Myth #6: Anaïs Nin had a life-long love affair with Paris
Fact: By the time Anaïs Nin and her family immigrated to New York at the age of 11, she had spent very little time in Paris, traveling across the European continent as her pianist/composer father did musical tours. Though she missed France while in New York and romanticized her homeland during World War I, she rarely mentioned the City of Light in her childhood diary. In America, she became enamored with the English language classics and began to consider herself Anglo, not Latin. So, when her banker husband Hugh Guiler was transferred to a Paris branch in the mid-1920s, Anaïs did not have the sense of coming home, but rather that of being uprooted. Her first impressions of Paris as a young adult were anything but glowing. On Jan. 2, 1925, only a few days after arriving, she said in her diary:
“Tonight I hate Paris. The wind is blowing heaving raindrops about; the streets are wet and muddy; the automobile horns, more discordant than ever.” (Early Diary 3 82)
The next day she wrote:
“My ridiculous attitude towards Paris shows that I love with my intellect, not with my instincts and my emotions. My intellect was bred in English letters, and no instinct of race or birth can influence me. This dullness of the heart, this lack of responsiveness, shock me and please me at the same time. The humorous side of it is that the French would be the first to understand and to approve of me. The English would, by contrast, urge me to love my native city without reasoning about it. Through recognition of the supremacy of the intelligence, I belong, then, to Paris. Yet I kneel here, humbly sentimentalizing about the English. What inconsistencies! I shall truly end by being spiritually repudiated by all nations.” (Early Diary 3 83-4)
On March 11, she said:
“Spiritually, I hate Paris for the importance of sensuality in its literary and human life.” (Early Diary 3 115)
She shunned the Montparnasse scene of expatriate writers and artists and locked herself within the four walls of her apartment, keeping her diary and trying to be an ideal wife in a basically sexless marriage—this went on for years before a slow awakening to her environment occurred. Just as she began to identify herself as an artist and sought to associate with other artists in Paris, she and Hugh were forced by their shrinking finances—caused by the onset of the Great Depression—to move to the suburbs, ending up in Louveciennes. Once again she felt imprisoned, until the fateful day in 1931 when she met Henry Miller, who liberated her and introduced her to the guts of the city she had essentially ignored for six years.
The 1930s Paris years with Miller were arguably the most essential to Nin’s life and work, setting up the release of the Diary of Anaïs Nin, the first two volumes of which cover that period. During this time, however, visits to New York created ambivalence in Nin—her infatuation with the frenetic energy of New York, perhaps best represented by her love of jazz, which she felt symbolized New York, contrasted heavily with the slower, more languorous pace of Paris. She found herself longing to be in New York again. After returning from an extended visit in 1935, she wrote:
“I miss the animal buoyancy of New York, the animal vitality… Where is the jazz rhythm, the nervous energy of New York? …Face to face with a gentle, diminutive Paris, all charm, all intelligence, the new Anaïs feels: But I know it already. It is familiar. I am in love with a new, as yet uncreated world, vivid colors and large scales, vastness and abundance, a synthetic vast city of the future.” (Diary 2 42, 43)
Her desire to return to New York was to ultimately be realized, but not in the fashion she’d wished—the threat of World War II thrust her once again back into America. Once trapped in New York with no possibility of returning to Paris, she rebelled and fell into a deep depression that not only affected her personal life, but also her writing. But she was never to return to Paris to live, even when she had the chance after the war. However, especially in her later years, Nin would write wistfully of her native city and recapture some of the joy whenever she returned for visits.
anais nin hugh guiler henry miller paris louveciennes montparnasse