Anaïs Nin began her famous diary when she was just eleven years old. The diary, which she kept for the rest of her life, eventually filled more than two hundred manuscript volumes, nearly forty thousand pages. Because of her frank writing about sexuality and her sometime promotion of antiquated feminine roles and values, Nin’s diaries and other writings have remained controversial. At one time a source of much debate among feminist writers and scholars, Nin’s work has fallen from favor in recent years. Nevertheless, her contribution to the art and study of autobiography is undeniable.
The daughter of an esteemed Spanish composer and a French classical singer, as a child Nin met some of the finest artists and performers in Europe. When her father abandoned the family, Nin’s mother moved with her daughter and two sons from Barcelona to New York City. To earn money during this time, Nin worked as a model for artists and clothing designers. When she was twenty, she married a banker named Hugh Guiler and moved with him to Paris.
In Paris, Nin continued her diary, but she also began writing work she hoped would be published. She sought contact with other writers and artists, becoming acquainted with Henry Miller and his wife, June. The Millers introduced Nin to other artists and, as some of their associates were drug addicts and prostitutes, to the city’s seamier side. Henry Miller and Nin became very close and he had a significant influence on her life and work. During this period, Nin wrote her first major works, The House of Incest (1936), and a group of novellas, The Winter of Artifice (1939).
Nin became interested in psychoanalysis in the 1930s and sought treatment from several well-known analysts. She incorporated her experiences in analysis into both her diary and her public writing. Her novels were to become very introspective, taking self-exploration and awareness as important themes. Much of Nin’s work is replete with the surreal, dreamlike, private images often associated with personal and psychological investigation. Though some have dismissed this writing as overly abstract and self-absorbed, others have championed it as poetic and groundbreaking.
In Paris, Nin moved between the artists’ world and her more conventional life as a banker’s wife. Her many illicit love affairs, with, among others, both Henry and June Miller, her analysts, and her father, provided material for Nin’s erotic fiction, much of which remained unpublished until her death in 1977. In addition, the sexually explicit writing in her diaries was left out of the heavily edited editions published during her lifetime. Later editions restore the diaries, including material Nin feared would hurt her husband and other loved ones.
Nin, Miller, and several other writers founded Siana Editions in Paris, to publish their own work and that of other avant-garde writers. When Nin returned to New York to escape World War II, she again had trouble finding a publisher for her work. Ultimately, she used her own printing press to set and print her books. She asked friends to buy copies to support her publishing endeavors. “I would love to give you a copy of this new book I am bringing out as it includes the story inspired by your home’s great beauty,” Nin wrote to Carl Van Vechten of Under a Glass Bell, “but I do need subscriptions to pay the bookbinder as that is the only part of the work I cannot do with my own hands.”1