Prelude to a Symphony: Joaquín Nin’s seduction of his daughter Anaïs

Recently discovered letters between Joaquín Nin and his daughter Anaïs reveal what has been hidden for decades—his explicit use of the doppelganger theory (which Nin psychoanalyst Otto Rank made famous) to seduce his daughter after essentially twenty years of estrangement. One letter in particular, written on April 29, 1933 (a few months before their first sexual encounter), illustrates this maneuver. Anaïs, who’d shortly beforehand initiated contact with her father, had sent him a copy of part of her childhood diary, which was originally written for him as a sort of “letter” after he’d abandoned Anaïs and her family in 1913. In response, Joaquín says:

You are not only my daughter…you are two daughters, one by flesh and the other by spirit. There are coincidences—some of which are troubling and others which fill me with joy—between your “journal” and the one I wrote—yes—at your age. Like you, I sought the kind of solitude that liberates, and I wept over secret, indefinable disappointments. Like you, I found the ways of the world absurd. Like you, I hated school, because the dogma clipped the wings of my imagination. Like you, I loved flowers, books, music, worms, the sky and stars, the sea, the sun, trees, snow and the faithful claire de lune…benevolent confidants of my secret life.

Like you, I hated lies. Betrayals by my schoolmates made me literally sick with sorrow and despair…or furious to the point of wanting to beat them all senseless. For me, life seemed to be a farce, a sinister game impossible to play without leaving logic behind…and then I lost all my courage… Like you, I tried to raise my heart unto God himself, who, I believed by some miracle, could hear me. I was exactly thirteen years old when a sudden crisis of mysticism threw me into prayer, which I believed was the only possible consolation for my distressed heart and aimless soul. I spent, unbeknownst to my parents, hours and hours at night kneeling on the tiles of my tiny bedroom, reading and reciting prayers, in order to save myself and those I loved from the attacks of evil. The day before my first communion I almost fainted at the feet of the stern Priest to whom my Father had entrusted my religious initiation. Like you, I had a double life, a mysterious, burning and secret life; I spent hours of ecstasy in a world of dreams where all was just, beautiful and sweet. Alas! … “Life,” harsh, hard, ferocious, broke all that little by little. I learned how to work, to fight, to hit, to settle arguments with my fists, just like the others around me. I suffered the effects of the collective madness; I lashed out to defend myself, initially, and then in order to defend my ideas, my concept of the world (?), of life, of society. I fought against my companions, with the exaltations of illumination, so that they would no longer lie, so that they would no longer betray, so that they would be just, so that they would not behave like animals, so that they would not steal, so that they would not rip flowers from the neighbors’ gardens, so that they would not use vile words, so that they would not mock God and the poor, whom my father had taught us how to love and respect. But at the same time I sought, by all possible and conceivable means, to perfect myself because I felt—again like you—that I was filled with defects, ugly, weak and mal-conditioned, in the end, in every way.

…I will see you soon, dear Anaïs! Around your image and your memory I braid garlands of emotional tenderness, and I throw my trust to the heavens which separate us—the beautiful heavens of France—the soft murmer of my grateful heart, the clear message of the love of…

Your father  (A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Vol. 6 11-12, 13)

Joaquin Nin, Paris, 1930s

Joaquin Nin, Paris, 1930s

The many parallels between their lives (though there is no evidence to verify his version of his life) create a spiritual link between the two of them, which is followed up with sentimentality. Joaquín’s motivation is up for speculation—he’d always sought a relationship with his daughter, especially during the time shortly after he’d left the family, for his own purposes—he was no doubt jealous of his wife Rosa’s control over Anaïs and her two younger brothers, Thorvald and Joaquín Jr., and often used Anaïs’s lingering affection for him to create a rift between the children and their mother, whom he loathed. Since he had not yet met Anaïs as a mature woman (except for a brief encounter some years previous, after she first arrived in Paris with her husband Hugh Guiler), there is no concrete evidence that he was plotting a physical relationship with her…but he was a seducer by nature, and if he saw himself in Anaïs’s writing, as he indicates in this letter, it is possible that his self-adoration led him to such a scheme even before meeting her some weeks later in Louveciennes.

For a more complete exchange of letters before and just after the incestuous encounter, see A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Vol. 6 (“Prelude to a Symphony: Letters between a father and daughter” pp 5-26).

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.

Visit our Anaïs Nin e-bookstore here.
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Adventures in Louveciennes: entry to Anaïs Nin’s house of incest

Two years after my last visit to Louveciennes in 1994, the Anaïs Nin house was finally sold to someone who not only restored the main building, where he lived, but also developed the grounds to include a few maisons particulaires, which were to serve as apartments. My friend Jacques, who kept tabs on developments there for me during my absence, told me the house had been repainted in a burnt orange color, which he termed affreux (hideous), but that it was finally, after decades of neglect, habitable once again. This was wonderful news, for I had spent an inordinate amount of time fearing the place would eventually be demolished. I was told, however, that the new owner had no interest in Anaïs Nin and did not particularly care that she once lived there—therefore, he had no inclination to entertain Nin fans who occasionally stopped by to take pictures or to sit at the gate with her Diaries in hand. During the several years away from Louveciennes, although I was still heavily involved with Nin’s work, I had lost hope of ever seeing the house from the inside.

But in 2002, Jacques wrote me an exuberant e-mail, telling me that it had been sold once again, this time to an academy award nominated French actor, Jean-Hugues Anglade. Jacques, through the Director of Culture in Louveciennes, managed to secure a rendezvous at the Nin house on February 21, 2003, Anaïs’s 100th birthday. Not only would we finally gain entry to the house, but on Anaïs Nin’s centennial. This was too good to be true, I thought, but did not hesitate to book a flight to Paris. I kept waiting for something awful to happen, such as an airline or rail strike, but nothing did.

While in Paris, a woman who’d once romanced Lawrence Durrell, Claudine, took me on a wonderful tour of Durrell’s and Miller’s Montparnasse, walking the same routes they took, stopping at the same haunts, and the result was an article in the premier A Café In Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal (2003). I invited her to attend the rendezvous in Louveciennes, thinking it would have special meaning for her, since Nin, Miller, and Durrell were linked by their budding artistry in the Paris of the 1930s. I found out that a famous actress from the Comédie-Française would be in attendance, as well the Director of Culture, and other actors and actresses from the theater. Of course, Claudine couldn’t resist the idea of visiting the house of one of Durrell’s friends and collaborators.

On the train to Louveciennes, we reacquainted ourselves with Anaïs’s descriptions of her house:

My house is two hundred years old. It has walls a yard thick, a big garden, a very large green iron gate for cars, flanked by a smaller gate for people. The big garden is in the back of the house... (Diary 1 3)

We had lunch at Jacques’ house, devouring a meal that was traditionnelement français, washed down with wine, topped off with cheeses of every sort. Jacques then pointed to his watch: it was time to leave, first to the Director of Culture’s house, where we would meet the other guests before going on to the Nin house. After a light-hearted gathering, we set out for the ultimate: the laboratory of the soul, some seventy years after its most famous resident had lived there.

We parked on the narrow rue de Monbuisson, and Jean-Hugues Anglade met us at the pedestrian gate of the Nin house. Handsome, soft-spoken, and dressed casually, he shook everyone’s hand, and we entered into the courtyard where we all stood in awe. The grounds were well-kept, and the flowers were already beginning to bud. It was a fine day: sunny, warm, still. Jean showed us the outbuilding which once served as a garage for Hugh Guiler’s car—he been reading the Diary to discover the significance of each feature of the house and garden from Nin’s point of view. He expressed a desire to find the now-buried fountain and pool and to restore them. He’d located the same garden furniture Nin had used and displayed it prominently in the front of the house. There was a massive tree in the garden that looked as though it had been severely pruned at some point—Jean-Hugues told us that during World War II, much of it had been cut up for firewood.

All this was proving to be too much—the front door was ajar, beckoning us, and my mind was racing. Was this actually happening? “Entrez,” Jean-Hugues said musically… “Entrez, entrez…”

louveciennesfoyer

Interior 1st floor

I could not feel my feet touch the floor in the foyer. I looked to the left, ahead, and to the right. Everything looked clean and fresh, hardly like the photos Noel Riley Fitch had taken 13 years earlier. The room to the left of the entrance, which once contained the pool table Henry Miller referred to in his entry in Nin’s diary (Incest 80-85), now housed a mini-stage with rock band equipment. The chandelier was gone, and the fireplace was restored, but not as it was when Nin lived there. The old mosaic tile had been replaced. I kept thinking about how silent it must have been in this room during the years when the house was empty—and now it would be filled with music. Alive, I felt. The house was alive again. Someone lived here again, created here again. Voices, music, the sounds of life filled the void again.

Nin said:

I chose the house for many reasons. Because it seemed to have sprouted out of the earth like a tree, so deeply grooved it was within the old garden. It had no cellar and the rooms rested right on the ground. Below the rug, I felt, was the earth. I could take root here… (Diary 1 4)

Jean-Hugues opened what appeared to be a closet door near the front entrance. Inside was a cool, dank room lined with solid stone, gravel on the floor—the earth. “In here,” he said, “you can see all the way back to the revolution.” Here were the guts of the house, a place no one, not even time, had touched since the beginning. The air smelled of antiquity. To the right of the entrance was a parlor, and behind it was a large kitchen. The kitchen was modern, clean, airy, well-lit. A door led out to the garden. The parlor was large with one window through which the afternoon sun poured, creating a silhouette of every person in the room. Suddenly they all became timeless…they could have been anyone, from any time. It could have been Anaïs leaning on the doorway and not the actress…they could’ve been Miller, Hugo, Anaïs’s father, June…

Once we were all seated and enjoying fruit punch and sweets, Jacques began to tell his stories about the history of Louveciennes, acquainting its newest resident with information he could have gotten nowhere else. We raised a toast to Anaïs and fell silent for a few moments. I noticed the actress had a copy of Incest with her, with a place marked in the book, as if she were going to read aloud some passages…but she didn’t. I wasn’t sure why not. We took the grand tour of the house. I had been dying to get upstairs. The narrow, winding staircase was not made for someone of my height—I’m certain Hugo must have had to duck just as I did to avoid crushing his skull on the ceiling. I then recalled reading on the train the passage from Diary 1:

There are eleven windows showing between the wooden trellis covered with ivy. One shutter in the middle was put there for symmetry only, but I often dream about this mysterious room which does not exist behind the closed shutter. (4)

In House of Incest, Nin evokes the imagery of one of her dreams:

In the house of incest there was a room which could not be found, a room without a window, the fortress of their love, a room without window where the mind and blood coalesced in a union without orgasm and rootless like those of fishes. (52)

louveciennes-room-that-doesnt-exist1

Space which is “room that doesn’t exist”

I sought this “room,” the place behind the shutter. Today, all the windows are open, but I came upon a narrow space in which the ceiling slanted severely, the ancient wooden beams making it impossible to pass by. On the wall was a window. Had I found the “room which could not be found”? It seemed to be in the right place, in the middle of the house.

We passed from room to room, as in a dream. The dimension of time seemed to be missing. All the modern trappings—a computer, a child’s toys, modern furniture—seemed to drop away, leaving only the essence of a dreamscape.

Nin said in her Diary:

Every room is painted a different color. As if there were one room for every separate mood: lacquer red for vehemence, pale turquoise for reveries, peach color for gentleness, green for repose, grey for work at the typewriter. (5)

We found reverie: a portion of the paint on one wall had been peeled back, layer by layer, and beneath was turquoise. In the bathroom was an antique bathtub, the porcelain worn off around the edges from the hands of all those who’d lifted themselves in and out. From one of the upstairs windows, we looked out at the massive green gate, which Nin had described as a prison gate, keeping her locked in and away from the artistic and bohemian Paris she was just beginning to discover.

louveciennespaint

The color of reverie

The shadows in the room began to lengthen and the day was growing old. The conversations in the parlor were scattering. It was time to leave. This dream of mine, to enter this house, had finally been realized. I still believe that I was incapable of understanding fully the significance of the moment, to feel it fully. My gratitude to Jacques is eternal.

Claudine, knowing French architecture well, felt the house was not built for aristocracy, citing the bare beams on the ceilings and inexpensive building materials. She noted that the many small rooms and their layout suggested that the house was perhaps built as lodging for workmen on a plantation or a vineyard (and history tells us that wine was once produced in the region). There is no documentation of the house from before 1803, which would make it seventy years newer than what Nin was led to believe. The house’s origins are still mysterious.

A in-depth article on the 2003 Louveciennes visit (as well as Neuilly) with more photos can be found in A Café In Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal Vol. 1.

Epilogue: Only a year or two after our visit, Jean-Hugues Anglade sold the house for reasons unknown to me. At the time of this posting, it is once again on the market for 1.65 million Euros.

To read more about Louveciennes, 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 the house on rue de Montbuisson.

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.

Visit our Anaïs Nin e-bookstore here.
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Adventures in Louveciennes: crashing Anaïs Nin’s gate.

In the summer of 1994, I had spent a few glorious days in Paris, browsing the bouqinistes and loitering in the parks, but couldn’t wait to rid myself of the crowded (with tourists, devoid of Parisians) streets, the summer stench, the never-ending construction, and escape to the luxurious calm of Louveciennes, of which I could now claim myself as a sort of honorary habitué, this my third visit. I boarded with my friends Henri and Thérèse, whom I had met during my first visit a couple years previously on my quest to find Anaïs Nin’s house. In the time between, I had learned that the Nin house was still owned by the people who’d turned Anaïs herself away when she appeared at the gate in 1970 with a German film crew that was documenting her return to France after she’d won acclaim and status upon the publication of her Diaries, in which the Louveciennes house was the setting for many of her now famous exploits. She wrote:

In Louveciennes we ran into trouble. I went to visit the owner of what was once my house. She now lives next door… I summoned all the charm I could and asked permission to enter, to film the house and the garden. I reminded her I had lived there for years. It was locked and neglected. The iron gate was rusty and corroded. The old lady became furious, said she would never allow us in, that this was the new way places are burglarized by so-called television groups. So we had to stay outside, photographing me at the gate, and what we could see of the house. The shutters of the old lady’s house were closed. Suddenly they opened and the old lady, as in a puppet show, sprang out and said if we did not leave immediately she would inform the mayor. (Diary 7 143)

I was to find out, more than twenty years later, that the house was owned by the same people, whose name, I was told, was Auzépy. The same old woman still lived in the house next door in the summer of 1993 when I revisited: I was holding my camera between the bars of the gate and snapping pictures when she appeared (perhaps at the very same window) and yelled: “Je vais appeler le police!” I edged away, and then slowly retraced my steps to the gate and noticed that she was examining me through the window, scowling. Jacques, the author of Louveciennes Mon Village, and town historian, said that the Auzépys refused to sell the house and yet did not have the money to restore it. There was a growing sentiment amongst the Louveciennois to tear the place down, so sorry was its condition.

How I longed to see the inside of this incredible house; how I wondered what remnants, if any, of Anaïs’s life were to be found—the paint on the walls, those exotic colors she used to mirror her essence in her homes, the study where she wrote with Miller looking over her shoulder… This now seemed increasingly impossible.

During my 1994 visit, I had decided to call on a local novelist who lived only a few doors down from the Nin house…I had read in ANAIS: An International Journal (Vol. 7, 1989) that someone on a mission similar to mine had befriended him and together they paid a visit to the Nin house. Somehow they were able to get into the garden and snoop around. Perhaps he would be able to help me accomplish a similar feat. So, on a sunny afternoon, Jacques and I knocked on Pierre’s door. Pierre’s wife, a lovely elderly woman, opened the door and allowed us in. We met Pierre, who was in poor health, suffering from a weak heart. He was dressed in pajamas in the middle of the day, his hair askew under a nightcap, 3 days’ of stubble on his sunken face, his appearance contradicting his elegant Englishman’s English, which hinted at his supreme intelligence and worldliness. Pierre admitted he knew little about the status of the Nin house, that he wasn’t even sure who owned it. He began to get worked up and then wondered aloud if we might not simply appear at the gate and sound the bell. I realized he was a bit delusional, for even I knew the house had been empty for decades. But there was no stopping him. His wife pleaded with him, we pleaded with him, but he pulled on a pair of knee-high green rubber boots over his pajamas and put on a robe. He opened the front door and beckoned Jacques and me to follow him.

It was high noon in Louveciennes. This unlikely triumvirate strode down the middle of the narrow street as in some sort of surreal cowboy movie—Jacques, neatly dressed with a sweater tied about his neck, giving the impression of a cape, I, wearing jeans, a t-shirt and shades, and Pierre, looking like a tragic medieval character lost in time. People driving by stared. I can only wonder what they thought. We arrived at the Nin house, and Pierre stood at the pedestrian gate, trying to find the bell. Jacques went to the larger gate (which was different than the original, a cheaply made blue metal monstrosity) and realized it was not locked. He gave it a good push and it swung open. We entered the courtyard and could see the decay firsthand. Everything was choked in weeds. The house was locked tight and the shutters were closed, except for one window on the north wing of the house. There appeared to be old furniture piled up, blocking the view inside. Even though we’d managed to get into the courtyard, there was still no way to see the interior of the house. There was old garden furniture, rusted, strewn about (I would only realize much later that this same furniture appears in photos taken at the house during the Nin years), trash and broken bottles. I had been informed the house had become a hangout for drug users, but there didn’t seem any way to get in, so I never could validate this story.

We left, dejected. Jacques was saddened and declared the situation a “shame.” Pierre was very calm, very quiet. I was raging inside, very unsatisfied and feeling more frustrated than ever. The only positive development was that no old lady appeared at the window to shoo us away.

On the plane home, I couldn’t know then that events in my life would prevent me from returning to Louveciennes for nearly a decade, and during that time I could only follow the status of the Nin house from afar. A sort of “movement” to “save the house” was spearheaded by a young American woman in 1996. Ironically, this was in response to the fact that the Auzépys actually were selling the place to a private individual, who was planning on restoring it into a livable condition, dividing the garden up into smaller lots upon which apartments were to be built, and living in the original house himself. The “movement” managed to ruffle feathers in Louveciennes: a small group, including the American woman, appeared at City Hall and demanded the sale be blocked. A petition had been drafted and was presented. Instead of having the intended effect of making the powers that be realize the historical value of the house (which, according to the American’s plan, was to be turned into a writers’ retreat and museum, though no funding existed), they angered the officials, who were finally, after more than twenty-five years, on the verge of getting an owner in the house who had the money to fix it up. The fact Anaïs Nin had once lived there had little to do with the decision to allow the sale, which did go through—what the American didn’t realize, perhaps, is that the house was being saved.

Postscript: Before I published Anaïs Nin: A Book of Mirrors later in 1996, Noel Riley Fitch, Nin’s first biographer, offered to write a story of her “invasion” of the Nin house (“A Dramatic Encounter at Louveciennes, 1990”). She snuck in with her camera and was able to snap some incredible photographs before being chased out by the owner, who was upstairs at the time. These photos would have to be a substitute for my own lack of success of getting inside. They would also provide me with a certain degree of perspective that allowed me to be even more grateful that someone, for whatever reason, was finally giving Anaïs Nin’s “laboratory of the soul” the attention it needed.

Room to left of entrance with pool table

To read more about Louveciennes, 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 the house on rue de Montbuisson.

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.


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Adventures in Louveciennes: The search for Anais Nin’s house

This is the first in a series of memories about visits to Louveciennes, the fabled village outside Paris where Anaïs Nin and her husband Hugh Guiler rented a home that became the site of many of Nin’s awakenings and the setting for the first of her published Diaries.

Feb. 1992: Cathedral bells. Dimanche. Sunday in Paris. I opened the curtains and looked up at the steel gray clouds. No one in the street. It was like an empty stage. The sky looked ill-boding. I was planning on going to Louveciennes in the afternoon to find the mythical “laboratory of the soul,” the house where Anaïs Nin met Henry Miller, the place where her first real adventure in life and art began. It seemed like an impossible journey—first, I didn’t know anything about the French rail system, didn’t have a map, and didn’t even know if the house still stood. But somehow I felt hope as I opened the window and let the dank air flow in. I remembered reading in Anaïs’s diary that one took the train from Gare St-Lazare and that the trip took a half hour, but that was in 1931. Yes, this was a gamble in regards to the very little time I had left in Paris, and I knew I could’ve visited Versailles or Fountainbleau, etc., and that would’ve been worthwhile, but this, this could touch the soul. So I hoped the rain could wait.

By the time I got to Gare St-Lazare, it was nearly noon and I was famished. I peered into the window of a bistro where I saw an old woman shoveling in some veal and pasta. I ordered the veau Milanese and washed it down with wine. Absolutely perfect. The combination of hunger, fatigue, and its remedy, along with the anticipation of the excursion, had awakened my sensory receptacles. I crossed Place Gabriel Péri, full and rested, and headed toward the huge train station. Inside this prodigious cavern was a menagerie of schedules, maps, people, confusion. As I stood gaping, a little man asked me if I needed help. I admitted my ineptness, and he guided me to a fire-engine red mechanical ticket dispenser. “Ou allez-vous?” he asked. “Louveciennes.” He pushed a button. “Allez-retour?” “Oui.” “Première ou deuxième classe?” “Deuxième.” “Voilà, monsieur. Onze francs.” I put the coins in the machine and it spit out the ticket. Two bucks round trip. So easy. I gave the man ten francs, which I thought he expected. Everyone was happy.

Now, what train? I looked toward the quais, and there were more trains than I could count. I had no idea! Remember, I had come not only from the birthplace of the train, but also from its graveyard. But the man, who’d turned to leave, came running back and escorted me to the correct train, imploring me to hurry because it was about to leave. As I boarded, he was still there, smiling and waving at me. The signal sounded and the door closed. We began to inch out of the station. This was real.

The train made the same stops it must have made whenever Anaïs or Henry took the trip to Louvciennes…St-Cloud, Bougival… After exactly a half hour, we pulled into the Louveciennes station, which was very old, quaint, beautifully clean. I noted on the schedule that a train left for Paris every half hour until late at night, so if things went poorly I could leave at any time. It was good to know that I had a safety valve, but, in a way, I would have preferred to be stuck there, having no choice but to make the best of it.

I stood on the street. Deserted. Deafening silence. A gray Sunday afternoon in a little village. I looked at a large map of the village in front of the station. Nothing to help me. So, I decided to walk toward the city center and find someone who might know something, but I truly had no idea where I was going. I took a deep breath and started, heading west from the station.

After a moment, I encountered an elderly couple walking toward the station, on what appeared to be a little Sunday promenade. Seizing the opportunity, I stopped them and asked, in the best French I could muster, if they knew where Anaïs’s house was. Neither one of them had ever heard of her. I was astonished. My heart sank. How was it possible they had never heard of such a famous resident? They bade me good luck and turned to leave. But then the gentleman said, “There is a book about the history of Louveciennes. I have some business at the train station. When I return, we’ll consult the author.” Suddenly my soul soared. I stood and chatted with his wife while he was gone, trying to explain why I’d made this pilgrimage. She had beautiful dark brown eyes and was bundled up on this cold, damp day. Explaining the life and work of Anaïs Nin to a louveciennois was, for me, the task of a disciple, but not a task at all, instead a unique pleasure.

When her husband returned—tall, erect, nattily dressed with a sweater, shirt and tie under his overcoat and silver hair under his cap, clear blue eyes behind his spectacles—we walked to his neighbor’s house, the author of the book on Louveciennes. The couple introduced themselves as Henri and Thérèse. I felt something happening at this moment. It was Louveciennes opening her arms to receive me, as if she knew my intentions. I was here out of my love for what had been written, for the feelings that were aroused in me across an ocean of water and time. It was as though she respected those who came and treated them with kindness and gentleness.

The owner of the house appeared, and Henri asked about the Nin house. I noticed he made a point of telling him that an American wanted to see it. The author, Jacques, said to him, “Oh yes, yes. It is at 2 bis rue de Monbuisson, but it is in a terrible state. The owners have run out of money to restore it, so it lies crumbling.” Then Jacques turned to me and asked if I minded if he gave me directions in French. Of course, I said no, but then, with a sly smile, he asked in perfect English, “Would it be better in English?” We all laughed. He invited us in and he gave me a copy of his book, opening it to the page with photos of the Nin house. Then I realized why Anaïs Nin was not well-known: the book was full of those who’d called Louveciennes home: Renoir, Sisley, Charles Munch, Madame du Barry, Brigitte Bardot, etc., etc. She was lost in a crowd of French legends. Jacques said, “I hope you will take a different piece of France home with you.”

Henri suggested that we drive to Anaïs’s house. When he asked if I’d like to have something to drink first, I declined: I wanted to see the house before I awoke from this dream. Henri unlocked his garage and pulled out his car. He said, “Do you see? I have a Ford!” I’m not sure what impressed me the most—the fact he had an American car in this land of Renault and Peugeot, or how proud he seemed of it. He gushed about its power, pep, solidity, etc. Then I found out he had been in a German prison camp during World War II and was liberated by Eisenhower’s forces. No wonder he had a passion for all things American.

2 bis rue de Montbuisson: Anais Nins home

In a moment, we arrived at rue de Monbuisson. As we crept slowly down the narrow street, I recognized Anaïs’s house on the left. It took my breath away. It reminded me of a bloated derelict with rotten teeth. Jacques was right: “a terrible state.”

The once stately house (map) had been reduced to a huge eyesore. The delicate latticework had crumbled and fallen to the ground, lying helplessly entangled in the weeds. The shutters, long closed, were rotting. The courtyard was overgrown, the gravel now buried beneath the mud and shaggy brown plant life. There was a construction company placard on the gate and signs of repair on the slate roof, and what little that had been done gave a hint of the potential grandeur of the place.

I tried to imagine what it was like on the inside of this house that knew so much living, creation, love, and lust. Today, dark, dilapidated, and cold. Rain leaking into the bedrooms, wind whistling through the broken windows and blowing litter across the rotting floors. Each day the sun traveling its path, warming different sides of this lifeless place, streaking in through the cracks in the shutters and illuminating the emptiness and death within. In summer, the lightning electrifying the rooms for an instant, the thunder echoing as laughter once did. A temple of life now a tomb for ghosts.

Craning my neck to peer over the huge locked gate, I could see the doorway where Henry Miller once posed for a picture. I stared up at the windows from which Anaïs watched her husband, Hugo, leave for work at a Paris bank, the gravel crunching under the tires of his car, the gate creaking and moaning a farewell, locking her inside. The honeysuckle whose fragrance Anaïs described was still there, its long, barren fingers reaching up to the second story windows. On the gate was a plaque which stated “Anaïs Nin (1903-1977), Romancière Américaine, vécut dans cette maison de 1931 à 1935.” Thérèse wondered aloud if we couldn’t get into the courtyard to look around and tried in vain to open the gate, which was under lock and chain. The vigor with which she did this astounded me—I thought she was going to knock the rusty gate off its hinges. Henri laughed and begged her to stop. So, instead, she took my picture standing next to it.

From there, Henri and Thérèse took me on the grand tour of Louveciennes and its environs: the aqueduct built by Louis XIV to carry water from the Seine to the fountains of Versailles, the chateau of Madame du Barry, Renoir’s house, Marly-le-Roi, where nothing is left but the foundation of a royal chateau on which the traces of the rooms are still visible, but the crown jewel of our tour was, according to Henri, the American barracks, the American store, and the nightclub the American soldiers had visited. If not for his enthusiasm, this would have been a spot we would’ve passed without a second glance. But I could feel his emotion. It was touching to see his gratefulness, something he’d never lost. To be showing an American this place was very special for him, and a moving moment for me. Afterward, it was off to their house for tea and cookies—American cookies, to be sure—and a long, beautiful conversation. A friendship was being forged as the feeble sunlight faded, and my trip back to Paris was dreamlike. I was indeed taking a different piece of France home with me.

To read more about Louveciennes, 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 the house on rue de Montbuisson.

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.
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Anaïs Nin’s birthday: The birth certificate

A copy of Anais Nin's birth certificate.

A copy of Anais Nin’s birth certificate.

On February 24, 1903, at 11 in the morning, this birth certificate was drawn up in Neuilly sur Seine. In it, we learn that Rose Jeanne Anaïs Edelmira Antolina Nin was born at 8:25, the evening of February 21, 1903, to father Joseph Joachim Nin, 23 years old, and to mother Rose Celeste Culmell, 25 years old, at their home on 7, rue du Général Henrion Bertier, Neuilly sur Seine. The midwife was Lucile Marie Anna Mabille, 41 years old. (The spellings of the names reflect the French versions of the Spanish names.)

 

Interestingly, Rosa’s age is incorrect: she was in fact 31 at this time. Whether this is a clerical error or whether Joaquín and/or Rosa wanted to keep their age difference a secret is pure speculation.

According to Nin biographer Deirdre Bair, Joaquín was not pleased at having a child so early on in his marriage and, perhaps more importantly, his career. He became jealous of the attention Rosa gave her delicate daughter. This seemed to interfere with the performance relationship the couple had…at first Joaquín insisted Rosa perform with him in order to get her away from Anaïs, and then, irrationally, insisted she not perform when he felt Rosa was neglecting both him and Anaïs. From that point forward, Joaquín Nin became a solo performer and Rosa was reduced to a mother who sat in the audience to cheer him.

By the time Anaïs’s brother, Thorvald, was born in Havana in 1905, she was afflicted with typhoid fever, becoming violently ill. Joaquín was repulsed by the sight of his now very thin, sickly daughter and made sure she knew how ugly he found her. By the time Anaïs’s youngest brother, Joaquín, was born in Berlin, the family life had deteriorated to the point of chaos and violence. Beatings were brutal and often, at the hand of the father. The violence between Joaquín Sr. and Rosa intensified to the point where Anaïs feared for her mother’s life (see the introduction to “Prelude to a Symphony—Letters between a father and daughter,” A Café in Space, Vol. 6). By 1913, the family as Anaïs knew it was destroyed when her father abandoned them, and for the rest of her life she would be torn by the loss.

It is also interesting to note that while we readily celebrate Anaïs’s birthday, she rarely refers to it—or to Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or other traditionally notable days—in her adult diary. On Feb. 20, 1925, just before her 22nd birthday, she wrote: “On the eve of my birthday and bowing to tradition, I try to consider thoughtfully the significance of this venerable day—in vain. Dates never agree with my transformations. My real birthday this year was when I read Edith Wharton’s books. My New Year began when I succeeded in having my story run smoothly, when I found a renewed interest in my second book. My holidays are many—every time I go downtown with Hugh, when the agitation of the city, like the quick rhythm of some Spanish danza, makes my heart beat faster. My religious festivals fall on whatever day the sun shines—those are my Mass-going days, when I can pray.”

If you have thoughts to share on this day, Anaïs Nin’s 107th birthday, leave a comment or visit our guestbook.

To read more about Nin’s birthplace, 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 the house.

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.

Approaching Anaïs Nin’s birthday: The birthplace

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click to enlarge

Shortly before Anaïs Nin’s birth on February 21, 1903, Joaquín Nin and his wife, Rosa, moved to the plush Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine and took a flat at 7 rue du Général Henrion Bertier, a short walk from what is now avenue Charles de Gaulle, from where one can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance to the east. Today, the neighborhood is overshadowed by the futuristic silhouette of La Défense and is choked with cars parked where there is no space, but at the turn of the 20th century it could have been the setting for a passage from Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. There would have been well-dressed couples strolling on the trottoir, elegant carriages coming up and down the narrow street, the well-heeled horseriding in the nearby Bois du Bologne. For Joaquín Nin, whose musical career was just beginning, it was the perfect place for his upper-crust tastes. For Rosa, it was a source of strain because it was very expensive and it was her father supplying the funds.

The house (and its identical neighbor at no. 11) is listed by the Invetaire générale des monuments et des richesses artisitiques de la France, Département des Hauts-de-Seine. It was designed by the architect Gustave Gridaine (who designed other prominent buildings in the area) and completed in November 1895. According to the Invetaire, there is a basement, 4 rectangular stories, and a penthouse, and it is constructed of cut stone with a slate roof. There is an interior suspended staircase, spiral and windowed, and the décor is listed as “sculpture.”

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Photo: Paul Herron; click to enlarge

The family didn’t spend much time in Neuilly; they traveled back to Havana in 1904 where Joaquín took Cuban citizenship and shortly thereafter performed in Paris for the first time as a Cuban. Rosa was by then pregnant with their second child, Thorvald, who was born in 1905 in Havana. Rosa’s father, Thorvald Culmell, was dying and sought to tighten the spending. So, after returning to France, the Nin family moved from Neuilly to a less expensive house in St-Cloud, outside of Paris. For an article on Neuilly, see A Cafe in Space, Vol. 1.

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To read more about Neuilly, 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 the house.

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.

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.

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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.

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