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.

Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary and Index to Diary Excerpts

ben_cover2_page_1

Benjamin Franklin V, arguably the world’s foremost Nin scholar, has been in the business of sorting out the facts of Anaïs Nin’s bibliography for decades. Not only did he co-establish the first true Nin periodical (Under the Sign of Pisces), he has compiled Nin’s works thoroughly and edited a book of Nin’s contemporaries’ memories of Nin (Recollections of Anaïs Nin by her Contemporaries). He also spearheaded and introduced the recently published uncut Obelisk Press version of The Winter of Artifice. Now, Franklin has given all Nin readers and scholars an invaluable gift: a complete list of descriptions and bibliographic sources for each and every character Nin use in her published fiction, more than 800 of them, from Abelard to Zora, with Djuna, Jay, Lillian, and Sabina in between. Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary and Index to Diary Excerpts also includes an index of every person, place, or title mentioned in every diary excerpt to appear outside the published diaries before they were printed, and this includes diaries that remain unpublished to this day.

 

This book will be released the same day as Volume 6 of A Café in Space, Anaïs Nin’s 106th birthday, Feb. 21, 2009.

Anaïs Nin: Feminist or not?

Was Anaïs Nin’s writing feminist in nature? There is a dichotomy in responses. In her article “Feminist Smut (?)” (A Café in Space Vol. 6) scholar Angela Carter makes the statement that one of the works most vilified by feminists—the erotica—is actually feminist. Carter sees the erotica as a writing out of the struggles women had with sexual identity and expression in a patriarchal world. In the same issue, Sarah Burghauser writes that her perception of Nin was swayed by the attacks from feminists who claimed not only was Nin insincere and essentialist, she used the Women’s Movement to “sell books.” Bruce Watson, in his article “Claiming Ownership—Issues in Nin criticism,” takes note of the backlash of feminists directly after the release of Diary I, but he also explains how others have attempted to equate Nin’s style of diary writing to a form of feminist expression, an argument that has taken hold as time goes on.

 

When the diaries came out during the late sixties and early seventies, at the height of the Women’s Movement, women divided themselves into two distinct camps: those who believed that while Nin was not a typical “bra-burner,” she was a leader in the establishing women as distinct figures with unique gifts and the need for freedom of expression; on the other side were those who felt Nin had betrayed the Women’s Movement by being “too feminine,” i.e., using her womanly charms to attract men, using men to achieve her success.

 

There was a misconception from the onset: when the original Diary came out in 1966, readers assumed that Nin accomplished everything alone, that there was no man supporting her, that she was a feminine pioneer, especially in the light of the fact she wrote the diary in the 1930s when few women ventured from the kitchen into the world of art, literature, or making a living. When these readers discovered that Nin in fact had a husband who was her financial backbone, not to mention an anchor who gave her the safety net she seemed to be living without, they felt betrayed. “Fraud,” they cried. Some of them attacked Nin at lectures, in print, and in the media, echoes of which resound to this day. The irony is this: had these very readers read editor Gunther Stuhlmann’s introduction, they would have known that Nin indeed was married, and that it was her husband’s wish to not be mentioned in the Diary. So, did Nin mislead her readership in this way? Not if you read the disclaimer.

 

In this sense, part of the argument against Nin’s feminism doesn’t hold water, but this only one minor aspect of the dispute. There are many other points to argue, but under no circumstances did Nin enter the confrontational or militant, anti-male sector of feminism. Women could not become stronger or freer by acting like men, Nin argued, and using man’s weapons—aggression, intolerance, brutishness—was counterproductive. Despite the rationality of this stance, it seemed to create the strongest resentment of Nin by feminists.

 

Judging from the arguments made by scholars and feminists, pro and con, the controversy of Nin’s feminist philosophy, or whether she even had one, will continue until the world gets to the point where her vision of sharing what we have to offer as men and women, equal in each other’s eyes, becomes a reality. Are we drawing closer?

 

Anais Nin’s appearance: yet another facet of her persona

Mario Grut. All rights reserved.
Photo: Mario Grut. All rights reserved.

As British scholar Ruth Charnock notes in the upcoming Vol. 6 of A Cafe in Space (due out Feb. 21, 2009), as well as American scholar Sarah Burghauser in Vol. 5, Anais Nin’s appearance had much to do with her public persona. Charnock recalls Evelyn Hinz’s comments that when Nin appeared at lectures, she seemed to come from between the pages of her diary, that the audience felt they were witnessing not only the author of the famed diaries, but the woman who appears in them even though they were written decades earlier. Nin commented on her appearance from time to time in the diary, noting lines about the eyes, the weakness of the neck, but she also noted that her body retained its youth–her breasts were firm, her legs slim and beautiful. At the age of 70 she recorded the fact that she still was desired, that she still inspired love letters. Nin did resort to cosmetic surgery before it became popular to do so…she had a nose alteration early and a facelift much later. But Charnock notes that there is a certain grotesqueness in the older woman’s youthful body, a body that can play tricks on the mind of the observer. Indeed, the photograph accompanying Charnock’s article is of Nin in the 1960s, wearing a miniskirt and go-go boots…a striking contrast with her face. The photograph here was taken in 1960, when Nin was 57, by famed Swedish photographer Mario Grut. The photograph gained notoriety with its unforgiving harshness, leaving little illusion about the fact Anais Nin was in fact not ageless, but starkly human.

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.

Anais Nin’s doctored copy of The Winter of Artifice

Image of the rediscovered The Winter of Artifice
This copy of the original Obelisk Press (Paris, 1939) edition of ‘The Winter of Artifice‘ was literally cut up by Anais Nin in New York after fleeing Paris at the onset of war. Because the Obelisk Press version was banned in America, Nin had no choice but to cut out the parts of the book the censors found intolerable. That meant the story “Djuna,” which was the fictionalized version of Henry and June, was totally cut out, and good portions of the other 2 stories (“Lillith,” which became the story “Winter of Artifice,” and “The Voice”) were heavily edited of all offensive passages. The result was the Gemor Press version of Winter of Artifice (1942), which was privately published in America. Not until 2007, when Sky Blue Press brought out a facsimile of the Obelisk Press edition, has the original version been in print.