The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin
The second volume of Anaïs Nin’s Early Diary covers the years from 1920 to 1923. A sequel to Linotte: The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1914-1920 (1978), translated from the French by Jean L. Sherman, this book—written in English—reveals a maturing young woman from the ages of seventeen to twenty. As her journal for 1920 begins, Nin still sees herself as two separate personalities: a frivolous, sometimes moody, impetuous child; and a more serious-minded, responsible adolescent. In a letter to Frances Schiff (affectionately called “Dick”) of September 10, 1920—copied dutifully in her diary, as were many other pieces of correspondence that she wanted to retain—she describes the serious person: “You know Miss Nin is the sensible side of me . . . the little housekeeper and sister and obedient (ahem) daughter.” Her other self, Linotte, “is the side which must be hidden or else endured—the moody and cranky individual and also the verse scribbler, etc.” She signs the letter, still uncertain which part of her is the best, “Anaïs & Linotte.” During the three years of her journals that are included in this volume (drawn from books nine to nineteen of Nin’s manuscript diary books, usually inexpensive “date books” that allowed for a page a day), the prudent Miss Nin gradually absorbs the childish Linotte. Mademoiselle Linotte (the word literally means “linnet” or, in slang, “featherhead”) is still romantic, self-absorbed, fantasizing about an ideal private world; but Miss Nin, her maturing alter ego, comes to control and focus her passions. Yet in one regard, Linotte and Anaïs remain one. In her determination to become a poet, a writer, and a creative talent, the author’s purpose never wavers.
At seventeen, Anaïs was a fastidious, sentimental, sometimes moody but generally ebullient adolescent who had been reared in a genteel, old-world matriarchal family environment. Her father, the distinguished Spanish cellist and orchestra conductor Joaquin Nin, had for many years been absent from the family, communicating only occasionally with Nin. From the diary, one learns that he urged Rosa to go through divorce proceedings and demanded custody of the children, but Rosa refused the terms of the proposed divorce, even though Joaquin’s financial settlement would have allowed her a measure of security. In Nin’s account of the complex, deteriorating relationship between her parents, her sympathies are entirely with her mother. Rosa Culmell de Nin appears as a self-sacrificing, energetic, intelligent, realistic woman, the chief breadwinner of her family, a strong mother whose devotion to her children is steadfast. Anaïs reproaches her father for robbing her childhood and early adolescence of the gifts of affection, security, and parental guidance. Although only occasionally the direct object of her thoughts in the diary, he is nevertheless a menacing presence. Because of him, she feels, her family must suffer deprivation and the acute humiliation of an ambiguous social status within their rigid Spanish class orientation.
Indeed, a theme running throughout the early diaries, as well as throughout those more mature diaries already published—the seven volumes that have since earned for the author a major place in twentieth century literature—is the search for an absent father. In a sense, this second volume of the early diaries, like the first volume, is an extended love letter (which is also an extended letter of reproach, supplication, and self-laceration) to Joaquin Nin. In one stunning entry in the diary, for September 17, 1922, Nin copies a letter that she has written to her “Chèr Papa,” one full of recrimination, anguish, and obsessive rancor: “The man who ceases to maintain and serve his home is like a creator who abandons his work . . . and loses it.” With icy brevity, she announces her engagement, and concludes: “If I seem hard on you, oh, Papa! think of all the sorrow I have felt in realizing, little by little, the extent of your mistakes against us. Our whole childhood was darkened by you. Our whole youth is difficult, hard, sad, because of you.”
Like James Joyce and Thomas Wolfe, among other significant writers of this century, Nin transmuted this search for a “lost” father into art. Indeed,...
(The entire section is 1757 words.)