Anaïs Nin valued writer Marguerite Young’s opinions about her as-of-yet unpublished Diary 1, which begins in 1931, just before the 28 year old Nin met Henry Miller.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.”
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.
To celebrate Anais Nin’s birthday, February 21, 1903, this page gives you a chance to easily locate the related information we have posted in the past. If this is your first time here, we hope you enjoy the summaries of Nin’s birth, her family background, and her place of birth, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
Feel free to comment if you have further information or questions.
Post 6: Anais Nin’s 13th birthday
Celebrate Anais Nin’s birthday by purchasing one of the books (some extremely rare and out of print) from her and Rupert Pole’s personal collection at the Los Angeles house.
Or, if you are digitally inclined, visit our Anais Nin e-bookstore.
We celebrate Anais Nin’s birthday every year with a new issue of the only current Anais Nin literary journal, A Cafe in Space. To order your copy, click here.
By the time sixteen (almost seventeen) year old Anais Nin wrote the following passage in her childhood diary (translated from the original French), she, her mother, and two brothers had been in New York for five years. Stubbornly hanging onto her French while her hopes of agains seeing her father, who remained in France, were fading, Anais describes her Christmas Eve and Day:
December 26, 1919. After having waited for Maman on Christmas Eve with great impatience, I had the joy of seeing her arrive with a dozen little packages containing a few small details to decorate the tree. After dinner we began to trim the tree–a tall fir, with its topmost branch kissing the lofty ceiling, as though to wish it a Merry Christmas too. The four of us were busy, happily placing the little candles, balls of every color, snowflakes, stars, little dolls, little bags of candy, and all the other charming things that traditionally disguise a solemn evergreen to make it more human, that is, more attractive to man’s gaze and all his senses. That was quickly done. Then came the moment to place the gifts, the packages nicely wrapped in tissue paper and red ribbon, and crowned with a little tag with a name. What mysteries, what smiles!
Joaquinito’s eyes were worthy of study. Thorvald’s were not quite so big, but almost as expressive. My curiosity, which had been dormant a long time, was also awake but less noisy, like Maman’s. Once again I had the impression of being much older in my ideas, very far away from Thorvald and Joaquinito, unable to share their happy-go-lucky nature, and because of that, closer to Maman, closer to the more serious things in Life.
The time came to go to bed. I took one last look at the holly which I had used to decorate the mantels, lamps, windows, and banister, and the mistletoe hanging on a red ribbon. The tree shone at the end of the dark parlor. Do you believe that I thought only of the beauty of the scene? No, mixed with my somewhat poetic impressions were thoughts that responsibility has taught me. I was thinking also that everything was clean and in order. A woman has to be a practical poet!
The night was disturbed by dreams. The doors were open and I heard all of my dear family rolling over and over, each in his own bed. It wasn’t just the excitement of Christmas night, it was also the cold and the wind. .
At dawn I was awakened by a strange feeling of rain on my face. It was snow that the wind invited into my room and onto my bed, through the open window. I got up to close it and saw the result of the silent work accomplished in the night by the Great Painter. The landscape was majestic! I was so thrilled I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I thought. I must have looked funny, half sitting up in bed, staring out of the window, thinking of many different things, while the dim light of early morning filtered slowly into my room. Of course I was the first one dressed. But the snowstorm had been so violent that I didn’t go to Mass.
Before Thorvald and Joaquinito left, we lighted the tree and sang “Venite Adoremus,” accompanied on the piano by Joaquinito. The packages were opened and immediately the cries of joy began.
Breakfast was a little quieter, for Maman wasn’t feeling well. Afterward, while the boys went out, Maman and I dressed with great care. I had made a big tulle bow for my black velvet dress. Sometimes it amuses me to be a coquette….
The visitors arrived a little while before dinner. The dinner was a success, as almost all dinners are. It’s not very difficult to talk, eat; laugh, talk, eat, laugh until it’s over. Some people talk very little and eat a lot. Others only talk and laugh, but several eat well, talk delightfully and laugh at the same time. That must be a characteristic of a “woman of the world.” Doubtless it’s a good quality! By trying hard, I succeeded in talking a good deal in order to be pleasant. I am not unsociable any more! To avoid being unsociable, one must tell lies and act like a clown, which is very simple for liars (or flatterers–same thing) and for clowns!
After dinner we talked. There must be a reason for this old custom. I think it’s because a starving man is not very pleasant, so after dinner everyone has an opportunity to be agreeable, in order to make up for past mistakes.
To complete the celebration of this beautiful day, I went sledding with Thorvald and Joaquin after dinner. There are always many children and it’s a real party. Even now I can see the hill and the sleds going by, overflowing with children. I can hear the shouts clear into Maman’s room, where I am keeping her company, as she is in bed.
They nicknamed me “White Cap” because of my white beret, and since J oaquinito answers all their questions every time I go, yesterday a few of the boys called “au revoir” and other words that they murdered with the worst American accent. I don’t know why, but the few girls who go there can’t stand me, and while I was wondering why all of them were giving me such unkind looks, I heard three girls talking near me as a sled full of boys went by, shouting (the boys, not the sled): “Hello, White Cap!” “Want to ride on our sled?” One girl said: “See that girl with the white tamo’-shanter? Well, she is the biggest flirt!”
And the other one added: “Most of the boys behave like fools since she comes here.”
Decidedly, I will have to change my hair style!
On Feb. 22, 1916, the day after Anaïs Nin’s 13th birthday, she made this entry into her childhood diary, Linotte (translated from the French):
13 years old! An age when the world gives a glimpse of its abyss of pleasures.
13 years old! An age when the future, which yesterday seemed far away, comes to haunt one’s dreams.
13 years old! An age when a locked heart opens, when one that is open becomes locked.
13 years old! An age when a little girl breaks the frail cocoon and becomes a young lady. I am 13 years old!
It seems to me that yesterday I am newborn or have just died. It seems to me the old Anaïs has nothing to do with the new one. A year ago, 2 years ago, I glimpsed what had just happened like an old remembered story, because memory is like a film, for when the foggy curtain rises, an entire life unrolls before one, all the ups and downs of that long, simple, moving story, “Life.” Nonetheless, yesterday is gone. Today I picked up with the same habits, the same routine, and, I confess, the same disposition. Oh, but it’s difficult to improve oneself. Yesterday when I did the same things, I scolded myself. I promised to stop. Then someone calls me, I turn around, and Plif! it all disappears and I begin again only the regret again later.
Ah, how unthinking we are! And all-powerful God from His throne on high must certainly smile and say: I must make a soul of iron… I don’t think that it would be so frivolous, so forgetful. But then we would be completely useless and I suppose that it’s better to do something wrong that can be mended than nothing.
But I criticize frivolous people and I am one myself. Here is a proof of that. The same evening, after the little party Maman gave for that marvelous 13th birthday, I wrote to Papa, and afterward, the next day, to my confidant. Those are the only two (including Maman) to whom I give my heart and my impressions immediately after the fact, for that is the single instant when they are perfect.
To see posts on Anaïs Nin’s cultural heritage, parents, birthplace, and birth certificate, click here.
By December 1919, Anaïs Nin and her family had been in New York for more than five years. As 1920 approached, sixteen year old Anaïs recorded the following into her diary (Linotte: The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin 1914-1920 400-402):
December 31, 1919
It is 11. Maman is in bed; so are Thorvald and Joaquinito. I am writing—the two of us are waiting for the New Year!
How many things there are that no one can write, no one understand! Tonight I am troubled by many different feelings, for as I realize a New Year is about to begin, I have been going over the old one… Many people generally spend the few hours before midnight making resolutions and promises. I promise nothing; I have such a weak character that I can’t promise to be better, but God knows how much I want to be, with what enthusiasm and will power. I want what is best in me to live. But I know that I have very few things to ask for just now, compared to the infinite number of things for which I should give thanks. What do we lack?
It’s about my gratitude that I can’t write; it’s too lofty, too strange, too vague. My feelings are too sincere to be expressed in mere words!
I can confide my wishes to you—you know that I want to become better and better, you know that Maman’s happiness is above all else for me, you know that my little brothers’ happiness is as important to me as my own, you know my love for the perfection of our home, my search for the most beautiful books, everything from my tiniest whim, my ambitions, up to the tiniest, simplest prayer, and my regrets—you know all that…and more!
The pettiest and most childish thing in other people’s opinion, but the thing I consider a real treasure, is the little bit of my heart and the sweep of my imagination which await the stranger… Will it be this year that I find the sweet light that people call—I am almost ashamed to name it, it’s my only secret—I am thinking about love…
If I didn’t dream so much, I would never have thought of that, but everything beautiful appears in my dreams, and love is so beautiful!
I haven’t told you anything about the dance… I met a boy there whose name I don’t know… I learned the last name of my little neighbor, Raymond McCormick, because he lends me books…
But here I am, waiting for the New Year and talking about little boys, about children! I who am always to serious—no, not serious, I mean calm and indifferent about gentlemen.
…It will soon be midnight. My little “Love” has been weeping at the door for a long time without being able to come in, and I look at the picture for a long time with a smile. If he doesn’t come in this year, I won’t be able to bear the sorrow and I’ll give the picture to someone else…
What a quiet way to await the beginning of another year! There must be many other things to think about that are more important than the passage of time, since so many other things stir our enthusiasm and drive us to act. That proves that Time doesn’t rule through the power of the Inevitable, and that the Inevitable isn’t Life.
There are the bells, the whistles. Happy New Year! Happy New Year!
After Anaïs Nin’s father, Joaquín Nin, abandoned his family in Arachon, France in 1913, her mother took her daughter and two sons, Thorvald and Joaquinito, to New York to begin a new life. Ensconced in a house in Kew Gardens, outside of New York City, Anaïs marked her first Christmas outside of Europe, which was at the time embroiled in World War I. It was a bittersweet day, a mixture of joyous celebration with her extended family, and a mournful longing for the return of her father. The following comes from p. 37 of Linotte: The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin 1914-1920:
December 25, 1914
“Merry Christmas!” That was the shout when we woke up. What a surprise, hanging near the bed…a stocking for each of the three of us. What a lovely Christmas. There was a top for Thorvald, caramels for Joaquinito, oranges, holly, snow (imitation), how beautiful! And that’s not all. Coquito led the way downstairs. New joy, new shouts. A beautiful Christmas tree, all lighted, and toys, it was wonderful. I was in the group of children too. Finally Uncle Gilbert calmed us down and it was with happy hearts and smiling faces that we sang “Adeste Fideles” all together. Then the blond heads and dark heads bent down to read the names and see a beautiful gun, skates, a box of chocolates for Coquito, a little car, a doll for Nuna, shiny proud soldiers for Thorvald, a little boat for Joaquinito, for Anaïs, a beautiful white bed from Aunt Edelmira, a book and a box of writing paper from Maman. Oh, I really don’t deserve it. The cries of joy ended and we had breakfast. The house is full of holly. Holly wreaths hang at the windows. The dining room lamp is ornamented with a beautiful white bell tied round with red ribbon, a charming effect. Afterward Uncle Gilbert, Thorvald and I went to take Communion. How sweet it is to be able to say, I belong to Jesus. The rest of the day was calm and happy. In spite of that, in spite of my happiness, I did not forget Papa. If he had been there, I could have shouted, I am in paradise. I have thought a lot about God’s goodness. I am here with my family, warm, needing nothing. How many children over there are dying of cold and hunger. Here I have Maman, I am happy and can feel her tender kiss. How many children over there weep for their mothers or weep for the father who will never return. I can console myself knowing that I have Papa, who is far away, it’s true, but he is there and I have the hope of receiving his kiss that I long for so much.
It’s not right to be sad on such a happy day, and to avoid that I am going to bed and dream about Papa’s homecoming. One word more. Today I couldn’t help thinking of Christmas 1912, which I spent in Brussels in a sickbed, with an operation in prospect. I couldn’t help telling God, O Jesus, your kindness is infinite. Thanks to your mercy, I have been allowed to have a merry Christmas here in New York with my family. I shall stop. I feel like crying with I remember my dear Brussels.
Recently discovered letters between Joaquín Nin and his daughter Anaïs reveal what has been hidden for decades—his explicit use of the doppelganger theory (which Nin psychoanalyst Otto Rank made famous) to seduce his daughter after essentially twenty years of estrangement. One letter in particular, written on April 29, 1933 (a few months before their first sexual encounter), illustrates this maneuver. Anaïs, who’d shortly beforehand initiated contact with her father, had sent him a copy of part of her childhood diary, which was originally written for him as a sort of “letter” after he’d abandoned Anaïs and her family in 1913. In response, Joaquín says:
You are not only my daughter…you are two daughters, one by flesh and the other by spirit. There are coincidences—some of which are troubling and others which fill me with joy—between your “journal” and the one I wrote—yes—at your age. Like you, I sought the kind of solitude that liberates, and I wept over secret, indefinable disappointments. Like you, I found the ways of the world absurd. Like you, I hated school, because the dogma clipped the wings of my imagination. Like you, I loved flowers, books, music, worms, the sky and stars, the sea, the sun, trees, snow and the faithful claire de lune…benevolent confidants of my secret life.
Like you, I hated lies. Betrayals by my schoolmates made me literally sick with sorrow and despair…or furious to the point of wanting to beat them all senseless. For me, life seemed to be a farce, a sinister game impossible to play without leaving logic behind…and then I lost all my courage… Like you, I tried to raise my heart unto God himself, who, I believed by some miracle, could hear me. I was exactly thirteen years old when a sudden crisis of mysticism threw me into prayer, which I believed was the only possible consolation for my distressed heart and aimless soul. I spent, unbeknownst to my parents, hours and hours at night kneeling on the tiles of my tiny bedroom, reading and reciting prayers, in order to save myself and those I loved from the attacks of evil. The day before my first communion I almost fainted at the feet of the stern Priest to whom my Father had entrusted my religious initiation. Like you, I had a double life, a mysterious, burning and secret life; I spent hours of ecstasy in a world of dreams where all was just, beautiful and sweet. Alas! … “Life,” harsh, hard, ferocious, broke all that little by little. I learned how to work, to fight, to hit, to settle arguments with my fists, just like the others around me. I suffered the effects of the collective madness; I lashed out to defend myself, initially, and then in order to defend my ideas, my concept of the world (?), of life, of society. I fought against my companions, with the exaltations of illumination, so that they would no longer lie, so that they would no longer betray, so that they would be just, so that they would not behave like animals, so that they would not steal, so that they would not rip flowers from the neighbors’ gardens, so that they would not use vile words, so that they would not mock God and the poor, whom my father had taught us how to love and respect. But at the same time I sought, by all possible and conceivable means, to perfect myself because I felt—again like you—that I was filled with defects, ugly, weak and mal-conditioned, in the end, in every way.
…I will see you soon, dear Anaïs! Around your image and your memory I braid garlands of emotional tenderness, and I throw my trust to the heavens which separate us—the beautiful heavens of France—the soft murmer of my grateful heart, the clear message of the love of…
Your father (A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Vol. 6 11-12, 13)
The many parallels between their lives (though there is no evidence to verify his version of his life) create a spiritual link between the two of them, which is followed up with sentimentality. Joaquín’s motivation is up for speculation—he’d always sought a relationship with his daughter, especially during the time shortly after he’d left the family, for his own purposes—he was no doubt jealous of his wife Rosa’s control over Anaïs and her two younger brothers, Thorvald and Joaquín Jr., and often used Anaïs’s lingering affection for him to create a rift between the children and their mother, whom he loathed. Since he had not yet met Anaïs as a mature woman (except for a brief encounter some years previous, after she first arrived in Paris with her husband Hugh Guiler), there is no concrete evidence that he was plotting a physical relationship with her…but he was a seducer by nature, and if he saw himself in Anaïs’s writing, as he indicates in this letter, it is possible that his self-adoration led him to such a scheme even before meeting her some weeks later in Louveciennes.
For a more complete exchange of letters before and just after the incestuous encounter, see A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Vol. 6 (“Prelude to a Symphony: Letters between a father and daughter” pp 5-26).
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.
In 1916, less than two years after arriving in America, 13 year old Anaïs Nin created a monthly “magazine” entitled COMPAGNON DE L’OUBLIE, which roughly translates into Companion of the Forgotten, although it is considered to be Companions of Oblivion in Linotte, the English translation of Nin’s childhood diary. These handwritten magazines contained drawings, poetry, and stories. In Linotte, Nin says:
The poem Nin refers to follows, from No. 10, the October 1916 issue, translated from the French. She seems to be depicting the idyllic family awaiting the birth of its newest member: the gentle mother, the worried father, the loving grandmother, the doting grandfather. And yet little Anaïs throws in a twist at the end…perhaps life is fragile even in a perfect world.
The sun rose clear and proud
O’er a beautiful day in June
The merry birds sang their most beautiful airs
While the pure sky
Shed its protection on all the nests
Big or small
Nature is waiting for someone
Leaned her head o’er her work
A sunbeam illuminated her face
Which expressed joy and happiness
Her fine hands drew the needle
Through little pink and blue shiny ribbons
Folding beneath her activity
Mama is waiting for someone
A man was concerned
It was a great problem
To be a good father
He had never even had dolls
And now he consults the heavens
To learn what it is to love
Someone smaller than he
Papa is waiting for someone
With her wrinkled hands
Grandmother knits a little girl’s shawl
Whether she be beautiful or ugly
Does not matter—She has a grandmother to love her
Her white head wilts,
Falls, but is raised again with strength
Because Grandmother is waiting for someone
Lies a small purse
But here is the old Grandfather
Who, contrary to habit, empties it
And with a sigh slips his pennies into the hand of a shopkeeper
But his face cheers
At the blue and pink and white of the street
For…Grandfather is waiting for someone
Grandfather, Grandmother, Mother, and Father
Contemplate the delicate baby
Who wiggles her pink feet and hands
And her small mouth, so pretty, drawn up in a smile
In the light of a day that does not want to die
On her fawn-colored face an angel wrote “Hope”
Hope, repeats the Father with joy
Hope, murmurs the old Grandfather, Hope
And the old Grandmother exclaims, There is nothing but darkness!
Life is waiting for someone!
On February 24, 1903, at 11 in the morning, this birth certificate was drawn up in Neuilly sur Seine. In it, we learn that Rose Jeanne Anaïs Edelmira Antolina Nin was born at 8:25, the evening of February 21, 1903, to father Joseph Joachim Nin, 23 years old, and to mother Rose Celeste Culmell, 25 years old, at their home on 7, rue du Général Henrion Bertier, Neuilly sur Seine. The midwife was Lucile Marie Anna Mabille, 41 years old. (The spellings of the names reflect the French versions of the Spanish names.)
Interestingly, Rosa’s age is incorrect: she was in fact 31 at this time. Whether this is a clerical error or whether Joaquín and/or Rosa wanted to keep their age difference a secret is pure speculation.
According to Nin biographer Deirdre Bair, Joaquín was not pleased at having a child so early on in his marriage and, perhaps more importantly, his career. He became jealous of the attention Rosa gave her delicate daughter. This seemed to interfere with the performance relationship the couple had…at first Joaquín insisted Rosa perform with him in order to get her away from Anaïs, and then, irrationally, insisted she not perform when he felt Rosa was neglecting both him and Anaïs. From that point forward, Joaquín Nin became a solo performer and Rosa was reduced to a mother who sat in the audience to cheer him.
By the time Anaïs’s brother, Thorvald, was born in Havana in 1905, she was afflicted with typhoid fever, becoming violently ill. Joaquín was repulsed by the sight of his now very thin, sickly daughter and made sure she knew how ugly he found her. By the time Anaïs’s youngest brother, Joaquín, was born in Berlin, the family life had deteriorated to the point of chaos and violence. Beatings were brutal and often, at the hand of the father. The violence between Joaquín Sr. and Rosa intensified to the point where Anaïs feared for her mother’s life (see the introduction to “Prelude to a Symphony—Letters between a father and daughter,” A Café in Space, Vol. 6). By 1913, the family as Anaïs knew it was destroyed when her father abandoned them, and for the rest of her life she would be torn by the loss.
It is also interesting to note that while we readily celebrate Anaïs’s birthday, she rarely refers to it—or to Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or other traditionally notable days—in her adult diary. On Feb. 20, 1925, just before her 22nd birthday, she wrote: “On the eve of my birthday and bowing to tradition, I try to consider thoughtfully the significance of this venerable day—in vain. Dates never agree with my transformations. My real birthday this year was when I read Edith Wharton’s books. My New Year began when I succeeded in having my story run smoothly, when I found a renewed interest in my second book. My holidays are many—every time I go downtown with Hugh, when the agitation of the city, like the quick rhythm of some Spanish danza, makes my heart beat faster. My religious festivals fall on whatever day the sun shines—those are my Mass-going days, when I can pray.”
If you have thoughts to share on this day, Anaïs Nin’s 107th birthday, leave a comment or visit our guestbook.
To read more about Nin’s birthplace, 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 the house.
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.
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.