A review of The Diary of Others: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin (1955-1966) which serves as a celebration of the remarkable life of Anaïs Nin…
by: Arthur Hoyle
Anaïs Nin was a novelist and diarist, and, for some, an iconic figure of women’s liberation and self-assertion. Her novels, unconventional in form and style, achieved modest commercial success and brought her critical recognition as a literary innovator, but her principal claim to fame were her diaries, which were published serially between the years 1966 and 2021 to great acclaim.
Nin began her diary when she was eleven years old and living in Cuba with her family. As she tells us, her motivation for starting the diary was to gain the attention and love of her father Joaquin, a composer and concert pianist who neglected her and her siblings while pursuing attractive young women. The diary is a record of her inner life and her interactions with family members, friends, and lovers.
As a child, Nin left her diary lying on a table in the family home, an offering to the father who showed scant interest in her. But only her mother took the trouble to read it. Later in her life, as a mature woman, Nin captured her father’s full attention by sleeping with him on more than one occasion, a taboo that she repeated by also sleeping with her brother Thorvald and her cousin Eduardo. These transgressions she duly recorded in the diary, flavoring it with sensationalistic entries that appealed to the prurient interests of a reading public always eager for scandalous gossip about celebrities and artists.
The Diary of Others covers the years 1955-1966, a period marked by her experiment in bigamy and her struggle to be taken seriously by the American literary community. The Diary has three principal subjects: her juggling of two marriages — one to Rupert Pole based in Los Angeles, the other to Hugo Guiler, based in New York — her writing career, and her sessions with the psychoanalyst Dr. Inge Bogner, through which she sought to understand herself and come to terms with her wayward impulses.
The Diary of Others is divided into two books: The Trapeze Life (1955-1958), which deals primarily with her juggling of two husbands, and The Others (1958-1966), which recounts her struggle to build her literary reputation and find a publisher for all the volumes of her diary.
The Diary brings the reader into Nin’s life in March 1955, the month and year she married her lover Rupert Pole, making her a bigamist and cuckolding Rupert and her other husband Hugo. But because she does not refer to her marriage to Rupert in the opening entry, it’s helpful to know some of the back story.
Nin came to New York from Paris in 1939 with Hugo, hoping to build a literary career in America. In 1947, riding in an elevator on her way to a party in Manhattan, she met Rupert, a strikingly handsome down-on-his-luck actor eighteen years her junior. He was twenty-eight, she forty-four, a fact she was able to conceal from him because she looked to be the thirty-two year old woman she claimed to be. This was the first of many lies on which she built their relationship.
With Hugo away on business, Rupert and Anaïs were soon in bed in her apartment. Rupert was about to depart for California to prepare for a job with the U.S. Forest Service and to attend to his ailing father, who lived in Los Angeles. Rupert’s mother, now remarried to the architect Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, also lived in Los Angeles. Rupert invited Nin to accompany him on his cross country drive to Los Angeles, and Nin, smitten by Pole’s physical beauty and gratified by his sexual prowess, unhesitatingly agreed. She told Hugo that she was making the trip with a woman who was their mutual friend, then implored the friend to avoid running into Hugo in New York. Thus Nin began to assemble the scaffolding of lies and duplicity required to support the trapeze on which she swung between two men, two coasts, and two aspects of herself.
Nin’s juggling act, to switch metaphors, was complicated by the frequency of her transitions between the two lives. Both Hugo and Rupert expected her to stay with them for extended periods of time. Rupert, who knew that Nin was married to Hugo, wanted her to divorce him, and Nin promised to do this “when the time was right.” Hugo, apparently, did not know of his wife’s involvement with Rupert. To explain her frequent trips to California, which Hugo, a banker, paid for, Nin claimed that she went there to rest and recover her health, compromised by the stress of America’s rejection of her writing. Ostensibly, she was staying on a remote ranch in the mountains run by an eccentric woman who did not have a telephone, and who used a P.O. Box for a mailing address. In fact, she was living with Rupert in Sierra Madre, in a spartan cabin provided by the Forest Service.
Since she had told Rupert that she was estranged from Hugo, not sleeping in the same bedroom with him (which was true, because he snored), and planning to divorce him, she needed an excuse to return frequently to New York. Her excuse was that she was employed by a magazine there to write articles on America’s cultural scene, and that her job, as well as her literary career, required her to be in New York frequently. As proof of her employment, Nin brought four hundred dollars with her on her trips to Los Angeles, and gave the money to Rupert for him to save towards purchase of a house for them to live in. In fact, the four hundred dollars were her allowance from Hugo.
These were the two primary fictions on which Nin swung back and forth on her trapeze. But as her circumstances changed, she would have to invent more lies. And all the lies, to be credible, would have to be corroborated by people who knew her, people in New York who knew Hugo, and people in Los Angeles who knew Rupert. To keep track of the web she was weaving, Nin created The Lie Box, a three-by-five card holder. She recorded on the cards the lies she had told, their circumstances, and the people to whom she had confided the lies. The Lie Box was, in effect, an index to the fictive lives she was leading.
The diary entries in Book One consist of copies of letters she wrote to Hugo while she was in Los Angeles (addressed “Darling”), copies of letters she wrote to Rupert (“Darling Chiquito”) while she was in New York — or Paris, or Acapulco — with Hugo, reflections on her situation, commentaries about her literary friends (Gore Vidal, James Leo Herlihy, James Merrill, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell), and summaries of her sessions with the psychoanalyst Dr. Inge Bogner, whom she saw frequently for relief from the guilt and anxiety that tormented her.
A reader might ask at this point, why did Nin live this way? Why did she choose to make illusion her reality?
Bogner believed that Nin needed both Hugo and Rupert in order to have a whole man, a provider/lover. Psychically, Nin had fused them into a single being. Nin’s biographer, Deirdre Bair, observed that Hugo was the father figure who protected her, supported her, gave her everything except the kind of sex she craved. Rupert satisfied her sexually, kept her youthful, but offered her a barren, boring life as domesticated woman burdened with household chores and no creative fulfillment.
Nin was fully aware of the attractions and deficiencies of each of her husbands. Hugo gave her luxury, supported her literary ambitions by funding publication of her novels, and worked on himself through analysis with Bogner to become emotionally more connected to Nin. She wrote of Hugo, “He did not give me life or pleasure; he gave me protection and this protection was false.” She regarded Hugo as neurotic, emotionally crippled, and in desperate need of her. “He is very ill,” she wrote. “I must take care of him.” With these words, she projected onto Hugo her own need.
Nin loved Rupert for his body, but recoiled from his conventional life, listening to the news every evening during dinner and reading Time. “As much as I desire Rupert,” she wrote to herself, “I dread the shrunken life, the absence of a mutual creativity and Rupert’s goal of a home and a domestic woman.”
Another motive for Nin’s bigamy may have been her fear of becoming like her mother Rosa, a woman abandoned by her husband who had gone in search of youthful sexual partners. Nin believed she had responded to her father’s abandonment by resorting to the same promiscuous drives that took him away. In The Diary she wrote, “I feared my father’s Don Juanism because I possessed the same propensities.” She justified her numerous affairs with the flattering thought that “there is no one else who has given as many people in one lifetime the feeling of not being alone.” Here again, she imposes on others her own needs and fears and then imagines herself as a caregiver.
Nin, however, did have insight into her own psychic drama. “In neurotic relationships there are never just two. There is always a third person…The third person is the parent who is never truly dispossessed, cast out, liquidated. In my case, it was the other woman who took my father away, my first defeat, the kind that condemns one to suffer a pattern of defeats.” Looked at in this light, Nin’s incest with her father may have been her way to become one of the young women for whom he had abandoned her.
The other subject of The Diary, her struggle to achieve literary recognition, financial success, and fame, while a concern in Book One, becomes the main subject of Book Two. Because the entries in Book Two report on her dealings with publishers, agents, and film producers, they will be of less interest to the general reader than the entries in Book One, which give access to her inner life and her psychological states as she swung back and forth on her trapeze.
In addition to the diary, Nin wrote novels. Through them she rendered the dream world of the erotic and the surreal. They were loosely, if at all, plotted, and progressed through emotional association. They resembled more the writings of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Lawrence Durrell, than the realist school of American writers such as Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and Norman Mailer. Considering that Nin’s cultural background was European, this is not surprising. Like her paramour and literary soulmate Henry Miller, Nin drew on a tradition of writing that explored inner psychological states rather than external reality.
Nin’s fiction was not well-received in America, and her books did not sell well here. This rejection touched a nerve in her, tapping into her anger over her father’s rejection, and resulted in animosity towards Americans and the American cultural scene. As rejections of her work accumulated, forcing her to self-publish through her own press on Hugo’s financial support, her rage bubbled up in diatribes against American coarseness and ignorance. “I hated America with a hatred so great, so magnificent, that it is the equivalent of a great love,” she wrote in February 1956. “It has released upon the world the greatest flood of vulgarity…America is destructive. Because it is not creative. It can’t create, and so it will destroy.”
Nin had a grand plan for her literary career. She wanted gradually to build her reputation in preparation for the sale of her principal literary asset, her diary, which spread over 150 handwritten volumes. She intended to make a double killing with the diary: sale of the original manuscripts to a collector for $100,000, and sale of the publishing rights of the revised and edited diary to a commercial publishing house.
In this project she was assisted by three men: her agent Gunther Stuhlmann, who arranged for publication of her novels in foreign markets; Alan Swallow, an independent US publisher who offered to publish her novels and her diary; and Henry Miller, who gifted to Nin the copyright for his letters to her. These letters, published in 1965 as Letters to Anaïs Nin, enabled Nin to ride the whirlwind of Miller’s fame following the US publication in 1961 of his banned novel Tropic of Cancer.
Suddenly, in the mid-sixties, that era of cultural upheaval in America, Nin’s star was ascendant. The first volume of the revised and edited diary was published in 1966 as The Diary of Anaïs Nin. Harcourt Brace, in partnership with Alan Swallow, cautiously brought out an edition of 3,000 copies, which sold out in a week. More editions followed. All told, seventeen volumes of her diary were published between 1966 and 2021. They brought her both financial independence and literary fame. Reviews were favorable, fan mail poured in, lecture invitations put her in touch with her readers. Nin was jubilant. Her last entry in The Diary of Others, dated May 1966, reads: “A month of good reviews, love letters, appearances on television…A month which made up for every disappointment, every poison pen, for all the past obstacles. The sound of doors opening is deafening! Suddenly love, praise , flowers, invitations to lecture.” The abandoned eleven year old girl had been recovered.
Nin continued her bi-coastal life with Hugo and Rupert until her death in 1977, although her marriage to Rupert had to be annulled for tax reasons. She became a leading figure of the feminist movement, admired for her candor about women’s sexuality and her defiance of convention. Yet she remains a tragic figure, tormented by irreconcilable impulses in her character and her memories of childhood unhappiness. Through psychoanalysis and self-study, she achieved profound insight into the complexities of her nature, and became a penetrating observer of the characters of her friends, lovers, and husbands. But she did not transcend her dualities and become a wholly integrated individual. She feared solitude and boredom. She suffered relentless guilt and anxiety over the duplicity that was required to live out her dream life. The struggle within Nin to reconcile the conflicting forces in her nature — the spiritual and the sensual — led her to objectify her lovers/husbands and cast them as characters in her personal drama. So in this sense she used them, and loved them as self-objects.
Nin belongs to a sparse but influential group of writers whose interest is in the evolution of individual consciousness and the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity. They reject the naturalistic/realistic mode of storytelling favored in America and on best seller lists, preferring to use language to trace the process of individuation, self-realization, or enlightenment, call it what you will. Nin’s diaries were her vehicle on this voyage of self-knowledge and self-transformation.
Arthur Hoyle is a former educator and documentary filmmaker, now writing non-fiction. His biography of Henry Miller, The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur, was published in March 2014 by Skyhorse/Arcade. In March 2020 Sunbury Press published his second non-fiction book, Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain, a collective biography of exemplary American men and women whose lives span the history of America since the Puritan settlements in New England. The book was a Finalist in the Biography/Historical category of the 2020 National Indie Excellence Awards and the Winner in the Historical Biography category of the 2021 Independent Press Awards. He has also published essays and reviews in Huffington Post, Empty Mirror, Counterpunch, AIOTB: As It Ought To Be, and Terror House Magazine. He now regularly reviews biography for the New York Journal of Books. Visit www.arthurhoyle.com for links to his work and his podcast interviews. He was born in New York City, and worked professionally in Los Angeles after receiving his M.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. He now lives in Santa Barbara, California.