Anaïs Nin’s Incest: A Key To Understanding Her Art

Recently I was interviewed by Anaín Bjorkquist, hostess of the SexLoveJoy podcast, about Anaïs Nin. Part of the discussion had to do with the fact that Nin had adult-onset incest at the age of thirty with her father, Joaquin Nin, in 1933 after two decades of estrangement. Nin described it in the unexpurgated diary aptly titled Incest, and she wrote about it honestly, explicitly, and beautifully from a literary point of view. The significance of it in terms of discussing Anaïs Nin’s sexuality was, naturally, part of the podcast. 

Despite the fact that the podcast is rated “explicit,” some listeners felt the incest portion was inappropriate, that somehow incest was “romanticized,” or that it should have been edited out, never mentioned. I feel Anaín was courageous for not making any changes, even after the feedback. But the feedback prompts me to discuss this hot topic further here, distasteful or not, as it may be.

Question: how can one truly understand the life and work of Anaïs Nin if the nature of her most important relationship—the one with her father—is edited, disguised, or sugar-coated?

Answer: it cannot.

CoverIncestIncest, of course, is taboo in most cultures, disturbing to say the least, and is usually referred to in hushed voices. But Nin never backed down from any aspect of life, and I, for one, cannot back down from mentioning incest within the context her writing—that’s part of my job, to tell the truth as I know it so that readers can better understand her, her relationships, and ultimately the meaning of her work. Nin scholar Benjamin Franklin V and I discuss this very topic in our recent podcast interview.

A little history:

The loss of Nin’s pianist/composer father at age ten (he abandoned the family for a young and beautiful piano student) was by far the most significant event in her life; it created the path she would take and the woman she would become. There was severe psychological damage—she not only lost her father, but her grandparents, the countries she adored (France and Spain), her language, her culture, and the entirety of her life as she knew it.

She began her diary at age eleven onboard the ship that would bring her, her mother and two brothers to New York in 1914. It was originally intended as a letter to her father, naïvely pleading with him to come to New York and rejoin the family. In it, she painted a distorted but alluring picture of America to win him back…yes, she learned ruse and enticement at a tender age, but its first application was for naught since her father never did come back.

When her father failed to return, and the reality of the impossibility of such a return became apparent, Nin began to seek him in others. This began when she married Hugh Guiler, a man whom she saw, in some ways, as a substitute father, but one who was kind, gentle and faithful. However, the nature of her attraction to him, coupled with Guiler’s own inexperience with women, created a sexual incompatibility that would last for the rest of their lives. She then began a search for a man who not only could fill the role of father figure, but who could also make her feel like a desirable woman. Her first attempt was with John Erskine, Guiler’s former professor, in 1929. But Erskine, overwhelmed by the young Anaïs’s beauty and a sense of loyalty to Guiler, was unable to finish the act in a hotel room. This sent Nin into a tailspin of self-doubt and shame. She had feelings of incompleteness, of failure as a woman, and most of all—of abandonment. She contemplated suicide, thought of jumping off a ship into the ocean. This depression lasted for years.

Henry Miller, whom Nin met in 1931, seemed to be the man she’d been seeking—not only was he older, wiser, and took Nin under his wing, he was also the one who initiated Nin to sex as she hoped it would be—raw, passionate, all-consuming. This, coupled with the fact he would mentor her writing, gave her the sense of having finally become a woman in the true sense of the word, as she writes in the unexpurgated diary, Henry and June.

By 1933, Nin was sexually alive, her impulses were strong, and she was engrossed in Miller’s life. But she soon began to realize that Miller had an inhuman quality, one that, especially when he was writing, shut out all others, Nin included. Nin realized he could never be completely hers, or anyone else’s, and his long list of romantic failures bears this out. When Miller locked himself in his room with his typewriter, Nin felt the presence of the old demon—abandonment—once again. How could she rid herself of this constant imbalance, this constant fear of being left alone? Her desires, of course, had long been distorted and amplified by the original abandonment, and she grew to feel that no singular man could provide her with a sense of being loved or could commit to her absolutely, so that even with two main men in her life (Miller and Guiler), she felt utterly alone.

Then, Nin’s father, after a long silence, began to write her again after a friend told him what a beautiful woman she had become. This led to a reunion at her house in Louveciennes almost exactly twenty years after he’d left the family. This meeting, of course, had a huge impact on Nin, who was finally beginning to realize she was a desirable woman, a fact most men in her company did not fail to notice, most notably her Don Juan father.

The elusive father, dashing, charming, romantic, aristocratic, impeccably groomed, with a grandiose personality, then began an all-out campaign to woo his daughter. He told her that of all the women he’d known, she was the one—and he lamented the fact that the “one” was his own daughter! “You are the synthesis of all the women I have loved,” he told her. He said that if she visited him in the South of France, everyone would believe they were lovers, thereby introducing the concept to her. His letters were frequent and increasingly emotional. He predicted “chapters” would be written in his hotel room that would surpass those of D. H. Lawrence. All of this, combined with everything else that had preceded his return, was a potent elixir she had no ability to resist. She had spent most of her life trying recapture the father she had lost, and he was giving her a way to do it literally, a way to face the demons and to destroy them at long last.

She described the affair in eloquent detail in her diary; she called the passages the “father story.” The incest itself was, for her, a living symbol. She looked at it from the inside, through the lenses of literature and psychology, not one of morality or artificial convention. She did not condemn herself, nor her father, and some readers find this outrageous. They expect guilt, remorse, atonement, but Nin had none. It was part of her life, an event that occurred, a stone in the mosaic, and like all other events, she recorded it in her diary from the depths of her psyche.

As one of my recent podcast guests, Lana Fox, says, “She didn’t judge herself for this. She embraced it, made it her own, and she wrote about it in stunning language.” Fox, a childhood incest victim, says Nin’s incest passages changed her life, gave her permission to accept what had happened to her, to accept herself, to empower herself, to grow, to flourish. That is what we mean by the power of writing.

Nin’s incest is more than a taboo, more than a forbidden act, more than two family members engaging in a sexual affair—it is the culmination of many complex events and emotions, the result of trauma, loss, years of mourning and craving, a product of self-loathing, doubt, the feeling of being unloved and unlovable. And it was an event that would forever change her life, especially the nature of her work. Nin wrote about incest abstractly in The House of Incest (1936), lyrically in “Lilith” (1939) and injected its essence into much of her later fiction. It flavored who she was—it caused her to grow in a completely different direction. It didn’t save her—she ultimately rejected her father, who died alone in Cuba in 1949—but it made her more aware of who she was and what she needed from life and relationships.

There are those who refuse to accept Anaïs Nin because of incest. There are others who refuse to believe it really happened. There are those who wish this would never be mentioned again, that it is “icky,” “disgusting,” “immoral,” and so on…but the failure to include it in any comprehensive discussion of Anaïs Nin would be a failure to understand exactly who she was, how she got that way, and what informs her writing.

Anaïs Nin Podcast 9: A Half Century with Anaïs Nin—Benjamin Franklin V

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.

Benjamin Franklin V and Anais Nin, 1973. Photo: Jeanne Rockwell.

Benjamin Franklin V and Anais Nin, 1973. Photo: Jeanne Rockwell.

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.

Podcast 8: Anaïs Nin and Lana Fox—From Tragedy to Triumph

Anaïs Nin’s erotica and especially the unexpurgated diary Incest have attracted a polarized response—on the one hand, readers enjoy Nin’s adventurous spirit and her powerful, haunting and eloquent writing; on the other is a very vocal and “moral” reaction to the point where some feel impelled to discard Nin from reading lists altogether. There are those cannot get past the notion of such “taboos” such as incest, intense sexuality and abortion. But what about those readers who have experienced some of these things themselves? Lana Fox, erotica writer and co-founder of the sex-positive Go Deeper Press, discusses how, as a sexual abuse and incest survivor who was bullied in school and shamed for displaying any sort of her own sexuality, was able to transform her life, and how Anaïs Nin played a very important role in her rebirth. She says that Delta of Venus and the Incest passages “totally changed” her life, validated her sexual fantasies and helped her overcome the impulse to end her life. Not only did Fox bloom as a writer, she was able to transcend her past and create a world in which she could live and thrive.

lana_fox-300x300

Lana Fox

Lana Fox has also contributed an article entitled “Love Will Come: How Anaïs Nin Fostered My Erotic Creativity” to A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Vol. 13, which appears in February 2016.

Run time: 36:11

To listen to Podcast 8 on iTunes, click here

To listen without iTunes, click here

Links:

Lana Fox on Twitter: @foxlana

Go Deeper Press

Lana Fox’s fan fiction book based on Nin’s writing: Cathedral of Furs

Incest: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin: 1932-1934

Delta of Venus

Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939-1947

Pre-order volume 13 of A Café in Space

 

Anais Nin Podcast 7: Ménage à Trois: Nin, Miller and Money

The love affair between Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller is one of the most famous literary liaisons in modern history. In episode 4 of The Anaïs Nin Podcast, we learned how it came to an end, through a series of incredible letters, published in Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939-1947.

But was the relationship over for good? Was there any shred of it that survived?

Listen to Nin’s comments on their failed reunion in 1947, and how their relationship reached a new low when Miller’s friend Alfred Perlès revealed details about the Nin/Miller affair in his book, excerpted from an article in A Café in Space, Volume 12.

Henry Miller, 1961

Henry Miller, 1961

Episode 7 tells us how money played a big role in the ultimate reconnection of Nin and Miller. Miller had won the famous “obscenity trials” and got a huge advance from his publisher just at the time when Nin was down on her luck. Did Miller come through for her, as she had done for him time and again for decades? And how did their meeting go after a 15 year hiatus? Read Nin’s remarks from her unpublished 1962 diary, which are both disturbing and moving.

Run time: 18 minutes

To listen to the podcast in iTunes, click here.

To listen without iTunes, click here.

To order Mirages, click here.

To order A Café in Space, Vol. 12, click here.

Call For Papers: A Cafe in Space, Volume 13

A Café in Space: The Anais Nin Literary Journal seeks contributions for its next issue, which debuts Feb. 21, 2016. See guidelines below:

Cafe121. Content must at least peripherally involve Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, or members of their outer circle, including those who influenced their writing. Articles can be academic in nature, or more general, depending on topic.

2. Essays should be in the realm of 2,000-6,000 words, but we’re flexible depending upon topic.

3. We accept poetry as long as there is a correlation, at least in spirit, to Anais Nin.

4. We accept short erotic fiction if it is in the spirit of or inspired by Anais Nin.

5. We accept visual art, including photographs as long as it relates to Anais Nin et al.

6. Deadline for proposals is the end of August 2015. Deadline for final drafts is December 1, 2015.

Submissions, inquiries and proposals can be sent to skybluepress @ skybluepress . com

We will consider submissions for future issues of A Café in Space based on room, theme, or other factors.

To better understand A Café in Space, we recommend purchasing a recent issue on Amazon or any other electronic vendor before submitting. Print copies can be ordered from http://www.skybluepress.org

–Paul Herron, Editor, Sky Blue Press

Paul Herron dishes on Anais Nin with Rose Caraway

Rose Caraway

Rose Caraway

Erotic writer/blogger/podcaster Rose Caraway (found on Twitter as @RoseCaraway) recently had me as a guest on The Kiss Me Quick’s Erotic Podcast, and we discuss Anais Nin’s erotica (with an excerpt from a previously unknown erotic story), her use of language, sexuality, fiction, diary, and writing style. We take a sneak peek at the upcoming Trapeze: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1947-1955, which chronicles Nin’s perilous double life with two husbands. We ponder Nin’s unpublished erotic storyMontparnasse,” which is unlike anything in Delta of Venus or Little Birds and try to reason why she wrote the story in the first place. Was it just an example of bad writing, or was it the result of something her anonymous collector had said? Find out here. Run time: just over an hour.

To listen to the podcast in iTunes, click here.

To listen to the podcast without iTunes, click here.

Anais Nin Podcast #6: Nin’s Fiction: A Blueprint of the Pysche

Episode six of The Anaïs Nin Podcast features an interview with Brazilian poet Marina Ferrer, whose understanding of Anaïs Nin’s writing is so profound that I feel she has taught me a new way, a clearer way, to approach Nin’s most neglected work—her fiction. If I, who have been studying Nin for a quarter century, feel this way, I am certain you will too.

Marina Ferrer

Marina Ferrer

“Keep your mind open,” Ferrer advises new Nin readers. “You have to approach her without prejudice. Avoid the expectation that you are going to be told a story like Harry Potter. You have to be willing to work psychologically. Accept Anaïs as she comes—don’t impose what you think literature is on her writing or you are going to be fighting her all the way to the end of the book.”

Listen as Ferrer likens Nin’s characters to a blueprint of the psyche and asserts that we all have “cities of the interior” in which several versions of ourselves live, each beckoned to the surface by different external circumstances. Reading Nin, then, raises our own self-awareness, which is perhaps the greatest gift an author can give readers.

Run time: 15 minutes.

To listen to the podcast on iTunes, click here. If you don’t have iTunes, click here.

You can order Nin’s iconic collection of fiction, Cities of the Interior, by clicking here.

Marina Ferrer’s essay and poetry will be included in A Café in Space, Vol. 13, which can be pre-ordered here.

Anais Nin Podcast 5, part 2: 5 more questions for Anais Nin with answers

La Coupole: 1930s social media?

La Coupole: 1930s social media?

Part 2 of episode 5 of The Anaïs Nin Podcast picks up where Part 1 left off: with answers to the last five of the ten questions Nin fans said they would have liked to ask her, the answers to which are thoroughly researched and explained.

The subject matter of Part 2 includes the Paris café life as a precursor to social media and how Anaïs Nin would have used Twitter, Facebook, blogs and podcasts today; the end of her love affair with the famed “laboratory of the soul,” her home in Louveciennes, and her undying affinity with France; how Nin kept (or didn’t keep) her two husbands unaware of each other; Nin’s choice to not bear children—whether it was selfishness, as commonly thought, or a much deeper reason; and how Nin went about the construction her most ignored genre of work, her fiction.

louveciennes1931smaller

The “laboratory of the soul”

With the invaluable help of Sex Love Joy podcaster, Anaín Bjorkquist, these questions are addressed, discussed and answered as closely as possible to how Anaïs Nin herself would have.

Once again, special thanks go to Lulu Salavegesen (@Shimmerinbloom) for the concept of this series.

You can listen to Podcast 5, Part 2 on iTunes by clicking here, or, if you don’t have iTunes, by clicking here.

To learn about Part 1 and listen to it, click here.

Run time: 33 minutes. Enjoy.

Anaïs Nin Podcast 5: Part 1—answering your questions for Anaïs Nin

anaisnincapedemandemoiRecently, we asked Nin fans to think of a question they would have liked to ask her, and the ones we have received are all compelling, interesting, and challenging. We researched our vast Nin archive and used what we know about Anaïs to answer each question as closely as possible to what she would have said. Each question is asked, discussed using both personal experiences and validated archival information, and then summed up.

There is no way you can listen to this episode and not learn something new about Anaïs Nin.

sexlovejoyMy co-host, Anaín Bjorkquist, who has a deep understanding of Nin, adds her own unique point of view and insight to each answer.

Since each question was profound and required a multilayered approach, we have decided to split the podcast into two 30 minute parts, answering five questions in each. Part 1 will address Nin’s love affairs with Acapulco and Rupert Pole, her own brand of fearlessness and how she used it to conquer unfathomable challenges, artists who inspired her, such as Marcel Duchamp, Jean Varda, Jean Genet, Arthur Rimabaud and Antonin Artaud, her failed attempt to connect with acclaimed writer Djuna Barnes and how she dealt with it artistically, and how her soul seems to mingle with our own.

Part 2 will appear in a week…check back here for details.

Special thanks to Anaín Bjorkquist (@AnainBjorkquist) for her valuable input, and Lulu Salavegsen (@shimmerinbloom) for creating the concept of this two-part series. This has been a wonderful collaboration.

You can listen to Podcast 5, part 1 on iTunes by clicking here, or, if you don’t have iTunes, by clicking here.

Run time: 30 minutes. Enjoy.

Ask Anais Nin anything you want

NOTICE: WE ARE NO LONGER TAKING QUESTIONS. THANKS TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE PARTICIPATED–YOUR QUESTIONS WILL BE ANSWERED ON OUR NEXT PODCAST. STAY TUNED TO OUR BLOG FOR DETAILS.

Imagine you had the chance to ask Anaïs Nin any question you’d like. What would it be? Would it be about a book? A lover? Somewhere she lived? Her double life? Incest? Her writing philosophy? Her family? Her upcoming diary?

anaisnincapedemandemoiAnd what if you had the chance to actually ask the question and get an answer from Nin experts who will use their extensive knowledge and resources to provide an in-depth and accurate response?

And what if your question and answer would appear on our next Anaïs Nin podcast?

I would say thats a unique opportunity.

The podcast will be hosted by Paul Herron and Anaín Bjorkquist (of Sex Love Joy fame). Air date will be posted here and on Twitter soon.

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