The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin Analysis

Anaïs Nin

The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

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,...

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The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 12)

The third volume of Anaïs Nin’s Early Diary covers the years from 1923 to 1927. Continued from volume 2, which Nin had subtitled in her ledgers “Journal d’une Fiancée,” this segment of the projected four-volume work is subtitled “Journal d’une Épouse” (“The Diary of a Wife”). When the complete diary is published, the work will cover the years from 1914 to 1931. “Mon Journal,” as Nin affectionately called most of her more recent ledgers, was first composed in inexpensive “date books,” but around 1923, she began using commercially printed diary books bound in red leather that had a finer quality paper—with the exception of journal twenty-one. Not until 1931, according to Rupert Pole, did she “use titles on a regular basis and to a more dramatic effect.” These “early diaries,” anticipating the famous seven volumes of literary diaries, also published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and dated from 1931 to 1974, reveal an artist first asserting herself and testing her capabilities.

Volume 3 begins after a brief hiatus from the previously published volume that concludes with an entry from February, 1923 (in the middle of Nin’s nineteenth journal). At that point, she was waiting for her fiancé Hugh (Hugo) Parker Guiler to arrive in Cuba, where they planned to wed. The present volume begins with the entry of March 20, 1923; Nin has already settled down to married life in Richmond Hill, New York, near to her close-knit family. If readers are inclined to regret the diary lapse involving this month of crowded events centering on the writer’s union with Hugh, they should understand that Nin never confided in her diary intimate sexual feelings—at least not in the first three volumes of the Early Diary. Although her writing on the level of psychological introspection is extraordinarily frank, she simply (at this stage of her life) was too puritanical to express in her personal journals any feelings that touched upon sexuality. Readers familiar with the author’s later elegantly erotic books (for example, Little Birds, 1979) might be surprised to discover Nin’s reticence, but deeply ingrained in her character as a young woman—and, in this volume, as a youthful wife—is her delicacy in treating subjects that arouse vulgar emotions, especially sexual vulgarity.

In the third volume of the Early Diary, Nin treats two principal themes: that of the full expression of emotions (excepting sexual ones) in becoming the wife of Hugh Guiler and, as a counterpoint theme, that of her struggle to attain independence as a woman and an artist. Throughout the four-year period covered by the volume, Nin expresses a single dominant emotion of happiness, but other, sometimes contradictory, emotions involving her marriage also play fitfully below the surface at times—envy of Hugh’s business success and freedom, resentment at his apparent self-assurance, and (at the lowest point of her negative feelings) fear that the couple’s happiness is fated in time to diminish, as though by a curse.

Nevertheless, these negative feelings, often heartfelt and disturbing, are not the true measure of her love for Hugh. From the first entry (March 20, 1923), she speaks of her husband’s quality of constant variety: “He evolves continually, so that I can understand him without knowing all of him. I foresee the exclusion of one generally accepted misfortune befalling the married ones—we shall escape monotony.” Certainly she retains throughout the volume a sense of her loving acceptance of her husband. Some readers who are familiar with Nin’s later journals or her fiction might be surprised—or dismayed—to discover in this writer, who expressed such strong feminist opinions on the need for sexual freedom and independence, a contrary demand for a woman’s submissiveness in the marriage relationship. In numerous diary entries (especially those for March 3, 1924; April 1, 1924; January 19, 1925; and May 29, 1926), she emphasizes her complete devotion to her husband in terms that cannot be mistaken. In the May 29th entry, for example, she writes: “Marriage is itself a Destiny which decides the character of the wife’s life by that of her husband. Even in an enlightened age, she must follow him wherever he pleases. I have made my choice.”

In her entry for January 19, 1925, she describes the aftermath of a lover’s quarrel: “My Love and I have passed through the first crisis of our marriage—passed triumphantly. But forever after I shall never be at rest—the fear has come too close to me, and I am a fatalist.” In this reflective mood, she asserts her total submission to her husband: “My love for him is tyrannical because it is ideal, because I love his soul, his thoughts, because I could no more bear the sullying of his body than of his mind. I want not only his love but his ideal self preserved, stainless.” This key section of the Early Diary is significant moreover because Nin contrasts her absolute love for her husband with her still-ambiguous feelings toward her father, the musician and composer Juaquin J. Nin.

Her father, after all, had served as the impetus for writing her journals. Unable to communicate with him fully in her youth (although he had separated from the family, he continued to correspond, at irregular intervals, with Anaïs and several of his other children), she compensated for his absence by composing the diaries. Her frustrated affection for her father, often distorted into resentment and anger, served also...

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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

Booklist. LXXX, November 1, 1983, p. 392.

Christian Science Monitor. September 10, 1982, p. B4.

Library Journal. CVII, August, 1982, p. 1464.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 5, 1982, p. 2.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 8, 1984, p. 5.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, September 5, 1982, p. 6.

The New York Times Book Review. January 29, 1984, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXI, June 11, 1982, p. 56.