Thorvald Nin: Anais Nin’s brother

Anaïs Nin valued writer Marguerite Young’s opinions about her as-of-yet unpublished Diary 1, which begins in 1931, just before the 28 year old Nin met Henry Miller. While Young understood why Nin and her editor/agent Gunther Stuhlmann decided to begin the first published diary at that stage of Nin’s life (because it was arguably the most interesting period), she still expressed a desire to know more about Nin’s early years and her family members, all of whom are briefly mentioned in the diary for the sake of background.

In this revealing conversation, Young gets Nin to open up about her feelings towards her brother Thorvald, her mother, and her father. Nin explains how, as a child, she knew everything about her father’s infidelity and that when he left the family at Arcachon in 1913 he would never return.

She reveals why she felt Thorvald had estranged himself from the family, and Young offers her own rather surprising opinion, as you shall hear.

In response to her Aunt Anaïs’s remarks, Thorvald’s daughter, Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz, says, “I must respond to the theory about my Dad’s going into the business world. My poor Dad had no choice in the matter. His mother made him turn down a four year engineering scholarship at Cornell and told him he had to get a job to help support the family. He was obedient. He went into business because that is all an 18 year old boy could do. Get a ‘go-fer’ job in a bank and hope it leads to something. Believe me, he was broken hearted.”

Thorvald Nin, ca. 1950 (click to enlarge)

Thorvald Nin, ca. 1950

She adds that Thorvald “was never ‘estranged’ from his family. He always remained loving towards his mother and [his brother] Joaquín. He helped support his mother throughout her life. He was not a great letter writer, that is for sure, but ‘estranged’ is not the right word. When I was growing up we never lived in the States so we never saw my grandmother or Uncle Joaquín or Aunt Anaïs except during the brief times we spent in New York in between living in one Latin American country or other. When we were there we did spend time with both Anaïs and Hugo and Grandmother and Joaquín, and I remember in particular how warm and caring Hugo was with us. In the late 40s and early 50s Anaïs and sometimes both Anaïs and Hugo would come to Mexico and spend time with my Dad and his second wife Kay quite often. When Kay and Dad retired and moved to Florida, Anaïs and Hugo visited them off and on. Now my Dad was critical of Anaïs, no doubt about that. He did not think she was a ‘good’ writer and thought her novels were impossible to understand. He also knew that she was not living a straight and narrow domestic life, and because he cared for and admired Hugo, he disapproved of her infidelities. He talked about this to me when I was much older and long after Anaïs died. When I was growing up, Dad never discussed Anaïs in a hostile manner.

“My Dad loved music so even though he himself was not a professional musician, he did appreciate the arts. He always remained close to Joaquín.

“When Anaïs started publishing her diaries, in the 1960s, my Dad very clearly requested that she not include anything about him. She ignored that, and he was furious. The last time they saw each other was in San Francisco in 1971 for the Mass of Dedication of the new Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary. Joaquín had been commissioned to compose the music for the Mass so Dad and Kay flew in from Florida and Anaïs came up from Los Angeles. [My husband] David and I took everyone out for dinner that evening and the exchange between Dad and his sister was not pleasant for the rest of us. So, yes, my Dad became estranged from his sister, but not from the rest of his family.”

To listen to the 16 minute conversation between Anaïs Nin and Marguerite Young, click here.

Other related posts

For more on Nin’s parents, click here.

To hear Young and Hugh Guiler discuss Nin’s diary, click here.

To listen to Nin read “Under a Glass Bell,” click here.

To listen to Nin reading about her fictional characters Lillian, Djuna, and Sabina, click here

To see all Nin titles available as e-books, visit our e-bookstore.

To purchase books from Anaïs Nin’s Silver Lake collection, click here.

One Hundred Biographers: The reaction to Deirdre Bair’s biography

When Noel Riley Fitch’s study of Nin (Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin) was published in 1993, the response of some in the Nin community was to swiftly brand it as “baseless” (in the sense Fitch did not have access to the Nin archive) and “sensationalistic” (in the sense it focused mainly on Nin’s love life). For the next two years, however, there were high hopes for the “official” biography, Deirdre Bair’s Anaïs Nin: A Biography, which was to be released in March of 1995. However, ominous rumblings arose even before its publication: Rupert Pole, in a letter to a friend, said the book was a “betrayal.” Gunther Stuhlmann said in a phone conversation that he had demanded his name be removed from the acknowledgements page. Once the book was published, the outcry grew, exacerbated by the response of the book reviewers, who often seemed more intent on reviewing Nin’s life rather than the biography itself.

 

bair-review-image

 

For example, Carlin Romano of the Philadelphia Inquirer began his review with this statement: “Anaïs Nin lied and fornicated the way the rest of us breathe: regularly in order to live, and in deep gulps in order to flourish.” Nigella Lawson of The Times said: “An affair with Henry Miller—who matched [Nin] for self-centredness, grabbiness, and lack of talent…” Bruce Bawer of the New York Times said in response to Bair’s conclusion that “Nin was among the pioneers who explored three of the most important [concepts that brought sweeping societal change]: sex, the self and psychoanalysis” by retorting, “If Nin is remembered at all, it will not be as a pioneer but as a colorful peripheral character who embodied, in an extreme form, some of the more unfortunate distinguishing characteristics of our age: an obsession with fame; a zeal for self-advertisement; a tendency to confuse art and self-expression; a rejection of intellect in favor of feeling; a romantic glorification of neurosis, selfishness and irresponsibility.” The question begs to be asked: did the biography cause the responses, or did the pre-formed opinions of the reviewers and those in the Nin world skew their responses to the biography?

 

Within the Nin community, much was made of the fact Bair did not know Anaïs Nin personally and that she was “judgmental” in the treatment of her subject. Gunther Stuhlmann, in his introduction to Anaïs Nin: A Book of Mirrors (Sky Blue Press, 1996), addressed these issues in reaction to both Fitch’s and Bair’s books:

 

“In recent years a number of biographers, here and abroad, have tried to assemble their own images of Anaïs Nin. They seem to have been enthralled, most of all, by what they could glean of the erotic aspect of their moving target. With lipsmacking glee, or sour disapproval, they have turned their spotlights upon the supposedly “sensational” and “shocking” details of the private sexual life of the lady from Neuilly which, of course, fail to reveal a complete image of a complex personality, or to illuminate the nature of the impact her creations have had on a vast multi-generational audience.

 

“Biographers, especially when they have no personal knowledge of their subject, rely for their interpretations upon the sometimes dubious documentation of fragmented memory shards, the recollections of contemporaries often shaped by their own agendas, and most of all on the paper trail of the vanished person, the raw material of records and writings left behind.”

 

During the five years Deirdre Bair spent writing her biography of Anaïs Nin, she acknowledged that not having known Nin was a detriment. In her introduction, she says: “I had to settle for the verbal testimony of those who had known her…and I was astonished at the range of their responses, especially how, in so many cases, the mere mention of her name provoked vehemence and outrage… So a crucial issue became my trying to understand what there was about Anaïs Nin that made people react so strongly even though she had died more than a decade earlier.” So, were the “facts” again distorted by emotional responses to Nin? And how does one choose one response over the next as validation for factual information? And would knowing Anaïs Nin have helped in the end? To whom did she reveal her entire self during her lifetime?

 

In a recent interview, Bair said, “Any major event or happening or actions in Anaïs’s life began from what she wrote in her diaries at UCLA. If I wrote about something, it was because I fact-checked as thoroughly as I could. If she said she had an affair with somebody, if that person was still alive, I called them, I contacted them, I went to see them, and I asked, ‘Did you have an affair with Anaïs Nin?’ If I wrote about a possible incestuous relationship, it was because I checked every possible document, every possible person that I could. I think that was about as close to the truth as we were going to get.”

 

Explaining the issue of incest further, Bair says:

 

“The way I dealt with that was to photocopy those pages in the diary. I am a member of a group called the New York Institute for the Humanities, an NYU-affiliated body of public intellectuals, as we are called. Among them were some distinguished psychoanalysts and writers in that field—Jessica Benjamin, Muriel Dimen, Virginia Goldner, Sue Shapiro, and many of them specialize in the abuse of women. So I said to them, ‘I’m going to convene a special seminar.’ There were six analysts in total in the room. I said, ‘I’m going to pass out these photocopied pages from this diary that Anaïs Nin wrote, and at the end of the evening you have to give them back to me, and you have to swear secrecy to not tell anyone about this because I don’t know if it’s true, and I don’t know if I’m going to write it.’ So these six highly respected, important authorities in the field, they all turned to me and said, ‘It’s as if she is in my consulting room and that she’s one of my patients. This is the story that I hear.’ They called it adult onset incest. They said that often, when a parent and a child have been separated at a very young age, when they come together as adults, they see the reflection of themselves in the other and a love affair results. Shortly thereafter, a woman named Kathryn Harrison wrote just such a memoir, about her incestuous affair with her own father…it was word for word what Anaïs wrote in the diary. At that point, I knew I had to write it.

 

“So I said to Joaquin (Nin-Culmell), ‘I’m very, very worried. You have become a dear friend of mine, and I’m going to have to write this, and I’m afraid it’s going to end our friendship.’ And he thought very carefully for a long while. And he said, ‘Well, you’ve told me every terrible thing I’ve long suspected about my sister, but I know that you’re going to write it in such a way that you will still allow me to love her.’ And I burst into tears.”

 

Contrary to the reaction of Pole, Stuhlmann, and others in the inner Nin circle, both Joaquín Nin-Culmell and Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz (Nin’s brother and niece and her closest living relatives at the time) found the Bair biography to be sensitive and fair. Gayle said recently, “The problem with some is that they will say, ‘If I understand Anaïs Nin and you disagree with me, then you don’t understand her.’ Deirdre Bair didn’t paint a gallant, romantic picture of Anaïs, but overall I thought she did a very professional and sympathetic job. Perhaps Rupert felt upset because the book did not whitewash Anaïs’s life and did not sanctify his role in it.”

 

The entire interview will be published in A Cafe in Space, Vol. 7