Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 928
Nin began keeping a diary on July 25, 1914, as an ongoing letter to her father that she hoped would someday bring him back to her family. Sixty years later, in the summer of 1974, Nin concluded her diary while enjoying the exotic landscape and culture of Bali. During those...
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- Critical Essays
Nin began keeping a diary on July 25, 1914, as an ongoing letter to her father that she hoped would someday bring him back to her family. Sixty years later, in the summer of 1974, Nin concluded her diary while enjoying the exotic landscape and culture of Bali. During those six decades, her personal journal of daily life and experience grew to 150 volumes, or some fifteen thousand typewritten pages. It is unquestionably her masterpiece, both as a literary work and as a social document of the artistic life of the twentieth century.
The diary reflects Nin’s creative attitude toward existence and the connection she perceived between life and literature. She viewed life as an adventure, or as a story that the individual freely and imaginatively creates and narrates to herself. The diary eventually developed a persona, becoming a friend, a confidant, and a place to go for escape or succor, or at times even an enemy, an agent of deceit, and a threatening obsession. Whatever her feelings were at the moment, Nin came to her diary for uninhibited introspection and absolute truthfulness; even when the truth of her feelings or aspirations were not to be reckoned, her earnestness was unflagging.
On one level, the diary is a record of Nin’s external life. She faithfully detailed the specifics of her daily movements, including her adjustment to New York, her adolescence, her courtship and marriage, her explorations into sensuality and sexuality, her activities as an aspiring writer and psychoanalyst, her travels between Europe and America, the homes she occupied, the people with whom she associated, the publication of her books, her movements in later life, and the rewards and difficulties of celebrity and wealth. Her skills as a writer are evident in the descriptions of her life’s settings and the sketches of her friends and colleagues. Many prominent individuals are sharply drawn, including Henry Miller, his wife June, Lawrence Durrell, Gonzalo More, Eduardo Sanchez, Otto Rank, John Erskine, and others.
On another level, Nin’s diary, like her fiction, delves into psychological reality. In her diary, she recorded sensations and emotions, including her ambivalent feelings toward her father, her internal struggles with her conflicting roles as wife and artist, her search for a sense of identity amid frequent relocation and alienation, the frustrations of literary rejection, and her soul-searching deliberations and anxieties over publication of the diary itself.
Multiplicity of personality, a theme prevalent in the fiction, is reflected in the apparent contradictions and reinterpretations found throughout the successive volumes of the diary. Nin’s rigorous honesty communicates the constant changeability and unpredictability of her life. “It is my thousand years of womanhood I am recording,” she wrote in 1966, “a thousand women.”
Through the course of the volumes in which the diary has been published, from Linotte: The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1914-1920 (1978) to The Diary of Anaïs Nin: 1966-1974 (1980), several general developments can be seen. Nin began as a shy, sensitive, and uncertain child and grew into an enlightened, wise, and mature woman. The earlier volumes are characterized by deep introspection, while in the later years Nin wrote more about other people and the world she observed. By the 1970’s, Nin came to her diary much less regularly, and it took on the qualities of a scrapbook.
Aware from the beginning of the need to make artistic choices, Nin gradually developed her form and craft as she progressed. Her diary was also at times a literary playground, as with her 1928 “diary within a diary” of the imagination-inspired fantasy character “Imagy.” She gave names to individual volumes, from “The Childhood Diary,” “Diary of a Fiancée,” and “Diary of a Wife,” to the more expressive “John,” “The House,” “The Woman Who Died,” “Disintegration,” and the last books, “The Book of Pain” and “The Book of Music.”
The titles, the experiments, and her habits of greeting and signing off each entry give evidence of conscious artistry during the actual composition. In the 1960’s, the decision to publish the diary led to a second, more formal editing process. Respect for the privacy of individuals mentioned in the diary and the final shape of the published version—originally it was to be condensed into a single volume—became issues. As a result of those concerns, certain individuals or questionable sections were edited out, decisions were made about how to divide the entirety into volumes, and parts were altered for purposes of consistency and flow. The process of preparing the diary for publication was a natural final stage in the evolution of Nin’s artistry, for it further refined her editing skills and made public what was probably the most important private relationship of her life. As she wrote in the spring of 1972, what began as a dialogue with the self had “become a correspondence with the world.”
Throughout the transitions of her life and the development of her writing, both so vividly documented in the diary, Nin’s generosity and optimism shone. As she approached the end of her life, she chose to end its monumental journal with entries written under the spell of Bali rather than lead her readers through the devastation of cancer. In a brief excerpt from “The Book of Music,” included as an epilogue to the diary, Nin meditated on death:Yes, music indicates another place, a better place. . . . One should think of this place joyfully. Then if it follows death, it is a beautiful place. A lovely thing to look forward to—a promised land. So I shall die in music, into music, with music.