When I was a student at University of California, Berkeley in the early 1950’s, my circle of friends included several graduate students in the music department. They spoke often about Joaquín Nin-Culmell, a composer and UC Berkeley’s music department chairman. They also would occasionally refer in a parenthetical manner to his “weird” older sister, a writer who turned out to be one Anaïs Nin. At the time, she was not very well known and, in fact, had experienced several years of writing failures that left her on the margins of the literary scene. By the 1960’s, though, that had begun to change as events and controversy in her personal and professional life rapidly propelled her into the public eye.

The impetus behind her metamorphosis was unquestionably the publication of her heavily edited multi-volume work, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, by Harcourt Brace in 1966 that made her an icon with the emerging feminist movement and a cohort of progressive-minded young women. Two years after her death, Los Angeles Times book editor Digby Diehl wrote about her as follows: “In the company of Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir, the writings of Anaïs Nin have been taken up as beacons showing the way to a new consciousness of women’s role in a restive female generation seeking new rights.” Nonetheless, Anaïs Nin the writer never was able to command substantial critical acclaim and literary fervor. To that point, her principal biographer, Deidre Bair, has said she could be characterized as no more than “a major, minor writer.” Yet lately, at least in some circles, her star has started a new ascent.

The Coquette Emerges

Much of Anaïs’s public persona was shaped by her tempestuous relationship in Paris with Henry Miller, author of controversial works banned for many years in America such as Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, and Rosy Crucifixion. But even before that relationship, her life had already exhibited signs of tumult and disarray. Her father, Joaquin Nin, had deserted the family when she was ten to take up with a young student of his, an act that had a profound impact on Anaïs and influenced her in her many and varied relationships later in life. Then, in the early years after marrying Hugo Guiler at age 20, she had several extramarital dalliances which were a precursor to her libertine life that followed.

She and Hugo, together with her mother and two brothers, moved from New York to Paris in 1924 to start a new life. During the voyage, Anaïs penned her first entry in a diary, originally intended as a message to her absent father, which over her lifetime totaled 250,000 pages in long-hand. Later, some critics were to call it her “liary” because it was so often filled with lies and distortions. Joaquin Nin-Culmell called its contents “her best novels.”

After settling in Paris, Anaïs had a limited tête-á-tête with her dance instructor, followed by an unconsummated encounter with Hugo’s former Columbia University mentor. After several other dalliances with men, Anaïs  learned to develop seduction skills and was transformed in the process from innocent young wife to alluring coquette.

Then along came Henry Miller. An attorney in Hugo’s bank had agreed to write up a contract with the publisher for a book she had written on D.H. Lawrence. In the course of that effort, he urged Anaïs to meet a writer friend—Miller—who was also taken with Lawrence. Joaquin Nin-Culmell was at that meeting and took an instant dislike to Miller, but Anaïs had the opposite reaction, saying he “…makes life drunk…he is like me.”

Henry Miller and his wife June are the subject of the first of Anaïs’s unexpurgated diaries published in 1986, twelve years after she had died. Titled Henry and June: From “A Journal of Love,” it documents her tumultuous relationship with the couple for a year commencing in late 1931. Like the five other unexpurgated diaries, the language is far more graphic and sexually explicit and gives a remarkably different picture of Anaïs than the dreamy and romantic maiden-in-the-tower image depicted in her 1966 expurgated journals. It was made into a moderately successful film, Henry and June, by Philip Kaufman in 1990. The film received the dreaded NC-17 rating at the time, but some critics said it was not as erotic as the diary.

When he first met Anaïs, Brooklyn-born Miller was an expatriate writer in Paris who had earlier held a nondescript managerial job in one of Western Union’s New York City offices. He was always on the take, mooching meals and cigarettes from friends and owing money to everyone. He was close to homeless, sometimes sleeping on the floor in a friend’s office. Anaïs admired him for his willingness, in her mind, to endure poverty in search of his artistic vision. Miller could not have been physically attractive to her, for he was bald, myopic and hardly taller than Anaïs. His vocabulary was crude and favored slang and sexual expletives. He had no scruples, once “borrowing” some of Anaïs’s notes and then incorporating them verbatim in his book Tropic of Capricorn.

Her attraction to Henry in the beginning was a cerebral one. It was his flamboyant Austro-Hungarian wife, June, with whom Anaïs was initially smitten. June was living in New York, and Anaïs was flummoxed by her independence and willingness to let her “genius” husband be alone in Paris with all its temptations. Henry had also titillated her with details of June’s wild escapades, including several lesbian affairs, prostitution, and running a speakeasy with bootleg gin. When June arrived in Paris for a visit, Anaïs immediately extended an invitation to the Millers to join Hugo and her for dinner. What happened between the two women in subsequent weeks has been the subject of considerable rumor and controversy.

Much has been made over whether Anaïs and June engaged in a lesbian relationship. Her biographer, Deidre Bair, has said that Anaïs was not bisexual, noting she only once tried having a lesbian experience and didn’t like it. That makes these excerpts from her second unexpurgated diary, Incest: From “A Journal of Love,” confusing, for they relate an extraordinarily sensual encounter between Anaïs and June:

June came into bed with her dress on. She began to kiss me, saying, “How little you are—I want to kiss you. Why am I so awkward, so ungainly…” We kissed each other passionately. I fitted my body against every curve of June’s body, as if melted into her. She moaned. Her embrace was around me like a multitude of arms; mine was a yieldingness which intoxicated me. I lost myself. I lost my consciousness in this bed of flesh. Our legs were bare and entwined. We rolled and heaved together, I under June, and June under me. Her light moth (sic) kisses showered me, and mine bit her…I asked, “Let me see your body, let me kiss your body.” …June said the wrong phrase: “Not yet, it isn’t beautiful enough—women are so critical.”

Given her penchant for lying and exaggeration in her diary, the obvious question is whether this episode as described actually happened. It’s difficult, of course, to get independent verification. If it did, in fact, happen, what does it say about Anaïs’s bisexuality? Does it matter that there was no actual physical consummation? Sky Blue Press, which published many of her writings, has emphatically denied that Anaïs was bisexual. Yet in an October 23, 1932 entry to her diary, she refers to “…how far I have moved away from lesbianism.”

Anaïs said little about her first time with Henry. From his point of view, she was a heaven-sent meal ticket, providing food and, from time to time, a roof over his head in her home when Hugo was away on his frequent business trips. Later, she gave him a regular $200 monthly stipend, half of her allowance from Hugo. He also got plenty of sex.

Anaïs found an apartment in nearby Clichy where, in Henry’s words, they spent most of their time “drinking and fucking.” She furnished the apartment—she called it “her office”—and bought Henry dishes, cutlery, curtains, and sheets as well as a Victrola and classical music records. She also provided him with ample supplies of paper, notebooks and ink. During Hugo’s absences, she would buy and prepare his supper. Henry’s biggest fear was that June would screw things up for him, but she had returned to New York and was not around to create any problems.

Hugo had read her diary entries and concluded Anaïs was likely having an affair with Henry. But he couldn’t be certain because her diary references were vague and filled with euphemisms as well as what she called “mensonges vital”—lies which give life. When he confronted her, she was able to persuade him that the diary he had read was simply the imaginings of a possessed woman, not the “real” diary, and did not reflect reality. Hugo wanted desperately to believe this bizarre explanation, and so he did. Still, Anaïs was in turmoil, torn between her role as Henry’s lover and the one as Hugo’s wife.

Anaïs decided one way to deal with her guilt feelings over her affair with Henry was to treat Hugo to an “exhibition” by prostitutes at one of the higher quality Parisian brothels. The performance was by two women—the establishment did not include a man with a woman in its program—and though it had been intended for Hugo’s benefit, it was Anaïs who felt arousal most intensely. And she finally discovered the clitoris after ten years of marriage and sexual trysts with Henry and others, no less, when one of the prostitutes brought the other to orgasm with cunnilingus.

June learned of the affair between Anaïs and Henry from one of Henry’s associates and immediately set sail for Paris. After her arrival, she largely ignored Henry and focused her attention on Anaïs with repeated seductive touchings in what she claimed later was a false lesbian ruse. Anaïs in turn naively lavished June with expensive gifts, meals, and extra money to spend while she was in Paris. But then June confronted a frazzled and intimidated Henry with her knowledge of the sexual relationship, took all the money in his wallet with “Now you have the last chapter for your fucking book,” and said she was leaving him. She returned to New York and divorced him. June’s life deteriorated after she left Henry. She was in a mental institution after another failed marriage and suffered broken bones during electroshock therapy from which she never recovered. Henry encountered her once in 1961 and was shocked at the extent of her decline. She moved with a brother to Arizona in the late 1960’s and died there in 1979.


Anaïs entered psychoanalysis with Dr. René Allendy in April 1932, partly because of her personal turmoil but also because of her frustration over not being able to write publishable material. Her unhappiness was exacerbated after her Lawrence book received mostly poor reviews and otherwise was outright ignored by the critics.

At some point, Anaïs began to develop resistance to the analysis and to many of the directions it was taking under Allendy. She initiated control of the sessions by diverting the focus to Allendy, his books and professional accomplishments and, ipso facto, away from her. The relationship flipped and he effectively became her patient, confessing to his own deep-seated inferiority complex.

Anaïs titillated him during one session by exposing her breasts to show him how modest in size they were. She wrote in her diary of her conquests to date, and Allendy was to be next on the list. Soon, they were fondling and masturbating during the analysis sessions and this was followed, at her suggestion, with sex in a hotel room. She later mocked him in her diary as a poor lover with a white, flabby body who was such a pathetic conquest she had to fake her orgasm.

Anaïs was now nearing her 30th birthday and the tone and content of her diary entries changed markedly. Her dreamy introspection about life and art gave way to anger, cynicism, and arrogance and her diary focused almost exclusively on sex. She experienced dramatic mood swings that frightened both Hugo and Henry.

In retaliation for the intellectual bonding occurring between Henry and the modern poet, Walter Lowenfels, Anaïs initiated an affair with Antonin Artaud, a major figure in twentieth century French theater. Artaud was openly homosexual and was impotent with Anaïs, but this did not concern her because her main objective was to arouse Henry’s jealousy with yet one more conquest. Anaïs’s sexual favors were bestowed on Henry, Hugo, Allendy, and Artaud contemporaneously and her journal entry on this state of affairs was explicit and to the point: “…recipe for happiness…mix well the sperm of four men in one day.” Still, her ministrations to them, naturally enough, often left her on the verge of exhaustion. The addition of a fifth lover to the mix soon put that problem behind her and changed the course of her relationships with the other men.

Nearly 20 years after he deserted his family for Maruca Rodriguez, his current wife, Joaquín Nin reappeared in Anaïs’s life. This was the result of a chance meeting she had with a mutual friend which, in turn, led to an exchange of letters between father and daughter. Then, in June 1933, he made a trip from Paris to visit her in Louveciennes where she was living. Anaïs had never forgotten Joaquín and there were frequent references to her father in her diary. Many Anaïs followers believe she was striving throughout her life for the father figure who had left her whenever she embarked on relationships with men.

The incestuous affair she had with Joaquín Nin is spelled out in lurid detail in her diary, two weeks of “non-stop orgiastic frenzy” starting with “I don’t feel toward you as if you were my daughter”…”I don’t feel as if you were my father.” There has been much debate over who seduced whom, whether Joaquín consciously employed the doppelganger approach to lure her and other far-ranging musings about their tryst. Whatever the case, Anaïs expressed little remorse at the time. “If I am perverse, monstrous,” she said, “tant pis! I am what I am.”

Anaïs had now found perfect “unison” with her father and her other lovers suffered in the comparison. She was cold to Henry, who sensed things were amiss yet continued as before to acerbically critique her writing. She helped him settle into a studio apartment and paid the rent, intending to drop him eventually as a lover. Artaud was next, and he stomped out of her life, calling her a “dangerous malefic being” as he left. After hearing her confession of the incestuous affair, Allendy called her an “unnatural being.” Anaïs calmly said in reply that her love for her father was natural and proceeded to end further contact with Allendy, both professional and personal.

In the months that followed, Anaïs made several of the short trips to Paris to visit Joaquín and continue their lovemaking. However, the passion for her father gradually waned. Her diary entry said she was “only mildly amorous” during sex with him and encouraged him to seek other lovers. Tiring of his affairs, Maruca divorced Joaquín in 1938. She was wealthy in her own right, so the divorce cost him dearly. Anaïs gave him a modest sum of money and arranged living quarters for him in an uninviting apartment building with a communal kitchen. But later she never replied to his letters pleading for financial help during the last penniless years of his life.

Following the close of her incestuous relationship with her father, Anaïs felt “hellishly lonely” and sought help from Otto Rank, the famed psychoanalyst who was once one of Freud’s closest disciples. Not only did he conduct her analysis, but he also trained her to be a lay analyst and, in the end, was so smitten that he became her lover. He showered her with gifts and sent her letters that read like those of a lovesick teenager. Anaïs eventually tired of him, and why not? She had reached a point where she was now able to find sex on her terms whenever and wherever she wanted, even with anonymous strangers.


Anaïs’s life in the remaining years leading up to the outbreak of World War ll in Europe was akin to a sexual maelstrom. She travelled shipboard back and forth between Paris and New York, staying in each city for varying lengths of time and sharing company with Henry (she had decided to remain with him), Hugo, Otto Rank, and a new lover, Gonzalo Moré. Moré was a dedicated communist, half Peruvian Indian and half Scottish, and married to the renowned professional dancer Helba Huara. Gonzalo and his wife joined Henry as beneficiaries of Anaïs’s financial largesse which, of course, was only possible because of her stipends from Hugo. Anaïs gave Gonzalo sex and accommodated Helba’s increasingly exorbitant financial demands. He would often leave Anaïs to go drinking with his friends.

Meanwhile, she continued to have casual liaisons of varying durations with other men, including several of Hugo’s banking clients and a random anonymous encounter on one of her voyages across the Atlantic. Then there was a three-way orgy with Doubleday publisher Donald Friede and the wife of a Time magazine senior executive.  Famed designer Norman Bel Geddes was on her list, as were Waldo Frank and other figures from the literary world. The inventory of her lovers goes on and on until it eventually becomes tedious and banal if for no other reason than its sheer weight of numbers.


For all installments of “Anaïs Nin Returns?,” click here.