Her life was peppered with controversy and scandal – seduction, bigamy, incest and adultery all found their way into her orbit – but 20th-century writer Anaïs Nin’s legacy continues to enthrall today, 40 years after her death at the age of 73. Nin’s writing career took the form of published essays, short stories, novels, erotica and, perhaps most famously, her personal journals, in which the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction routinely blurred. With much of her work published posthumously, her reputation as an idiosyncratic and boundary-pushing auteur has only intensified since her death. Most recently she was cited as inspiration – alongside Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington, Nancy Cunard and, of course, Elsa herself – at Schiaparelli’s Autumn 2017 haute couture by creative director Bertrand Guyon; the collection saw Guyon look to a bevy of rebellious women from decades past to inform his designs for the house.
Born in France in 1903, Nin lived in Paris, Spain, New York and Los Angeles throughout her life. She met American writer Henry Miller in Paris, and the period of time she spent with Miller and his wife in the French capital is detailed in the first volume of Nin’s diaries. It was in America that her literary career – and, with that, her scandalous personal life – took off: Nin married actor Rupert Pole in California in 1955 while still married to Hugh Guiler, thus keeping a husband on both sides of America.
Infamy aside, though, Nin is revered for her exceptional writing. She was an established character in the period’s literary scene, counting John Steinbeck, Gore Vidal and Edmund Wilson as friends, and garnered particular attention for her sharp and unapologetic journals and erotic writings – the most famous of which, Delta of Venus and Little Birds, were not published until the 1970s. Here we present ten of her most unforgettable anecdotes.
- “The earth is heavy and opaque without dreams.”
- “Do not seek the because – in love there is no because, no reason, no explanation, no solutions.”
- “There is a perfection in everything that cannot be owned.”
- “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
- “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.”
- “I hate men who are afraid of women’s strength.”
- “If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”
- “People living deeply have no fear of death.”
- “‘It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”
- “Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”