Henry Miller dedicated Black Spring to Anais Nin, his lover—but who was this controversial and beguiling woman?
Nin was born in 1903 in France to artist parents, but she moved with her mother and siblings to America after her father abandoned the family. In New York, Nin learned English but dropped out of high school to become an artist’s model. At age eleven, she had begun a project that would consume her for the entirety of her life—a diary, written in every day and eventually published and considered a work of art.
Nin married Hugh Guiler, a banker, and moved to Paris. She read voraciously and wrote criticism on D.H. Lawrence, but the pressure was heavy to conform to being a traditional wife. She met Miller and his wife June in 1931 and became immersed in Parisian literary and artistic circles. She thought Miller was a genius, and using her husband’s money, helped put Miller and his wife up and paid for his living expenses so he could write.
Taking psychoanalysis with Otto Rank, a colleague of Freud, allowed her to achieve a creative breakthrough. She fictionalized some of her diary; for example, Winter of Artifice featured a reconciliation with her father. She may have also engaged in an incestuous encounter with her father when they reconnected for a brief time when she was in her early thirties.
Nin and her husband were forced to return to New York on account of the imminent Second World War. She eventually purchased her own printing press on account of having trouble getting her works published. Though she eventually published nine books of fiction, many of which sold respectable amounts, almost all of them were poorly received by critics.
Nin met and fell in love with Rupert Pole in 1947 and decided to marry him even though she was still legally married to Guiler. She moved between Los Angeles and New York during the 1960s.
In 1966, she decided to allow her diary to be published; the first installment was issued in 1966 and was very successful, especially among women. Her writings on abortion, affairs, and sexual pleasure struck a chord with female readers.
In the later years of her life, she traveled and spoke frequently, becoming a regular on college campuses as the feminist movement exploded, and the rest of her diaries were published. Nin asked Pole to publish the “secret parts” of her diaries, with one specifically concerning Henry and June. Others included volumes such as Incest, Fire, and Trapeze. She also decided to have her 1940s erotica published; these volumes, which included Delta of Venus and The Little Birds, became bestsellers.
Nin died of cancer in 1977 with Rupert Pole at her side. Though they had annulled the marriage for legal reasons, the two lived together as married.
News of her double marriage along with a searing biography turned the critical tide vociferously against Nin in the 1980s and 1990s. She was vilified as selfish, arrogant, sexually obsessed, immoral, a liar, and more. A Guardian article details the damage done to her reputation: “After her death, Nin was variously portrayed as a spoiled, upper-crust adulteress who used her husband’s money to keep dozens of lovers dependent; a liar, whose published diary is more like a very convincing novel than anything approaching autobiography; a bigamist, who married Pole while still married to Guiler and spent the last half of her life deceiving both men; a pornographer, whose only worthwhile work is the erotica she wrote for a dollar a page; a madwoman, who had a consensual affair with her own father.”