in a high fever. Her beauty drowned me. As I sat before her, I felt I would do anything she asked of me. Henry suddenly faded. She was color and brilliance and strangeness."

Anais felt that becoming aquainted with members of Montparnasse's underworld of prostitutes, thieves and drug addicts was going to liberate not only her writing but her sexuality and her mind. Nin began examining her 'suburban' existence more closely and felt she had to reconcile her life as an artist with her bouts of depression and feelings of isolation tucked away in the beautiful prison house of Louveciennes. To resolve her inner turmoil between her married 'proper' life and her burgeoning bohemian tastes, her cousin Eduardo recommended she enter therapy with the prominent Parisian psychoanalyst Rene Allendy. This later led to analyzation and tutorship with former Freud disciple, Otto Rank (Art and Artist). Eventually, Nin studied under Rank, working in his practice in New York City in the mid to late 1930s.

She also became deeply influenced by writers like Lawrence, Proust, and in particular Djuna Barnes' novel Nightwood. Nin channelled her evolving psycho-sexual impressions of the vicious circle/love triangle between her, Henry and June into the surrealistic prose-poem House of Incest and in her Diaries. She also worked along her compatriates on a dollar a page erotica, later the poetic, emotive bestselling Delta of Venus and Little Birds.

In the mid-to-late 1930s, Nin, Miller, Lawrence Durell and other writers in the Villa Seurat circle who experienced difficulty finding publishers founded Siana Editions (Anais spelled backwards!) to publish their own works. Nin in particular could find no one to publish House of Incest (1936) or Winter of Artifice. In 1939 these books were well-received in Europe. However, when Anais eventually moved back to New York City in 1939 with her husband, she found American publishers and the average reading public closed off to her work. Miller achieved critical and commercial success decades before Nin, despite her initial efforts to edit, support and publish him along with her own work. After several years of trying to place her works with American publishers, Nin bought a second-hand printing press with a loan from Bookseller and founder of New York's famed Gotham Book Mart and with the help of Anais' latest paramour, Peruvian political activist Gonzalo More, she began to typeset and print her own books. Nin's work eventually caught the attention of critic Edmund Wilson, who praised her writing and helped her on the road to obtaining an American publisher.

It was Nin's Diary, however, that brought her the greatest success and critical acceptance that she was to recieve. Nin never intended the two hundred manuscript volumes for publication, and many, including Miller, Rank, Alfred Perles, Durrel and Allendy, tried to convince Anais that her obsessive diary writing was destroying her chance at writing the great American novel. However Nin decided she had to "go her own way, the woman's way" and continue her li felong odyssey of self exploration and reflection through the Diaries. To reconcile fiction and fact Nin eventually began rewriting diary entries into her fiction and vice versa, protecting those who wanted to maintain their privacy (usually lovers) while still writing in her preferred medium.

Nin was involved in the some of the most interesting literary and artistic movements of the 20th century including the outskirts of Paris' 1920's Lost Generation, the psychoanalytic and surrealist movements of the 30s and 40s, the Beat movement of the 50's in Greenwich Village, the avant garde crowd in 60's California and the women's movement of the 70's. She maintained relationships (and kept two bi-coastal "husbands" in the later part of her life) with many vital artists and writers over her lifespan and was in great demand as a lecturer at universities across the United States until she died of cancer in 1977.
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