The Story Behind Anaïs Nin’s The Four-Chambered Heart

 In 1948, when Anaïs Nin first began writing her novel The Four-Chambered Heart, she described it as her “last act of love” for Gonzalo Moré, the Peruvian radical and bohemian with whom she’d been locked in a torturous, doomed relationship for more than a decade. “It is the monument that he will not be able to destroy as he destroyed our life,” she says in her unpublished diary.

In the novel, the character Djuna falls in love with Rango and becomes entangled in his chaotic life. She is introduced to Zora, Rango’s wife, a former dancer who has fallen into a morass of hypochondria and self-centered manipulation. These characters, of course, are modeled after Nin, Moré, and his wife Helba Huara.

Helba Huara in costume

Helba Huara in costume

When Nin first met Gonzalo in Paris in 1936, she astutely recognized him as a “tiger who dreams. A tiger without claws.” Helba was “the woman whose dance without arms inspired the dancer in House of Incest” (Fire243). Henry Miller, during his first visit to Nin in Louveciennes in 1931, said he’d seen Helba dance, but that “her husband is the interesting one.” Indeed, Gonzalo knew and was the intellectual equal of literary figures such as Antonin Artaud, Pablo Neruda, and César Vallejo. In 1931, Nin had “walked out of Helba’s first small recital, disgusted with her grotesque exaggerations, and Gonzalo was on the stage as accompanist and I did not see him—five years before we met.” But years later, Nin “saw the monstrous quality of the demon in Helba and was interested—not repulsed” (unpublished diary). Indeed, for a time during the 1920s and early 1930s, Helba was acclaimed as an exotic dancer embodying Incan culture who performed all over Europe and on Broadway.

By 1936, however, Helba had become a self-created invalid, using imaginary illness to manipulate Gonzalo and anyone with whom they associated, and she and Gonzalo were impoverished, living in the squalor of a dungeon-like basement room.

Nin’s love affair with Gonzalo was unlike her concurrent affair with Henry Miller—waves of sexual fury and romance, violence followed by serenity, and above all a Latin emotional connectedness, which she lacked with Miller. The words Nin records in her diary reflect the passion she and Gonzalo shared, as he whispers to her while dancing: “Anaïs, Anaïs, you are so strong, so strong and so fragile, such strength. I fear you…the most beautiful music your father ever produced was your voice…you’re all sensitiveness…the perfume of all things, how unique you are, Anaïs.” She continues: “All this in Spanish. My blood hears Spanish…through dark subterranean channels” (Fire 247).

Acting on a dream she’d once had, Nin rented a houseboat on the Seine, which she and Gonzalo used as a setting for their explosive amorous rendezvous. The houseboat became a key symbol in Nin’s fiction, appearing in some of the stories from Under a Glass Bell, as well as The Four-Chambered Heart.

Because she truly loved Gonzalo, the revolutionary too lazy take up arms, the artist without creations, the worker without a clock, the intellectual mind dimmed by drugs and alcohol, Nin fought against impossible odds to rehabilitate him. She overlooked the obvious flaws and recognized his keen intelligence, charisma, fiery passion, and humor. However, the inertia of his personality, his uncontrolable jealousy, and Helba’s constant meddling slowly began to drag Nin into their hell.

After fleeing France for New York when the war began, Nin set up her own printing press and employed Gonzalo to work with her. She even named the business after him—Gemor Press—and felt she’d finally helped him develop a craft and a sense of self-worth. However, by the mid-1940s, she was the one doing most of the work, and anything left to Gonzalo was usually left unfinished or poorly done. Not only was she disillusioned by Gonzalo, she grew to hate Helba. In late 1943, she writes in her unpublished diary: “I meditated for two days how to kill Helba to save Gonzalo, to free him—calling it to myself a mercy killing. This is insanity.

Gonzalo Moré

Gonzalo Moré

The relationship continued to wither until Nin collapsed under the ever-growing burden. By 1947, Nin asked herself “how I turned to this sick sick sick primitive for fire, and who had this useless, raging, blind, destructive fire in the center of his being…this fire leading nowhere, a wasted, destructive fire.

Hugh Guiler, Nin’s husband, after years of knowingly (and often unknowingly) supporting Gonzalo financially, finally cut him off, but not before setting him up with Social Services, in order to give him time to find a job, which, characteristically, he never did.

Nin says in her 1948 diary: “The Gonzalo I loved is dead. The one I knew at the end, without illusion, I did not love. People create an illusion together and then it is disintegrated by reality.

The relationship, after many cataclysms, was finished.

Nin sought to distill hundreds of diary pages into a highly concentrated document, to tell “the story of Gonzalo without its sordid, degrading end, for Gonzalo, like June [Miller], had the power to descend to the greatest vulgarities and I cannot even transcribe the slime into which our love dissolved.” What resulted is a book that truly does stand as a shrine to Anaïs Nin’s powerful love for Gonzalo Moré, and has been described by critics as comparable to the works of D.H. Lawrence and Carson McCullers. In the following passage, for example, Nin explains how an exterior force (Rango’s jealousy of Djuna’s former lover Paul) affects the interior, a familiar Lawrencian theme:

“[Rango] was driving the image of Paul into another chamber of her heart, an isolated chamber without communicating passage into the one inhabited by Rango. A place in some obscure recess, where flows eternal love, in a realm so different from the one inhabited by Rango that they would never meet or collide, in these vast cities of the interior.”

The Four-Chambered Heartwas published by Duell, Sloane and Pearce in 1950. It was later published by Swallow Press and then incorporated into Nin’s “roman fleuve,” Cities of the Interior.

Now, Sky Blue Press has published The Four-Chambered Heart on Amazon’s Kindle as an e-book for the first time. It joins several other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, with others to follow. 

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  1. [...] semi-autobiographical account of her relationship with Gonzalo More. (You can read more about them here.) I got pulled into the Nin rabbit-hole when Maria Popova of Brain Pickings recently posted about [...]



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