Anaïs Nin

Anais Nin

Anaïs Nin (February 21, 1903 – January 14, 1977) embodied the practice of writing as a grand passion and a path to delving deeply into the self. In this sense, she foreshadowed the immediacy of today’s world of self-revelatory memoir. She was a splendid and prolific essayist as well.

Best known for her multi-volume series, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, she wrote these journals over the span of more than thirty years (not including her Early Diaries series).

Born in France, her full original name was Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell. Her father, Joaquin Nin, a composer, deserted the family when Anaïs was about 11 years old. He and her mother, Rosa Culmell y Vigaraud, were of Cuban descent with traces of French, Spanish, and Danish ancestry.

Anaïs spent her teens in the U.S., starting out in Catholic school. She dropped out, became self-educated, and worked as a model and dancer before returning to Europe in the 1920s. 

 

Writing shaped her life

From the earliest of her diaries, written while still in her teens, to one of her last essays, published just a year before her death in 1977, it’s clear that writing was what she believed shaped her life and gave it meaning. 

“… you don’t write for yourself or for others. You write out of a deep inner necessity. If you are a writer, you have to write, just as you have to breathe, or if you’re a singer you have to sing. But you’re not aware of doing it for someone. This need to write was for me as strong as the need to live. I needed to live, but I also needed to record what I lived. It was a second life, it was my way of living in a more heightened way.”

(— from “The Artist as Magician,” an interview, 1973)

 

An early self-publisher & author of erotica

Early on in her writing career, Anaïs was unable to find a publisher for her work, unable to find any that would take a risk on Under a Glass Bell, a collection of eight short stories. She and her then-husband, Hugh Guiler founded Gemor Press in 1944 and printed an edition.

Three years later, a British publisher agreed to republish the collection, expanded by two novellas and Nin’s famous prose poem, “House of Incest.”  Nin’s friend and lover Gore Vidal used his clout to encourage his publisher, Dutton, to publish the collection in the U.S. in 1945.

Nin also broke ground as a writer of female erotica —The Delta of Venus and Little Birds most notably, which were published posthumously. She wrote the pieces in Delta for a dollar a page in the 1940s.The last of the Diaries was published in the 1980s, also after her death.

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The early diaries of Anais Nin

Anaïs Nin page on Amazon

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A prolific love life

Anaïs had many well-known love affairs, most famously with Henry Miller and his wife, June Miller, which she wrote of, fittingly, in Henry and June. She was also involved with Gore Vidal, Edmund Wilson, and Otto Rank.

Her first husband was Hugh Guiler, with whom she had an open marriage. She was still married to him when she married Rupert Pole, and eventually the first marriage was annulled.

The Diaries

Though it’s generally believed that she wrote her Diaries with an eye toward eventual publication, it wasn’t until the 1960s that they were published and acclaimed as feminist classics, portraying one woman’s lifelong voyage of self-discovery. 

The Diaries were largely written in the years 1931 to 1974. Her personal quest for self-knowledge ended up becoming an in-depth, honest look at the universal issues affecting women in all walks of life. “It’s all right for a woman to be, above all, human. I am a woman first of all,” she wrote.

By the standards of today’s confessional media, Nin’s frank writings may no longer seem as revolutionary as they did just a generation ago. In the final volume of the Diaries (Volume Seven, 1966-1974), she delights in sharing snippets from the countless letters of gratitude she received from women everywhere, in all walks of life, for example: 

“The Diaries wakened me, made me relive my life, enjoy it, find new aspects to dream about; you gave me a second life.” 

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Anaïs Nin in Wrap

Anaïs Nin’s Diaries: From the Personal to the Universal

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The meaning of the Diary — in her own words

“Having been told so often how wrong it is to write about one’s self—how I should take the self out of the Diary—I never expected the consequences. Because I gave of myself, many women felt I spoke for them, liberated them from secrecy and reticence.

I did not expect to get letters from women working in offices, on farms, married and lonely in little towns, nurses, librarians, students, runaways, dropouts, pregnant women without husbands, women in the middle of a divorce. Suddenly I was discovering a world.

The dominant theme of the letters was loneliness and lack of confidence in whatever the writers undertook. The miracle was that my diary made them eloquent, confessional…I discovered women with talents never used before. One woman sent me her first drawing made after reading the Diary. The Diary cured depression, opened secret chambers.

There was no ego in the Diary, there was only a voice which spoke for thousands, made links, bonds, friendships. All the clichés about self-absorption were destroyed. There was no one self. We were all one. The more I developed my self, the less mine it became. If all of us were willing to expose this self, we would feel neither alone nor unique.

I was so tired of the platitudes hurled at me. The two most misinterpreted words in the world: narcissism and ego. The simple truth was that some of us recognized the need to develop, grow, expend—occupations which are the opposite of those two words. To desire to grow means you are not satisfied with the self as it is, and the ego is exacting, not indulgent.”

— Anaïs Nin, from The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume Seven, 1966-1974

 

A feminist icon

After achieving worldwide recognition after the first volume of the Diaries in 1966, Nin became a feminist icon, was a frequent speaker on college campuses and at feminist events. Later in her life, she distanced herself from the more militant, political factions of the second-wave feminist movement.

Anaïs Nin died of cancer on January 14, 1977, in Los Angeles, California.

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Anais Nin quote on blossoming

See also: Anaïs Nin Quotes on Writing, Life, and Love


More about Anaïs Nin on this site

Major Works

  • The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin  (four volumes)
  • The Diary of Anaïs Nin  (seven volumes)
  • Henry and June
  • Delta of Venus
  • Little Birds
  • In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays
  • Incest: From a Journal of Love

Biographies

  • Anaïs Nin: A Biography by Deirdre Bair
  • Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin by Noel Riley Fitch

More Information

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