Hugh Guiler’s Diary

In 1947, just after Anaïs Nin left with Rupert Pole on a several month journey to the west coast, the first swing on what she called the “trapeze” between New York and California and the two men who occupied places in her heart—Hugh Guiler and Rupert Pole—Guiler, undergoing psychiatric care with Dr. Inge Bogner, kept a diary into which he poured his innermost thoughts about himself, his wife Anaïs, and their marriage. Thought to have been destroyed or locked away in parts unknown, it was recently discovered amongst the myriad of file folders and bins in Nin’s study in the Silver Lake house she and Pole occupied in Los Angeles. In this diary, we learn about Guiler’s growing dissatisfaction with the marriage and the underlying reasons as he struggled to come to an understanding of its convoluted dynamics. In the following excerpt, Guiler describes the “two worlds”—the business world and the art world—that have been at the center of the couple’s growing chasm within the relationship:
Hugh Guiler and Anais Nin, 1940s

Hugh Guiler and Anais Nin, 1940s © The Anais Nin Trust

The two worlds, hers and mine, have somehow got to not just tolerate each other but to collaborate in a friendly, and loving way with each other if they are going to have a relationship. I have certainly in direct ways gone out of my way to collaborate with the world of the imagination and to adapt and bend the material world to it, even to twist that material world to it, just as I have twisted in certain ways things that would otherwise have been straight. Perhaps my twisted colon comes from that—”twisting my guts.” I know that in indirect ways I rebelled against this and made her suffer for my having warped and distorted that part of my own nature which like the wisteria she wrote about, insisted on growing in its own direction. She, on the other hand, has been like a sensitive plant to which the material world, represented [by] her father and her mother, came to assume the role of an enemy to her existence as an individual. Ever afterwards for her the only friendly world was inside of Cities of the Interior, House of Incest, the journal, the secret life locked away in safes and vaults, the inner life as refuge…sometimes as a fortress bristling with weapons of attack as well as defence, the moat around the fortress dividing, separating, separating from the earth on the other side—water, the emotional life, not a connection with the earth but a protection against the intrusion of all earth except the kind that existed inside the fortress—the little patch of earth that had been cultivated so long that it was a very private garden in which strange selected plants not from soil at all, but from air like the Spanish moss she sent me, so symbolically.

Left alone for the entire summer of 1947 while Nin traveled with her fervent lover Pole (under the pretence of traveling with a friend), Guiler found the solitude to explore his most intimate feelings and to express them in words.

To read the entire entry from which this excerpt is derived, see “Leaping Ahead of Reality: Hugh Guiler’s diary” in Volume 7 of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, pp. 17-26.

Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day #14

Myth #14: It was Anaïs Nin’s wish that Delta of Venus be published.

Fact: According to John Ferrone, Nin’s editor at Harcourt in New York, it was Rupert Pole who wanted the erotica to be published, predicting its bestseller status. For years, Pole tried to convince Nin that the erotic stories she wrote in the 1940s for a dollar a page were not only publishable, but would be immensely popular. Nin, however, insisted that the erotica was “imitative” of masculine pornography and nothing special, just pages she dashed off with “tongue in cheek.” Once Ferrone saw the stories, he immediately recognized their uniqueness and literary value. After he convinced Nin that her stories were more than worthy of publication, she finally gave in, although she didn’t live long enough to see Delta of Venus reign on the bestseller list for 36 weeks. Ferrone wonders whether she would have been disillusioned—that something she wrote as a “joke” would outsell all her other titles combined.

deltaofvenus-coverAlthough Nin wrote in the postscript of the book that in spite of only having male pornography as a model, she “was intuitively using a woman’s language,” Ferrone questions whether she actually felt that way or was simply capitulating to his own opinion that she was a pioneer in feminine erotic writing.

For John Ferrone’s wonderful recounting of the story of Delta of Venus, see A Café in Space, Volume 7, pp. 53-61.

Vol. 7 of A Café in Space: The Anais Nin Journal debuts Feb. 21

In Volume 7 of A Café in Space, which is due Feb. 21 and is ready for ordering now, we examine Anaïs Nin’s husband Hugh Guiler, separating myth from fact. Was he the unsuspecting cuckold many have been led to believe he was, or is there another side to the story? Recently discovered correspondence and diary passages shed light on the Nin-Guiler marriage from his point of view, in the form of recently recovered correspondence between Guiler and his wife as well as extensive excerpts from a diary he kept during perhaps the most critical point in their relationship—when Nin took her first swing on the bicoastal “trapeze” with Rupert Pole.

 

cafeinspace_2010coverAlso included is an excerpt from the unpublished diary of Anaïs Nin from 1944-5 which gives us a glimpse of the emotional upheaval she experienced since her arrival in New York in 1939—in the midst of an unraveling marriage and a surge in creativity, she continued her search for the one man who could save her from her demons, but in the end found strength and resolve within herself in an inspiring story of psychological decimation and rebirth.

 

A Café in Space is the only current comprehensive source of serious critical study of Anaïs Nin’s contributions to literature. In Volume 7, Tristine Rainer, who has studied Nin’s work since befriending her nearly forty years ago, allows us to newly appreciate The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 2 by illustrating that Nin’s emotional sense of time can be compared with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. John Ferrone, a former editor at Harcourt, reveals that if it had been Anaïs Nin’s decision alone, Delta of Venus never would have been published; he then gives his first-hand account of how the book ended up outselling all her other titles combined and its implications in her literary résumé. Academy Award nominee Kim Krizan uncovers a shocking letter from Hugh Guiler that will forever change your impressions of Anaïs Nin’s beleaguered husband. Several young Nin scholars share their important work in Volume 7, especially in the area of reading Nin through the lens of feminist theory.

 

Finally, Nin biographer Deirdre Bair speaks about issues relating to Anaïs Nin: A Biography, describing in detail how the book came to be, and also responds to criticism it received by some of Nin’s most important supporters, including Rupert Pole and Gunther Stuhlmann.

 

In this editor’s opinion, this could be the most poignant issue yet of A Café in Space.

Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day #13

Myth #13: Anaïs Nin’s two husbands, Hugh Guiler and Rupert Pole, were unaware of each other until after Nin’s death.

Fact: Rupert Pole knew Anaïs Nin was married to Hugh Guiler shortly after meeting her in 1947 in New York. Nin and Pole made a famous cross-country trip to California during that summer, which commenced her “trapeze” life, swinging back and forth between Guiler in New York and Pole in California for the rest of her life. In 1955, after she convinced Pole that she’d divorced Guiler, Nin reluctantly married Pole in Quartzite, Arizona. For the next 11 years, Pole believed he was Nin’s legal husband, and Guiler believed he was also. The truth is that Pole was never legally married to Nin because she was still married to Guiler.

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Anais Nin's and Rupert Pole's marriage certificate

Once Nin’s diaries were about to be published, she realized her impending fame was about to bring the kind of scrutiny which would surely shed light on her bigamy. So, in 1966, she told Pole that she was still married to Guiler. She blamed Guiler for not being able to live without her and that he needed her emotional and financial support. She convinced Pole that she no longer had sexual relations with Guiler (which is most likely not true) and that her visits were necessary to keep him happy. Once Pole found out that it was Guiler’s money that had made it possible for Nin to financially help Pole and to spend much of each year with him in the first place, he agreed to the annulment of his “marriage” with Nin. The annulment occurred June 16, 1966.

Perhaps a more intriguing question is, did Guiler know about Pole? The popular belief is that he only found out after Nin’s death when she was mentioned as “Mrs. Pole” in her Los Angeles obituary. After Nin’s death in 1977, Guiler wrote a letter to Pole and in the first paragraph told him that he had been aware of his and Nin’s “special relationship” for more than ten years and that he was grateful to Pole for caring for her during her final illness. (The full text of this letter will appear in the 2011 edition of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal.) The tone is congenial and business-like.

So, in short, while they didn’t meet until after Nin’s death, Pole and Guiler knew about each other for at least the last 10 years of her life.

Anaïs Nin’s Artistic Associations: Daisy Aldan

During the 1950s, New Yorker Daisy Aldan (1918-2001), poet and renegade publisher, gained notice for her revolutionary translation of enigmatic French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s masterpiece, “Un Coup De Des” (“A Toss of the Dice”), and was the first to open the door to serious study of Mallarmé in the English-speaking world (the translation can be found in To Purify the Words of the Tribe). She founded Tiber Press in 1953, publishing her own work and that of Village poets such as John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, James Schuyler, Storm De Hirch, Charles Olson, and Harriet Zinnes, as well as the artwork of Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchel, Larry Rivers, Robert Motherwell, and Grace Hartigan.  Her Folder Magazine was for years a home to the work of then-unknown artists whose careers in many cases became stellar.

Although a recipient of many awards and Pulitzer Prize nominations, Aldan’s own career never achieved the heights of some who filled Folder Magazine’s pages. To support herself, she worked as a teacher at New York’s prestigious High School of Art and Design, where her presence became an institution; she retired in 1973 to devote herself to her writing. To this day, her former students’ blogs remember her glowingly.

In 1959, Aldan befriended Anaïs Nin, who at that time was a struggling novelist with a small but dedicated following. Aldan and Nin shared bold points of view, and both suffered the trials of self-publishing. Both women had to wage fierce battles to be heard and put into print. Nin noted in her diary, “Daisy is a magnificent poet, of the highest quality, yet she has to publish her poetry herself. Her teacher’s salary goes into that.”

Daisy Aldan and Anaïs Nin collaborated on many projects, including a 1960 reading of “Un Coup De Dés” at the Maison Française in New York, where Nin read the original French, and Aldan read her English translation. The reading was recorded and broadcast on radio. Aldan was also one of Nin’s New York friends who helped her keep her “trapeze life” (her bicoastal relationships with Rupert Pole and Hugh Guiler) from imploding. She often took calls from Rupert Pole (whom Nin told she was staying with Aldan) and explained that Anaïs “had just stepped out” and would have her return the call. She then referred to a card index upon which Nin’s schedule was written, call her with Rupert’s message, and she would then call him back, never missing a beat. According to Aldan, she was but one of many who partook in this very complicated process.

Daisy Aldan, 1970s

Daisy Aldan, 1970s

During the early 1960s, Aldan took over the editorship of poetry for the French/English literary magazine Two Cities which Anaïs Nin had co-edited. Contributors included Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and Richard Wright. In the meantime, Aldan’s poetry was gaining recognition, and it was during this time (1963) she, through Two Cities Press in Paris, published her first acclaimed volume, The Destruction of Cathedrals and Other Poems (all of which is now included in her Collected Poems of Daisy Aldan), with several more to come. There was never an end to her experimentation in style, whether it was poetic or visual. She worked until her health began to decline in the mid-1990s, still managing to publish the translations Mallarme’s major verse poems in 1998, and her Collected Poems was published less than a year after her death in 2001.

The late Stanley Kunitz, when he was Poet Laureate of the United States, said of Aldan: “The world that engages her imagination lies beyond the ‘merely temporal and physical.’ Like Mallarmé, to whom she has devoted much of her primary and influential work as a translator, her poems evoke an interior landscape of dream and reverie, from which she ‘wakes to the miraculous.’”

Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day #10

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)

Gonzalo More, 1930s

Gonzalo More, 1930s

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!
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Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day #9

Myth #9: Anaïs Nin kept a continuous diary from age 11 to her death.

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.

Book of Music (L) and Book of Pain

Book of Music (L) and Book of Pain

Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day #8

Myth #8: Henry and June is exactly as Anaïs Nin wrote it.

Fact: Anaïs Nin’s first unexpurgated diary, Henry and June, which came out some nine years after her death in 1977, was as heavily edited as her original Diary 1 (1966). Nin did most of the editing of Diary 1, which mainly concerned cutting the sexual affair with Henry Miller and her erotic longing for his wife June. The material in Henry and June (i.e. the Miller/June entanglement), according to Nin’s wishes, was not to be published until after the death of her husband, Hugh Guiler, who died in 1985. The task of editing was given to Harcourt’s John Ferrone, who edited Delta of Venus, Nin’s only bona fide bestseller. Ferrone described himself as a “hard-nosed editor” with little use for material not on topic, repetitious, or muddled. His goal was for Henry and June to read smoothly, as a novel would, and to not stray from its premise—the Anaïs-Henry-June triangle. Rupert Pole, Nin’s “California husband” and Trustee of the Anaïs Nin Trust, however, did not take well to Ferrone’s extensive cuts and rewording of Nin’s text and let him know about it in his letters. Ferrone found himself defending his editorial decisions while Pole often made demands that certain passages be left in, or left alone. This led to a rather contentious working relationship between the two, who otherwise were very fond of each other.

Pole had put his foot down and demanded: “as the trustee of the Anaïs Nin Trust I must insist that you restore the following passages:” (and he listed no less than nine). (A Café in Space 4 16)

Ferrone summed up his deletions and changes by saying, in a letter to Pole: “I took my cue from Anaïs’s own editing of Diary I. She rewrote passages that were unclear and, believe me, she deleted things that were excessive, not because they related to Henry but because, from the vantage point of maturity, she knew they were a mistake.” (A Café in Space 4 18)

One of the most contested passages was the final one. Ferrone didn’t want to use what Pole suggested at all, but finally agreed to use an edited form of it. About this, he said:

“I know you will pooh-pooh all of this, but the ending is too important to leave as it is. This is how I would like to edit it:

‘Last night I wept, because the process by which I have become woman has been painful, because I am no longer a child with a child’s blind faith. I wept because my eyes are opened to reality, to Henry’s selfishness, to June’s need of power. Yet I can still love passionately, humanly. I wept because from now on I will weep less. I wept because I have lost my pain and am not yet accustomed to its absence.’” (A Café in Space 4 14-15)

Pole responded with:

“Anaïs’ ending must be preserved as she wrote it. The repetition of ‘I wept’ is the essence of Anaïs’ poetic prose style.

‘…my insatiable creativity which must concern itself with others and cannot be sufficient to itself. I wept because I could not believe anymore and I love to believe.’ This is the essence of Anaïs’ philosophy which she maintained throughout her life.I can still love passionately without believing. That means I love humanly. That means my imagination has ceased to embellish desperately—so that there is no more danger of delusion for me. I wept because there was no more danger and I had lost my faith in Christmas.’ This was her belief (in Linotte) that her father would join them at Christmas.” (A Café in Space 4 17)

Ferrone replied:

“I throw up my hands and restore the passages you insist upon, but I do not agree with you. You lack objectivity.” (A Café in Space 4 17)

However, the published version of Henry and June ends with:

“Last night I wept. I wept because the process by which I have become a woman was painful. I wept because I was no longer a child with a child’s blind faith. I wept because my eyes were opened to reality—to Henry’s selfishness, June’s love of power, my insatiable creativity which must concern itself with others and cannot be sufficient to itself. I wept because I could not believe anymore and I love to believe. I can still love passionately without believing. That means I love humanly. I wept because from now on I will weep less. I wept because I have lost my pain and I am not yet accustomed to its absence.

“So Henry is coming this afternoon, and tomorrow I am going out with June.” (Henry and June 274)

The ending was not exactly how Pole envisioned it, nor what Ferrone wanted, nor what Anaïs Nin wrote verbatim in her diary.

In short, both of these well-intentioned men wanted the best of Anaïs Nin to shine through Henry and June, just as they believed Nin herself wanted. The verdict is the readers’ to make.

The complete exchange of letters between Rupert Pole and John Ferrone can be found in A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Vol. 4, 2007.
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One Hundred Biographers: Deirdre Bair explains her bibliographic decisions

Following is a portion of the interview I conducted with Deirdre Bair that deals with some of the questions that have been asked:

 

PH: How do you feel about Anaïs Nin, the woman, 14 years after the publication of your biography?

 

DB: More and more, as the years pass, I recognize how important she was as a woman of her time. She really paved the way—many ways—for women at a time when everything, in the world of women, was in flux and changing. She allowed women to realize all the possibilities that were out there in the world for them. And she did this so instinctively and naturally. A partial response to one of your questions—you’d mentioned how some women had said, “She ruined my life. I did what she told me to do, ended relationships and went on into the world.” Well, there were an equal number who said, “She gave me my life. She raised possibilities for me that I’d been to timid to embrace before I read her writing. After that, my life changed dramatically.” So I would say that for every woman who said, “She ruined my life because I did what she did and it didn’t work out for me,” there were an equal number who said, “She allowed me to realize so many possibilities for myself.” So I think the more we look back on her during the historic time in which she lived and wrote, we’re going to realize the importance of her contributions, not only to arts and letters, but to life.

 

PH: How do you respond to the criticism that your biography is judgmental and moralistic?

 

DB: I would to tell those people to look at the mail I received when the book was published. For every critic who accused me of that, there are other critics who said, “You were too easy on her. You were too soft on this terrible, dreadful person.” So what we’re looking at here is an individual response on the part of the reader, and I actually welcome both judgments. Basically I think it really comes down to the reader. Those who adore Anaïs will be disappointed—and Rupert Pole and Gunther Stuhlmann were certainly first among them.

 

PH: This is a question to which I know some would like an answer: did you like Anaïs Nin?

 

DB: I try to not like or dislike anybody I write about. Writing is my work; my life is elsewhere. I’m a scholar. I’m an intellectual and cultural historian of literature, and my job is to write a book that future generations will use in order to form their own opinions. It’s not my job to like or dislike; it’s my job to understand, and to present the totality of the person’s life and work with as much integrity and objectivity as possible.

 

In response to questions I e-mailed to Deirdre Bair (including why she chose to term Anaïs Nin a “major minor writer”), she responded:

 

Dear Paul:

 

I’ve been re-reading my introduction to [Anaïs Nin: A Biography] since this afternoon, when I received your email request to respond to critics. As you know, I’ve published two books since I wrote the biography of Anaïs Nin and I am now on deadline for a third, so I haven’t re-read any part of the book since the last time I had to give a talk about it, and that was 3 years ago in Australia. But today, in response to your thoughtful query, I opened the book and re-read my introduction carefully and thoroughly. I was surprised by a number of things that made me wonder how much “reason” versus how much “emotion” had colored the perceptions readers brought to bear on their responses to the book.

 

My first response to the readers who are hostile to the book was to note from my very first sentence, how clearly and succinctly I told them what my aims, goals, and intentions were in writing the book. In doing so, I enumerated all the charges against Anaïs that I had heard before I started to write—about the “liary,” or how she did not “deserve” a bio such as mine (p. xvi), and how I believed it was the biographer’s responsibility to answer such charges.

 

I explained to the reader how I went about my work, (beginning on p. xvi and continuing on xvii). The paragraphs on p. xvii beginning “In every instance” and ending with “…evidence for further scholarly inquiry” explain in full how I worked to produce an “objective” biography, how I avoided attaching labels to her, and how I felt the obligation “to allow readers to form their own opinions about this woman I found so compellingly complex.”

 

Then, on p. xviii, I explain in full how and why I came to adopt Cynthia Ozick’s sophisticated and well-reasoned argument for calling the neglected novelist Arthur Chester a “major minor writer” and for applying this term to Anaïs Nin. I believe those several paragraphs clearly and carefully explain what I meant, so I choose not to try to explain my reasoning further here. I urge readers to re-read these paragraphs carefully, objectively, and with “reason” and without the excess of “emotion” that many bring to their thinking about Anaïs Nin.

 

I urge them to read the concluding paragraphs on p. xviii. After that, if they wish to think negatively of the book I wrote, that is certainly their prerogative. But I would like to end this email with two remarks I live by as I practice the craft of biography.

 

The first is by Desmond MacCarthy, literary critic and friend of Virginia Woolf. He said the biographer must be “the artist under oath.” In other words, the biographer has the moral obligation to tell the truth, but to do so in a book that is every bit as interesting to read as a fine novel.

 

Woolf herself gets the last word here, for I believe that if I have a Credo, this is it: “Each of us has as many as a thousand selves. Happy the biographer who captures six or seven of them.”

 

That was what I tried to do as I wrote about the life and work of Anaïs Nin.

 

Sincerely,

Deirdre Bair

 

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

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.

 

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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

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