By the early 1990s, it was apparent that Evelyn Hinz, the so-called “official” biographer of Anaïs Nin, was never going to get around to writing a biography. Rupert Pole, Gunther Stuhlmann, and many Nin scholars were growing impatient, especially since scholars did not have free access to the unpublished portions of the Nin archive and therefore there were great chasms in the understanding of Nin’s life. By 1990, all of the early diaries had been published, as well as the first “unexpurgated” diary, Henry and June, which covered the years 1931 and 1932. However, even Henry and June was a frustrating endeavor for scholars, since the book was not indexed and left out many details of Nin’s life. That’s not a criticism of the book, for the intent was for it to read well, like a novel…indeed, it read well enough for Philip Kaufman to use it as a basis for the screenplay of the movie Henry and June, which was released in the fall of 1990 to critical acclaim.
Around this time, Deirdre Bair, who was finishing the manuscript for her biography on Simone de Beauvoir, was alerted to the lack of a Nin biography through her agent. This planted a seed in her head, and soon she became intrigued by a woman “who wrote reams and reams, hundreds of thousands of words, but they were only about her, about her personal life,” as opposed to Beauvoir, who wrote only about her public life. When Bair read the entire diary series, she “was seeing tremendous holes in…shall we call it the truth? There were tremendous questions, unresolved questions that needed to be resolved. In Diary 1, for example, she’s enjoying this marvelous life and I’m wondering who is paying for this; where is the money coming from? What’s the background of her career? What’s her financial status? There are all these questions Anaïs never answered. But then she didn’t really have to—this was autobiography, this was memoir, and this is what she wanted the reader to know. But a biography is a different animal altogether, and so as a biographer it was my job to fill in the holes.”
She called John Ferrone (who edited the erotica and Henry and June, among other famous titles at Harcourt) and Gunther Stuhlmann, the Nin estate’s literary agent. She met with Stuhlmann, who, she says, welcomed her with open arms, and then she traveled to Los Angeles and met Rupert Pole, who took her on a tour of the Silver Lake house and the archives at UCLA. He told Bair that Hinz’s status was unchanged (i.e. she was no longer considered as a candidate for the biography), but that another biographer, Noel Riley Fitch, had approached him as well. Bair made it clear that there could only be one official biographer—Pole and Stuhlmann consequently granted her exclusive access to the archives until the book was published.
Bair visited Joaquín Nin-Culmell, Nin’s youngest brother, in San Francisco and learned of his vehement disagreements with Pole and Stuhlmann about the manner in which his sister’s work was being handled. Bair concluded that she was not about to get in the middle of what was an ongoing war within the Nin camp, and, while gathering information from both sides, made it a point to not share information from one with the other.
The work commenced, a massive collection of data from numerous sources. About the process, she says, “I joke and I say that a biographer can’t say it was a nice day until you check the weather reports for three weeks before and after in twenty-five different newspapers. I did this to a degree I don’t think I did with any of my other books. I knew what a controversial topic she was.”
Coming soon: Deirdre Bair answers her critics
An interview with Deirdre Bair will appear in A Cafe in Space, Vol. 7
I have interviewed Nin biographer Deirdre Bair (3/24 and 3/25) and we discussed many topics. If anyone has questions, I will do my best to answer them within the context of the interview. Feel free to leave questions and/or comments.
The interview will appear in its entirety in A Cafe in Space, Vol. 7.
Anaïs Nin’s diaries came out in heavily edited form because the times and circumstances dictated it to be so. The unexpurgated diaries came out for the very same reasons. In short, Nin’s “autobiography” came out scattershot, and it was left to the devices of the readers to interpret and put together the seemingly infinite number of pieces to get the complete portrait of the woman Nin herself claimed to be one “no one could hold.”
According to the scholar Sharon Spencer, who was a close friend of Nin, the genesis of the idea of a biography occurred when, in the mid-70s, Canadian scholar “Evelyn J. Hinz persuaded Anaïs to name her ‘official’ biographer. In a brief letter which does not specify Hinz’s exclusive access to the unpublished diaries, Anaïs authorized her to proceed with research for a biography (“Forever Anaïs”).
How did Hinz get to the point where she would be entrusted with such important responsibilities, ones that would directly affect Nin’s legacy? Having written about D.H. Lawrence, Hinz’s first book-length study was The Mirror and the Garden (Ohio State Libraries, 1971–out of print), a criticism on Nin’s writing up to that point, only the second such book. In 1975, Hinz edited A Woman Speaks: The Lectures, Seminars, and Interviews of Anaïs Nin. So, needless to say, she had credentials. While Diary 7 contains relatively few references to Hinz, the idea of a biography is mentioned: “Evelyn Hinz persuaded me that a biography would supply a factual, objective completion of the Diary, which sometimes does not cover all the ground. If I agree, it will be for the Diary as well, to fill in” (Diary 7, 228). There is no development of the idea in Diary 7, however, since it ends in 1974.
After Nin’s death in 1977, Hinz did not follow through with a biography. Instead, she became more of a barrier to Nin study rather than a catalyst. Spencer says in “Forever Anaïs”: “It is now 1998. Twenty-three years later Evelyn Hinz has published nothing biographical on Anaïs and has ceased professional activity in seminars and conferences devoted to Anais’s life and writings. However, Hinz has struggled to bar other critics and scholars from access to Anaïs’s manuscripts and correspondence.”
By 1990, Rupert Pole and Gunther Stuhlmann had given up on the idea that Hinz would ever produce a biography and began a search for someone who would. The official biographer would be Deirdre Bair.
Some years later, Rupert Pole recognized his mortality and began to worry about Hinz’s status as his successor as executor, so he took action, going to court to bar Hinz from any ownership to the Nin archive. Hinz died at the age of 64 in 2002. Rumors flew about her: she had become a recluse. She was an alcoholic. She was insane. None of this can be substantiated—it is all hearsay. Certainly, something caused Hinz to cease her scholarly activities, but what it was is up for debate. There is no question Hinz was a champion of Nin during the 1970s, although Spencer believed she used Nin for her own purposes. But what happened to her, and the biography, after that time remains somewhat of a mystery.
Anaïs Nin wrote, “There was once a woman who had one hundred faces. She showed one face to each person, and so it took one hundred men to write her biography.”
During her lifetime, Anaïs Nin dodged questions that aimed to pin her down, to reveal the details of her life (or lives lived simultaneously). She was vehement about keeping things private, as strange as it sounds considering her life was the source of material for nearly all of her writing. But what was it that she actually presented in her books? She began chronicling her life with her fiction, which was, as she put it, a “distillation” of events that were recorded in her diary (and the diary was often a distillation in itself). Characters were largely based on herself and those in her circle, such as Henry Miller (Hans in “Djuna” from The Winter of Artifice and Jay in later fiction), June Miller (Johanna in “Djuna” and Sabina in The House of Incest and later fiction), Gonzalo More (Rango in “Hilda and Rango” from Little Birds). Yet she often denied her characters were based on real people, caught in a strange predicament: writing out her life but trying to keep it secret. She was often quoted as saying that her motivation for secrecy was to protect the innocent, those who would be hurt should the nature of her many relationships (especially sexual) be exposed.
The publication of Nin’s diaries was a discombobulated process from the very start. First, they had to be “cleaned” of any direct references to her love life, names had to be changed, and entire passages had to be removed if they referred to someone who did not wish to appear in the diary (her husband, Hugh Guiler, for example). The result, then, is not what is popularly perceived as a true “diary.” When one sees the term “diary,” one is conditioned to think “facts,” “dates,” “chronological events,” and “names.” Gunther Stuhlmann, in the introduction to Diary 1 (1931-1934), which was published in 1966 when Nin was 63 years old, expertly states what this “diary” actually is—a “psychological” truth. Apparently, too few people read the introduction and therefore tried to impose a literal truth on writing that was often not. After the 7 volumes of the Diary (which covered the years 1931 to 1974) came the problem of releasing what had been cut out, and what came before it. The childhood and young adult diaries (1914-1931) were released in a more complete form—the editing was not radical; in fact it was marginal. But beginning with the Miller years, Nin’s life had turned about face and became highly sensual, sexual, and consequently deceptive. Suddenly there were numerous affairs (including one with her estranged father), lies to her husband and her lovers, a late-term abortion, betrayals to those who loved her. So a new set of diaries, the so-called Journal of Love series, was released, beginning with Henry and June, after the death of Guiler in 1985.
These “unexpurgated” diaries, especially the second, Incest, caused open rebellion among many of those who’d befriended Nin, or who admired her, because they all felt betrayed—they thought they knew the woman with “one hundred faces.” In 1994, at the Nin conference at Long Island University, Joaquín Nin-Culmell famously walked up to the “friends” table and exclaimed: “You did not know my sister!” in rebuttal to what he considered their “delusion.” A few years later, I had lunch with a group of women who’d known Nin (albeit marginally), and none of them could bring themselves to believe that their beloved Anaïs, the kind and generous woman they knew, was capable of the deeds which appeared in Incest (the father relationship, the abortion). There were those who felt that these events were exploited (if not fabricated) by Rupert Pole (Nin’s California husband and executor) and Gunther Stuhlmann to make a quick buck. In short, after the first two volumes of the Journal of Love were released, there were many bitter and disillusioned people walking around, and the need for someone to sort out the actual facts of Anaïs Nin’s life was apparent. But was it possible? Since then, two biographies (Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin, by Noel Riley Fitch , and Anaïs Nin: A Biography, by Dierdre Bair ) have been published, but do either give us the whole picture?
An interview with Deirdre Bair will appear in its entirety in A Cafe in Space, Vol. 7.
Both A Café in Space, Vol. 6 and Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary and Index to Diary Excerpts are now available for shipping. All of you who have ordered either or both titles will be receiving yours very soon.
When Hugh Guiler, Anaïs Nin’s banker husband, began his artistic career as an engraver, he chose to use the name Ian Hugo, supposedly so that his art would be separate from his career. In Guiler’s mind, there was a sense of intolerance between the financial and artistic worlds, and he did not want the two intertwined. Guiler’s engravings found their way into Nin’s hand-printed editions during the 1940s, perhaps most notably the Gemor edition of Under a Glass Bell (the promotional photo of which can be seen on the cover of A Café in Space, Vol. 2). By 1950, Guiler began experimenting with film and became a truly respected avant-garde filmmaker, using superimposition and other effects to reflect his vision on the screen.
At a May 27, 1977 lecture, he said after screening his Bells of Atlantis (based on water images presented in Nin’s first work of fiction, The House of Incest, and in which Nin appears and narrates): “Thank you for your kind response, which I am sure is also meant as a tribute to Anaïs Nin. I do think that this film does bring her closer to you—to her style as a poetic writer of the first order, and her presence as an extraordinarily sensitive, and warm human being. I can certainly testify personally to this through the almost 54 years that we were married, to the time of her death in January of this year.” (It should be pointed out that there was an audible gasp by the audience, since they only knew Ian Hugo as an artistic collaborator of Nin.) “And I will add that her physical beauty seemed to glow as if from some inner light which, as I now see more clearly, enabled her to explore, day by day, ‘the lost continent within ourselves’ (a phrase by the poet Marianne Moore in referring to Bells of Atlantis). And it is only now that I fully realize how much I owed to her presence and her encouragement all those years in trying to explore my own ‘lost continent’ which I first tried to reach out to in making this film.” The complete lecture will be published in next year’s A Café in Space.
The 9 minute film, finished in 1952, with a score from electronic music pioneers Louis and Bebe Barron, can be viewed (in less than pristine quality) by clicking here. (Courtesy of UbuWeb) There is also a filmography of Guiler’s work, thanks to Robert Haller.
If there is any consensus about reading Anaïs Nin, it is that one sees aspects of one’s self in the work—whether it be fiction or the diary. Nin’s work is a mirror of sorts, and sometimes a distorted one. This is what makes Nin’s writing “personal,” and therefore “universal,” and is also a reason why there are so many disagreements about its meaning. A reader with a feminist point of view will see the feminism, and another will see something else entirely, and we haven’t even gotten into gender differences.
And about the erotica: one reason it has seen so little serious academic criticism is that it is generally believed that she knocked these stories off in her spare time with little thought or care at a buck a page for a collector, and then, near the end of her life, “sold out” by having them published. In his article “Claiming Ownership: Issues in Nin criticism—the diary vs. the fiction” (from A Café in Space, Vol. 6), Bruce Watson notes that “In his review of Nin criticism, Anaïs Nin and Her Critics, [Philip K.] Jason gives the Erotica a scant page of attention, prefaced by the dunning statement that: ‘Delta of Venus (1977) and Little Birds (1979) add little to Nin’s stature, even though they sold amazingly well…’ Jason’s tart commentary on Nin’s Erotica seems the stock critique of the seasoned academic when faced with popular literature; he seems to distrust it for the very fact that it is popular.”
However, today there is a growing trend to look critically at the erotica and to write about it. In fact, there are three articles that address Nin’s erotica in the current A Café in Space.
In her article “A ‘Clanging Cymbal—The Story of Anaїs Nin’s Reception,” Sarah Burghauser points out that “We […] know, and understand why some folks have a problem with [Nin]: but they oftentimes can’t see beyond their own ideas of what a woman writer should be and what sort of work she should produce.” Burghauser illustrates this idea with critic Edmund Miller’s take on Nin’s erotica: “[Miller argues] that Nin’s erotica does not work well as either fiction or erotica, saying, ‘Their [the stories] tendency to thwart arousal is partly a consequence of the loose plotting, but may have derived in part as well from a feminine misunderstanding of what works to arouse men.’ In this passage, Miller is complaining not only on the book collector’s behalf (as per his protest to poetry) but also on his own.”
One could claim that Edmund Miller is misinterpreting the erotica, but it could be that he is merely viewing it through his own prism—this is one of the reasons that criticizing Nin’s erotica specifically, and Nin’s work generally, has rarely been a unifying endeavor. If there are a dozen Nin readers, there will be nearly a dozen interpretations. The good news is that the erotica is finally getting the attention it deserves: as valued fiction, as groundbreaking women’s writing, and as a form of feminism, all valid considerations, and all debatable.
Myth #5: Anaïs Nin’s erotica disqualifies her as any sort of feminist.
In the February issue of Glamour, there is an article entitled “6 Crazy Sex Requests Women Just Like You Have Heard.” One of the requests, reported by a 32-year-old woman was, “My husband asked, ‘Can we do it, but can it just be all about me?’ It gets better: He said I could keep the TV on so I wouldn’t miss The Office” (Glamour, p. 100). On the Smoking Gun website, there is a “Contract of Wifely Expectations” in which a man lists requirements his wife must fulfill, which, it could be argued, are repressive to say the least. Both these articles reveal that for some men, patriarchy is alive and well.
As shown in the article “Feminist Smut(?)—A study of Anaïs Nin’s erotica,” by Angela Carter in A Café in Space, Vol. 6, patriarchy is a thread running through Anaïs Nin’s erotica (Delta of Venus and Little Birds). For example, Carter uses a story from Little Birds to illustrate that Nin wrote of women’s struggle for sexual liberation in a time of patriarchal mores:
When read in the context of feminist criticism, “Hilda and Rango” is in many ways one of Nin’s more troubling stories. The reader sees the story’s protagonist struggle because her sexual actions are not socially acceptable for women. As the story unfolds, Hilda becomes more and more sexually passive in order to please a male lover who subscribes to conventional gender roles. When the story ends as Hilda submits passively to a dominant male lover, it is easy to assume, mistakenly, that Nin is sustaining gendered traditionalism. (A Café in Space, Vol. 6, p.97)
The story is based on actual events between Nin and Gonzalo More, the Peruvian who swept her off her feet in Paris in the late 30s. Despite his apparent bohemianism, More was very traditional in that he felt women should be submissive and allow the man to “have his way.” Before meeting More, Nin had been sexually awakened in her relationship with Henry Miller, who allowed her to be bold and daring. “Hilda and Rango” parallels this duality: the natural desire to be sexually adventurous and the social pressure to be passive.
Nin writes that when Hilda makes an advance on Rango, he suddenly “pushed her away as if she had wounded him” and tells her that she “made the gesture of a whore.”
The story ends with Hilda submitting completely to Rango, denying her own sexuality in favor of his. Carter goes on to say:
Her will was her desire to initiate sex and Rango drove it out of her. He now rules her sexuality by denying it and forcing her to lay almost corpse-like while he teases her. In the last candlelit moment, he leads their intercourse like the demon she first saw in him. Sadly, this moment when Hilda’s idealized dream of passivity comes true is instead Rango’s moment, “his desire, his hour” (Little Birds 120). The moment that should have fulfilled the passive Hilda’s dream is not her moment at all. By leaving Hilda’s sexuality completely out of the story’s conclusion, Nin provokes the reader to question what happened to her desire, her hour. (A Café in Space, Vol. 6, p. 102)
Carter shows us that Nin indeed used her erotica to highlight the suppression of female sexuality. While Nin was never a second wave feminist in the true sense of the term, her erotica could be viewed as feminist since it expresses the struggle of women to be sexually liberated in the early 1940s, long before second wave feminism took root.
Do you have an Anaïs Nin myth you would like addressed? Let us know by e-mailing us.