There is a myth, partly spun by Anaïs Nin herself, that while Henry Miller was a supporter of her writing during the 1930s, he ultimately had no lasting influence on her style. This podcast will prove that not only did Miller influence Nin in achieving a more accessible form of writing after the surrealistically flavored House of Incest, he even wrote some of the passages in her first “mainstream” novel, The Winter of Artifice.
While Miller and Lawrence Durrell certainly believed in Nin’s writing, they were severe critics of her heavily veiled and poetic use of the English language, which even she admitted was often poor due to the fact she was not a native English speaker. Miller encouraged her to put forth her ideas clearly and concisely, and, as you will see, this affected Nin’s future writing in spite of her insistence that she’d rejected Miller altogether in later years. We will also find out why she said this.
In 1939, the Obelisk Press edition of The Winter of Artifice contained three novellas: “Djuna” (the story of Nin’s love triangle with Miller and his wife June), “Lilith” (inspired by Nin’s incestuous affair with her father), and “The Voice” (the story of Nin’s relationships with her psychoanalysts René Allendy and Otto Rank). Today’s edition does not have “Djuna” at all, and the other two stories were significantly altered by Nin in the 1940. The question is: why? Especially when “Djuna” has been called by Nin scholars one of her most solid pieces of work.
It wasn’t until the original 1939 edition of The Winter of Artifice was republished by Sky Blue Press in 2007 that readers finally had access to this long-lost book, and now we can put the mythology surrounding it to bed.
Run time: 21 miuntes
You can listen to the podcast in iTunes here.
You can listen without iTunes here.
The print version of The Winter of Artifice, which was printed in a small edition, is still available at skybluepress.org.
The digital version of The Winter of Artifice can be found on Amazon.com.
Benjamin Franklin V has been devoted to Anaïs Nin studies since 1966, the year the first volume of The Diary of Anaïs Nin was published, catapulting her from decades of obscurity to instant fame and acceptance from a wide audience. Despite all the hoopla surrounding Nin, Franklin was determined to go about the meticulous business of compiling a complete list of all her work, resulting in Anaïs Nin: A Bibliography in 1973, the first and only such compilation. He then collaborated with Duane Schneider on Anaïs Nin: An Introduction, which came out in 1979. In 1996 he compiled and edited Recollections of Anaïs Nin.
Since then, he has spearheaded the republication of The Winter of Artifice, the lost 1939 edition; he authored the Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary and Index to Diary Excerpts, compiled, edited and introduced The Portable Anaïs Nin, and has written the introduction to the upcoming Trapeze: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1947-1955. He is a frequent contributor to A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal.
Dr. Franklin not only studied Anaïs Nin, but also knew her and worked with her for several years. His experience with Nin, along with his extensive work on her, gives him a unique understanding of both the writer and the work, and he tells all during this podcast. This is a must-listen for anyone interested in Anaïs Nin and the history of Nin scholarship.
Run time: 47:06
To listen to the podcast in iTunes, click here.
To listen to the podcast without iTunes, click here.
Comments are welcome.
One of the reasons that Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and Lawrence Durrell turned to Jack Kahane of Obelisk Press to publish their books in the 1930s was because Kahane wasn’t afraid to publish what no others would touch. Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, which debuted in 1934, was banned from all English-speaking countries for decades and was the centerpiece of the American “pornography” trials of the 1960s.
What is little known is that Anaïs Nin’s original version of The Winter of Artifice (1939) was also, according to Nin herself, banned in the U.S. On more than one occasion she refers to the few copies that were smuggled into this country as having somehow eluded the censors. When Nin decided to publish an American version of the book, she omitted an entire novella (“Djuna,” her fictionalized version of the Anaïs-Henry-June love triangle) and several passages from the remaining two novellas (“Lilith” and “The Voice”) to avoid scrutiny.
In one of the passages in “Djuna,” the protagonist reveals her feelings for Hans, the character based on (or, more accurately, is) Miller:
While he lay over me with his unabatable attentiveness I knew he was watching the alterations of my face, listening to the cries I uttered, and the final deeper, savage tones. I closed my eyes before this watchfulness of his and sank into a blind, moist drunkenness. I felt myself caught in the immense jaws of his desire, felt myself dissolving, ripping open to his descent. I felt myself yielding up to his dark hunger. An immense jaw closing upon my feelings, my feelings smouldering, rising from me like smoke from a black mass. Take me, take me, take my gifts and my moods and my body, take all you want.
I am being fucked by a cannibal.
It is all that is human in me that he devours. He eats me as if my love for him were something he wanted to possess inside his body, at the very core of his body, like fuel. He eats me as if my faith in him were a food he needed for daily sustenance.
He is not concerned to know whether I can live or breathe within the dark cavern of his whale-like being, within the whale-belly of his ego.
Miller himself heavily edited “Djuna,” and much of his editing found its way into the final version of the story. (For more on this subject, click here.)
Another passage omitted from the same novella focuses on Djuna’s relationship with Johanna (June Miller):
Johanna’s eyes were like the forest. The darkness of the forest, the watchfulness behind an ambush. Fear. I journeyed into the darkness of it. I walked from the place where my dress had fallen, carrying my breasts like gifts in my half-opened hands; I carried them to her as if expecting to be thrust by her mortally.
Johanna loosened her hair and said: “You are so extraordinarily white.” With a strange weight, like a sadness, she spoke. It was not the white substance of me, but my significance, the whiteness of my newness to life, which Johanna seemed to sigh for. “You are so white, so white and smooth.” And there were deep shadows in her eyes, shadows of one old with life; shadows in her neck, in her arms, and on her knees, violet shadows.
While this passages may seem tame compared to today’s erotic literature, they were far ahead of their time, especially when we consider that the author was a woman.
In 2007, the only in-print edition of the original The Winter of Artifice was published as a facsimile of the original. It was a project that took two years to complete after careful restoration of the font and cover.
Click here order The Winter of Artifice 1939 edition for $9.99. Good till Oct. 6, 2012.
In 1939, after publishing two works of fiction in Paris—The House of Incest (1936) and The Winter of Artifice (1939)—Anaïs Nin was forced by war to flee to New York, thus tearing her away from France at a time when she felt herself maturing as a writer and as a woman. Suddenly, she was thrust into the hostile world of New York publishing, not to mention a dreary literary atmosphere heavily influenced by “realism” and “puritanism.” Nin purged much of Artifice, including an entire novella, partly because of the fear of U.S. censors, and partly as a rebellion against Henry Miller’s heavy influence on the text. No publisher wanted the revised book, so Nin purchased her own press and published it herself in 1942, with the help of her Peruvian lover, Gonzalo Moré. She then collected a series of short stories begun in Paris and self-published it under the title Under a Glass Bell (1944). The commercial failure of these two titles and the increasing chaotic nature of her personal life left Nin in such a depressed state that she contemplated suicide on several occasions.
In spite of the tragic nature of her New York life, or perhaps in part because of it, she turned to writing like never before, perhaps as a form of salvation. She began to develop the characters and themes for what she called Cities of the Interior, a continuing series of novels that were intended to explore psychological realities, something Nin was quite familiar with. She self-published the first installment of these novels in 1945 under the title of This Hunger, which was later revised and expanded into Ladders to Fire (Dutton, 1946). In Ladders to Fire, Nin introduces and develops the main characters of her continuous novel: Lillian, Djuna, Sabina, and Jay, all based on real-life personages found in her diary. Neither This Hunger or Ladders to Fire were critical or commercial successes, and Nin had to face the fact that neither critics nor readers could grasp the essence of her work. So, she sought to explain her writing to the masses in two different publications—Realism and Reality (1946, Alicat Bookshop) and On Writing (April 1947, Daniel Oliver Associates; August 1947, Alicat Bookshop).
Realism and Reality, a pamphlet published in a limited edition of 750 copies, begins by explaining that the reason Nin’s writing was misunderstood came from “the fact that I write as a poet in the framework of prose…” She continues by saying that there was a “purpose and form behind my partial, impressionistic, truncated characters.” She compares her writing to modern art, in which “a column can signify more than a whole house, and that one eye can convey more than two at times.” Arguably, a key to understanding her work is as follows: because her “books take place in the unconscious, and hardly ever outside of it, they differ from poetry not in tone, language or rhythm, but merely by the fact that they contain both the symbol and the interpretation of the symbol.”
After the failure of her next novel, Children of the Albatross (1947, Dutton), Nin felt compelled to expand her thoughts in On Writing, another pamphlet, the Alicat edition of which had a run of 1000 copies, 750 of which were for sale. This title includes an essay by a young scholar, William Burford, with whom, Nin says in her unpublished diary, she had a strong affinity in terms of writing philosophy. Because Nin focused on the psychological aspects of her characters, critics were quick to judge her as a chronicler of neurosis, which prompted her to respond in On Writing: “…on the contrary, I not only believe that we are suffering from a collective neurosis, but that this is precisely one of the most urgent themes for the novel today: the struggle between the forces of nature in us and our repressive and consequently destructive treatment of those forces.” This was cutting-edge thinking during the 1940s, a time when the country was preoccupied by the war and its aftermath. As one of the editors who rejected her said, these were not times for “morbid introspection.” Nin’s fiction was doomed to either misinterpretation or out-and-out thrashing, and, worst of all, indifference.
Naturally, perhaps partly because Nin’s two pamphlets were printed in small editions, her audience did not grow beyond a coterie, nor did critics cease to pummel or ignore her work. By the mid-1950s, she felt defeated as a writer, on the verge of giving up hope. It wasn’t until 1966 and the amazing success of her Diary of Anaïs Nin that she was finally vindicated. The immediate and warm response to the diary gave Nin the desire to revisit her long-ignored fiction in The Novel of the Future (1968, Swallow Press), in which much of the contents of Realism and Reality and On Writing appeared. Fittingly, the first line contains Jung’s quotation, “Proceed from the dream outward,” which symbolizes Nin’s approach not only to writing, but to life.
In retrospect, it may seem that having to explain one’s fiction in what amounts to “user’s guides” is problematic. One could argue that asking the reader to look upon fiction in an entirely new way is too great a demand. James Joyce, for example, inspired too many “how to read Joyce” publications to note here, but none of them were by Joyce himself. Anaïs Nin, because of frustration and the terrible notion of being misunderstood, left us such guides, explaining her work as no one else could.
One could also argue that Anaïs Nin’s fiction was the only way she could somehow express the contents of her diary, her chef d’oeuvre, which was unpublishable at the time (mainly because its characters were living). But there is another way to look at the fiction—it was created in a crucible of secrecy, desperation, upheaval, and chaos. All of these factors gave birth to what some Nin critics today believe are among the most unique creations by any novelist—the “distilled” scenarios, the fleshless characters, the dreamlike prose and images, the symbols which, if we sensitize ourselves to them, are universal.
How fortunate we readers are that Nin’s life did not permit her to publish her diary immediately, and how fortunate we are that she felt forced to explain her writing theory.
How does one sort through hundreds of websites to find elusive Anais Nin titles? We’ve compiled a concise list to help you out.
To purchase a book that was once a part of Rupert Pole’s and Anais Nin’s personal collection at their Silver Lake house in Los Angeles, including rare and out of print titles, click here.
To find and purchase any title Swallow Press published (virtually all of Nin’s fiction and other titles as well), click here.
In the past year, several Nin titles have been made available as ebooks. To search the ever-growing list, click here.
To find the print versions of Nin’s (both original and unexpurgated) diaries, click here.
To locate Nin’s erotica, click here.
To examine or order print versions of A Cafe in Space, the only current Anais Nin literary journal, click here.
Sky Blue Press has the only print version of the original The Winter of Artifice, a facsimile of the Obelisk Press edition that was, according to Nin herself, banned in America. There are still copies of this limited printing left. To find out about the book, or to order, click here.
A complete list of all of Nin’s fictional characters is collected in Anais Nin Character Dictionary. To learn about this title, click here.
Are we missing anything? If so, leave a comment and we’ll attempt to answer all questions.
A brief history of The Winter of Artifice: After years of incubation, Anaïs Nin fictionalized three major events in her life: 1) her affair with Henry Miller and the subsequent infatuation with his wife, June; 2) the reunion with her father after a twenty year absence, which resulted in a series of incestuous encounters; 3) the analysis (and affairs) she experienced with pyschoanalytical pioneers René Allendy and Otto Rank. These events resulted in the following novellas, respectively: “Djuna,” “Lilith,” and “The Voice.”
Only weeks after Anaïs Nin held a copy of her new book in her hands, two events occurred that were to redirect its future—war broke out, and the editor of Obelisk Press, Jack Kahane, died. Because of the war, Nin fled Paris for New York with a few copies of her book, and once in America, she realized that The Winter of Artifice would never survive the censors because of its explicit nature, especially that of “Djuna.” A few copies of Paris edition ended up in the hands of Nin’s friends and associates, but it was largely absent from the market in Europe and impossible to distribute in America or England.
These novellas comprised Nin’s second work of fiction, The Winter of Artifice, which was published by Obelisk Press in the summer of 1939 as part of the Villa Seurat Series—Miller’s Max and the White Phagocytes and Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book made up the other titles. The series name came from the three authors’ unofficial headquarters, Miller’s apartment on Villa Seurat in Montparnasse.
Nin set about altering the contents of The Winter of Artifice for an American audience. She completely eliminated “Djuna” and cut out or drastically altered several passages in the remaining two stories. Her gutted prototype, made from an Obelisk Press copy, still exists. When Nin could not interest any American publishers in the book, she decided to publish it herself, buying an old printing press and setting up shop with her collaborator and lover, Gonzalo Moré. In 1942, the handset Winter of Artifice was finished, under the imprint Gemore Press, containing the two novellas, one untitled (formerly “Lilith”) and “The Voice.”
The book underwent further incarnations: In 1947, the untitled novella was revised and titled “Winter of Artifice,” and, along with the revised “The Voice,” was included in the 1947 English edition of Under a Glass Bell (Editions Poetry London). In the 1948 Dutton edition of Under a Glass Bell, the two revised novellas were included, but “Winter of Artifice” was renamed “Djuna,” not to be confused with the “Djuna” of the original edition. In 1961, Swallow published Winter of Artifice, which included facsimiles of the text the now-renamed “Winter of Artifice, “The Voice,” and Stella, taken from the 1946 book Ladders to Fire, “Stella.” The current Swallow edition is much the same.
The original “Djuna” ended up being heavily revised and incorporated into Ladders to Fire, with very little remaining of its erotic spirit. Later in life, Nin claimed that “Djuna” contained “bad writing,” but there is good evidence that she wanted to avoid public scrutiny of her affair with Miller, not to mention her changed attitude towards him after their break-up in the early 1940s. Miller, after all, was instrumental in the development of the prose contained in the story—for a detailed look at this, click here. His heavy influence in her writing was something she didn’t want publicized.
Many scholars are unaware of the original edition of The Winter of Artifice and the explicit representation of the Henry-June-Anaïs triangle in “Djuna.” Benjamin Franklin V, an important Nin scholar, recognized this gap in Nin scholarship and was the momentum behind a facsimile of the Paris edition of The Winter of Artifice being released in 2007. With this edition, Nin readers can finally experience Nin’s early foray into realistic prose—a turnaround from the heavily veiled The House of Incest (1936)—which was lost by circumstances and life-forces beyond anyone’s control. And now, with the new Kindle edition, Nin’s writing has finally entered the world of digital text, with other titles to follow.
In the summer of 2008, the Lawrence Durrell Society held its biannual conference at Université Paris X at Nanterre, France, at which I was scheduled to speak about the lost book of the Villa Seurat Series—Anaïs Nin’s The Winter of Artifice. We stayed in Vincennes, outside of Paris…you couldn’t visually tell it wasn’t Paris, except it was outside the périphérique, the freeway that encircles the city. But once you walked the streets and went into the first fruit stand or café, you realized you were in a place with a definite and unique identity. First, no one speaks English. Second, people don’t treat you as an inconvenience because they are not overrun by tourists—instead you are welcomed with a warmth that arises from curiosity. The first person I talked to was a drunk. I was buying ingredients for lunch (wine, cheese and fruit, basically) and he asked if he could cut in front of me with his two bottles of cheap liquor. When I let him go ahead, he thanked me profusely, and then struck up a hilarious conversation, including the clerk, whom he knew well for obvious reasons, in his banter. When I get into this sort of conversation, I feel warmth throughout my entire body. I get loose, relaxed, and the blood flows. I get emotional (not weepy, but exalted). On the way back to the apartment we’d rented, there was a man leaning on the rail from his first floor room smoking a cigarette. He hung out so far there was barely room to walk around him, in his white singlet, a long black page boy haircut, huge dark eyes and a well-worn face. I saw him there every day, and he would talk to the woman with a baby carriage, want to see the baby, talk to the postman, talk to anyone he recognized. The street was his café; he was a fixture that added character to the entire neighborhood.
I became cozy with the fruit stand people, the Turkish guy who served up the best lamb I’ve ever gotten on the street (that’s not fair, because how often do you get your lamb on the street?)…the proprietor at the bistro, etc., etc. We got familiar with the haunts there, and our apartment windows overlooked the streets, which were in the shadow of the ancient Chateau of Vincennes, where Marquis de Sade was held prisoner for a while.
Thus, going to Paris, as great as the city is, almost was a letdown. Suddenly you are surrounded by the tourists and all those who prey upon them. Accosted so many times by opportunists who want something from you, trying to trick you, make a fool of you if you let them. How many times can a woman pick up a gold-colored ring from the street, vainly try to fit it on her finger, then give it to you for good luck, and demand money from you if you’re gullible enough to take it, before you decide to cuss them all out? One woman I met in Louveciennes told me that she took such a ring, put it in her handbag and ran away, laughing. I suppose that is a better response. But I do love going to the bookstores and trying to sell my books, as well as finding a few rare treasures on the way, such as Christopher Isherwood’s diary or a worn Henry Miller novel.
The last bookstore we visited was Shakespeare & Company. I’d given up years ago trying to sell them anything—it’s the sort of place where you feel honored if they sell a book you’ve given them. So, with this in mind, I asked to see George Whitman, who was 94 years old at the time and has owned the place for decades. He used to be omnipresent in the store (see the video, which runs about an hour), but he doesn’t see many people now. He no longer runs things—his daughter has taken over the daily operations. A very suspicious woman at the cash register told me his health is bad, that he sleeps most of the day, only comes down (he lives upstairs) on occasion, and, like a relic, sits in a special chair and reads while people come to pay their respects. But I told her I had a gift for George. She reluctantly referred me to George’s daughter, who agreed, after scrutinizing me carefully, that I would be allowed upstairs to his living quarters to visit. I was accompanied by a young woman who was my “chaperone”—in other words, to make sure I wasn’t some sort of opportunist or maniac. I was led to a room I’d seen many times previously, but I barely recognized it. It once was crammed with bookshelves and stacks of books so tall they looked as though they were defying the laws of physics. Now, it was cleaned out. There was a table and a bed. Beyond the door was George’s room.
When the door opened, dozens of strange insects came flying out, hovering like tiny silent helicopters. George came out in his pajamas, unshaven, disheveled, but, in a way only he can master, hauntingly handsome, proud, with an air of noble defiance. He recognized me from my previous visits. We sat down at the table, and the chaperone, satisfied nothing terrible was about to occur, left us alone. George told me that ever since he ceased running things he has lost his sense of purpose. “I felt alive when I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the floors,” he told me, “but now all I want to do is to sleep. I never should have given up the store.” He still has a spring to his walk, his voice is still strong, and he was impressed with the book (The Winter of Artifice) I gave him. He told me he was going to put it into the reading room, where patrons can sit all day and read for nothing. This, to me, was even better than selling it. He asked me if I was a writer. I said yes, I’ve written things. He patted the bed and said if I ever need a place to stay, I could stay there for as long as I like, gratis. He told me people have written entire novels in his store. I’ve had this offer each time I’ve visited, and I regret not having taken him up on it—but a friend of mine told me that there were insects in the bed and in the breakfast, and if I didn’t mind that sort of thing, perhaps I’d enjoy the stay. He also added that Shakespeare and Company is perhaps the one place left in which you can experience the Paris Henry Miller describes in Tropic of Cancer, a place where, “In America…you wouldn’t dream of living in a joint like this. Even when I was on the bum I slept in better rooms than this. But here it seems natural—it’s like the books you read” (Tropic of Cancer 117).
To read more on Nin’s and Miller’s Paris, get Britt Arenander’s Anais Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939, which contains vintage photos, maps, and historical context of the many places they inhabited and frequented.
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.
anais nin, henry miller, george whitman, shakespeare & company, paris, vincennes, marquis de sade, christopher isherwood, tropic of cancer, the winter of artifice, lawrence durrell
Anaïs Nin wrote, “There was once a woman who had one hundred faces. She showed one face to each person, and so it took one hundred men to write her biography.”
During her lifetime, Anaïs Nin dodged questions that aimed to pin her down, to reveal the details of her life (or lives lived simultaneously). She was vehement about keeping things private, as strange as it sounds considering her life was the source of material for nearly all of her writing. But what was it that she actually presented in her books? She began chronicling her life with her fiction, which was, as she put it, a “distillation” of events that were recorded in her diary (and the diary was often a distillation in itself). Characters were largely based on herself and those in her circle, such as Henry Miller (Hans in “Djuna” from The Winter of Artifice and Jay in later fiction), June Miller (Johanna in “Djuna” and Sabina in The House of Incest and later fiction), Gonzalo More (Rango in “Hilda and Rango” from Little Birds). Yet she often denied her characters were based on real people, caught in a strange predicament: writing out her life but trying to keep it secret. She was often quoted as saying that her motivation for secrecy was to protect the innocent, those who would be hurt should the nature of her many relationships (especially sexual) be exposed.
The publication of Nin’s diaries was a discombobulated process from the very start. First, they had to be “cleaned” of any direct references to her love life, names had to be changed, and entire passages had to be removed if they referred to someone who did not wish to appear in the diary (her husband, Hugh Guiler, for example). The result, then, is not what is popularly perceived as a true “diary.” When one sees the term “diary,” one is conditioned to think “facts,” “dates,” “chronological events,” and “names.” Gunther Stuhlmann, in the introduction to Diary 1 (1931-1934), which was published in 1966 when Nin was 63 years old, expertly states what this “diary” actually is—a “psychological” truth. Apparently, too few people read the introduction and therefore tried to impose a literal truth on writing that was often not. After the 7 volumes of the Diary (which covered the years 1931 to 1974) came the problem of releasing what had been cut out, and what came before it. The childhood and young adult diaries (1914-1931) were released in a more complete form—the editing was not radical; in fact it was marginal. But beginning with the Miller years, Nin’s life had turned about face and became highly sensual, sexual, and consequently deceptive. Suddenly there were numerous affairs (including one with her estranged father), lies to her husband and her lovers, a late-term abortion, betrayals to those who loved her. So a new set of diaries, the so-called Journal of Love series, was released, beginning with Henry and June, after the death of Guiler in 1985.
These “unexpurgated” diaries, especially the second, Incest, caused open rebellion among many of those who’d befriended Nin, or who admired her, because they all felt betrayed—they thought they knew the woman with “one hundred faces.” In 1994, at the Nin conference at Long Island University, Joaquín Nin-Culmell famously walked up to the “friends” table and exclaimed: “You did not know my sister!” in rebuttal to what he considered their “delusion.” A few years later, I had lunch with a group of women who’d known Nin (albeit marginally), and none of them could bring themselves to believe that their beloved Anaïs, the kind and generous woman they knew, was capable of the deeds which appeared in Incest (the father relationship, the abortion). There were those who felt that these events were exploited (if not fabricated) by Rupert Pole (Nin’s California husband and executor) and Gunther Stuhlmann to make a quick buck. In short, after the first two volumes of the Journal of Love were released, there were many bitter and disillusioned people walking around, and the need for someone to sort out the actual facts of Anaïs Nin’s life was apparent. But was it possible? Since then, two biographies (Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin, by Noel Riley Fitch , and Anaïs Nin: A Biography, by Dierdre Bair ) have been published, but do either give us the whole picture?
An interview with Deirdre Bair will appear in its entirety in A Cafe in Space, Vol. 7.
Myth #4: Anaïs Nin was fluent in three languages: French, Spanish, and English.
Fact: When Anaïs Nin’s father, Joaquín Nin, abandoned his family in Arachon, France, in 1913, she, her mother and her two younger brothers went to Barcelona and stayed with Joaquín’s parents. During the year or so they spent in Spain, Anaïs learned her Spanish. When the fatherless family arrived in New York in 1914, French was the spoken language at home. Although Anaïs’s mother, Rosa, was fluent in English (as well as Spanish and French), she had determined the family’s “mother tongue” was French. Her philosophy was that since her children would learn English soon enough in school and in their social interactions, and that Spanish would be spoken with their Cuban relatives, the only way to keep the French alive was to speak it exclusively at home. When Anaïs began her diary on the trip to America, it was in French.
Although her English was improving over the next few years, Nin continued her diary writing in French, partly because she longed to retain her identity, and partly because she intended the diary as a long “letter” to her estranged father, who did not know English. As her English grew, her French withered. Her father chastised her for her misuse of words and accent marks, leading Anaïs to close one of her letters with all the accent marks at the end: “Put them where they belong,” she told him. Sometimes Anaïs would transcribe letters to English-speaking friends into her diary, and it was clear that she was better able to express herself with English. She began reading the English-language classics, and by 1920 had switched her diary to English. Her English was by far a better vehicle for her self-expression, but was still a work-in-progress, and would be for years to come.
As Anaïs began to attempt to write fiction in English after returning to Paris in 1925, her young husband, Hugh Guiler, in the name of helping her, criticized her incorrect (as he saw it) use of words, or the use of words that were considered archaic or odd. Later on, Henry Miller would do much the same (see Myth #2).
Consider this passage Miller corrects from “Djuna” in The Winter of Artifice (sometime in the mid-1930s):
“Are you afriad to forget your name and who you are, and where you live? Have you not played with the idea of amnesia, which only meens a somanabulistic condition of the ideal self. The conscince goes to sleep and then the critical self too, and you can walk the streets and act as you please without calms.”
Miller blasts her misspellings, and when he criticizes her use of “calms” for “qualms” he says: “Look it up!!!” He adds: “Bad sentence structure” and “Watch all your ‘ands,’ ‘buts,’ etc. Weakly used!” (See Benjamin Franklin V’s introduction to The Winter of Artifice: a facsimile of the original 1939 Paris edition.)
At times, Nin felt hopeless—she had Guiler and Miller criticizing her English, and she admitted to Miller that writing in French to her father was “like trying to create a river with twigs” (see “Prelude to a Symphony: letters between a father and daughter,” A Café in Space, Vol. 6). Her Spanish at this time was almost non-existent…her father occasionally wrote to her in Spanish, but Anaïs did not respond in kind.
As Nin developed artistically through these trials by fire, her writing became stronger, more economic, and possessed an exotically distinct quality. It is often described as “English written in the French style.” There is no question that Anaïs Nin became one of the most eloquent writers in the English language, and to this day one of the most oft-quoted…but during the transitions between her three languages, arguably caused by her constant resettling, she was fluent in none of them.
Thanks to Kim for the following:
Myth #2: “Anaïs Nin was a success because of Henry Miller. He taught her to write and she used him. If it wasn’t for him she would’ve been completely unknown.”
Henry Miller did indeed have a positive effect on Nin’s early fiction writing. The example above is a page from one of the working drafts of the story “Djuna” from The Winter of Artifice (1939) and the final product. Miller’s handwritten suggestions and deletions make it into the published version of the story. The paragraph beginning with “Here are my dreams for the month…” is verbatim from Miller’s notes. Examples like this are found throughout this and other versions of the manuscript. So there is little question that Miller not only gave Nin advice on her writing, she willingly accepted and incorporated it.
However, to indicate that Miller was responsible for Nin’s success is as flawed as saying she was responsible for his. They influenced each other. Miller’s Scenario, for example, is what many consider a poor rendering of Nin’s House of Incest, which was evidently, according to most critics and Nin herself, misunderstood by Miller. While Miller criticized Nin’s use of the English language (it was her third language, after French and Spanish, respectively), and sometimes rightfully so, Nin criticized Miller’s uni-dimensionality in his writing, most notably his tunnel-view, and therefore miscomprehension, of his own wife, June. While Nin was able to use Miller’s criticisms to her advantage, Miller was not as willing to use hers, which is most likely to his detriment (consider the flatness of the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy compared to the Paris books, for example). He certainly, however, was willing to use Nin’s resources to make it possible for him to write while in relative comfort.
Throughout the Nin-Miller relationship, the diary swelled with accounts of her tumultuous life, written freely and beautifully, without the restraints of what she called “literature.” History has shown us that the diary is her masterpiece, not the fiction, not the “literature.”
A side note: it was serendipitous that Miller’s Tropic of Cancer came out in the early 60s, followed by his Letters to Anaïs Nin in 1965. Nin’s Diary came out the following year, and there is little doubt that Nin’s agent Gunther Stuhlmann envisioned the letters, which he edited, as a segue to the Diary. So does that mean that Nin used Miller to gain success? No, it meant that while Stuhlmann was intelligent and crafty enough to let momentum build towards the release of the Diary—Miller, after all, was inherently linked to Nin whether or not anyone planned it—the time was right, the popular culture was right, the level of openness was right for both Nin and Miller’s books to be released, read, and lauded for the magnificent works they were.