On February 24, 1903, at 11 in the morning, this birth certificate was drawn up in Neuilly sur Seine. In it, we learn that Rose Jeanne Anaïs Edelmira Antolina Nin was born at 8:25, the evening of February 21, 1903, to father Joseph Joachim Nin, 23 years old, and to mother Rose Celeste Culmell, 25 years old, at their home on 7, rue du Général Henrion Bertier, Neuilly sur Seine. The midwife was Lucile Marie Anna Mabille, 41 years old. (The spellings of the names reflect the French versions of the Spanish names.)
Interestingly, Rosa’s age is incorrect: she was in fact 31 at this time. Whether this is a clerical error or whether Joaquín and/or Rosa wanted to keep their age difference a secret is pure speculation.
According to Nin biographer Deirdre Bair, Joaquín was not pleased at having a child so early on in his marriage and, perhaps more importantly, his career. He became jealous of the attention Rosa gave her delicate daughter. This seemed to interfere with the performance relationship the couple had…at first Joaquín insisted Rosa perform with him in order to get her away from Anaïs, and then, irrationally, insisted she not perform when he felt Rosa was neglecting both him and Anaïs. From that point forward, Joaquín Nin became a solo performer and Rosa was reduced to a mother who sat in the audience to cheer him.
By the time Anaïs’s brother, Thorvald, was born in Havana in 1905, she was afflicted with typhoid fever, becoming violently ill. Joaquín was repulsed by the sight of his now very thin, sickly daughter and made sure she knew how ugly he found her. By the time Anaïs’s youngest brother, Joaquín, was born in Berlin, the family life had deteriorated to the point of chaos and violence. Beatings were brutal and often, at the hand of the father. The violence between Joaquín Sr. and Rosa intensified to the point where Anaïs feared for her mother’s life (see the introduction to “Prelude to a Symphony—Letters between a father and daughter,” A Café in Space, Vol. 6). By 1913, the family as Anaïs knew it was destroyed when her father abandoned them, and for the rest of her life she would be torn by the loss.
It is also interesting to note that while we readily celebrate Anaïs’s birthday, she rarely refers to it—or to Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or other traditionally notable days—in her adult diary. On Feb. 20, 1925, just before her 22nd birthday, she wrote: “On the eve of my birthday and bowing to tradition, I try to consider thoughtfully the significance of this venerable day—in vain. Dates never agree with my transformations. My real birthday this year was when I read Edith Wharton’s books. My New Year began when I succeeded in having my story run smoothly, when I found a renewed interest in my second book. My holidays are many—every time I go downtown with Hugh, when the agitation of the city, like the quick rhythm of some Spanish danza, makes my heart beat faster. My religious festivals fall on whatever day the sun shines—those are my Mass-going days, when I can pray.”
If you have thoughts to share on this day, Anaïs Nin’s 107th birthday, leave a comment or visit our guestbook.
To read more about Nin’s birthplace, get Britt Arenander’s Anais Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939, which has descriptions and an interactive map that includes the house.
To see a sample or to purchase Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.
To view a sample interactive map drawn from the book, click here.
Myth #4: Anaïs Nin was fluent in three languages: French, Spanish, and English.
Fact: When Anaïs Nin’s father, Joaquín Nin, abandoned his family in Arachon, France, in 1913, she, her mother and her two younger brothers went to Barcelona and stayed with Joaquín’s parents. During the year or so they spent in Spain, Anaïs learned her Spanish. When the fatherless family arrived in New York in 1914, French was the spoken language at home. Although Anaïs’s mother, Rosa, was fluent in English (as well as Spanish and French), she had determined the family’s “mother tongue” was French. Her philosophy was that since her children would learn English soon enough in school and in their social interactions, and that Spanish would be spoken with their Cuban relatives, the only way to keep the French alive was to speak it exclusively at home. When Anaïs began her diary on the trip to America, it was in French.
Although her English was improving over the next few years, Nin continued her diary writing in French, partly because she longed to retain her identity, and partly because she intended the diary as a long “letter” to her estranged father, who did not know English. As her English grew, her French withered. Her father chastised her for her misuse of words and accent marks, leading Anaïs to close one of her letters with all the accent marks at the end: “Put them where they belong,” she told him. Sometimes Anaïs would transcribe letters to English-speaking friends into her diary, and it was clear that she was better able to express herself with English. She began reading the English-language classics, and by 1920 had switched her diary to English. Her English was by far a better vehicle for her self-expression, but was still a work-in-progress, and would be for years to come.
As Anaïs began to attempt to write fiction in English after returning to Paris in 1925, her young husband, Hugh Guiler, in the name of helping her, criticized her incorrect (as he saw it) use of words, or the use of words that were considered archaic or odd. Later on, Henry Miller would do much the same (see Myth #2).
Consider this passage Miller corrects from “Djuna” in The Winter of Artifice (sometime in the mid-1930s):
“Are you afriad to forget your name and who you are, and where you live? Have you not played with the idea of amnesia, which only meens a somanabulistic condition of the ideal self. The conscince goes to sleep and then the critical self too, and you can walk the streets and act as you please without calms.”
Miller blasts her misspellings, and when he criticizes her use of “calms” for “qualms” he says: “Look it up!!!” He adds: “Bad sentence structure” and “Watch all your ‘ands,’ ‘buts,’ etc. Weakly used!” (See Benjamin Franklin V’s introduction to The Winter of Artifice: a facsimile of the original 1939 Paris edition.)
At times, Nin felt hopeless—she had Guiler and Miller criticizing her English, and she admitted to Miller that writing in French to her father was “like trying to create a river with twigs” (see “Prelude to a Symphony: letters between a father and daughter,” A Café in Space, Vol. 6). Her Spanish at this time was almost non-existent…her father occasionally wrote to her in Spanish, but Anaïs did not respond in kind.
As Nin developed artistically through these trials by fire, her writing became stronger, more economic, and possessed an exotically distinct quality. It is often described as “English written in the French style.” There is no question that Anaïs Nin became one of the most eloquent writers in the English language, and to this day one of the most oft-quoted…but during the transitions between her three languages, arguably caused by her constant resettling, she was fluent in none of them.
Shortly before Anaïs Nin’s birth on February 21, 1903, Joaquín Nin and his wife, Rosa, moved to the plush Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine and took a flat at 7 rue du Général Henrion Bertier, a short walk from what is now avenue Charles de Gaulle, from where one can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance to the east. Today, the neighborhood is overshadowed by the futuristic silhouette of La Défense and is choked with cars parked where there is no space, but at the turn of the 20th century it could have been the setting for a passage from Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. There would have been well-dressed couples strolling on the trottoir, elegant carriages coming up and down the narrow street, the well-heeled horseriding in the nearby Bois du Bologne. For Joaquín Nin, whose musical career was just beginning, it was the perfect place for his upper-crust tastes. For Rosa, it was a source of strain because it was very expensive and it was her father supplying the funds.
The house (and its identical neighbor at no. 11) is listed by the Invetaire générale des monuments et des richesses artisitiques de la France, Département des Hauts-de-Seine. It was designed by the architect Gustave Gridaine (who designed other prominent buildings in the area) and completed in November 1895. According to the Invetaire, there is a basement, 4 rectangular stories, and a penthouse, and it is constructed of cut stone with a slate roof. There is an interior suspended staircase, spiral and windowed, and the décor is listed as “sculpture.”
The family didn’t spend much time in Neuilly; they traveled back to Havana in 1904 where Joaquín took Cuban citizenship and shortly thereafter performed in Paris for the first time as a Cuban. Rosa was by then pregnant with their second child, Thorvald, who was born in 1905 in Havana. Rosa’s father, Thorvald Culmell, was dying and sought to tighten the spending. So, after returning to France, the Nin family moved from Neuilly to a less expensive house in St-Cloud, outside of Paris. For an article on Neuilly, see A Cafe in Space, Vol. 1.
To read more about Neuilly, get Britt Arenander’s Anais Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939, which has descriptions and an interactive map that includes the house.
To see a sample or to purchase Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.
To view a sample interactive map drawn from the book, click here.
When Rosa Culmell, 30, met Joaquín Nin, 22, in Havana, Cuba, she was swept off her feet by his beauty, talent, charm, and eloquent manners. He had a habit of dazzling women by playing piano for customers in music stores, and Rosa, although defiantly single and of the elite class, was caught in his spell. Joaquín, who was penniless and living off his meager earnings and his Cuban relatives, felt Rosa was the perfect vehicle for his success in living the life of a dandy and in his professional career. Rosa, though not the most beautiful of her single sisters, was the most mature and forthright, not to mention she had a professional-quality singing voice. Joaquín and Rosa married April 8, 1902 in Havana, and soon left for Paris with enough money for a grand piano and a monthly stipend, thanks to Rosa’s father, Thorvald Culmell.
Once in Paris, the couple soon discovered their immense differences: she was honest, loving, and giving. He was selfish, arrogant, and wanted nothing but the best for himself. She provided the money, but he made the decisions. Their relationship became a series of monumental battles followed by passionate reconciliations, according to Anaïs Nin biographer Dierdre Bair.
Rosa became pregnant almost immediately after the marriage, perhaps the result of one of their clashes. Although Rosa had won a battle to live in St-Germain-des-Prés, which was relatively inexpensive, shortly before their first child, Anaïs, was born, Joaquín precipitated the move to Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris’s most luxurious suburb, setting an ominous pattern for the rest of their marriage.
Thanks to Heather for the following:
Myth #3: Anaïs Nin was in therapy with Carl Jung.
Fact: Anaïs Nin was not in therapy with Jung; in fact, she never met him. However, she subscribed to many of his theories, especially when it came to the dream and its meaning, and she often used a quote attributed to him: “Proceed from the dream outward.” Nin used her legendary houseboat, La Belle Aurore, to illustrate the concept, which she mentions in Diary 3. Some twenty years before renting her houseboat, she visited the Maupassant house in Brittany; in the garden was a tool shed made from a boat that had been washed ashore during a storm. This sight reminded her of a recurring dream of boats unable to sail because there was no water. She had a dream about living in Maupassant boat. When she saw an ad for a houseboat for rent, she felt compelled to fulfill the dream by living in it, which, of course, she did.
Nin furthered the theory by writing a story of traveling down the Seine in her boat for twenty years only to return to the point of origin…it turned about to be prophetic, à la Jung, when her houseboat was ordered to be towed away in preparation for the onset of war; she was aboard when it was taken to the place of her birth, Neuilly.
Nin also attributed Jung’s writings for helping her conceive and develop her famous House of Incest.
Thanks to Kim for the following:
Myth #2: “Anaïs Nin was a success because of Henry Miller. He taught her to write and she used him. If it wasn’t for him she would’ve been completely unknown.”
Henry Miller did indeed have a positive effect on Nin’s early fiction writing. The example above is a page from one of the working drafts of the story “Djuna” from The Winter of Artifice (1939) and the final product. Miller’s handwritten suggestions and deletions make it into the published version of the story. The paragraph beginning with “Here are my dreams for the month…” is verbatim from Miller’s notes. Examples like this are found throughout this and other versions of the manuscript. So there is little question that Miller not only gave Nin advice on her writing, she willingly accepted and incorporated it.
However, to indicate that Miller was responsible for Nin’s success is as flawed as saying she was responsible for his. They influenced each other. Miller’s Scenario, for example, is what many consider a poor rendering of Nin’s House of Incest, which was evidently, according to most critics and Nin herself, misunderstood by Miller. While Miller criticized Nin’s use of the English language (it was her third language, after French and Spanish, respectively), and sometimes rightfully so, Nin criticized Miller’s uni-dimensionality in his writing, most notably his tunnel-view, and therefore miscomprehension, of his own wife, June. While Nin was able to use Miller’s criticisms to her advantage, Miller was not as willing to use hers, which is most likely to his detriment (consider the flatness of the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy compared to the Paris books, for example). He certainly, however, was willing to use Nin’s resources to make it possible for him to write while in relative comfort.
Throughout the Nin-Miller relationship, the diary swelled with accounts of her tumultuous life, written freely and beautifully, without the restraints of what she called “literature.” History has shown us that the diary is her masterpiece, not the fiction, not the “literature.”
A side note: it was serendipitous that Miller’s Tropic of Cancer came out in the early 60s, followed by his Letters to Anaïs Nin in 1965. Nin’s Diary came out the following year, and there is little doubt that Nin’s agent Gunther Stuhlmann envisioned the letters, which he edited, as a segue to the Diary. So does that mean that Nin used Miller to gain success? No, it meant that while Stuhlmann was intelligent and crafty enough to let momentum build towards the release of the Diary—Miller, after all, was inherently linked to Nin whether or not anyone planned it—the time was right, the popular culture was right, the level of openness was right for both Nin and Miller’s books to be released, read, and lauded for the magnificent works they were.
From time to time, we will post common myths about Anaïs Nin and to counter them with facts. If you have a “myth” you would like to share, leave a comment or e-mail us, and we’ll address it. If you have evidence to the contrary of our conclusions, we are eager to hear it.
Myth #1: Anaïs Nin was a lesbian or bisexual.
Fact: While there are rare accounts in the unpublished diary (sometimes graphic) of her relations with women, and while she could be erotically aroused by women, she found actual sex with them uncomfortable and strained. She once said, for example, “I never liked kissing a woman’s sex.” In the famous case of June Miller, Nin was brought to the pinnacle of eroticism, but it was a peak she didn’t traverse physically. So, the conclusion is that while Anaïs Nin found some women erotic and actually wound up in bed with a few of them, in the strictest sense of the words “lesbian” and “bisexual,” she was neither.
Here are some details about Anaïs Nin’s Spanish and Cuban relatives. Again, many thanks to Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz, who has cleared up some misinformation and supplied the photo.
Anaïs Nin’s Spanish grandfather, Joaquín Nin y Tudo, was a military officer stationed in Cuba, and her grandmother, Angela Castellanos y Perdomo, was Cuban by birth. Their son José Joaquín Nin y Castellanos, Anaïs Nin’s father, was born in Cuba on September 29, 1879. Perhaps because being born Cuban was something of a detriment in the eyes of Spanish nobility, Joaquín Nin y Castellanos was baptized in Spain a year after his birth. Since his father decided to stay in Barcelona, Joaquín spent most of his first 21 years there. Although it has been said that he looked down upon his Cuban relatives, referring to them as “peasants,” his Cuban relatives were by far wealthier than the Nins and were also very proud of their heritage. Moreover, when Cuba gained its independence, Joaquín opted for Cuban citizenship.
Joaquín had a natural ability at the piano, studied in Barcelona and gave his first performance there as a teenager. He gave piano lessons, and he apparently seduced one of his female students, whose father threatened him bodily harm. Joaquín fled Spain and set out for Cuba in 1901. According to Deirdre Bair, Anaïs Nin’s biographer, the reason he dropped the “Castellanos” from his name was to distance himself from the disgrace he’d incurred. However, this doesn’t seem to make sense since it was a Nin, not a Castellanos, who got the young girl into trouble. Joaquín Nin’s son, Thorvald, said that his father wanted to keep things simple, so he also dropped the first name, José, and was professionally known as Joaquín Nin from that point on. Another reason to believe that Joaquín valued his Cuban heritage was the fact that it was the Castellanos family who took him in and supported him after fleeing Spain.
Joaquín Nin thought very highly of his father, and dedicated his first performance in Barcelona to him. In 1933, when Joaquín began reacquainting himself with Anaïs after a twenty year estrangement, memories of his father filled his letters to her (a sample of these letters can be read in A Cafe in Space, Vol. 6). However, Anaïs’s memories of her Spanish grandfather were less glowing: she thought him to be a terrifying tyrant. On the other hand, Anaïs remembered her grandmother, Angela, as sweet and kind…in fact, all of the Nin family remembered her that way.
We are posting events leading up to Anaïs Nin’s birth, February 21st, 1903.
Thanks to Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz (Anaïs Nin’s niece and daughter of Thorvald Nin, Anaïs’s younger brother) and some of her Danish cousins, we can sort out some of the rather complicated details of Anaïs Nin’s Danish and French ancestry. Some of this information is anecdotal, but much of it is documented and runs counter to Nin biographer Deirdre Bair’s account.
This we know for sure: Thorvald Culmell (1847-1906) was a Danish immigrant who settled in Cuba during the 19thcentury, where he married Anaïs Vaurigaud November 12, 1870 and fathered nine children. Rosa, Anaïs Nin’s mother, was the eldest Culmell child, born in 1871.
Anaïs Culmell (nee Vaurigaud y Bourdin), Anaïs Nin’s grandmother, was the youngest child of Pierre Vaurigaud, a Cuban-born engineer whose journal was translated by Gayle into English. Anaïs was born November 27, 1853 in Havana. It is said she never set foot on the soil of any other country. While Bair claims Pierre was the son of Napoleonic general and his Creole wife, in fact the Napoleonic general was Bernard Bourdin, Pierre Vaurigaud’s father-in-law, and the Creole was Pierre’s wife (Anaïs Bourdin y Flack, baptized Catherine Rose, perhaps because Anaïs was not considered a Christian name), who was born in New Orleans. Family history says that Pierre’s parents were descendants of French planters who’d fled what is now Haiti after the slave rebellion around 1800. Anaïs Culmell (Vaurigaud) died in Havana in the 1920s. Thorvald Nin happened to be in Cuba at the time and acted as one of the pallbearers.
Thorvald Culmell, Anaïs Nin’s grandfather, was actually born Thorvald Christensen, one of two brothers who emigrated from Denmark to make their mark in the Americas. Some correspondence from the Danish side of the family indicates that a third brother, Carl Lauritz (1832-1899), settled in Australia. The other brother who came to the Americas was Peter Emilius (1834-1914). Peter Emilius used the name Charles Culmell or Charles Culmell Christensen in the United States some years before Thorvald came to Cuba. Peter Emilius amassed quite a fortune, and family legend says part of it came from blockade running during the U.S. Civil War.
While Thorvald stayed in Cuba and became a wealthy businessman, Peter Emilius moved to Texas and raised a family. Most likely around 1867, he returned to Denmark after his wife Ella (born Edwards) died in an epidemic. He then married his housekeeper, Sophia, and had two daughters with her. The center figure in the photo above is possibly Sophia, as one of the Danish cousins sees a resemblance from an earlier photo taken of her.
According to Deirdre Bair, Anaïs Culmell left Thorvald after having relations with other men, moved into her own house, and although still married, lived her life independently, foreshadowing certain aspects of Anaïs Nin’s lifestyle.