I am currently at work on a book of correspondence between Anaïs Nin and her father, Joaquín Nin, written between 1933 and 1940, titled Father Letters, and a friend of mine who was reading a draft suggested I revisit a post I did three years ago on the topic of incest as related to Nin and her work. So I did, and I was inspired to create a podcast about it.
As many of you know, Anaïs was abandoned by her father when she was ten years old and spent much of her childhood yearning for him. The circumstances under which he left the family were horrific—he was engaged in an affair with one of his piano students, at the time barely sixteen years old (and an occasional playmate of Anaïs), and his jealousy-fueled battles with his wife Rosa led to true domestic violence, even to the point where Anaïs screamed at her father to stop beating her mother because she was afraid he was going to kill her. He not only beat his wife, but his children as well, leading them up to a dark, cramped attic where he spanked them while his wife was sobbing on the stairway, having been locked out.
This unimaginable cruelty and physical abuse left a permanent scar on the young Anaïs, and yet the idea that she was suddenly without a father traumatized her even more. She began her diary as a desperate plea to lure him back—but she would not see him for another decade, in a brief meeting in Paris that ended in rage and further estrangement. Then, in 1933, Joaquín expressed a desire to reunite with his now-thirty-year-old daughter, and she accepted his request. For several months, the two engaged in an incestuous affair, something Anaïs wrote about graphically and yet eloquently in her diary. The affair, which ended bitterly, was also an inspiration for some of Anaïs’s most important art (obliquely in The House of Incest, fictionally in The Winter of Artifice), and it flavored much of what she wrote from that point on. It also heavily influenced her choice of men and the types of relationships she had with them.
In order to truly understand the art of Anaïs Nin, one must deal with a taboo that many find distasteful, immoral, or entirely sad. The ending of Father Letters is truly tragic. But the incest must be dealt with, and that is the subject of the latest Anaïs Nin Podcast. Father Letters will answer many questions about this topic, but in the meantime, here is my take on it.