The Steel Hummingbird: The Scandalous Life of Anais Nin
Anais Nin lived large and wrote it all down compulsively, even obsessively. Her life was a series of glamorous parties, tumultuous affairs, adventures so thrilling she just had to write them down. But her life wasn’t all about wild parties and affairs - she wrote to introspect and to explore her subconscious, becoming her own psychoanalyst. She wrote works of fiction as well as publishing her own diaries in numerous volumes. Even to those who haven’t read her writing, she is the symbol of a daring and uncompromising woman who lived and loved by her own rules.
But who is the real woman behind the exotic name and the steady gaze?
Read our short bio on one of America’s most acclaimed female writers…
Nin, Age 20
She was born in France to Cuban parents. Her Catalanese father was a pianist and her Danish-French mother was a classically trained singer. Her parents divorced when she was two years old and she spent her early years with her mother and brothers living between France, Spain and New York City.
She dropped out of school at age 16 and worked as an artist’s model and a dancer. At age 20, she married her first husband, American artist and banker, Hugh Park Guiler. They moved to Paris soon after and that is when Anais began writing in earnest, although she had been keeping a diary since she was 11 years old. Her first book, a study of the writer D.H. Lawrence, was published in 1932. She and Hugh cultivated a milieu of artists and writers, most notable of whom being Henry Miller, whom Nin had a long-standing relationship with. They hosted evenings together in their home in Louveciennes, outside Paris, called the “Laboratory of the soul”.
She was deeply interested in Psychoanalysis, working closely with Austrian Psychoanalyst Otto Rank. Through her sessions with him, she worked on her desire to transform herself into an artist. A lifelong writer of journals, she was fascinated with developing her ability to articulate the intangible - to find a language for instincts, feelings and intuition.
In 1939 on the eve of World War Two, Nin and her husband had to leave Paris for New York City. She moved in Otto Rank’s apartment and they resumed their romantic relationship. She was still married to Hugh at the time. It is difficult to gauge the state of their relationship over the years as he requested to be edited out of the diaries published in her lifetime. She even began seeing her own patients for Psychanalysis, although she quit after a few months, unable to remain objective.
Nin’s famed diaries start from 1933 onward. Her artist and literary milieu was predominantly male, so reading her diaries gives a unique perspective. Up to now, 16 volumes of her journals have been published. Her diaries continue to shock - she held nothing back. But this doesn’t mean that her diaries are a word for word account of her life. She was a fabulist too. She indulged in what she called the “creative lie” - a little embellishment that mirrors the lies and fantastical fabrications our brains create. The subtraction of her first husband certainly shapes her early diaries in Paris as a free and independent woman. Her stories and novels are classified as surrealist, the most famous being her novel “A Spy in the House of Love”.
In the 1940s, desperate for money, she and Henry Miller and friends would write erotica for a dollar a page for a wealthy collector. They were meant to be humorous, ridiculous caricatures, and the man was apparently displeased by their efforts, which leaned more literary than smut. Never intentionally for public consumption, she started publishing these stories in volumes in the 1970s.
Nin and Rupert Pole
In 1947, she met actor Rupert Pole. Several years later she married him and moved with him to California. She was still married to her first husband Hugh, who was living in Manhattan and apparently had no idea she married Pole until after her death. For many years, she lived a duplicated life, swinging between the two coasts and her two husbands. Her marriage to Pole was eventually annulled in 1966 for tax reasons, although their relationship was reignited a few years later and he cared for her until her death in 1977. He was her literary executor, and continued to published unabridged volumes of her diaries until his own death in 2006.
Nin in Los Angeles
Nin enjoyed acclaim and interest in her life and this had continued long after her passing as well. Her work was revisited in the 1960s through a feminist lense. She spent her later years in Los Angeles and became a friend and supporter of numerous young artists, ensconced in her ‘house of air and glass’ in Silver Lake, built by Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson on Frank Lloyd Wright. Her adoring fans would often knock on her door, and she would rarely turn them away. She continues to inspire and enchant and she was, as Henry Miller called her, “a masterpiece”.
Some of my favourite quotes...
"We travel, some of forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls."
"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive,
and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
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