The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1757

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....

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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, as early as the age of seventeen, Nin regarded herself as an artist. In her diaries, she not only meticulously recorded her impressions of events but also disciplined herself to refine and polish her prose, to expand the range of her sensibilities. She read widely but not always critically. Among her favorite writers were Robert Louis Stevenson and Ralph Waldo Emerson (curious as this conjunction may appear), because, as she wrote in her entry for July 19, 1921, “they are great givers-of-freedom, as it were, givers-of-names to all that is too often mute or inadequately spoken of in other hearts.” Even as a novice writer, Nin calculated the moral purposes and effects of art. Indeed, she was attracted to confessional literature precisely because of its moral focus. In a revealing entry from November, 1921, she expresses her youthful artistic credo: “I worship not so much the actions of men but what moves them to such actions. I am not satisfied with the actor’s behavior. I want to know his soul. I want to know the inner self.”

Although passages of psychological introspection can be found throughout the diaries, Nin was not always the serious, self-absorbed writer. Early in this volume, her focus of playful amorous attention is her cousin Eduardo Sánchez, to whom she is drawn by shared experience and similar interests, but above all by his physical attractiveness. In the diary entry for January 11, 1921, she describes the seventeen-year-old Eduardo as “the Prince Charming of all the fairy tales,” reserving for herself, however, a critical judgment—“except that he is not old enough to be staunch and true.” The true lover whom she was to meet was Hugh (Hugo) Guiler, later to become her husband. As the pages of Nin’s diary continue, Hugo occupies more and more of her attention. In an important entry for January 5, 1922, she compares her two admirers, Hugo and Eduardo; both are “impressionable and imaginative.” Eduardo’s personality is the more responsive, the more personable, but Hugo’s is much deeper, much more intense, more “poetical.” To the reader it is evident, perhaps some time before the diarist has confided to the page, that Hugo has won her heart.

From the winter of 1922, Hugo clearly occupies most of her feelings and thoughts. Drawn to him because of his fine qualities of mind and character, Nin nevertheless fears the inevitable consequence of their shared passion. Neither Hugo nor she is free of binding responsibilities, so as to act with perfect freedom. Both have family obligations, the need to support relatives, and the need to develop their individual talents. For a while, indeed, Nin considers the odious proposition of marrying a wealthy Cuban, one whom she respects but does not love, for the self-sacrificing purpose of providing financial security for her family. Also, to assist her family in hard circumstances, she works as a model, a position humiliating to her proud nature. Because of her aristocratic beauty, her slender, delicate-boned form, she is popular both as a fashion model and as a painter’s and photographer’s subject. Most of her jobs are merely annoying, but a few are degrading. Once, while she is telephoning Hugo, a boorish salesman takes advantage of her with a caress. “It is a jungle of leering faces,” she writes, “of men waiting to touch me, grasp me.” Nin later drew upon these experiences for the erotic story “A Model,” reprinted in Little Birds: Erotica (1979).

Yet the reader observes at once how little the impulses of eroticism moved Nin at this time, as she emerged from a chaste adolescence to fall deeply in love with Hugo (better known to her readers as the illustrator Ian Hugo). Her reticence in these diaries is not girlish timidity; neither is she constrained solely by the conventions of her strict rearing. Rather, Nin speaks directly of her conscious choice to enjoy a fully satisfying marital relationship which is not wholly sensual but is in equal measure intellectual, moral, and aesthetic. There is no trace here of the writer of erotica; the young woman of these diaries is—even according to the standard of her time—puritanical. In an entry for August, 1922, she asks herself: “Why am I repulsed by talk of sex and mention of whatever is animal in us, when coarsely and frankly dealt with? The animal in man, it seems to me, can be refined and spiritualized.”

If readers familiar with Nin’s fiction and her later diaries are surprised to discover the author’s youthful reticence, they will be no less surprised by her attitudes at this time toward feminism. Although she is unquestionably independent-minded, in these diaries she often approves of a woman’s traditional role as wife, mother, and guardian of the household. In the entry for June 5, 1921, she reports her disgust with several young companions who were dressing like jazz-age temptresses, and on several occasions, she assures Eduardo that she is not a flapper but essentially an old-fashioned girl who is uncomfortable with suffragettes. In the entry for October 6, 1921, she writes: “They say a woman who meddles with theories loses her womanliness—whatever that is nowadays. . . . She becomes coarse, she becomes argumentative, strong-headed; she trades her charms for a higher post in the Chamber of Debates.”

Yet as Nin matured, she began to abandon her conventional attitudes toward the position of women in a male-dominated society. She left behind the delightful featherhead Linotte and became more firmly the sensible Miss Nin, in control of her destiny as a woman and as an artist. As the second volume of her Early Diary concludes, she is preparing for her marriage. In Hugo, she has discovered a man whose poetic sensibility and keen intelligence complements her own. Nevertheless, she has already given up any illusions about the man as perfect. On September 15, 1922, in a thoroughly critical examination of her own faults and of Hugo’s, she concludes, quite simply, that “Hugo is human. . . . I must learn to fashion my dreams out of clay, to descend in order to rise, because I am repudiating the human, I am repudiating the roots of divinity. What is is what I must learn to love.” With these words—confessions of a realist who sadly but conscientiously gives up her childish dreams of perfection—Nin becomes a woman. By the conclusion of the second volume of the Early Diary, she has already proved that she is an artist.

The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2267

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 to unify her vision as an artist. By the time of her third volume of the Early Diary, however, Nin could—at least partly—appreciate her father’s estrangement from her mother. In the entry for December, 1924, she describes a meeting with Juaquin in Paris: “I understood my father in a flash. He met me with tears, to which I could not sincerely respond; he talked to me with a show of emotions I could not feel; he told me things which a year ago would have killed me with unreasonable horror and disgust.” Now, at the age of twenty-one, she could write: “... yesterday I listened calmly, finding no answer to his irreproachable and vicious logic—in fact, I logically approved him, although I forgave, consoled and deceived him for the most illogical causes—pity!—the heartrending pity I feel now for what I once hated.”

If Nin’s softened yet still ambivalently resentful attitude toward her father was marked by pity for his failures as a family man, she hardened her feelings toward her mother, Rosa Culmell de Nin. From the early entries of volume 3, Nin sensed that her mother, self-pitying and miserable, was manipulating her sense of guilt in marrying Hugh. Nin feared that she was deserting her mother. In time, however, she came to understand that Rosa’s demands upon her time and affections were unreasonable. Indeed, when her father attempted to secure a formal divorce so he could be free to marry again, Nin’s sympathies were with her father—not, as in the past, with her mother.

It is a sign of Nin’s growing maturity, as well as of her more flexible attitude, that she could in time evaluate even her beloved Hugh with an eye judiciously focused upon his faults as well as virtues. For his virtues, Nin (and any fair-minded reader) would set store by his sensitive, compassionate nature; his capacity to forgive (and Nin was surely as temperamental and “difficult” a young wife as she was also beautiful, clever, charming, and high-spirited); his willingness to work at labors not entirely congenial to his desires so that Nin would have sufficient free time to pursue her interests in literature; and finally, his expansive, protective love for her—unconditional and free from jealousy. Notwithstanding these virtues (which Nin appreciated and fullyommunicated in her diary), she was able to judge his limitations; she came to believe that her inner strength was greater than his.

One source for Nin’s self-assurance was a belief—as yet untested but resolute—in her powers as an artist. If she was not entirely happy with her role as an adored, even pampered wife, the cause was that she lacked a vocation. Restlessly, she continued to read and philosophize, to model, to write and revise novels that failed to satisfy her demands for perfection. Always an assiduous reader, she records in her entry for January, 1927: “I read 75 books. I recopied about 300 pages from my Journal. ... I re-arranged the books in the library about 10 times. ... I wrote about 200 dutiful letters.” Also she accomplished such domestic tasks as making six decorative pillows and forced herself “to rest and relax, thereby gaining a little weight.” Over this comic recitation of small tasks accomplished is the heavy burden of uncompleted objectives, although she continued to pursue two avocations—dancing and modeling—that dated from the years before her marriage. As photographs from this volume evidence, Nin in her early twenties (as indeed throughout her life) was exceptionally beautiful, graceful, and vital, favored with a willowy frame that was much admired for its elegance by artists and photographers. For the distinguished sculptor Richard F. Maynard, who was also a family friend, she posed for portraits and a Grecian-like sculpture and a statuette. Reversing roles, she became an art student in Paris and, in a touching entry for March 16, 1927, shows how well she empathized with the feelings of a starving model. To advance her more pressing literary ambitions, she showed—with considerable hesitation—drafts of her fiction to the American critic and professor John Erskine, who also became a close friend to the young couple. Erskine approved of her writings, but she was by no means satisfied with her progress.

During the years covered by this volume, she attempted to complete two novels, “Aline’s Choice” and “The Blunderer”—both unpublished. Her approach was always the same: She would begin with enthusiasm, confidence, and fluency; then her confidence would wane. Either she would discover flaws in the construction, or she would read the work of a more accomplished talent and despair. In particular, she envied the artistry of Edith Wharton, whose structural skills she contrasted with her own fledgling efforts. Nevertheless, she recognized that her journals, written for herself both as an artistic discipline and a means of self-expression, had authentic literary merit. In her entry for August 31, 1923, she apologizes to her “dear journal” that she has “mangled and cut into you mercilessly, have left you deprived of half your belongings.” She continues: “I have no longer added pages to your book; rather, I have torn them from you. And even in your poverty you have still that elusive and inexplicable way of retaining your power and your character.” With insight she judges: “You are still alone and unsurpassed in that you are the most intimate, if not the most complete, of the reflections of my changing self.”

As her character develops in strength and wisdom, her Early Diary faithfully records the minute psychologically significant changes from youth to maturity. Indeed, the journals provide one of the most interesting, comprehensive, and beguiling accounts of a woman’s soul. To be sure, this human record is all the more valuable because Anaïs Nin would in time become a writer and personality of considerable achievement—a novelist, critic, and essayist; a friend of many notable literary and socially prominent figures; and a center in her own right of feminist causes—but these triumphs were to occur later, to be recorded in the Diaries by an artist more confident of her powers. Volume 3 of the Early Diary reveals as yet only a tentative view of the master. Nevertheless, the work has great charm because the diarist possessed the qualities both of intensity and luminosity.

As yet, few “important” figures appear in her life. Apart from her friendship with John Erskine, she has few links to the publishing world of New York. Most of her experiences are focused upon her husband, her family, and a close group of intimate friends. In her travels throughout parts of Europe, particularly during her long sojourn in Paris, she writes as one without roots. At first, she is uncomfortable in Paris (mostly because of what she perceives as a spirit of sexual license); later—as her entry for May 6, 1925, shows—she succumbs to the city’s beauty. Even so, as she had predicted in her entry for August 11, 1924: “I have reached the period when I feel dissatisfied with every country, while loving much in each. Paris will not satisfy me completely, any more than New York has.” Only her art—which requires the fullest expression of her individuality—could accomplish that goal.

For the reader, a grasp of Nin’s delicate individuality is the chief delight of the Early Diary. Quite apart from understanding the writer’s ideas or feeling vicariously her emotions, a sensitive reader is bound to touch a quality deeper infused while turning pages of the book. One touches the reality of Anaïs Nin’s being. Like few other literary figures who have chosen the diary form to express their intimate souls, Nin is able to compose a complete human document. Because so much of her vitality is transmitted through her journals, a reader may sense a connection with Nin, as though she were indeed alive. To her editors—her executor Rupert Pole, who contributes a brief objective note, and her brother Juaquin Nin-Culmell, who contributes a warm personal (yet not idolatrous) preface to this handsome volume—such a sense of illumination must not seem strange. Juaquin writes of his sister as though her presence were still alive for him. Many a reader of volume 3 will feel that same vital presence.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 51

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.

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