Today in Literary History – January 14, 1977 – diarist and novelist Anaïs Nin dies

Anaïs Nin, the diarist and novelist, died on January 14, 1977, at the age of 73, from cervical cancer. Nin was born in France to Cuban parents. Although she lived in Paris off and on she spent most of her life in the United States.

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She is best known for her diaries, which she began writing when she was eleven and continued with until her death. So far, 14 volumes of her diaries have been published, some in her lifetime and some posthumously.

The diaries contain Nin’s intimate thoughts and fantasies and also detail her very active sexual life. She had affairs of varying lengths of time with many famous men, most notably the writer Henry Miller and the psychiatrist Otto Rank, and also John Steinbeck, Gore Vidal and Lawrence Durrell.

The diaries published while she was still alive were edited — for instance, she took out all references to her first husband, at his request — but the newer volumes are un-expurgated.

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While she was still married to her first husband she married a young actor. She referred to this period (from 1955 to 1965) as being “steeped in lies.” She also called this her “bicoastal trapeze act” since she split her time between one husband in New York and the other in Los Angeles.

There is some debate as to whether her first husband knew about the second marriage or simply chose to ignore it. It only came to light when the IRS audited the two men who were both claiming Nin as a dependant on their tax returns.

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Nin had a difficult relationship with her father, who was abusive to her in her childhood. She broke off contact with him but reconnected with him when she was 30 and began an incestuous affair with him. This became the subject of her first novel, House of Incest, in 1936.

Nin wrote a number of erotic short stories for a private collector in Paris, which were published after her death as Delta of Venus and Little Lies. She published eight novels during her lifetime, with A Spy in the House of Love, being the most famous.

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Nin’s biographer, Dierdre Bair, wrote in 1995 that Nin was “not an original thinker” and a “minor writer whose novels are seldom read these days” but her story was important because a life as “rich and full” as hers allows “the rest of us to understand the chaotic century that is now winding down.”

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