This exchange of letters between the two controversial writers—Anaïs Nin, renowned for her candid and personal diaries, and Henry Miller, author of Tropic of Cancer—paints a portrait of more than two decades in their complex relationship as it moves through periods of passion, friendship, estrangement, and reconciliation.
“The letters may disturb some with their intimacy, but they will impress others with their fragrant expression of devotion to art.” —Booklist
“A portrait of Miller and Nin more rounded than any previously provided by critics, friends, and biographers.” —Chicago Tribune
Edited and with an introduction by Gunther Stuhlmann
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[Glion sur Montreux, Switzerland] Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1932
Dostoevsky in Siberia! Henry in Dijon! From my fortress up in the place of frozen instincts (the Swiss), where I am not trying to find sanity but the power to conceal my madness, I sent you a telegram which will make you laugh, and 150 frs. The telegram is not unwise. Resign, Henry, that place is impossible for you. Hugh* is coming here Friday and when he reads your letter he will understand perfectly. Listen, old straw-Krans won't mind because he has other men for the job. You were sent down there under false pretenses, too. They had no right to say you would get 500 frs. and when you are there to say you will not get anything at all. I am sizzling with indignation as I write. I read your letter while I took a walk this morning. You are unduly sensitive too if you think your friends were relieved to have the problem of "you" settled, Henry. I think everybody honestly believed you were going to be given the one perfect chance to write, for a while, to digest the prodigious life you lead — or maybe, to make others digest it. I said: "Come home to Louveciennes," at least temporarily. I know it is no solution because it is another form of exile, and you are not free enough, and the house is too far from Paris. I say that because it means temporarily a place where you are sure to eat and sleep. Hugh will try and find you another job. I said Wednesday because we will be home Wednesday, and also because I fancy you can't resign overnight. But if you want to run away from Siberia before, you can go straight to Louveciennes. Emilia [the maid] will be only too glad to take care of you. I'll write her a note today. Use our room. Perhaps Hugh has written you the same thing — I imagine not. Just as you know, when one is carried away the other must hold back, to create a balance, just as you hold back when June* is carried away. Dostoevsky got something out of Siberia, but from what you say, Dijon is not nearly as interesting. It is mesquin, meager, bloodless, small, petty. Don't stay there. Write me what you decide to do: Poste Restante, Glion sur Montreux, Suisse. Home Wednesday.
This letter must get to you immediately, so I keep all I wanted to write you about you, June, and other things. If you come back, will talk, if you don't come back I'll write you a lot. Don't worry about the criticisms you give me. I love them and I believe in them. You knew I cut out that chapter on whimsicality in the book on Lawrence? You made me realize its foolishness. Also, you are right about the analytical part in the second book. You're helping me.
Lycée Carnot, Dijon Thursday [February 4, 1932]
I don't know where to begin! My mind is flooded, saturated with material. Alors, I got your letter, the telegram. First of all, bravo! I am immensely elated by the interest you take — and that is quite enough to sustain me. It will not be necessary to return to Paris, or Louveciennes, tho' certainly I deeply appreciate your hospitality. Let us reserve the occasion — there may come a worse day. For the present I feel sufficiently fortified to stick it out....
Perhaps I sounded like a crybaby. What a yawp I set up! Damn it, I wasn't supposed to fall into a bed of roses. So, if in the future I rave or rant, just set it down to literary ebullience. Everything has its compensations. ... Now that I have cleared the deck with these practical explanations (and hell how I detest them) let me make other apologies — and then to more interesting matters. First excuse the paper. I have good typewriter paper which I am holding in reserve, and if you do not mind the lack of formality why O.K. Maybe the random notes on the reverse side will titillate you. They are of no use to me any more. Secondly, excuse the absence of salutation. I haven't yet learned to call you by your first name, and Miss Nin sounds so stiff, like an invitation to tea. I should like to say simply Anaïs, but it takes time. (Osborn, for instance, is still Osborn.) How Germanic this is....
Since I shall not be back to engage in long discussions (except perhaps during Easter, or will you be going away then?) why let's thrash things out by letter. The notes I sent you, after you read them, please hold them. As I said, so much was left out of the novel. I want to return to it, supplement it by incorporating some of my material in the present book [Tropic of Cancer]. Naturally you have divined how precious this "Albertine" must be for me. Is not June very similar — perhaps much more complicated, orchestrated as it were? How many more enigmas are there for me to solve than was presented by Albertine? ... God, it is maddening to think that even one day must pass without writing. I shall never, never catch up. It is why, no doubt, I write with such vehemence, such distortion. It is despair....
Yes, I hope, Anaïs, that you will write. There is lots I have to say which does not fit into books. And I want to know what you think. I come back again to your book, to my first, vivid impressions. Certain passages are of an inestimable beauty. Above all a sureness, a grasp, a mature dexterity which I, alas, will never attain. The very composition of your blood, your inheritance, has without your knowing it perhaps saved you from problems and pains which most writers are obliged to suffer. You are essentially the artist, whether you choose a small or a big canvas. You have a power, through sheer feeling, that will captivate your readers. Only beware of your reason, your intelligence. Do not attempt to resolve. ... Don't preach. No moral conclusions. There are none, anyway. Don't hesitate. Write! Keep on, even if you go from Switzerland to Timbuctoo, though why Louveciennes shouldn't suffice is an enigma to me....
[Louveciennes] February 12, 1932
Last night I read your novel on life with Blanche. There were some passages in it which were éblouissants — staggeringly beautiful. Particularly the description of a dream you had, the description of the jazzy night with Valeska, the whole of the last part when the life with Blanche comes to a climax. The last is deep, the feeling about illusion while Moloch watches Blanche's sobbing, the tragic desire for understanding in the center of the utmost emotional brutality — the tremendous struggle to get deeper into your own feelings. Other things are flat, lifeless, vulgarly realistic, photographic. Other things, the older mistress, Cora, even Naomi, are pas dégrossis — not bom yet. There is a slapdash, careless rushing by. You have gone a long way from that. Your writing had to keep pace with your living — and because of your animal vitality, you lived too much. Now you feel the need of appui on what has been lived. You observe in Proust what it is to relive by retrospection and introspection. I say beware just a little of your hypersexuality! For you have that. You make me think of Casanova, except that in between the erotic, Casanova was boring, while you, in between eroticism and even because of it, you get profound. It astonishes me how delicately you can make distinctions between women. There was a marvellous paragraph on that. Among one hundred women you will distinguish five. It is more than Don Juan ever did. But I would say about fifty of these one hundred are the cause for that embryonic writing. However, that hypersexuality which Blanche used as an insult, I admire, because it is quite in proportion with the enormity of your mind, your outsized thoughts, your torrential style (oh, that magnificent part where you describe Moloch's sudden eloquence), the volcanic novels and the unanswerable letters!
I have a strange sureness that I know just what should be left out, exactly as you knew what should be left out of my book. I think the novel is worth weeding out. Would you let me? I'll give it a form, there is so much that is worth preserving and publishing. I'll chisel it out a bit — you ought to be proud of it. I know how much you yourself would hate to do it, because it is dead for you. I know how much I have loathed working over the novel* you read because it is dead for me, how much we both love to work on living, palpitating stuff, at white heat only. But I believe it is only after the white heat that the story really ripens. The white heat re-creates the emotional experience, but understanding does not crystallize at white heat. For instance, it was only lately that I understand fully the experience I tried to describe in the book you read. I had forgotten to insert parts which were very important and very significant:
Why did I turn away from men who deeply loved me and love only Alan [John Erskine] for two years? Why did his mistress crumble after two years? Why did he love no one and was perpetually disappointed?
The woman [I] tells Duncan [Hugh]: I have sought a dominator.
Do I not dominate you? asks Duncan.
No, she answers, because you love me.
A man who dominates is a man who does not love. He has a tremendous animal vitality, a force, which conquers. He conquers, people are subjected by him, but he neither loves nor understands. He is just a force and he is filled with his own strength. If he loves at all, it is a force like his own, and so again he loves his own kind of strength, not the other, which is an infiltration. Watch the conqueror well, watch the man or woman who dominates another: he is not the one who loves. The one who loves is the one who is dominated. You love me, and so you cannot dominate me, and I being a woman sought domination. But it is all over now. I see it as an impersonal force, an animal force, which no longer has power over me. I even hate it now. I hate its lack of subtlety!
And then sometimes, you know, that power one is born with is not in accord with one's desires, it is outside of one's self. I have sometimes suspected Alan of being annoyed at the effect of his force. It flatters his vanity to be loved, yes, but in reality he does not want to be loved because if you are loved you must love in return and that he cannot do. Women make the mistake of loving him because they are dominated by him. He prefers, deep down in himself, to be resisted, on his own grounds, with almost an indifference to love as you and I understand it, with a certain toughness. He hates the way women crumble before him, he hates it. I have seen him hate Mary too, because she too has crumbled.
I don't know what you'll make of this, because such "dryness" is so far removed from your own character. Though I think you can destroy a woman, too, but for other reasons.
Can you work on my portable! Will it solve your problem for a while? Do you know anybody I could sent the prospectus of my book on Lawrence to? It will be out in two weeks.
Lycée Camot, Dijon Friday [February 12, 1932]
At midnight last night my table was so littered with notes that, unable to digest it all and frame a coherent letter, I gave up in despair and went to bed. The room has become infinitely more habitable since (after two weeks) I discovered that the light could be manipulated. I must tell you that the big coal box in my room is an object which I look at with a deal of affection. It is the best object in the room....
One of my notes says: "Correct Anaïs' English." Do you want me to do that, or would Hugo consider that I am encroaching on his private domain? Furthermore, and this is more important, would it "cramp your style" if I were to do so? I think it fairly important to apprise you of your errors, since you are making English your language. Nothing is more embarrassing at times, and more provocative of ridicule, than these queer twists which betray one's ignorance of the language. I suspect you want to come as near perfection as possible in this matter; and you know I'm no stickler for grammar, syntax, commas etc. No, it is only when the meaning is distorted or the beauty marred that I would hazard a friendly counsel....
I sent a second letter to Switzerland, same address, did you get it? And did I enclose the book list I had promised? Don't be terrified by the avalanche of mail. It is a bad habit of mine, and as I can do no work with the pen it is just a way of letting off steam; Hugo, I hope, is not annoyed. Please have him say so. He must not. In any case, I am not dropping them on his desk. They arrive at Louveciennes, when commences a new life. But, I know how it can be sometimes. I should hate to have him saying to himself —"More mail from that guy? What's the meaning of all this? I hope to Christ he croaks."
And having written this I immediately perceive that it sounds a little like having a bad conscience, which I haven't at all, my conscience being practically defunct. No, I want Hugo to like me, to trust me always, to believe in me. It's a little harder to get at him, and then it was not he who put the first foot forward. That always makes things awkward. But damn all that, Anaïs, but it is all for Hugo too, absolutely. And if I can write freely — without fear of planting worms in the fruit, why fine. Hugo will either like me tremendously after a time, or detest me. I think he will like me. And, if I may sound just another note before finishing with this subject — you see I am extremely touchy, because I myself was so often placed in Hugo's role; the scars never seem to heal. But between you there is understanding. That is the big victory. I am where Proust was, only with more complications, more facts, more mysteries, more terrors, more of everything, except genius. You almost make me weep with your flattering words. No, I am far from being the artist you imagine. Maybe there are in me possibilities — they have not yet come to fruition. But your friendship, your wonderful sympathy is everything....
[Dijon] Saturday [February 13, 1932]
Just received your two letters and realize that you did get the second letter sent to Switzerland. ... If the typewriter has a standard American keyboard I certainly will be able to use it. ... That you found the old novel good in parts and that you think it could be doctored and made publishable is well. Sure I would be delighted if you would go over it and prune it. Even if only a hundred pages remain and they are good, why O.K. Perhaps I could reciprocate sometime by doing the same for you....
You ... make me laugh talking about Casanova. You don't know yet what men are like, pardon. I am fairly normal. It is true I swim in a perpetual sea of sex but the actual excursions are fairly limited. I think it's more like this — that I'm always ready to love, always hungry to love. I'm talking about love, not just sex. And I don't mind at all saturating my work with it — sex I mean — because I'm not afraid of it and I almost want to stand up and preach about it, like that nut in [Robinson Jeffers's] The Women at Point Sur. He was cracked and people forgive that, but I am quite sane, too sane almost, madly sane. No, I'll stop explaining myself. I'll let you explain me to myself — that sounds intelligent and fantastic. Don't worry about offending me — that's quite impossible....
P.S. I must seem pretty nonchalant in the way I pass over your gifts and aid. ... It hurts me to know that you are pinching and scraping to aid me. I think sometimes I am nothing but a big bum. Damn it, if I could find a way to earn a living I'd sell myself for the remainder of my life. That's honest!
[Louveciennes] Feb. 13, 1932
Please understand, Henry, that I am in full rebellion against my own mind, that when I live, I live by impulse, by emotion, by white heat — June understood that. My mind didn't exist when we walked insanely through Paris, oblivious to people, to time, to place, to others. It didn't exist when I first read Dostoevsky in my hotel room, and laughed and cried together, and couldn't sleep, and didn't know where I was ... but afterwards, understand me, when all basis, all awareness, all control has been knocked out of my being, afterwards I make the tremendous effort to rise again, not to wallow anymore, not to go on just suffering or burning, and I grasp all things, June and Dostoevsky, and think. You got the thinking. Why should I make such an effort? Because I have a fear of being like June exactly — I have a feeling against complete chaos. I want to be able to live with June in utter madness, but I also want to be able to understand afterwards, to grasp what I have lived through.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Literate Passion"
Copyright © 1987 Rupert Pole, as Trustee under the Last Will and Testament of Anaïs Nin.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Letters of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller,
About the Author,
Connect with HMH,