Approaching Anaïs Nin’s birthday: Her parents’ marriage

 

Rosa Culmell, 1901

Rosa Culmell, 1901

Joaquin Nin as a young man
Joaquin Nin as a young man

When Rosa Culmell, 30, met Joaquín Nin, 22, in Havana, Cuba, she was swept off her feet by his beauty, talent, charm, and eloquent manners. He had a habit of dazzling women by playing piano for customers in music stores, and Rosa, although defiantly single and of the elite class, was caught in his spell. Joaquín, who was penniless and living off his meager earnings and his Cuban relatives, felt Rosa was the perfect vehicle for his success in living the life of a dandy and in his professional career. Rosa, though not the most beautiful of her single sisters, was the most mature and forthright, not to mention she had a professional-quality singing voice. Joaquín and Rosa married April 8, 1902 in Havana, and soon left for Paris with enough money for a grand piano and a monthly stipend, thanks to Rosa’s father, Thorvald Culmell.

Once in Paris, the couple soon discovered their immense differences: she was honest, loving, and giving. He was selfish, arrogant, and wanted nothing but the best for himself. She provided the money, but he made the decisions. Their relationship became a series of monumental battles followed by passionate reconciliations, according to Anaïs Nin biographer Dierdre Bair.

Rosa became pregnant almost immediately after the marriage, perhaps the result of one of their clashes. Although Rosa had won a battle to live in St-Germain-des-Prés, which was relatively inexpensive, shortly before their first child, Anaïs, was born, Joaquín precipitated the move to Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris’s most luxurious suburb, setting an ominous pattern for the rest of their marriage.

Approaching Anaïs Nin’s birthday: the Spanish and Cuban heritage

joaquin-nin-at-2-or-3Here are some details about Anaïs Nin’s Spanish and Cuban relatives. Again, many thanks to Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz, who has cleared up some misinformation and supplied the photo.

 

Anaïs Nin’s Spanish grandfather, Joaquín Nin y Tudo, was a military officer stationed in Cuba, and her grandmother, Angela Castellanos y Perdomo, was Cuban by birth. Their son José Joaquín Nin y Castellanos, Anaïs Nin’s father, was born in Cuba on September 29, 1879. Perhaps because being born Cuban was something of a detriment in the eyes of Spanish nobility, Joaquín Nin y Castellanos was baptized in Spain a year after his birth. Since his father decided to stay in Barcelona, Joaquín spent most of his first 21 years there. Although it has been said that he looked down upon his Cuban relatives, referring to them as “peasants,” his Cuban relatives were by far wealthier than the Nins and were also very proud of their heritage. Moreover, when Cuba gained its independence, Joaquín opted for Cuban citizenship.

 

Joaquín had a natural ability at the piano, studied in Barcelona and gave his first performance there as a teenager. He gave piano lessons, and he apparently seduced one of his female students, whose father threatened him bodily harm. Joaquín fled Spain and set out for Cuba in 1901. According to Deirdre Bair, Anaïs Nin’s biographer, the reason he dropped the “Castellanos” from his name was to distance himself from the disgrace he’d incurred. However, this doesn’t seem to make sense since it was a Nin, not a Castellanos, who got the young girl into trouble. Joaquín Nin’s son, Thorvald, said that his father wanted to keep things simple, so he also dropped the first name, José, and was professionally known as Joaquín Nin from that point on. Another reason to believe that Joaquín valued his Cuban heritage was the fact that it was the Castellanos family who took him in and supported him after fleeing Spain.

 

Joaquín Nin thought very highly of his father, and dedicated his first performance in Barcelona to him. In 1933, when Joaquín began reacquainting himself with Anaïs after a twenty year estrangement, memories of his father filled his letters to her (a sample of these letters can be read in A Cafe in Space, Vol. 6). However, Anaïs’s memories of her Spanish grandfather were less glowing: she thought him to be a terrifying tyrant. On the other hand, Anaïs remembered her grandmother, Angela, as sweet and kind…in fact, all of the Nin family remembered her that way.

 

 

Approaching Anaïs Nin’s birthday: Her Danish and French ancestry

Center, most likely Sophia Christensen, AN's great-aunt.

Center, possibly one of AN's great-aunts on the Danish side.

We are posting events leading up to Anaïs Nin’s birth, February 21st, 1903. 

Thanks to Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz (Anaïs Nin’s niece and daughter of Thorvald Nin, Anaïs’s younger brother) and some of her Danish cousins, we can sort out some of the rather complicated details of Anaïs Nin’s Danish and French ancestry. Some of this information is anecdotal, but much of it is documented and runs counter to Nin biographer Deirdre Bair’s account.

 

This we know for sure: Thorvald Culmell (1847-1906) was a Danish immigrant who settled in Cuba during the 19thcentury, where he married Anaïs Vaurigaud November 12, 1870 and fathered nine children. Rosa, Anaïs Nin’s mother, was the eldest Culmell child, born in 1871.

Anaïs Culmell (nee Vaurigaud y Bourdin), Anaïs Nin’s grandmother, was the youngest child of Pierre Vaurigaud, a Cuban-born engineer whose journal was translated by Gayle into English. Anaïs was born November 27, 1853 in Havana. It is said she never set foot on the soil of any other country. While Bair claims Pierre was the son of Napoleonic general and his Creole wife, in fact the Napoleonic general was Bernard Bourdin, Pierre Vaurigaud’s father-in-law, and the Creole was Pierre’s wife (Anaïs Bourdin y Flack, baptized Catherine Rose, perhaps because Anaïs was not considered a Christian name), who was born in New Orleans. Family history says that Pierre’s parents were descendants of French planters who’d fled what is now Haiti after the slave rebellion around 1800. Anaïs Culmell (Vaurigaud) died in Havana in the 1920s. Thorvald Nin happened to be in Cuba at the time and acted as one of the pallbearers.

Thorvald Culmell, Anaïs Nin’s grandfather, was actually born Thorvald Christensen, one of two brothers who emigrated from Denmark to make their mark in the Americas. Some correspondence from the Danish side of the family indicates that a third brother, Carl Lauritz (1832-1899), settled in Australia. The other brother who came to the Americas was Peter Emilius (1834-1914). Peter Emilius used the name Charles Culmell or Charles Culmell Christensen in the United States some years before Thorvald came to Cuba. Peter Emilius amassed quite a fortune, and family legend says part of it came from blockade running during the U.S. Civil War.

While Thorvald stayed in Cuba and became a wealthy businessman, Peter Emilius moved to Texas and raised a family. Most likely around 1867, he returned to Denmark after his wife Ella (born Edwards) died in an epidemic. He then married his housekeeper, Sophia, and had two daughters with her. The center figure in the photo above is possibly Sophia, as one of the Danish cousins sees a resemblance from an earlier photo taken of her. 

According to Deirdre Bair, Anaïs Culmell left Thorvald after having relations with other men, moved into her own house, and although still married, lived her life independently, foreshadowing certain aspects of Anaïs Nin’s lifestyle.

Newly discovered letters to/from Anais Nin and her father

There has long been speculation on whether Anais Nin in fact had an incestuous affair with her father, in spite of her graphic accounts in her diary (the unexpurgated Incest). Some claim the affair was fabricated, that it was a psychological experiment in which Nin wrote out her desires instead of acting upon them. Others claim Anais was lured into the relationship, and it has been said that it was the other way around. Deirdre Bair mentions in her biography of Nin that all correspondence between the two during this time was destroyed, but recently a sorted, dated collection of letters between Nin and her father have surfaced. Nin did not destroy the letters, as Bair claims, but instead kept a very complete collection in a folder. We have begun to transcribe and translate the letters…the first group appears in Vol. 6 of A Cafe in Space. Do the letters finally answer the question of incest once and for all, or do they simply raise more questions? Each reader has to make his or her own conclusion, which is usual in the world of Anais Nin.

blog_letter2

One of the many letters to Anais Nin from her father

To read more about Joaquin Nin, get Britt Arenander’s Anais Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939, which has descriptions and an interactive map that includes his house in Paris.

To see a sample or to purchase Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.

To view a sample interactive map drawn from the book, click here.

« Previous Page