Hear Anaïs Nin Read From Her Celebrated Diary: A 60-Minute Vintage Recording (1966)

Image by George Leite, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

At one time, writer Anaïs Nin’s rep­u­ta­tion large­ly rest­ed on her pas­sion­ate, long-term love affair with nov­el­ist Hen­ry Miller, whom she also finan­cial­ly sup­port­ed while he wrote his best-known nov­els and became, writes Sady Doyle, a “dar­ling of the avant-garde.” Nin her­self was a mar­gin­al­ized, “unfash­ion­able” writer, whose “frank por­tray­als of ille­gal abor­tions, extra­mar­i­tal affairs and incest” brought such crit­i­cal oppro­bri­um down on her that “by 1954, Nin believed the entire pub­lish­ing indus­try saw her as a joke.” She had good rea­son to think so.

Miller’s noto­ri­ous­ly cen­sored books won him cult lit­er­ary sta­tus, and inspired the Beats, Nor­man Mail­er, Philip Roth, and many more hedo­nis­tic male writ­ers seek­ing to turn their lives into art. Nin’s equal­ly explic­it work was met, she lament­ed, “with indif­fer­ence, with insults.” Crit­ics either ignored her nov­els, sev­er­al of them self-pub­lished, or dis­missed them as vul­gar, art­less, and worse. One head­line, Doyle notes, called Nin “a mon­ster of self-cen­tered­ness whose artis­tic pre­ten­tions now seem grotesque.”

All of that changed when Nin pub­lished the first vol­ume of her diary in 1966. There­after, she achieved glob­al fame as a fem­i­nist icon, and the next ten years saw the pub­li­ca­tion of an addi­tion­al six vol­umes of her jour­nals, then sev­er­al more excerpts after her death in 1977. Most notably, Hen­ry and June appeared in 1986 (sub­se­quent­ly made into a film by Philip Kauf­man), a book which—in con­junc­tion with the pub­li­ca­tion of her and Miller’s let­ters the fol­low­ing year—fur­ther added to the mythol­o­gy of the two pas­sion­ate­ly erot­ic writ­ers.

Nin had kept her diaries reli­gious­ly since age 11, and has become known as “modernity’s most pro­lif­ic and per­cep­tive diarist,” writes Maria Popo­va, a dis­tinc­tion that has led to a tremen­dous resur­gence in pop cul­ture pop­u­lar­i­ty in our time, when well-craft­ed self-rev­e­la­tion is de rigeur for artists, activists, online per­son­al­i­ties, and aspi­rants of all kinds. Hen­ry Miller is now “a mar­gin­al­ized and large­ly for­got­ten Amer­i­can writer” (or so claims his biog­ra­ph­er Arthur Hoyle), and Nin has become a “patron saint of social media,” writes Doyle, a “pro­to-Lena-Dun­ham.” Pithy quo­ta­tions from her diaries—properly cred­it­ed or not—constantly cir­cu­late on Tum­blr, Face­book, and Twit­ter.

A new gen­er­a­tion just dis­cov­er­ing Anaïs Nin can access her work in any num­ber of ways—from hip, meme-heavy Tum­blr accounts like Fuck Yeah Anais Nin to more for­mal online venues like the Anais Nin Blog, which aggre­gates biogra­phies, pod­casts, schol­ar­ship, bib­li­ogra­phies, con­tro­ver­sies, and any­thing else one might want to know about the author. Anaïs Nin fans can also hear the author her­self read from her famous diary in the audio here. At the top of the post, hear Nin’s read­ing, record­ed in ’66, the year of the first volume’s pub­li­ca­tion. The com­plete record­ing runs about 60 min­utes.

After the acclaim of Nin’s diaries, and the celebri­ty she enjoyed in her last decade, her rep­u­ta­tion once again suf­fered, posthu­mous­ly, as biog­ra­phers and crit­ics sav­aged her life and work in moral­is­tic tor­rents of what would today be called “slut-sham­ing.” But Nin is now once again right­ly revered as a writer ful­ly ded­i­cat­ed to the art, no mat­ter the recep­tion or the audi­ence. The aston­ish­ing stream of words that flowed from her, record­ing every detail of her expe­ri­ences, “seems noth­ing less than phe­nom­e­nal,” wrote Noel Young of Nin’s non­stop let­ter writ­ing. When it came to the detailed, insight­ful, and acute­ly philo­soph­i­cal record­ing of her life, “the act of writ­ing may have even sur­passed the act of liv­ing.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Simone de Beau­voir Explains “Why I’m a Fem­i­nist” in a Rare TV Inter­view (1975)

Hen­ry Miller Makes a List of “The 100 Books That Influ­enced Me Most”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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