Myth: Anais Nin adapted to living in America.
Fact: In the soon-to-be-released Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1940, Anais Nin reflects on her life in America after fleeing wartime France in 1939. These excerpts leave little doubt as to her sentiments about being “American.”
November 24, 1940
… Henry [Miller] returns from his wanderings. We talk about America. I said, “Were you looking for something to love? There is nothing to love here, it is a monster, a huge prosaic monster, buying all the creative wealth of Europe at bargain prices, buying it as they buy paintings, giving jobs to the refugees, yes, but only jobs, only money, no respect or evaluation or devotion, devouring with huge, empty jaws. It is nothing, a void, a colossal robot, a commercial empire, made for caricature, all ugly because it is all materialistic. Every artist born here was killed. You escaped and found yourself, and now you have the strength to grapple with it; it cannot swallow you into its rivers of cement. Look at America for what it is: concrete, iron, cement, lead, bricks, machines, and a mass of blind, anonymous robots. It is a huge monster, but made of papier mâché with marble eyes.”
December 3, 1941
American style in writing—current and general—is commonplace, prosaic, pedestrian, homely, as French never is. Even in Harper’s and Vogue, so-called aristocratic publications, there is a total absence of elegance, subtlety, nuances. Even there the plainness and ugliness is apparent. No wonder I have failed here. I am their antithesis. The poet is the antithesis of America. Just as they don’t know “race,” clothes, distinction, of any kind, their writing reflects vulgarity and looks shabby, seamy, like faded slippers for tired feet. Mongrels. But real mongrels acquire a personality from their wanderings. The American mongrel is bourgeois and colorless besides.
May 17, 1945
I can see what I dreaded: that the future of America is schizophrenic, the youth has been born dead at the roots of feeling. They can think, they can desire, take, absorb, but they cannot feel or give. They are automatons, born of Puritanism, of loneliness, of hardness and callousness of American life. Their souls are atrophied.
Now I come to the critical break with America. If I am convinced that the youth is schizophrenic and therefore dead at the roots and incurable, then I should not sacrifice myself to America. I want to leave it.
And in her 1952 diary, Nin dispels the myth that her California life with Rupert Pole was idyllic:
The truth is I hate Sierra Madre, the people, the lives they lead. I hate the life we lead. It is mediocre and filthy and dull. Last night, the level of the conversation was 1000 feet below animal life, the narrowness…and awkwardness below all possible measurements, the talk at the Barrons…mostly prosaic, almost totally devoid of imagination. Their worst sin is that they don’t wish to know other lives, they are ensconced in their gopher existence, and when you tell them of other places they almost invariably say: “I prefer hamburgerism, automobilities, drive-in weddings, and good homemade syphilis, Goodrich sprinklers, piethrowing humor, telewithoutvision, robot men American made, women untouched by human hands like the bread, absence of miracles and chromosomes…
After one martini I was delirious: American civilization is functional, purely functional. Bridges, water closets, conveyances, etc. So out of boredom they drink gin to anesthetize themselves. They can’t bear what they have created. Then the gin stupefies them so they turn to jazz. Jazz wakes them up, make them feel alive. Gin comes from England, so all in all they have given to the world nothing but a purely functional world.
Either this functional world has caused an atrophy of the mind or America is congenitally moronic. The ones I like I like as human beings—but never for qualities of mind, perception or wisdom. I can’t bear to live here anymore. Once should never live in a place you hate so deeply. I regret every hour I have spent here. It was wasted, meaningless, unproductive, uninspiring…
Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947 will be released October 15, 2013. To pre-order at a 30% discount, click here.
Anais Nin is coming full circle, thanks to the book deal between Sky Blue Press and Swallow Press, founded by Anais Nin’s first true American publisher, Alan Swallow. Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947, the first new Nin diary since 1996, will be released both as a print book (Swallow/Sky Blue Press) and an e-book (Sky Blue Press) on October 15, 2013.
Culled from the original handwritten diaries kept by Nin from the time she fled the war in France in late 1939 until she met the man who would become her “West Coast husband” in 1947, Mirages tells the story Nin purposely left out of volumes 3 and 4 of The Diary of Anais Nin, which were published in 1969 and 1971, respectively. Because Nin’s husband Hugh Guiler was alive when these two volumes were released, not to mention her many lovers, Nin was forced to excise the erotic side of her life almost entirely. Not only was the sexual element gone, but also her great struggle to re-acclimate herself to 1940s New York after blossoming as a writer in Paris during the 1930s.
Finally, Mirages completes the story of Anais Nin’s agonizing journey to re-invent herself both as a writer and as a woman.
More information coming soon.
To pre-order Mirages at a 30% discount, click here.
Anais Nin, who had written the novel A Spy in the House of Love, was having great difficulty getting it published. None of the big New York publishers were interested in Nin’s ethereal fiction, preferring instead Hemingway or Mickey Spillane novels; in other words, uncomplicated and in-your-face good ol’ American writing.
One of the many publishers Nin contacted was Pellegrini & Cudahy, and below is a rejection letter written by a certain Coley Taylor, who decided to be “honest” in his assessment of the novel. What makes this somewhat unusual was Nin’s response to the rejection letter; Nin usually vented in her diary, not in letters to the publisher. Her to-the-point response makes her frustration with the American publishing scene very clear, as you shall see.
I was not angry at your frankness and everyone has a right to his personal opinions. However I find that under cover of honesty and personal reactions if you expressed a lack of tact of human courtesy and a limited insight. The whole cause for the deterioration of publishing and writing lies precisely in this lack of literary objectivity and this substitution of unskilled emotional reactions to writers. It is you who are bored, who failed to see the continuity or the revelation of character. Maturity in evaluation consists precisely in examining your inner subjective reactions so as not to inflict them upon writers as criticism. It does not harm me because I am a veteran, but your so called honesty harms young writers. Your letter was insensitive rather than honest, destructive and irresponsible if it had been addressed to a beginner who believes that publishers are impartial, objective mature critics, men of taste capable of evaluating writing.
Nin’s claim that she was unharmed is to be taken with a grain of salt. The repeated and unrelenting rejection of her work in America took its toll on her. It would be another nine years before she was to find the publisher who would put all her fiction into print: Alan Swallow.
To see more about A Spy in the House of Love, click here.
To read Nin’s response to a critic, click here.
To purchase A Spy in the House of Love, click here.
To purchase Cities of the Interior (which includes Spy), click here.