(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 928 words.)

The Diary of Anaïs Nin Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

From the age of eleven until her death at the age of seventy-four, Anaïs Nin kept a series of diaries. Her father, a well-known composer and musician, had abandoned her, her mother, and her two brothers, forcing the family to move from France, where Nin was born, to New York City. Nin began her diary on the long journey to the United States.

The main diary, dating from the early 1930’s, grew to seven published volumes. After Nin’s death, another four volumes were published as The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin (1982, 1983, 1985). Rupert Pole, her second husband and the executor of her estate, published another four volumes beginning in 1986 that are based on her original diary, which became known as the unexpurgated diary to distinguish it from the original. These unexpurgated versions are known individually as Henry and June (1986), Incest (1992), Fire (1995), and Nearer the Moon (1996). The original Diary of Anaïs Nin is the earliest volume of those published in 1966. The first volume, which covers 1931 to 1934, is widely considered the best and most important of the original works.

Although a novelist, poet, and literary critic of considerable talent and reputation, Nin is best remembered as a diarist and for her considerable influence on other artists, including her lover Henry Miller. His Tropic of Cancer (1934) and Tropic of Capricorn (1938), two novels steeped in sex and violence, were banned in the United States until the 1960’s. Nin wrote the preface to Tropic of Cancer and financed its initial printing.

Although she quit school at the age of sixteen, Nin was attracted to avant-garde writers, artists, and musicians and developed her personal style and her writing style while sitting in the cafés of Paris, listening and observing and then capturing it all in her diary. For a time, Nin worked as an artist’s model and also studied Spanish dance. While in Cuba in 1923, she married Hugh Parker Guiler, a banker, and later a filmmaker known as Ian Hugo. He also was an illustrator of Nin’s books. After Guiler was transferred to a bank in Paris, he and Nin lived in Louveciennes, in the western suburbs of Paris. Nin and Guiler agreed that he would never be mentioned in her diaries. In fact, Nin was reluctant to admit that she was married and never discussed her marriage during interviews. By any measure, their marriage was open. Nin had several affairs during her years married to Guiler, including with Miller, psychoanalyst Otto Rank, and playwright-poet Antonin Artaud.

In contrast to Miller’s work, The Diary of Anaïs Nin is sexually implicit. Nin keeps sex in the background, obscured by opaque references and cloying allusions. The diary is often unilluminating in its descriptions of events and its depictions of persons. Indeed, the diary makes for an unreliable witness to history. However, Nin’s prose is lyrical and flowing, a lovely stream of phrases sacrificed to the author’s unquenchable thirst for introspection and self-knowledge.

In her first diary volume, Nin...

(The entire section is 1278 words.)