Sky Blue Press has released its latest Authoritative Edition, this time that of The Four-Chambered Heart, Anaïs Nin’s third installment in her Cities of the Interior series. This new edition contains an introduction from Anaïs Nin, character descriptions, the book’s publishing history, and a chronology of the author’s life and work. The book joins new editions of Ladders to Fire and Children of the Albatross.
Nin’s novel is set on a houseboat on the Seine, which is where the key characters, Djuna, Rango, and Zora congregate in a twisted ménage à trois, largely based on the relationship between Nin, her lover Gonzalo Moré, and his wife Helba Huara.
For more details on the story behind the novel, go here.
To preview and/or order a copy of The Four-Chambered Heart, click here.
Myth #16: Anais Nin didn’t have a sense of humor.
Fact: In his 1969 interview with Nin, Duane Schneider asked: “Do you have a sense of humor?” Nin was surprised by the question, but said: “I think the Diary is humorous; I think Collages is humorous… I don’t think I have what is called humor in the American sense. I have playfulness, and fantasy. But my humor is quieter; it’s more like the Japanese. I don’t like farce, broad humor” (A Cafe in Space, Vol. 5, p. 111).
What follows are some examples of Nin’s brand of humor:
“I telephoned the fire department. But the man who answered heard my French accent, and the gaiety in my voice, and believed it was a student hoax. I called out to Kendall: ‘You talk to him. He does not believe there is a fire because of my accent.’ We were laughing, uncontrollably, because we could not really believe the fire, because it seemed so absurd, because Jimmy stood there with his manuscripts, and because he said: ‘Oh, Anaïs, this is a publicity stunt, of course. On the occasion of Ladders to Fire, we set fire to the house and we will have to come down a ladder.’ We opened the windows. The house was only two floors high and we would fall on the grass and bushes, if the ladders to fire did not arrive soon. We heard the sirens. A huge fireman opened Jimmy’s door, ready to rescue us. How do you rescue people taken with uncontrollable laughter? ‘It was a publicity stunt,’ we said. He thought it was the champagne. There was a lot of noise around. Neighbors had come to watch. Two engines were standing there. And the climax came when the fireman said: ‘No danger. It was the lady downstairs, who left a cake in the oven, and that made all the smoke’” (Diary 4, pp. 171-172)
In a letter to Rupert Pole, dated Nov. 20, 1961, Nin, who was in New York, had their dog, Piccolo, “write” an addendum:
“Dear Rupert—there is a serious shortage of dog psychiatrists. Nobody understands I only pee at the United Nations just to be polite and international, I pee on the 57th St. corner of Tiffany’s just to be fashionable, but I reserve my fullest pee for my temporary home, to assert my temporary ownership, and each time the old German elevator man comes out and grumbles. It’s true I’m not paying any rent—but he should know dog psychology. Cold rainy day—Anaïs tells me you had the same. She hangs on that phone—I don’t feel I own her whole heart! But she brought me a leftover meal from her dinner with rich cousins. Love Piccolo” (A Cafe in Space, Vol. 5, p. 89).
In the novel Collages, which, in her dedication, she calls her “humorous book,” Nin describes a scene with her characters Renate and Bruce, based on her friends Renate Druks and Paul Mathiesen:
“And then one day at Christmas, the terrified animals ran down from the mountains. Renate saw them running before she heard the sound of crackling wood or saw the flames leaping from hill to hill, across roads, exploding the dry brush, driving people and animals down the canyons and pursuing them satanically down to the very edge of the sea. The fire attacked houses and cars, lit bonfires above the trees, thundered like burning oil wells.
Planes dived and dropped chemicals. Huge tractors cut wide gashes through the forest to cut off the spreading fire. Firefighters climbed up with hoses, and vanished into the smoke.
Somewhere, a firebug rejoiced in the spectacle.
Around Renate’s house there was no brush, so she hoped to escape the flames. She wrapped herself in a wet blanket and stood on the roof watering it down. But she could feel the heat approaching, and watch its capricious somersaults, unexpected twists and devouring rages.
Bruce helped her for a while and then climbed down. She was still holding the hose and soaking the house when she looked down and saw what first appeared to be the portrait of Bruce walking. The large, life size painting was moving away from the house and two feet showed below the frame, two feet in shoes just below the naked feet of the painting.
The first thing he had asked of her was to stop painting animals and women and to paint a portrait of him. He had shown her the long hairs which grew on his ear lobes and said: ‘You know that I am Pan, and I want you to paint me as Pan.’ He had posed nude, in the red-gold afternoon sun of Mexico, always showing the same half-smile, the pleasure loving, non-human smile of Pan. He loved the painting, admired it every day. It was the god of the household. When they traveled, it was he who had packed it lovingly. He would say: ‘If any injury came to this painting, it would damage me, something fatal would happen to Pan.’
And so today this was Bruce rescuing Bruce, or Bruce rescuing Pan in himself. At first the painting turned its luminous face to her, but as he proceeded down the hill she saw him behind the painting in dungarees and a thick white sweater. She saw a group of firefighters below; she saw the expression on their faces as the painting walked towards them, as they saw first of all a naked Pan with faunish ears, a walking painting with feet, and then the apparition of the same figure dressed in everyday costume upholding its twin, duplicate half-smile, duplicate hands; and they looked startled and puzzled, as if it were superfluous to rescue a mere reproduction of an original.
So Bruce saved Pan, and Renate saved the house but the fire seemed to have finally consumed their relationship” (Collages, pp. 27-28).
Nin’s relationship with her Peruvian lover, Gonzalo Moré, while fiery and chaotic, was also one in which humor thrived in their conversations. In the unpublished diaries from the 1940s, there are several examples of their discourse:
During a romantic tryst:
“Gonzalo unfastening my new panties with the garters attached and saying: ‘It looks like a pulpo (octopus)—how many pulpos do I have to unfasten?’”
A lazy conversation on a summer evening in New York:
“I said to Gonzalo how strange it is that the spermatozoa sometimes lingers in the womb before fecundating the egg. Gonzalo said: Yes, it’s slumming!'”
I said to Gonzalo: “Janet saw a hermaphrodite, half of her body a man’s, half a woman.” “And the sex,” said Gonzalo, “was it a banana split?”
He talked to me for a whole evening about the activity of the microbes. Coming home we saw lovers sitting in Washington Square. Gonzalo said: “I wonder what makes people fall in love!”
“Don’t tell me it’s microbes,” I said.
After one of their many quarrels:
“I said: ‘Last night I was enmerdé (bored stiff), and I was looking for you in the rain, and I was out for a fight, in fact all ready to throw lightning around and you must have felt it and you ran, off to the movies. You escaped a big scene!’
‘What was it,’ said Gonzalo, laughing.
‘I wrote about it and so it’s all in a book, and you’re safe.’
‘Estoy contento,’ he said. And slept with his hand on my leg.”
From a Spanish newspaper Nin and Moré read together:
“A man has to deliver a coffin. He takes it on the bus as soon as the deliveries are paralyzed after the Spanish revolution. There is no room in the crowded bus. He is sent up to the top. It is raining hard. He is getting soaked. He decides to get into the coffin and cover himself. More people come to sit on the top of the bus. They sit with their backs against the coffin. The man inside of the coffin listens to their conversation, gets bored, lifts the top of the coffin, sits up and says: ‘Is it still raining?’ The people threw themselves off the bus with fright, broke their legs.”
In the 1940s diary, Nin describes going to the staid home of Virginia Admiral:
“At Virginia’s house Hugo said: ‘It looks like the House of Crime and Punishment.’ I answered: ‘But it’s the House of Punishment without Crime.’”
A conversation with Robert Duncan in the 1940s diary:
“Wrote an article on astrology to order. Was nervous about it, being told it might be for Vogue. Wrote it lightly but Robert and Hugo thought it was not light enough. Robert took it up to make it humorous. I was sad…not to be able to be flippant.
I said: ‘I can’t flip!’
Robert said: ‘You must flip! Start on me if you wish. Make fun of me.’”
Special thanks goes to Rebecca (@anaisnin on Twitter) for inspiring this post.
In 1948, when Anaïs Nin first began writing her novel The Four-Chambered Heart, she described it as her “last act of love” for Gonzalo Moré, the Peruvian radical and bohemian with whom she’d been locked in a torturous, doomed relationship for more than a decade. “It is the monument that he will not be able to destroy as he destroyed our life,” she says in her unpublished diary.
In the novel, the character Djuna falls in love with Rango and becomes entangled in his chaotic life. She is introduced to Zora, Rango’s wife, a former dancer who has fallen into a morass of hypochondria and self-centered manipulation. These characters, of course, are modeled after Nin, Moré, and his wife Helba Huara.
When Nin first met Gonzalo in Paris in 1936, she astutely recognized him as a “tiger who dreams. A tiger without claws.” Helba was “the woman whose dance without arms inspired the dancer in House of Incest” (Fire243). Henry Miller, during his first visit to Nin in Louveciennes in 1931, said he’d seen Helba dance, but that “her husband is the interesting one.” Indeed, Gonzalo knew and was the intellectual equal of literary figures such as Antonin Artaud, Pablo Neruda, and César Vallejo. In 1931, Nin had “walked out of Helba’s first small recital, disgusted with her grotesque exaggerations, and Gonzalo was on the stage as accompanist and I did not see him—five years before we met.” But years later, Nin “saw the monstrous quality of the demon in Helba and was interested—not repulsed” (unpublished diary). Indeed, for a time during the 1920s and early 1930s, Helba was acclaimed as an exotic dancer embodying Incan culture who performed all over Europe and on Broadway.
By 1936, however, Helba had become a self-created invalid, using imaginary illness to manipulate Gonzalo and anyone with whom they associated, and she and Gonzalo were impoverished, living in the squalor of a dungeon-like basement room.
Nin’s love affair with Gonzalo was unlike her concurrent affair with Henry Miller—waves of sexual fury and romance, violence followed by serenity, and above all a Latin emotional connectedness, which she lacked with Miller. The words Nin records in her diary reflect the passion she and Gonzalo shared, as he whispers to her while dancing: “Anaïs, Anaïs, you are so strong, so strong and so fragile, such strength. I fear you…the most beautiful music your father ever produced was your voice…you’re all sensitiveness…the perfume of all things, how unique you are, Anaïs.” She continues: “All this in Spanish. My blood hears Spanish…through dark subterranean channels” (Fire 247).
Acting on a dream she’d once had, Nin rented a houseboat on the Seine, which she and Gonzalo used as a setting for their explosive amorous rendezvous. The houseboat became a key symbol in Nin’s fiction, appearing in some of the stories from Under a Glass Bell, as well as The Four-Chambered Heart.
Because she truly loved Gonzalo, the revolutionary too lazy take up arms, the artist without creations, the worker without a clock, the intellectual mind dimmed by drugs and alcohol, Nin fought against impossible odds to rehabilitate him. She overlooked the obvious flaws and recognized his keen intelligence, charisma, fiery passion, and humor. However, the inertia of his personality, his uncontrolable jealousy, and Helba’s constant meddling slowly began to drag Nin into their hell.
After fleeing France for New York when the war began, Nin set up her own printing press and employed Gonzalo to work with her. She even named the business after him—Gemor Press—and felt she’d finally helped him develop a craft and a sense of self-worth. However, by the mid-1940s, she was the one doing most of the work, and anything left to Gonzalo was usually left unfinished or poorly done. Not only was she disillusioned by Gonzalo, she grew to hate Helba. In late 1943, she writes in her unpublished diary: “I meditated for two days how to kill Helba to save Gonzalo, to free him—calling it to myself a mercy killing. This is insanity.“
The relationship continued to wither until Nin collapsed under the ever-growing burden. By 1947, Nin asked herself “how I turned to this sick sick sick primitive for fire, and who had this useless, raging, blind, destructive fire in the center of his being…this fire leading nowhere, a wasted, destructive fire.“
Hugh Guiler, Nin’s husband, after years of knowingly (and often unknowingly) supporting Gonzalo financially, finally cut him off, but not before setting him up with Social Services, in order to give him time to find a job, which, characteristically, he never did.
Nin says in her 1948 diary: “The Gonzalo I loved is dead. The one I knew at the end, without illusion, I did not love. People create an illusion together and then it is disintegrated by reality.“
The relationship, after many cataclysms, was finished.
Nin sought to distill hundreds of diary pages into a highly concentrated document, to tell “the story of Gonzalo without its sordid, degrading end, for Gonzalo, like June [Miller], had the power to descend to the greatest vulgarities and I cannot even transcribe the slime into which our love dissolved.” What resulted is a book that truly does stand as a shrine to Anaïs Nin’s powerful love for Gonzalo Moré, and has been described by critics as comparable to the works of D.H. Lawrence and Carson McCullers. In the following passage, for example, Nin explains how an exterior force (Rango’s jealousy of Djuna’s former lover Paul) affects the interior, a familiar Lawrencian theme:
“[Rango] was driving the image of Paul into another chamber of her heart, an isolated chamber without communicating passage into the one inhabited by Rango. A place in some obscure recess, where flows eternal love, in a realm so different from the one inhabited by Rango that they would never meet or collide, in these vast cities of the interior.”
The Four-Chambered Heartwas published by Duell, Sloane and Pearce in 1950. It was later published by Swallow Press and then incorporated into Nin’s “roman fleuve,” Cities of the Interior.
Now, Sky Blue Press has published The Four-Chambered Heart on Amazon’s Kindle as an e-book for the first time. It joins several other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, with others to follow.
One of Anaïs Nin’s most recognizable titles, A Spy in the House of Love, comes closer to the psychological truth of Nin’s tormented life during the 1940s, a life of conflicting passions and identities, and sexual adventures, than any other publication, including her Diary.
Sabina, the lead character in this novel, is sometimes considered a composite of Nin and June Miller, Henry Miller’s wife—or she could be looked upon as a certain facet of Nin’s personality that was mirrored by the mysterious bohemian June, with whom Nin became emotionally involved in the early 1930s. It can be said that June helped “awaken” Nin to her own subterranean longings for sexual power and freedom, which she first lived out with the voracious and lusty Henry, who “taught her things,” some of which she’d only imagined were possible, and others she never dreamt of.
As Nin’s sexual identity developed, honed by Miller’s tutelage, she began to realize that it, like her persona, was multi-dimensional, and she began to experiment with other men, psychoanalyst Otto Rank and the Peruvian Gonzalo Moré among them. By the time she’d returned to New York at the onset of World War II, partly inspired by her sense of rootlessness and her sexually stifled marriage, she began to seek love and security in increasingly younger and more diverse men. Seeking the one man with whom she could feel secure and be loved completely was a tumultuous journey, leaving Nin feeling at times desperately alone and even suicidal.
A Spy in the House of Love does in a concise, distilled sense what Anaïs Nin was unable to do in any other form—to reveal the torn, fragmented, conflicted life she was experiencing at the time, the fragments mirrored by five very different men: Alan, Sabina’s stolid husband (based on Nin’s husband Hugh Guiler); Philip, an exuberant and sexually charged Viennese singer (based on Edward Graeff, with whom Nin had a sporadic but prolonged affair); Mambo, an exotic black islander (inspired by Albert Mangones, a Haitian with whom Nin had a torrid sexual relationship); John, a wartime rear gunner who’d been grounded (based on the young ex-soldier John Paanecker, whom Nin met on a hellish, lonely holiday in East Hampton, Long Island); and Jay, a painter with whom Sabina had an affair some years earlier in Paris (based on Henry Miller).
Sabina despairs at only being able to live out a piece of herself with each man, and yearns for unity—which is exactly what Nin was vainly seeking—and a man who could love all parts of her. Like Nin, Sabina, in spite of her very complicated life which required monumental lies and deception to maintain, finds the resolve and strength to not give up, to continue the struggle.
The prose in A Spy in the House of Love alternates wonderfully between realism and surrealism, and is always verbally economic and poetic. Consider this passage, which describes Sabina and Philip escaping a nightclub to make love:
“They fled from the eyes of the world, the singer’s prophetic, harsh, ovarian prologues. Down the rusty bars of ladders to the undergrounds of the night propitious to the first man and woman at the beginning of the world, where there were no words by which to possess each other, no music for serenades, no presents to court with, no tournaments to impress and force a yielding, no secondary instruments, no adornments, necklaces, crowns to subdue, but only one ritual, a joyous, joyous, joyous, joyous impaling of woman on man’s sensual mast.”
A Spy in the House of Love was first published in 1954 by the British Book Centre and was republished by Avon Publications in 1957; Bantam Books in 1968; Penguin in 1973; Swallow Press, who has the current print edition in the USA; and Sky Blue Press, 2010, in a Kindle edition, the first time this title has been made available in digital form. It was Nin’s first commercially successful novel, the Avon edition having sold over 100,000 copies during the 1950s, more than a half decade before the Diary was published.
Months after returning to New York from France at the beginning of World War II, Anaïs Nin discovered she was pregnant. By whom is a matter of speculation. Possibilities are her husband Hugh Guiler, or one of her lovers, Henry Miller and Gonzalo Moré. What follows are excerpts from the unpublished diary that describe her encounter with a young American woman with whom she shared the danger and humiliation of illegal abortion. Her views on abortion rights, astounding given the era, are made clear.
(Excerpted from the unpublished diary of Anaïs Nin, which is more fully reproduced in Volume 1 of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, 2003.)
Aug. 22, 1940. Saturday I discovered I was pregnant—three months! Days of anguish over the money and the complications I feared. Dr.____ put me in the hands of a good German Jew who works for rich women. He said it would have to be done in two operations, one to insert the bag which dilates the womb (this is done without ether) and then the final one done with ether. I set the date for the 21st, Wednesday. Arrived at 9:30. Was strapped like an insane person, even wrists tied, arms, waist, legs. A strange sensation of utter helplessness. Then the doctor came in. As he begun to work he found the womb dilating so easily that he continued the operation, in spite of the terrific pain. And so in 6 minutes of torture I had done what is usually done with ether! But it was over. I couldn’t believe it. And today I am home, lying down most of the time.
The only wonderful moment in all this was when I was lying on a little cot in the doctor’s office, and another woman came. The nurse pulled the curtain so that I could not see her. She was made to undress and lie down—relax. The nurse left us. Soon I heard a whisper to me: “How was it?” I reassured her—told her how I had been able to bear it without ether, so it would be nothing with ether.
She said: “How long were you pregnant?”
“I only two—but I’m scared. My husband is away. He doesn’t know. He must never know.”
I couldn’t explain to her that [he] knew, but that my lover had to be deceived and made to believe I had no relations with [my husband]. Lying there whispering about the pain—I never felt such a strong kinship with woman—woman—this one I could not see, or identify, the one who was also lying in a cot filled with primitive fear and an obscure sense of murder, of guilt, and of an unfair struggle against nature—an unequal struggle with all the man-made laws against us, endangering our lives, exposing us to inexperienced maneuvers, to being economically cheated and morally condemned—woman truly the victim now, beyond the help of her courage and aliveness. How much is to be said against the ban on abortion. What a tragedy this incident becomes for the woman. At this moment she is hunted down, really. The Doctor is ashamed, deep down, falsely so. Society condemns him. Everything goes on in an atmosphere of crime and trickery. And the poor woman who was whispering to me, afterwards, I heard her say to the Doctor: “Oh, doctor, I’m so grateful to you, so grateful!” That woman moved me so much. I wanted to know her. I wanted to pull the curtain and see her. But I realized she was all women: the humility, the thoughtfulness, the fear and the childlike moment of utter defenselessness. A pregnant woman is already a being in anguish. Obscurely each pregnancy is a conflict. The break is not simple. You are tearing off a fragment of flesh and blood. Added to this deeper conflict is the anguish, the quest for the doctor, the fight against exploitation, the atmosphere of underworld bootlegging, a racket. The abortion is made a humiliation and a crime. Why should it be? Motherhood is a vocation like any other. It should be freely chosen not imposed upon woman.
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.
Myth #10: Anaïs Nin’s sex life was ideal.
Fact: When Anaïs Nin married Hugh (Hugo) Guiler at the age of twenty, she was a virgin. Her sexual relationship with her new husband was very unsatisfactory, according to Nin in a diary passage written some twenty years later:
[We] were never made for each other. He was too big for me. And then he would always come too quickly, almost immediately, and I was slow. In fact, for months I did not know the deeper orgasm. I only felt the superficial orgasm of the clitoris, which he excited with his hands, but nothing deep down. The amazing thing was that it was only a year later in Paris that I felt the deep orgasm. (unpublished diary, 1943)
The lack of sexual fulfillment with her husband prompted her to seek comfort elsewhere. She had a botched affair with writer John Erskine in 1928, which left her feeling depressed to the point of contemplating suicide (Early Diary 4). It was not until 1932, at age twenty-nine, that she had a bona fide affair with another man—Henry Miller. Miller was the one who taught Nin about sex, but a month into the affair, she said:
I am thinking that with all the tremendous joys Henry has given me I have not yet felt a real orgasm. My response does not seem to lead to a true climax but is disseminated in a spasm that is less centered, more diffuse. I have felt an orgasm occasionally with Hugo, and when I have masturbated, but perhaps that is because Hugo likes me to close my legs and Henry makes me open them so much. (Henry and June 130)
Eventually, Nin would achieve the “deeper orgasm” she sought with Miller, and he would prove to be one of the very few lovers who could consistently satisfy her, but only while she was not sharing herself with other significant men. In 1936, Nin began an affair with the Peruvian bohemian Gonzalo Moré, whose style was radically different than Miller’s: while Miller let Nin dominate their sexual relationship, Moré demanded complete submission from her. (The diversity of these two relationships is represented in her erotic story “Hilda and Rango,” from Little Birds, the topic of which is discussed in Anaïs Nin Myth 5.) It took Nin a long time before relinquishing Miller as her primary lover and adopting Moré, but her relationship with the latter was tumultuous, to say the least. As Miller’s, and then Moré’s, sexual prowess declined, Nin’s frustration grew.
So, while it is true that Nin had sex with more than one man at a time, she rarely enjoyed it freely and completely. She was “faithful” to one lover emotionally, which affected her sexual response, and this was something that troubled her, something she tried for years to conquer. When she began an incestuous affair with her father, Joaquín Nin, it did not result in her unrestrained sexual pleasure. Instead, the gravity of the affair denied her of the “supreme spasm” that she desired, despite the fact her “yielding was immense, with [her] whole being” (Incest 211).
Nin’s often awkward forays into casual sex could be summarized by a bungled ménage à trois she had with a couple in early 1936. When she felt arousal but no orgasm, she lamented:
It is the abandon I like…freedom from care and jealousy. The smoothness. There is a world where people play joyously and naturally the tricks I play for alibis, without being blamed. (Fire 230)
When she met a dashing opera singer, who called himself “Chinchilito,” in Provincetown in 1941, they had an encounter in the sand dunes. Her description:
Slowly I got undressed as his hands searched for buttons and bows. Afterwards, his nakedness as he stood in the wind, laughing. Truly godlike in his physical magnificence. The waist and hips slender, not thick, the torso marvelously ample, shoulders wide. A golden blondness. If only I didn’t have the usual stage-struck feeling, it would have been magnificent. (unpublished diary, 1941)
It wasn’t until two years later when Nin finally declared:
Let me celebrate my freedom. I am as free as man has been—I am free to enjoy—today with Chinchilito…, I experienced for the first time an orgasm within adventure. For the first time I did not feel the orgasm linked to emotional fidelity, as an emotional surrender, as necessarily and fatally bound to love. So that love, being a slavery to a master who could not fulfill me, became an anguish. (unpublished diary, 1943)
Nin’s “freedom,” as she put it, would be short-lived, however, as the problems achieving sexual fulfillment continued, especially when she began to experiment with young gay men.
Her decades-long search for an “ideal lover” who could truly satisfy her didn’t end until she met her future “California husband,” Rupert Pole, in 1947. While vacationing in Mexico in 1973, at the age of seventy, she wrote in a notebook: “Rupert is passionate several times a week. Once our lovemaking was so pleasurable I cried! He is too much!”
anais nin, henry miller, gonzalo more, hugh guiler, joaquin nin, sex life, orgasm
Fact: Beginning in 1914, when Anaïs Nin and her family departed Spain for New York, after having lived temporarily with her estranged father’s parents, she began recording daily events in a notebook given to her by her mother. Nin would later famously say that her intention was to write her father an extended “letter” that she hoped would entice him back.
The diary became the centerpiece of the young Anaïs’s life, and she continued the practice of recording her innermost thoughts and impressions in bound notebooks for a good portion of her adult life. Of course, the diaries she kept during her tumultuous years in Paris with Henry Miller became the basis for her fame as a writer when they were finally released in the mid-1960s. What most did not know then was that Nin had given up the daily practice of diary writing some twenty years previous.
After war forced Nin, her husband Hugh Guiler, and many of her circle, including Miller and Gonzalo Moré, to New York around 1940, she became desperately depressed for years, yearning for the “ideal” lover, success in her art of writing, and eventually descended into a downward spiral of failed love affairs and failed books. She began to express a desire to be free from the diary.
On September 25, 1943, she recorded in her unpublished diary: “I wish I could write the END to the Diary and turn to the outside story,” meaning that she felt her creativity was being sucked dry, which was a theme that had been pounded into her head by the likes of Miller, psychoanalyst Otto Rank, and Gore Vidal.
On September 25, 1943, she wrote: “What a potent awakener the Diary is. As I get ready to leave it, I pay it a slight tribute. This should be the last volume [it turned out she would write one more]. At forty I enter a new maturity, stripped of my mirages, dreams and miracles, of my delusions and illusions and my heavy romantic sorrows. What awaits me is the expression of this strength, in action. I am about to lay down my magician’s wand, my healer’s paraphernalia…and to confront the act, in writing as well as in living. Without the diary…the tortoise shell, houseboat and escargot cover. No red velvet panoply over my head, no red carpet under my feet, no Japanese umbrellas growing on the hair, no stage settings, tricks, enchantments…”
On March 13, 1946, she wrote: “This Diary will end when I find the [ideal] lover.”
On April 1, 1946: “I may perhaps attain freedom from the diary itself, from watching myself live, from having to make stories to make it more marvelous. Freedom from my idealized self, the idealization of others.”
Indeed, by the time Nin made her cross-country trip with her “ideal” lover, Rupert Pole, in 1947, she had abandoned the idea of bound diaries altogether, opting to write occasional descriptions of events on loose paper and keep them in folders along with correspondence and articles. After she became famous in the 1960s and into the early 1970s, her diary became what she called the “diary of others,” since she had no time to write new material. She essentially stopped writing in the 1970s, including fiction.
However, as death approached and she came to grips with it, she kept two hardbound diaries in which she handwrote her thoughts on life and death. One volume was the “Book of Music,” the other the “Book of Pain,” presenting both sides of her final years—the joy of living and the struggle with the cancer that would kill her.
Myth #5: Anaïs Nin’s erotica disqualifies her as any sort of feminist.
In the February issue of Glamour, there is an article entitled “6 Crazy Sex Requests Women Just Like You Have Heard.” One of the requests, reported by a 32-year-old woman was, “My husband asked, ‘Can we do it, but can it just be all about me?’ It gets better: He said I could keep the TV on so I wouldn’t miss The Office” (Glamour, p. 100). On the Smoking Gun website, there is a “Contract of Wifely Expectations” in which a man lists requirements his wife must fulfill, which, it could be argued, are repressive to say the least. Both these articles reveal that for some men, patriarchy is alive and well.
As shown in the article “Feminist Smut(?)—A study of Anaïs Nin’s erotica,” by Angela Carter in A Café in Space, Vol. 6, patriarchy is a thread running through Anaïs Nin’s erotica (Delta of Venus and Little Birds). For example, Carter uses a story from Little Birds to illustrate that Nin wrote of women’s struggle for sexual liberation in a time of patriarchal mores:
When read in the context of feminist criticism, “Hilda and Rango” is in many ways one of Nin’s more troubling stories. The reader sees the story’s protagonist struggle because her sexual actions are not socially acceptable for women. As the story unfolds, Hilda becomes more and more sexually passive in order to please a male lover who subscribes to conventional gender roles. When the story ends as Hilda submits passively to a dominant male lover, it is easy to assume, mistakenly, that Nin is sustaining gendered traditionalism. (A Café in Space, Vol. 6, p.97)
The story is based on actual events between Nin and Gonzalo More, the Peruvian who swept her off her feet in Paris in the late 30s. Despite his apparent bohemianism, More was very traditional in that he felt women should be submissive and allow the man to “have his way.” Before meeting More, Nin had been sexually awakened in her relationship with Henry Miller, who allowed her to be bold and daring. “Hilda and Rango” parallels this duality: the natural desire to be sexually adventurous and the social pressure to be passive.
Nin writes that when Hilda makes an advance on Rango, he suddenly “pushed her away as if she had wounded him” and tells her that she “made the gesture of a whore.”
The story ends with Hilda submitting completely to Rango, denying her own sexuality in favor of his. Carter goes on to say:
Her will was her desire to initiate sex and Rango drove it out of her. He now rules her sexuality by denying it and forcing her to lay almost corpse-like while he teases her. In the last candlelit moment, he leads their intercourse like the demon she first saw in him. Sadly, this moment when Hilda’s idealized dream of passivity comes true is instead Rango’s moment, “his desire, his hour” (Little Birds 120). The moment that should have fulfilled the passive Hilda’s dream is not her moment at all. By leaving Hilda’s sexuality completely out of the story’s conclusion, Nin provokes the reader to question what happened to her desire, her hour. (A Café in Space, Vol. 6, p. 102)
Carter shows us that Nin indeed used her erotica to highlight the suppression of female sexuality. While Nin was never a second wave feminist in the true sense of the term, her erotica could be viewed as feminist since it expresses the struggle of women to be sexually liberated in the early 1940s, long before second wave feminism took root.
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