Thursday, February 21, 2013

Only you, my diary

‘Only you, my diary, know that it is here I show my fears, weaknesses, my complaints, my disillusions. I feel I cannot be weak outside because others depend on me. I rest my head here and weep. Henry asked me to help him with his work. Gonzalo asks me to join political revolutions. I live in a period of dissolution and disentegration. Even art today is not considered a vocation, a profession, a religion, but a neurosis, a disease, an “escape”. I titled this diary “drifting”. I thought I too would dissolve for a little while, but ultimately I become whole again.’

This is Anaїs Nin writing in August 1936. The same year she would begin to edit her earlier diaries with a view to publishing them. However, it would be another three decades before a first volume reached print, and when it did, Karl Shapiro, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, would write: ‘For a generation the literary world on both sides of the Atlantic has lived with the rumour of an extraordinary diary. Earlier readers of the manuscript dicussed it with breathtaking superlatives as a work that would take its place with the great revelations of literature. A significant section of this diary is at last in print and it appears that the great claims made for it are justified.’ Today - the 110th anniversary of her birth - seems a good day to remember Nin, one of the great literary diarists.

Anaїs Nin was born in France on 21 February 1903. Her parents, of mixed and partly Cuban heritage, were both music professionals. When they separated, their mother took Anaїs and her two brothers to New York City. At 20, she married a banker, Hugh Guiler, who later illustrated some of her books and went on to become a film maker. The couple moved to Paris in 1924, where Nin began writing fiction and where she fell in with the Villa Seurat group, which included the writers Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell (‘Larry’ in the diary). She had many love affairs, often with well known literary figures, but her relationship with Miller was more constant than most.

In 1932, Nin’s D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study was published with a limited print run. Also, in the mid-1930s, she began therapy with Otto Rank, a one-time pupil of Sigmund Freud. Despite Rank being 20 years older, she had an affair with him lasting several years (for more see The Diary Review article Nothing but the eyes). Thereafter, Nin published several novellas and collections of short stories, such as House of Incest (1936). Winter of Artifice (1939) and Under a Glass Bell (1944). Also in the 1940s, she began to write short erotic stories, though these were not published until the 1970s (Delta of Venus and Little Birds).

In 1939, Nin and Guiler relocated to New York. In 1946, Nin met the actor Rupert Pole, 16 years her junior; and in 1955 she married him in Arizona. The couple went to live in California, though Pole was unaware that Nin was already married; and Guiler, to whom Nin returned to in New York often, remained ignorant of the marriage to Pole. Nin, eventually, had her marriage to Pole annulled because of the legal complications of both husbands claiming her as a dependent on their tax returns. Nin continued to live with Pole, though, until her death in 1977, and Pole became her literary executor.


Throughout her life, starting aged 14, Nin was a committed, almost obsessed, diary writer. According to Wikipedia’s entry on The Diary of Anaïs Nin, the diary became ‘her best friend and confidante’. And, ‘despite the attempts of her mother, therapists Rene Allendy and Otto Rank, and writer Henry Miller, to break [her] of her dependence on the diary, she would continue to keep a diary up until her death in 1977’.

Already in the early 1930s, encouraged by her friends, especially Lawrence Durrell (see, also, A book out of these scraps), Nin began editing her diaries with a view to publication. However, it was not until 1966 that a first volume (covering the years 1931-1934) appeared, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Over the next decade or so, six more volumes in the same series would be published, each one edited by Nin herself; and these would later be referred to as the ‘expurgated’ version of Nin’s diary. (In the UK, they were published by Peter Owen and titled The Journals of Anaïs Nin.)


After her death, several volumes of Nin’s earlier diaries, i.e. from 1914 to 1931, were published, and then after Guiler’s death, in 1985, Pole commissioned unexpurgated versions of the journals. There have been several of these: Henry and June; Incest; Fire; and Nearer The Moon, all subtitled From a Journal of Love.

Further information on Nin is readily available across the web, at Wikipedia, The Official Anaïs Nin Blog, one fan site, another fan site, and Sky Blue Press. Excerpts from her diaries are also readily available, at Googlebooks for example, and on the fan sites.

The following extracts about diary writing itself are taken from The Journals of Anaïs Nin - Volume Two, i.e. the second published edition of the expurgated diaries. (See The Diary Review for more on Nijinsky’s diary.)

August 1936
‘Conflict with diary-writing. While I write in the diary I cannot write a book. I try to flow in a dual manner, to keep recording and to invent at the same time, to transform. The two activities are antithetical. If I were a real diarist, like Pepys or Amiel, I would be satisfied to record, but I am not, I want to fill in, transform, project, expand, deepen, I want this ultimate flowering that comes of creation. As I read the diary I was aware of all that I have left unsaid which can only be said with creative work, by lingering, expanding, developing. [. . .]

After I wrote here the other day on art versus diary, I felt the danger of putting art into the diary. It might kill its greatest quality, its naturalness. I must split up and do something apart - it is a need. No consciousness of perfection must enter the diary. Good-bye completeness. My plan of writing up a Day and a Night until I reach perfection.’

Fall 1937
‘Larry began to look over the volumes I took out of the tin box. But I began to feel uneasy, agitated, and we talked first. His first remark was: “Why, that is as terrifying as Nijinsky.” We had all been reading Nijinsky’s diary. Larry went away with an armful of volumes after saying: “You are a strange person, sitting there, surrounded by your black notebooks.”

I feel right about the diary. I will not stop. It is a necessity. But why does Henry attack it? He says I give good justifications for it each time but that he does not believe them.

Nijinsky, writing just before all connections broke with human beings. . .

Larry with his keen eyes, saying: “I have only smelled the diary writing, just read a page here and there. You have done it, the real female writing. It is a tragic work. You restore tragedy which the world has lost. Go on. Don’t stop. I’m sick of hearing about art. What you have done nobody has done. It is amazing. It is new.” ’

November 1937
‘Because of Henry’s description of the whalelike diary, Larry calls me “the Whale”. And signs himself: “your ever-admiring limpet.” [. . .]

Have gone to work on abridged edition of the diary. [. . .]

Henry has been collecting subscriptions to publish the first volume of the diary, and the first one he received was from André Maurois, who added that, however, he did not want all of the fifty-four volumes, his house was too full of books. In between these visits I arranged all the diaries I want to edit in one box so I can plunge into them easily.’

No comments: