Dropping Another Veil: Anais Nin’s “Henry and June”

*With the appearance of Henry and June (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), the students of Anais Nin’s life and work are forced to make serious readjustments. This volume brings the sequence of publications drawn from Nin’s diaries into what we might call its “second series,” the new title dealing with approximately half of the time period covered  in  the  first volume:  The  Diary of Anais Nin: 1931-1934 (New York: HBJ,  1966).  In the intervening  years,  there appeared six more volumes of  Diary,  tracing  Nin’s life  into  1974, and then four volumes of The Early Diary of Anais  Nin  which reached back to 1914 and left us once again in 1931.henryandjune_cover1

 Though the cycle was complete, the Early Diary volumes had begun to change our way of looking at Nin, in part because they were edited differently from the  volumes that had been published earlier about her later  life.  The Early Diary seemed more deeply textured, more spontaneous, and more ar­tistically innocent. People not treated or named in the 1931-1974 coverage were now put center stage, including Nin’s cousin, Eduardo, and her hus­band, Hugh Guiler.

 A number of things happened to account for the differences between these subsets of the first cycle. First of all, Nin’s death early in 1977, and per­haps the period of illness leading up to it, removed the author’s own hand from the editorial process. Secondly, the Diary volumes for 1955-1966 (no. 6, published in 1976) and 1966-1974 (no. 7, published in 1980) no longer were the product of the same dedicated diarist who had written the material on which the earlier diaries were based. In fact, beginning with Diary 5, we can see a  shift in Nin’s attention so that the published diaries following  the  mid-for­ties,  the  period  during  which she is most successfully engrossed as a published writer of  fiction and as a public personality, can cover eight, eleven, and  eight  years in  single  volumes much  greater  gulps  of  time  than in volumes drawn from earlier periods in Nin’s life. Even so, a reticence about personal relationships continued through these volumes, a reticence refreshingly absent from the four volumes of the Early Diary.

 In an “editor’s note” to Linotte: The Early Diary of Anais Nin, 1914-1920 (1980, but seemingly prepared by 1978), John Ferrone writes, “This is the first volume of Anais Nin’s diary to be published essentially in the form in which it was written.” There is some qualification to that claim, but any read­er can sense the difference. As we follow the maturing young woman from this volume through the next three of the Early Diary, all of these with prefaces by Nin’s brother, Joaquin Nin-Culmell, we can only wish that Nin’s often stated aversion to mere facts had not been so severe. The fullness and candor of these volumes underscored the questions that had been nagging at readers of the Diary volumes from the beginning: (l) what is being left out, and (2) how do these omissions falsify portraits of the self and the others? hj

Readers were told, from the beginning, about omissions in deference to those who wished to guard their privacy. Perhaps, too, potential legal prob­lems were avoided by bringing only carefully selected material to press. Still, the images of Nin and her world that were created in the published Diary volumes were taken as truthful, reliable images in which incidentals had been stripped out. Why should anyone quibble over the fact that Nin could present the truth of her life without mentioning her husband? In fact, few did quibble, charmed by what was given and revealed,  for all autobiographical writings come to us as revelations.

Henry and June, billed as “from the Unexpurgated Diary,” is definitely a revelation. In it, Nin’s complex emotional and sexual life is presented vividly, insistently, and almost exclusively. Her grand passion for Henry Miller, a passion returned by Miller and fulfilled over and over again, is set against the more tender and more steady affections she felt for her husband. A complicating attraction to June Miller makes Anais both Henry’s rival and his lover, and June’s instinctive eroticism becomes a willed ideal for the formerly re­pressed Anais who, in her late twenties, awakens to the force of her own sex­ual appetites and energy.

The story is kept in narrow focus: Anais, Henry, June, and Hugh — who is kept in the dark about what’s going on. Nin’s feeling of compartmentalization, of multiple selves — a theme in all of her writings — is here given an al­most clinical elaboration. How different is this Anais Nin from the one we met twenty years earlier in Diary volume one? To judge by her behavior, quite different. Is one more authentic? Well, that depends. Here are some impressions.

The Anais Nin of Diary 1 comes across as a rather cautious explorer of relationships. She is always trying to size people up, testing the waters of potential involvements to guard against getting in over her head. Indeed, the famous portraits in this diary are as much judgments as anything else, as the budding writer is at pains to measure herself against her new acquaintances. This tendency toward being judgmental is one of Nin’s least attractive traits, though she seems unaware of it. She remains demure, somehow reserved, even as she adventures into the more bohemian aspects of Paris life. Her treatment of her relationship with Miller is, of course, what must be examined in order to make comparisons with the new revelations of Henry and June.

In Diary 1, Miller is a diamond in the rough, a coarse genius to be nurtured and possibly refined. He is presented as an artistic type more than as a masculine force. Henry’s painful relationship with June is examined from a caring but still relatively detached perspective: Nin seems, in the sections of the diary prepared for print, to be exercising control, seeing things clinically. Though there are signs of her discomfort and instability, she more often comes across as a woman who laments about insecurity while all the time directing the well-diagrammed traffic of her own life and the lives of those ar­ound her. We are let in on the magnitude of passion driving Henry and June, often destructively, but Nin’s own passions are treated more abstractly.

Henry and June turns all of this upside down. Now Nin is swept away in tides of passion, hardly able to comprehend the nature and dimensions of her newly-released sexual self. She is a woman cheating on her gentle, attentive husband and working hard to find convincing rationalizations for her be­havior. Henry’s complexity is more richly presented now, though his artistic self takes second place to his Priapic self: he, while often acting like an unworthy pilgrim at some kind of aristocratic shrine, initiates Nin into the truths of her own body. The moments of guilt recorded in H & J seem genuine, as do the ongoing betrayals and self-justifications. Nin is attractively smudged, roughed up, in this newly released material. No longer uniquely the giver, she takes from Henry even while she works to please him.  And she is taking from Hugh, too, even while she worries herself over homemaking duties.

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H & J enriches our understanding of the personal dynamics underlying Nin’s fictions. From the material presented in Diary 1, it was always easy to identify the fictional Djuna as Nin’s main surrogate, the female personality closest to herself. Djuna had mind: understanding, cool judgment, maturity. The Anais of H & J is more like the fiery Sabina: uncentered, lusty, and imprudent. Earlier readings of the fiction and diaries together invariably concluded that Sabina was, in large part, a portrait of June. Given the additional material on June in H & J, this identification still makes sense; however, the new portrait of Nin’s own restlessness suggests that Sabina is more of a composite.  H & J opens up new possibilities for exploring the relationship between the diaries and the fiction. More important for the present are the new opportunities for finding the elusive Anais Nin.

In that quest, neither volume is satisfactory. One does not balance or sufficiently complicate the other when they are read as separate entities. The present volume, with its narrow focus and somewhat surprising revelations, can be enjoyed as a “work” in itself, but it is difficult to say whose work it is or what it represents. And, because it collects and orchestrates content omis­sions from Diary 1, Henry and June renders that volume incomplete and — more important — distorted. Appearing twenty years apart, these treatments of 1931-32 will find different readers, as well as readers who have lived with one set of impressions for two decades and now have different ones to contend with. Some of these readers will feel cheated.  Are these volumes only publishing enterprises, business deals, with little concern for communicating the essential pattern of Nin’s manuscript diaries?

A more generous response is that we are getting now what only now it is possible to get, and the same was true when Diary 1 appeared. Still, reading the volumes consecutively or even side-by-side, weaving back and forth bet­ween entries written about the same time, does not give readers the texture of the source or of the evolving Anais we are always seeking. There is no way to put the pieces together again. The game of hide and seek, a psychic pattern always present in each volume (and anywhere else we might look in Nin’s work) has been magnified by the way in which the diary material has reached the public.

Which is all to say that we have to take these carvings from Nin’s diaries on their own terms and not confuse them with either the manuscript material or the life that is being, somehow, given a testimony.  We have been offered a startling instance of the distance between art and life, even when the art is the art of the diarist. The Anais who is randy for Henry and June, remorseful and defiant, troubled and ecstatic, is an Anais who had been obscured by the cool, powdered shell of delicacy and decorum — the tonal Nin of Diary 1. And didn’t Nin’s readers always know that something was being held back — that the restraint of the published diary volumes didn’t reveal the sources of feeling released in the fiction? Many can now say, “I knew it all the time.”

It is much clearer now why psychoanalysis became important to Nin. The ways in which she was pulled apart by conflicting needs and desires — the extremes and intensities of those conflicts — are more understandable now that we have Henry and June. The polarities of Nin’s early House of Incest, as well as Miller’s particular interest in that work, are “explained” by revelations in H & J. What few readers know is that much of this story had been told long ago, although only a handful of Nin scholars are familiar with the long-abandoned fiction drawn from the same material that we are now able to explore.

In 1939, when Nin published the first (Paris) version of Winter of Artifice, the collection included a story entitled “Djuna” that thinly disguised the relationships between Henry, June and Anais given in part in Diary 1 and more fully in H & J. *Never reprinted, the story shows the impact of this tri­angular relationship on Nin at a time when she was making the transition from diarist to fiction writer. It is one of many examples of how diary materials that had been suppressed in the published versions found their way into Nin’s fictions. Elsewhere, I have written about how Nin’s relationship with Otto Rank is more intimately revealed in her story “The Voice” than it is in the published account of Diary 1 and Diary 2 (see “The Princess and the Frog” in Anais, Art, and Artists, ed. Sharon Spencer, Penkevill Press, 1986). In addition, the portrait of Hugh that appears in H & J as well as in the volumes 3 and 4 of Early Diary confirms everyone’s suspicion that the  betrayed ”Alan” of A Spy in the House of Love gave us glimpses of the Hugh Guiler (or Ian Hugo) missing from the diary volumes published in the  1960s and 1970s.

Ironically, the most intimate parts of Nin’s life were, until now, more fully revealed in her fiction than in the published diaries. Of course, it is impossible to make air-tight cases for turning all of her fictions into romans á clef; still, Nin’s tendency to protect people in her diary volumes and exploit them for artistic purposes is a bit bewildering. Certainly those people knew who they were, and anyone with imagination and curiosity could make safe guesses. Hugh Guiler is only now, after his death, embarrassed by name, but what did he make of his earlier portrait as “Alan”?

The tension between revealing and veiling is one of the most powerful factors in Nin’s work. Not only is it a theme or motif in many diary passages and many stories and novels, but it is the theme of her career as a woman relating to others through words: the theme of her public self, then, as well as her private self. The Anais of Henry and June was revealed, no doubt, to privileged readers long ago. Now, the wider world that knows her through her writings has, through Rupert Pole’s selection of these formerly suppressed diary materials, an erotically unveiled Anais to contend with. For those who will make Henry and June the first of Nin’s writings that they ex­perience, the impression will be powerful and seemingly cohesive and total. They will be seduced into taking the part for the whole. From them, as from the rest of us, much still remains veiled. Much will always remain veiled.

Nevertheless, between its own covers Henry and June is a remarkable book: fresh, gripping, and pulsing with life. It has none of the studied quality that too often dulls the impact of some of the previously published diary materials. And, because it tells such a sharply focused story, H & J has a unity lacking even in Nin’s best long fiction. In fact, it could easily be passed off as a work of fiction. 

It’s a great story, unveiling an Anais at the peak of her adventurousness, her creativity, and her sense of freedom. Her relationship with Henry, though not idyllic, was thoroughgoing in scope and intensity. And Anais, so shaken by what she felt and did, was as out of herself as she would ever be. This was her grandest passion, and this record of it is among her grandest achieve­ments — if not for style than for sheer immediacy and power. Her unwillingness to abandon Hugo at this time changed the direction of her life and Mil­ler’s.  The heat of their constrained, furtive affair was incendiary; the art of each begun during this period was rarely surpassed in their later careers. They were under each other’s spell: soulmates, fleshmates, unique contribu­tors to one another’s very different paths as writers. They were almost collaborators in art, as they were in life.

Nin’s meditations on types of love and types of faithfulness respond to her feelings for a large cast of characters. Her cousin Eduardo is still a player in Nin’s complex emotional life. Her analyst, Dr. Allendy, is an adventure waiting to happen. Memories of John Erskine bubble up. The tempestuous, destructive June and the passive, supportive Hugo — both of whom undergo significant changes in the course of the year — are layered into the complex equation of  Nin’s and Miller’s expanding identities. But in this torrid year, Anais and Henry recreated themselves and one another. Because he had the courage to treat Anais as a strong woman rather than as a childlike, frail decoration, Henry liberated the woman who was there and exiled the adolescent. Because he took her seriously as a fellow artist, Henry won her as no one had before or would again.

Though it took Nin a while to be sure of it, her diary writing was her major literary achievement. Henry and June confirms this, even while it fur­ther complicates those questions of the “whole truth” and of literary genre. Until quite recently, we have had very little of this kind of writing: an intelligent, articulate woman’s record of her sexual liberation. And this record of a wild affair of the early 1930s, a record almost totally lacking in references to Paris during the Depression, has an eerie, timeless quality. Lacking the sense of time and place conveyed by details published in Diary 1, Henry and June has at its core the concreteness of the bodily self. In such a fashion, the sec­ond series of Nin’s diaries has begun. What’s next? 

—–

Note: The “Djuna” story became once again available in Anais: An Interna­tional Journal 7 (1989): 3-22.

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*From Anais: An International Journal 6 (1988): 27-32. Reprinted in The Critical Response to Anais Nin (Greenwood Press, 1996).

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