Anaïs Nin kept a diary from the age of 11. Then her lover published the unexpurgated tell-all pages of her libertine lifestyle and scandalized the literary world.
1. She Was A Dauntless Diarist
Anaïs Nin was a prolific diarist. Given her libertine lifestyle, her diaries certainly made for fascinating—not to mention, scandalous—reading. From her early days writing naughty stories, to her secret marriage and double-life, the pages of Nin’s journals read like a drama. And that’s to say nothing about her forbidden father fling.
2. She Was Exotic
The controversial literary figure that everyone would come to know (and mostly love) as Anaïs Nin was born just outside of Paris, France in February 1903 to Cuban parents. Her full given name—Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell—was almost as complicated, exotic and unspeakable as her many romantic liaisons. Almost.
3. She Was Estranged From Her Father
Nin’s father was the famed Cuban pianist and composer, Joaquín Nin. It’s not entirely clear why, but when she was just two-years old, he decided to play a different tune and her parents split up. Sadly, Nin would grow up largely estranged from her paradoxical father. In good time, however, they would have the most dramatic reunion of any father-daughter duo.
4. She Moved Around A Lot
After her parents divorce, Nin moved to Barcelona, Spain with her mother and brothers, Thorvald Nin and Joaquín Nin-Culmell. They were, by all accounts, a close-knit family—though, perhaps, not as close as Nin would have preferred. Decades later, the confessions in Nin’s unredacted diaries would cause a rift in the family.
5. She Wrote In Many Languages
Nin and her siblings moved to New York with their mother when she was still just a child. The massive cultural swings in her childhood shaped her later writing in a profound way. She described French as “the language of her heart”, Spanish as “the language of her ancestors” and English as “the language of her intellect”.
Her native tongue, however, was scandal.
6. She Started Journaling At 11
Nin began writing the diaries that would eventually make her famous at the age of just 11. Before she could publish them and make a fortune, however, she had to live a pretty wild life to inspire the pages of her famous memoirs. Suffice to say, she didn’t waste any time in getting started doing whatever it is her libertine heart desired.
7. She Was A Muse For Artists
Nin went to the school of hard knocks. She dropped out of formal schooling at the age of 16 and abandoned her Catholic faith at the same time. According to her later diaries, she capitalized on her naturally sensual appeal by working as an artists’ model for a time. With looks and wits like hers, however, she didn’t have to work for long.
8. She Left Her Husband Out Of It
Shortly after dropping out of high school and losing her religion, Nin met the wealthy banker, Hugh Parker Guiler. Despite the fact that Nin had been keeping detailed diaries at the time, we don’t know much about how she and Guiler met (more on that curious mystery later). What we do know is that they quickly fell in love.
9. She Returned To Paris
In March 1923, presumably not long after meeting Guiler, Nin tied the knot to her Boston banker. She opted to have the wedding in her parents’ native Cuba but there’s no indication where the couple spent their torrid honeymoon. Instead of living in New York, however, the couple moved to Paris where Nin found her people.
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10. She Was Flamboyant
Nin threw herself into the literary community of Paris, replete with all kinds of bohemian characters. She even took up flamenco dancing with the famous Spanish dancer, Francisco Miralles Arnau, and developed a reputation for her “flamboyant” personality. The only thing that Paris’ arts and culture community didn’t like was her writing.
11. She Was Boring
Nin’s debut book, D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study, was a total flop. It was a simple non-fiction critique of the English writer, D. H. Lawrence, that left readers snoring. It also had critics snickering. One reviewer called Nin “vague, dreamy, mercilessly pretentious” and “a great bore”. There was certainly nothing boring about her diaries.
12. She Was Preoccupied With Other Things
It’s little wonder that Nin’s debut book had all of her readers’ eyes glazing over. She had written the disaster of a distribe in just sixteen days. The work that would make her famous would take decades to write. Plus, it seems that Nin had other things on her mind while writing her debut book. Far more titillating things.
13. Her Husband Supported Her
As a fledgeling—or failing—writer, Guiler had to support Nin financially. And Nin, in turn, supported other failed writers. Namely Henry Miller. She met Miller, the experimental American novelist, while living in Paris. At the time, he was just as bad a writer as she was and practically homeless. She gave him a lot more than just money.
14. Her Husband Only Asked One Thing
Presumably, Miller’s work had been quite boring until he met Nin. Suffice to say, she gave him lots of inspiration—by starting up a lurid affair. It’s not entirely clear whether or not her husband, Guiler, knew that she was seeing Miller because she never really mentioned it in her diaries and Guiler continued to support her.
He only asked one thing in return.
15. Her Husband Wanted To Be Anonymous
When eventually Nin published her diaries decades later, she put everything out there for the world to see. Everything, that is, except for her marriage to Guiler. He had explicitly asked her to scrub any mention of him in her diaries. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that he didn't know what (and who) Nin was doing in Paris.
16. She Was A Little Psycho(analyst)
While living in Paris, Nin plumbed the depths of her creative genius. She delved deep into the world of psychoanalysis—and not just as an educational hobby. In addition to her open affair with Miller, she also later confessed to having relations with the famed psychoanalysts, René Allendy and Otto Rank. She went a little heavy on the “psycho” as opposed to the “analyst”.
17. She Wrote What She Knew
The outbreak of WW2 saw Nin and her husband, Guiler, fleeing Paris for safer shores. When they returned to New York, however, their financial situation was quite desperate. For once, Nin had to support herself and her husband with her writing. Needless to say, she couldn’t write another literary analysis. She could only write what she knew: hanky-panky.
18. She Told Titillating Stories
Along with her lover, Miller, Nin picked up a lucrative contract. She began writing explicit stories for a private collector with peculiar tastes. It’s possible that, because she was a woman, she only used Miller’s name to avoid the social stigma and wrote all of the saucy material herself. After all, she had a lot of experience to draw upon.
19. She Had Famous Friends And Lovers
In spite of her lack of literary accolades, Nin still counted some of the biggest literary figures of all time amongst her group of lovers and friends. According to her diaries, she either shared a bed or her darkest secrets with the likes of John Steinbeck, Gore Vidal, and Lawrence Durrell.
They all had something in common: They reminded her of her father.
20. She Started Her Own Practice
In between writing her explicit stories and, um, finding the inspiration for them, Nin rekindled her passion for psychoanalysis. After meeting up with her lover, Otto Rank, once again in New York she even opened up her own psychoanalytic practice right next door to his. It seems, however, that she had too many demons of her own.
21. She Was A Terrible Psychologist
Nin was nothing if not a deeply passionate and open-minded person. But, while that made her a great writer, it did not help her in psychoanalysis. “I found that I wasn't good because I wasn't objective,” she later recalled about her short-lived practice. “I was haunted by my patients. I wanted to intercede”. She had issues of her own anyway.
22. She Had A Blast From The Past
Back in the summer of 1933 while she was still in Paris, Nin had an experience that changed her life forever—and scandalized the entire world when she finally released her diaries. At the age of 30, Nin heard from her long estranged father. He invited her to vacation with him in Valescure, France. Their reunion was definitely intimate.
23. She Vacationed With Her Father
When Nin arrived in Valescure, she didn’t quite know what to expect. Seeing as though she had just been a baby when her parents divorced, her father was practically a stranger to her. But, when she finally laid eyes on him, she recalled that he seemed “cold and distant”. Still, she was drawn to his “intellect, physical stature and charisma”.
It was magnetic.
24. She Was The Woman Of Her Father’s Dreams
Almost immediately after arriving, Nin began to recognize traits in her father that she had seen in her previous lovers. She called him the “complete synthesis” of all the previous romantic conquests she had had over the years. In turn, her father called her “the woman of my life”. He was speaking more literally than not.
25. Her Father Wanted To Kiss Her
There was obviously tension between Nin and her father when she arrived in Valescure. But it wasn’t because of their two-decade long estrangement. When Nin’s father laid eyes on her for the first time after all those years, he said that he felt sorrow that he couldn’t give her the kind of kiss that he really wanted to. Or could he?
26. She Did The Most Taboo Thing Ever
Nin also felt a curious draw to her father. In her infamous diaries, in what she called her “Father Story”, she recounted how she reconnected with her father. Literally. According to Nin, she slinked into her father’s bedroom, lifted her negligee and climbed on top of him. What unfolded that night broke every taboo imaginable.
27. She Gave In To Her Desires
There was no doubt about it: Nin and her father had crossed a line that most would never dare even approach. Despite the taboo around what she was doing, however, Nin recalled that the experience was, in some way, cathartic. “My yielding was immense, with my whole being,” she wrote in her diaries, “with only that core of fear”.
28. She Had Some Regrets
Nin’s experience wasn’t all positive. She had some conflicting feelings about it and immediately expressed regrets about the carnal desires she and her father had given into. But the following morning, her father convinced her that their night had been “tremendous, fantastic, unique”. They continued their tryst for the rest of Nin's short vacation.
29. She Found Joy
In the years after publishing her diaries, Nin’s “Father Story” scandalized the literary world like none other. Despite what anyone might have thought or said about the affair, however, it clearly had some kind of positive impact on Nin. As she waved goodbye to her father, she recalled, “it was in my flights with my Father that I had found joy”.
30. Her Relationship Was Fruitful
Nin’s affair with her father might have been more than just joyful. It might also have been fruitful. Shortly after the tryst ended, in 1934, Nin found herself pregnant. Despite the curious timing, she never doubted that the child belonged to her lover, Miller, and not her father. Either way, she made a devastating decision.
31. She Lost Her Baby
For better or worse, Nin’s only legacy would be her diaries. Even though she loved Miller and had a “very passionate and physical” relationship with him, she did not want to bear his child. After learning that she was carrying a little Miller, she made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. Turns out, she had the hots for another Miller.
32. She Fell For A Femme Fatale
Her intimate relationship with her father wasn’t the only head-turning affair in Nin’s life. In Henry and June: From a Journal of Love: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin 1931–1932, Nin recalled feeling an attraction to her lover’s wife, June Miller. Both she and Henry Miller thought of June as something of a femme fatale.
She was certainly fatal for Nin’s pocketbook.
33. She Spent Lavishly
Whenever she had money, Nin splurged lavishly on June Miller. She bought the vixen all kinds of gifts, including jewelry and clothes. In fact, she often spent so much money doting on June that she sometimes had no money left over for herself. But she could always find another lover to support her. If she could keep him secret.
34. She Felt Elevated
In 1944, while living in New York, Nin was in an elevator on her way to a party. But she almost didn’t make it. She immediately locked eyes with the elevator’s other occupant, Rupert Pole. He was a former actor and 16 years Nin’s junior. In other words, they didn’t have any time to waste in starting up their secret marriage.
35. She Got Married After Two Weeks
Whatever elevator Nin was in must have taken her to an alternative dimension. After their brief meeting, Nin and Pole traveled to California together and began a torrid love affair. Just two weeks later, they were married. There was, of course, the one small problem of Nin’s first marriage to Guiler. It wasn’t exactly over.
36. She Was A Bigamist
When she married Pole, Nin had not divorced Guiler. In fact, by some accounts, she still loved him very much—with the half of her heart that she hadn’t given away to Pole. While Pole was very much aware of Nin’s marriage to Guiler and her whole New York life, it’s not clear that Guiler knew anything about her new arrangement in Los Angeles.
37. She Had A Box Of Lies
For the rest of her life, Nin worked hard to walk across the tightrope of her, as she called it, “bicoastal trapeze”. To help her keep the delicate balance of her bigamous lifestyle, she bought a giant purse that she nicknamed the “lie box”. In it, she kept documents, such as prescriptions and checkbooks, in two different names: Nin Guiler and Nin Pole.
She didn’t even know who she was anymore.
38. She Couldn’t Keep Her Lies Straight
Nin’s new convoluted double-life was difficult to keep track of—even for her. “I tell so many lies I have to write them down,” she recalled, “and keep them in the lie box so I can keep them straight”. In 1966, it all proved too difficult. She had her marriage to Pole annulled but kept living with him as if they were still wife and second-husband.
39. She Built Her Dream Home
Even though she was still married to Guiler and loved him, Nin settled into her life in Los Angeles with Pole and built her love nest with him. As it turns out, Pole was a half-brother of Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. She considered the Wright family to be “giants of the West” and had Eric Wright design her L.A. house.
But she couldn’t make it a home.
40. She Didn’t Want To Settle Down
Pole wanted Eric Wright to build the house for his own reasons: he wanted Nin to stay with him in Los Angeles and never return to New York and Guiler. He confessed, he “really built the house to persuade her to dig some roots”. Nin, however, fired back that she had “portable roots”. Still, she loved the L.A. home she had built.
41. Her Diaries Divided Families
It was while living in Los Angeles that Nin made the decision to publish her tell-all diaries. With the exception, perhaps, of those closest to her, no one knew that she had been keeping such a detailed record. The seven-volume tome, spanning 50 years of her licentious life hit the bookshelves and immediately divided opinions. And families.
42. She Was Grotesque
The scandalous—but admirably candid—stories contained within the pages of Nin’s diaries had readers flipping through pages faster than Nin had flipped through lovers. But not everyone had praise for her unreserved words. One critic called her “a monster of self-centeredness whose artistic pretensions now seem grotesque”.
43. She Was Very Sick
In 1974, just as Nin was about to become a literary titan in her own right, she received devastating news: she had cervical cancer. Thus began a two-year long struggle with chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery and after excruciating surgery. She knew that she didn’t have much time to make things right with the ones she loved.
44. She Wanted Forgiveness
Sensing that the end was near, Nin rushed to put her affairs in order. She reached out to her first husband, Guiler, in a letter in which she pleaded for his forgiveness for everything she had put him through. Instead of the curt reply that she would have expected, however, his response was more touching than anything she could have hoped for.
45. Her Husband Forgave Her
Guiler could have written back to Nin with an angry screed for her numerous affairs (and remarkably detailed journals about said affairs). Instead, she got exactly what she needed. Guiler wrote back to Nin thanking her for everything and saying that his life had been meaningful because of her. With this absolution, she could pass away peacefully.
46. She Went Out To Sea
Nin finally drew her last breath in January of 1977. As per her wishes, Pole had her remains cremated and scattered her ashes over Mermaid Cove in Big Sur, California. In a touching tribute to Nin’s first (and probably truest) love, Pole did the same for Guiler when he passed away 1985 so that the two might find each other again in the afterlife.
47. Her Big Reveal Left One Reader Shaken
Pole published the most explosive volume of Nin’s diaries in 1992—it was the volume that contained her “Father Story”. While the unexpurgated revelations had some of even her most ardent supporters cringing with disgrace, it left one reader in particular sickened to his stomach. For this reader, Nin’s “Father Story” was personal.
48. Her Brother Was Bitter
At the time that Pole published the 1992 volume of Nin’s diaries, the only surviving member of her family was her brother, Joaquin Nin-Culmell. Much like their father, Nin-Culmell had gone on to become a composer. But he didn’t share his father’s and sister’s affinity for the forbidden. Pole’s decision to publish Nin’s “Father Story” left nothing but “bitter enmity” in the family.
Her diaries had always done that.
49. Her Friends And Family Wanted Her To Stop Writing
Nin’s diaries had caused controversy long before she even published them. Throughout her entire life, her feverish and zealous journaling had been a point of concern for those around her. Everyone from her mother to her lovers, Henry Miller and Otto Rank, had tried to convince Nin to stop journaling. But she had good reason to write.
50. Her Diaries Were Her Best Friend
Nin’s actions (and affairs) had caused a great deal of trouble throughout her life. Her habit of writing about it all, however, was her form of therapy. She later called her diaries her “best friend and confidante” and explained that it had been her way of dealing with the fallout from her father’s abandonment and estrangement.
51. She Created Her Whole World
Whether it was her forbidden fling with her father, her bigamous lifestyle or her numerous lovers, Nin did everything her own way. And then wrote about it. In the end, she was totally unapologetic and expressed no regrets over her libertine lifestyle. “Had I not created my whole world,” she wrote, “I would certainly have [expired] in other people’s”.