The Diary of Anaïs Nin

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

The sixth volume of the celebrated diary of Anaïs Nin, which covers the period 1955-1966, is an uncharted course of love, of discontent and frustration, of cosmological intuition, of survival. The diary is heavy with symbolism and dreams. One stands unsurely on the brink of the soul of Nin, as if drawn into a labyrinth. A psychic phenomenon, Nin lives in this diary as an artist, as a woman, as a child always looking in the window. Nin has responded in this volume to Jung’s exhortation: “Proceed from the dream outward....”

Predetermined by events in her early life to become a giver, Nin hungered for acceptance, and out of her compulsion to give and her need to receive came the diary. We see this compulsion, this need in her relationships with her parents and her brother. Nin’s schizophrenic father, Joaquin Nin, deserted his family. Nin clung physically to his coattail and had to be removed. She repeated this action emotionally, over and over throughout her life, fearful that she would lose whomever she loved. Nin believed her father’s desertion related solely to her, not to her mother or her brother, and this belief incited guilt and produced a sense of deficiency.

In her imagination and dreams, Nin replaced her mother, Rosa, in her father’s affections (or nonaffections). Irrational and totally unable to manage money, the mother created financial problems. To improve their economic situation, Nin worked as a model. The family took in boarders. Nin felt the shameful burden of being poor and developed a detestation of the commercial aspects of everyday life. The possibility that her mother might read the diary haunted her. Guilt over her rejection of her mother grew so strong that after her death, at which Nin was not present, she symptomatically developed the heart disease which took her mother’s life, and for years thought she would die as her mother had; doctors actually diagnosed this condition. It was only when the realization came that she was negatively clinging to her mother by clinging to her mother’s illness that Nin was able to rid herself of the condition—but not the guilt. Citing Proust’s thoughts on possession by the dead, she notes, ironically, that he says nothing of dispossession.

Nin records discussions with her brother, also named Joaquin, about Nin’s portrayal of their father in the diary. Nin enhanced his image with legends and rumors, eschewing confirmation. Joaquin reminded her that certain actions were “neither proved nor disproved.” A clue to the relationship between Nin and her brother is revealed in an anecdote about Nin’s slipping behind Joaquin, who was sitting in a chair, and quietly, unobservedly kissing his shadow. Her greatest pleasure, she tells us, was receiving wholehearted praise of Solar Barque (which later became Seduction of the Minotaur) from Joaquin, possibly in lieu of praise from her father. Nin and Joaquin, a composer, shared a love of music, and while he related people to music, she related them to dancing, for she had been a dancer.

Nin wandered in and out of psychoanalysis through most of her adult life, with Dr. René Allendy and Dr. Otto Rank, both of whom are major personages in earlier volumes of the diary. From 1955, she was under the care of Dr. Inge Bogner and returned to her whenever there was a crisis. Nin fluctuates through this volume from being able to “handle” the pressures in her life to sinking into despair, apprehension, and immobility. She did not live well with tension, unable to perceive its positive effect upon the will. Nin’s writing of Solar Barque is a barometer of the degrees of mental pressure she endured.

At the beginning of these eleven years, in the fall of 1955, Nin describes her only personal experience with LSD, motivated by a desire to prove to herself that it opened the same doors of the mind as dreams, writing, and self-induced fantasies. It was a frightening ordeal that cast her afterwards into a lingering somnambulistic state. Drained of energy, unable to concentrate or write, she pictures her condition in the metaphor of near-electrocution, a short-circuiting of physical and mental being. The extreme change from being charged with metaphysical energy to returning to daily life was too great a shock to body and mind. She equates her fatigue with Antonin Artaud’s complaint, “Un fatigue de fin du monde” (“A weariness like the end of the world”). She wrote of the experience from notes, from remembrance, and with the help of friends who had been with her.

Over the years, Nin changed her thinking from discrediting the use of LSD (or any drug), to approving its use under controlled circumstances. The root of Nin’s research was the belief that Americans had never learned to expand the mind, and that in opening their unconscious, the drug might teach them the way to open their minds consciously. Nin hoped this conscious expansion would enable American readers to understand her work. Nin was deeply disturbed when Bebe Barron, who had previously criticized her work, commented, while under the influence of LSD, that she saw meaning in Nin’s “Seal” story that she had not seen before. Did this mean that only readers under the influence of drugs could understand her stories? She deplored the fad use of LSD, the ease with which it could be obtained, and use of the drug by those incapable of coping. “Every experience has a negative and a positive side and if the subconscious is to be free one must understand its meaning and control its destructive aspect.” She was accused of writing House of Incest under the influence of drugs, but declares she never resorted to the use of drugs again.

The one absolute that Nin professes again and again is her unreliance on any artificial means of...

(The entire section is 2383 words.)

The Diary of Anaïs Nin

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

In the mid-1960’s a time that corresponded coincidentally with Anaïs Nin’s age, the doors to public recognition that she had tried most of her life to open, suddenly opened. “The sound of opening doors is deafening,” she wrote. Nin’s writing career began in the 1930’s with the publication of D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study. In 1961, Swallow Press reprinted her prose poem House of Incest (1936) and eventually published eleven of her books. Harcourt Brace, in 1966, published the first of eight volumes of the Diary that Nin kept from the age of eleven. Recognition of the Diary called attention to her other work as well. Public response to the life and work of Nin increased with such force that she had numerous occasions to say, “Anaïs—Anaïs—Anaïs. You just say ’Anna’ and then add ’ees’ with the accent on the ’ees.’”

In this, the last volume of the Diary, a different Nin (possibly the “real” Nin) emerges. Throughout the early Diary, in her novels, and in her personal relationships—with a cortege that reads like a “Who’s Who” of famous writers, painters, and other artists, of the not-so-famous she tried to help in the advancement of their careers, and of the never-to-be famous whose only claim to fame is the publication of their names in the Diary—Nin sustained a very personal, private image for her own sustenance. This last volume necessarily took on a different tone because she wrote the others with no intention of publication; now, she consciously wrote knowing the Diary was being published. The journal became not so much a record of private and personal events, thoughts, and feelings as a part of a monumental work “addressed, increasingly, to the world ’out there.’”

In a curious sense, in this volume of a now public Diary, Nin emerges more clearly than in the previously written volumes. She is no longer the child looking in the window, but a woman attempting to cope with the opening of her private life to public scrutiny and a woman fighting for physical survival because of the discovery of cancer and its constant threat. Nin was sixty-three, kept a demanding schedule, and continued her writing and the work of editing the Diary. She was then assaulted by an illness that drained her strength, necessitated in-hospital therapy that kept the disease in remission, and caused long periods of convalescence from those sessions. Nin, who was asked many times how she achieved the liberated life she led, and who prided herself on being in control of her life and her soul, found herself in this new role of public figure, being controlled and manipulated, and at the mercy of time and the hovering shadow of death.

Because of her fiercely stubborn constitution, however, Nin managed to keep most of her commitments until the last two years of her life, when she was confined mainly to her home in Los Angeles. What becomes apparent in this volume of the Dairy is Nin’s persistent fight against psychological deterioration as her energy lessened, as she lived in dread of a recurrence of cancer, and as she dealt with the melancholia that deepened whenever she looked in the mirror or at photographs of herself.Age, yes, at last detectable in photographs. Inevitable now, a paradox because I do not feel as I look. I feel fresh and dewy and relaxed and not old. Freckles on the hands, wrinkles. How strange, when nothing in my emotions corresponds to that. The feelings are crystal clear, perfect melodies, never strident or rough like the voice of the old.

Later, with Nin’s classic reaction against anything that attacked her, “It is not so definable—age, desire and love. I still arouse desire and receive love letters.” The ever-present, more real threat of death, however, permeates her consciousness and is evident in her visit to the Gauguin Museum in Tahiti as she looks at Paul Gauguin’s preserved diary: “As I looked at the actual yellow pages and spidery French handwriting, I wondered if all our ink would fade and our paper crumble, our sketches vanish with time?”

Nin was “a new woman, born with publication of the Diary.” She thrived on its subjective acceptance, especially by women who wrote to her about their identification with certain aspects of her individual problems and private thoughts, and on the public contact with students in the colleges and universities to which she was invited to lecture. She received honorary degrees from the Philadelphia College of Art and Dartmouth College and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. She pointed with pride to the fact that her books were translated in French, German, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Flemish, Catalonian, and Japanese, and that her works were taught at Queens College along with those of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Eugéne Ionesco, and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

In the eight years covered in this volume, Nin was constantly busy: writing The Novel of the Future; writing an article on neglected novelist Marianne Hauser for Rediscoveries, edited by David Madden; writing the Preface for Judy Chicago’s Through the Flower; writing portraits of New York women, including Mrs. Millie Johnstone, Dr. Inge Bogner, and Marguerite Young, for a German magazine, Merian; and working with Anita Faatz and Virginia Robinson, who directed the Otto Rank Association. She was also editing volumes four, five, and six of the Diary for publication. Nin edited conscientiously from the time she knew the Diary would be published; she felt a great responsibility for the “portraits” of the people she wrote about. If the portrait was extensive or continued in several volumes, she contacted the person to make sure that nothing was printed that could harm or offend that person.

This Diary contains, among other things, many letters received from women, students, friends, and admirers, with Nin’s responses; accounts of television interviews; college lectures; her involvement with the feminist movement that sometimes praised, sometimes criticized her; meetings with Japanese and German publishers; informal meetings with the often misunderstood young people of this period; and attempts to support those she felt were talented yet neglected—William Goyen, Marianne Hauser, Deena Metzger, Jean Varda, and others. Many of the names mentioned in the former...

(The entire section is 2663 words.)

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In the summer of 1914, a precocious eleven-year-old set out on a grand adventure with her mother and two brothers. Her mother, Rosa Culmell-Nin, was estranged from her husband Joaquin Nin, a prominent Cuban pianist and composer whose career had transported his young family to various European capitals. The twin instabilities of dislocation and separation from her father led the young Anaïs Nin to attempt to anchor herself in diary writing. Until she became proficient in English, Anaïs wrote in the diary in French, her first language. This diary became the young adolescent’s most intimate companion.

Later, aspiring to be a writer, Nin slowly transformed the diary into a writer’s notebook—a place to practice her...

(The entire section is 1217 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The twin instabilities of moving from Europe to the United States and separation from her father led the young Anaïs Nin to attempt to anchor herself in diary writing. This diary became the most intimate companion of the young adolescent, filled with fantasies and plans for self-improvement. Later, as a woman aspiring to be a writer, Nin slowly transformed the diary into a writer’s notebook—a place to practice her art and to store characters and situations for later use. Many of the entries became sources for her short stories and novels. Primarily, however, the journal evolved as a record of Nin’s own development, a place for introspection, measurement, and self-analysis. The decision to make the diaries public, and their...

(The entire section is 986 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Once she dedicated herself to the life of the artist, Nin intruded upon a male world. The new complication became how to enter successfully into this world without losing her femininity. The meaning of this femininity, this personhood, this complex and fluid state of being, would occupy Nin all her life, and the diary provides Nin’s own felt and rationalized record of her constant pulse-taking.

Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912), with its overlapping images of the same woman on different steps, became for Nin an emblem of her dilemma as a woman and artist. Her minute presentation of this problem over a lifetime in terms of conventional and unconventional female roles found responsive readers during the active decades of the women’s liberation movement and beyond. Her diary, through its intense introspection, helped redefine feminine psychology. Nin was no partisan to political action, however, and many feminists faulted her lack of commitment to their programs. Essentially a romantic thinker, Nin believed that personal revolution was the basis for significant change, and she hoped that her diary would help others in their own personal revolutions.

Of particular importance is Nin’s search for a manner of literary art that was not simply an imitation of the established masculine patterns. She identified male psychology with reason, the manipulation of data, and authoritarian stances. She found the tenets of literary realism to be confining assumptions, essentially masculine in their orientation. Women, Nin believed (and she was perhaps too quick to accept stereotyping) had special perceptiveness in the intuitive and emotional realms. The diary volumes developed these ideas while at the same time becoming one of the most remarkable records of an individual life and perhaps the most valuable presentation of the woman as artist.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Fitch, Noel Riley. Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993. Fitch demonstrates and explains the biographical distortions in Nin’s diary by contrasting manuscript and published versions and by checking Nin’s record against the recollections of others.

Franklin, Benjamin, and Duane Schneider. Anaïs Nin: An Introduction. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979. These critics were the first to consider seriously the problems of genre and of editorial intrusion that have since become major considerations in the valuation of Nin’s work. They make the case that the diary volumes might best be read as retrospective autobiography.

Hinz, Evelyn J. The Mirror and the Garden: Realism and Reality in the Writings of Anaïs Nin. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. Hinz’s is the first study of both Nin’s fiction and her diaries, though it gives the diaries secondary attention. Her study treats themes ably, but it was completed when less than half of Nin’s diary volumes were in print.

Jason, Philip K. Anaïs Nin and Her Critics. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993. The overview of Nin’s critical reception reviews the principal issues in Nin criticism and contains a chapter on the range of critical responses to Nin’s diary.

Scholar, Nancy. Anaïs Nin. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Finding in Nin’s diaries the revelation of an unpleasant, manipulative woman, Scholar has difficulty accounting for the power of Nin’s work. Nevertheless, she argues that Nin’s artistry is at its peak in the earliest published volumes.

Spencer, Sharon. Collage of Dreams: The Writings of Anaïs Nin, Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. Spencer is an outstanding interpreter of Nin’s humanistic vision, as well as a shrewd analyst of her technique. She elucidates most ably the relationship between Nin’s diaries and her fiction.