The Lie Box

I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go. 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.

July 25 , 1914: Anaïs Nin began her diary on this day in 1914, aged eleven, as she left Europe for America. Many of the entries over the next forty years — 35,000 pages, a total of sixty-nine original handwritten volumes — are in the in the spirit of the above, this from July 7, 1934. They are passionate, sometimes confessional, always personal (WWII does not even get a mention), and still controversial.

The diary began as therapy, an adolescent’s attempt to deal with her parents’ separation and her nomadic life. When her career as a novelist floundered, and when Henry Miller started stealing juicy sections of the diary for his novels, Nin began to look upon it as her best and most marketable work. Publishers agreed, but found it too libelous. In the forties, Nin began a decades-long process of revision, changing names, telescoping events, embellishing quotations (“I have a weakness for embellishment”). Very often original passages were edited to make Anais Nin look better and others look worse.

The diary has been dubbed a “liary” because of such practices, and because of the deeper truth that much of Nin’s life was indeed a lie, or rather sets of lies, each packaged for her various men. Not counting the many casual encounters, Nin was involved with up to a half-dozen men for most of her adult life, and sometimes intimate with three or four of them on the same day. This led to numerous pregnancies, as many abortions — “I am a mistress…. I have already too many children” — and two concurrent husbands.

As all this was a nightmare to organize and hide, Nin wrote decoy diaries and hid the real ones behind false closet walls. In her late forties she was still sending herself fake telegrams and going to fake jobs. In her fifties she seemed to elevate the duplicity almost to an art form. With the two husbands, the two homes (one in New York, one in California), the two analysts, the one dog with two names (depending on which spouse was calling it), she resorted to what she called her “Lie Box,” this a set of filing cards to help her deceptions straight and her tracks covered. All this seemed to work, in public at least: when Nin died in 1977, aged 73, the obituaries in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times listed different surviving husbands.