Apprenticed to Venus: My Secret Life with Ana�s Nin

Apprenticed to Venus: My Secret Life with Ana�s Nin

by Tristine Rainer
Apprenticed to Venus: My Secret Life with Ana�s Nin

Apprenticed to Venus: My Secret Life with Ana�s Nin

by Tristine Rainer


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A Revealing Look at the Mentorship—and Manipulation—of Anaïs Nin

In 1962, eighteen-year-old Tristine Rainer was sent on an errand to Anaïs Nin’s West Village apartment. The chance meeting would change the course of her life and begin her years as Anaïs’s accomplice, keeping her mentor’s confidences—including that of her bigamy—even after Anaïs Nin’s death and the passing of her husbands, until now.

Set in the underground literary worlds of Manhattan and Los Angeles during the sixties and seventies, Tristine charts her coming of age under the guidance of the infamous Anaïs Nin: author of the erotic bestseller Delta of Venus, lover to Henry Miller, Parisian diarist, and feminist icon of the sexual revolution. As an inexperienced college-bound girl from the San Fernando Valley, Tristine was dazzled by the sophisticated bohemian author and sought her instruction in becoming a woman. Tristine became a fixture of Anaïs’s inner circle, implicated in the mysterious author’s daring intrigues—while simultaneously finding her own path through love, lust, and loss. In what Kirkus calls a “spicy and saucy hybrid of memoir and novel,” Apprenticed to Venus brings to life a seductive and entertaining character —the pioneer whose mantra was, “A woman has as much right to pleasure as a man!”

An intimate look at the intricacies—and risks—of the female mentor-protégé relationship, Tristine Rainer’s Apprenticed to Venus stories her deep friendship, for good or ill, with a pivotal historical figure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628727784
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 07/11/2017
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Tristine Rainer is a recognized expert on diary and memoir writing and the author of two renowned classics on autobiographic writing continuously in print: The New Diary (with a preface by Anaïs Nin) and Your Life as Story. In addition to co-founding the UCLA Women’s Studies program and later writing and producing award-winning movies for television, Rainer taught memoir and creative nonfiction for eleven years in the USC Masters of Professional Writing Program, and is director of the nonprofit Center for Autobiographic Studies. She resides in California.

Read an Excerpt


Greenwich Village, New York, 1962

When I pressed the buzzer beneath a card that read Nin-Guiler, it sounded my fate — whether for good or ill, I will here try to resolve. I was pretty much a virgin in every way then, including never having seen saturated gold leaves like those skittering on the sidewalk. Before staying with my godmother for the summer, now almost over, I'd spent my entire seventeen years and eleven months in the boring San Fernando Valley.

As I waited under the awning of Anaïs Nin's brownstone, I imagined the scalloped leaves at my feet as precious, exotic fans. Forgetting that at eighteen now I was too grown-up to collect leaves from a dirty sidewalk, I scooped up an armful as though grabbing real gold.

"Ahloo? Ahloo?" A high French voice arrested me.

I dropped a handful of leaves to press the intercom. "Are you Annaees Nin?" I pronounced her name the way my godmother had instructed when sending me on this errand.


"Lenore Tawney sent me to get the books you promised her."

"Who-oo?" Anaïs's birdsong raised a note at the end.

"Lenore Tawney, the fiber artist? You took a small weaving of hers in exchange for your books and ..." Never brought the books, my godmother had groused. Lenore loathed to part with her work except to a few museums. She didn't trust anyone to care for it as she would.

With a pleasant hum the entry door unlocked, and the elevator opened by itself. As the lift delivered me to the fourth floor, my stomach fluttered with excitement; I was going to meet the "underground novelist" Anaïs Nin. Until the previous day I'd never heard of Anaïs Nin, but my godmother had said that in the 1930s, Nin had hung out with Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell in Paris. I hadn't read them either — because they were on a list of banned authors the nuns at Immaculate Heart High had handed out — but I intended to.

The elevator slid open, revealing Anaïs posed at her apartment door like a movie star, a raised arm resting on the mahogany doorframe, one hand on her hip.

"And you are?" She gave me a Cheshire grin, nothing like a movie star's. Her teeth were slightly bucked, like a little girl's, yet long, and their color hinted she was older than she otherwise appeared. (She was then sixty.) The effect was that she seemed all ages at once. When she composed her face, it was hauntingly familiar: beautiful and mysterious like a geisha's with kohl-rimmed eyes and high-peaked, penciled lips. Her fitted sheath dress showed off a figure as girlish as mine.

"I'm Lenore Tawney's goddaughter," I said. "I'm staying at her loft. She went to Monhegan for the weekend ..."

"What is your name?" Anaïs's turquoise eyes flashed like sunlight on water.

I told her and she repeated it, rolling the "r" in the back of her throat and chiming the "teenne" on her palette: "Trchrriss-teennne." I thrilled to the sound of my name in her mouth. She grinned again, revealing pink upper gums. "Are those beautiful Maidenhair leaves for me?"

Suddenly I was aware I was still clutching the pile of leaves to my chest. I glanced back at a trail of them on the hall's oriental runner. "Oh, I'm sorry. I ... Would you like them?" I thrust the leaves forward, more falling.

"Follow me," she said, her smile so encouraging I would have followed her anywhere.

We entered a softly lit hallway through which I saw straight ahead to a living room, where people in evening clothes sipped martinis. Anaïs ducked left into a small kitchen, and I followed.

A dark-skinned, slender woman, whom I later learned was Haitian, rose from her reading chair smoothing her cotton skirt, printed with dancing salamanders.

"Millie Fredericks, this is Tristine ..." Anaïs looked at me, stricken. "I am so sorry, I don't have your surname."

She made me spell it and then cried, "Like my friend, the actress Luise Rainer!" Only Anaïs pronounced it, "Rriiiner." She lowered her voice as if sharing a confidence. "Luise was an intimate friend of mine when she was married to Clifford Odets. I put them in my diary. Are you related to her?" She lifted my chin gently with her manicured fingers. "You have the same beautiful, almond-shaped eyes."

Unused to compliments, I blurted, "I'm not related to anyone important." Anaïs looked so disappointed, I jumped to add, "Except my godmother, I guess, though we're not blood related."

"Certainly, your godmother! Tawney is a genuine artist. So pure!"

There was an involuntary quiver in my voice when I said, "My godmother told me that you write a diary."

"Do you keep a diary?" Anaïs gave me her extraordinary smile of approval.

I nodded. I felt transparent, but also, as never before, completely accepted, completely safe. Growing up, I'd been a misfit in Southern California, neither blond nor cheerful, constantly accused of having my head in a book or in the clouds, and usually dressed in ill-fitting hand-me-downs since my father split. But Anaïs's smile said: I understand you as you always hoped to be understood; I see your great specialness as you have always dreamt of being seen.

"One afternoon we will have a long talk about our diaries!" She beamed.

I nodded so vigorously that more leaves fell to the floor. Anaïs laughed gaily, speaking in French with Millie, but seeing my incomprehension, changed back to English. "We're looking for a crrrystal bowl."

Millie produced one from a cabinet and told me, "Hon, why don't you dump those leaves in the sink?"

I did so and saw they had soiled the front of my pink shirtwaist dress, which I had bought for starting college in the fall with my waitressing tips. Without a word, Millie took a cloth and dabbed at the spots. Then she dusted each leaf before handing it to Anaïs. We oohed and ahhed as Millie presented each gold-specked fan and Anaïs arranged them in the bowl.

Waving one flirtatiously, Anaïs said, "Do you think it's a coincidence we call these leaves maidenhair, while the Chinese, who call it gingko, consider it an aphrodisiac?"

She must have noticed my blush for she gave me another gummy smile as she picked up the artistically filled bowl and instructed me to follow her into the living room. She carried the bowl high over her head like a temple priestess.

"I want you all to meet my new friend, Tristine Rainer." Anaïs set the bowl of leaves on a table inlaid with Moroccan tiles. "She has brought us poetry from the street!"

The four people in the living room exclaimed and clapped. I felt as exalted as when I'd been applauded as the lead in my high school plays.

A jowled, sixtyish woman with lacquered bouffant hair intoned in a deep voice, "Street poetry is my kind of poetry."

"This is Caresse Crosby." Anaïs smiled at me. "She is the founder of Black Sun Press. Caresse, and her deceased husband Harry, published D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Hemingway, and Henry Miller before anyone else would take a chance on them."

I had to keep myself from curtsying. "I'm so honored to meet you!"

I followed Anaïs as she glided over to the older and taller of the two men in the room. "And this handsome man is my husband, Hugo Guiler." She put her arm around his trim waist as he gave her shoulders a squeeze.

I said, "But your last name is Nin."

Her laughter tinkled. "Nin is my professional name. My nom de plume."

"Of course." I flushed over my naiveté.

With the soulful mien and aristocratic bearing of a greyhound, Hugo lowered his narrow, angular head and asked if I'd like a martini, even though I was a teenager and looked like one.

Then, with a kiss to Anaïs's forehead, he strode into the kitchen.

Anaïs took me by the hand and introduced me to Jean-Jacques, a short, wiry man in his thirties, expensively dressed. Though I later noticed that his French accent was heavier than hers, he used slang Americanisms with no accent at all. "How ya doin?"

He reached for my hand as if to shake it but instead kissed the top, lingering so that I felt the air from his Gallic nose tickle my skin. He and Anaïs joked in French while he held onto my hand, and I cursed myself for having elected Spanish in high school.

Hugo returned with Millie, who had put on a white, scalloped pinafore over her colorful dress. She carried a tray balancing a martini glass filled to the brim. Everyone watched as I lifted the glass it by its narrow stem, trying not to spill it. Successfully! Almost.

Hugo rescued me from my embarrassment. "Caresse was telling us about her efforts to start a women's world peace organization."

"Her greatest invention since the bra!" Anaïs exclaimed. "And both inventions are custom-fitted for women."

I didn't know what she was talking about then but later learned that Caresse Crosby, as a socialite in her early twenties, had invented and patented the first brassiere.

Caresse lifted her large head from the mauve settee. "My organization, Women of the World Against War, denounces war as mass murder."

"Say the point I like about individualism," Anaïs prompted.

"We will guard our individualism and feminine qualities and use them for good!"

With his heavy accent, Jean-Jacques volunteered, "Aahving no feminine qualities, I will just aahve to be bad."

"So that's your excuse." Anaïs's laugh jingled.

Anaïs, Hugo, Caresse, and Jean-Jacques continued their good-humored banter, looping from experimental music and off-Broadway theater to Bette Davis's performance in All About Eve, to Marilyn Monroe's death the previous week. As I was thinking how inconceivable Marilyn's suicide was, given she was famous and had everything I wanted, they segued to Hemingway's suicide the year before. Anaïs said that the way Hemingway had written — by denying all feeling — had predicted his end.

I sat spellbound by Anaïs and Hugo and their guests, whose speech and gestures seemed to be from the black-and-white movies I'd watched on TV over long summer afternoons. Anaïs especially, with her delicate skin, bowed lips, and arched brows, had the glamour of a 1930s ingénue. Her every movement flowed as if there were a camera always on her. I'd studied the mannerisms of those beautiful people, who lived in mansions with balustraded stairways, chandeliered drawing rooms, and carts with ice and crystal liquor bottles from which to prepare cocktails. They were always going to or giving parties, falling in or out of love, and confiding their indiscretions to a doting maid. To a latchkey kid in front of her TV, it looked like an idyllic life.

Now I felt as if I had walked onto the set of one of those old films, which was thrilling but also terrifying, because — as in one of my recurring nightmares where I'd been cast in a play but never learned my lines — I was afraid of saying the wrong thing and ruining the show.

For the moment, though, I wasn't called upon to deliver any lines. Everyone's attention was on Anaïs. She was talking about Henry Miller's novels.

"Henry's genital obsession is part of American realism. I'm more interested in the atmosphere of love in my novels, in sensuality, which for me is everywhere; a shrub can be erotic at twilight, the lines of an Eames chair, the moan of a sax from a curtainless window, the hiss of sprinklers in the morning, the way my husband refolds his Wall Street Journal." She glanced affectionately at Hugo.

I had never heard a woman speak that way, precisely and boldly, but also musically, and I agreed with her. I didn't even want to go all the way with the boys I dated. I was happy just making out with them for hours. And I, like she, found sensuality everywhere, especially here in her apartment with its rosy, flattering lamplight and her carpets and furniture that seemed out of The Arabian Nights.

"It's time to get going," Hugo announced.

Millie reappeared, having removed her pinafore and now wearing dangling, seed pearl earrings.

Hugo looked down at me from his height. "We're going dancing in Harlem. You should come."

"Oh, I couldn't crash your party," I replied.

"Nonsense, come along," Hugo said. "We'll look after you. I've ordered a car."

"There won't be room," I answered, not knowing then that by car, Hugo meant limo. "And I'm not dressed." I'd thought my sleeveless pink shirtwaist was smart when I'd arrived, but not anymore.

"You shouldn't miss new experiences." Anaïs fixed me with her gemstone eyes, imparting the first of many lessons I would eagerly heed. "Have you ever been to Harlem?"


"Do you like jazz?"

"I love jazz!"

"Well, you don't know when you'll be invited again," she said.

And that was that.

* * *

Once we were settled in the limo I kept my eyes on Anaïs, who was gazing out the window, looking distant and pensive. We listened to Ella Fitzgerald singing "Autumn in New York" on the radio, as though the deejay had dedicated it especially to us. As the others hummed and sang phrases, I thought I was the dreamer with empty hands sighing for this exotic land. I squeezed my mind as I sometimes did to save the moment in my memory so I wouldn't forget, so one day I could, as in the song, live it again. I told myself to remember Millie and Jean-Jacques and Caresse swaying, Hugo holding Anaïs's hand, and Anaïs with her black-crayoned eyes, arched brows, and crimson mouth, looking like the French clown Pierrot we'd learned about in my high school drama class.

Anaïs became aware of me watching her and gave me a soft smile, then retrieved from her purse a gold and black box. As though the move had been choreographed, Jean-Jacques pulled out his lighter and flicked it while she brought a gold-tipped Balkan-Sobranie to her lips. Jean-Jacques then offered around his Gitanes before lighting his own.

"All the other clubs in Harlem have closed," Hugo was saying.

Exhaling smoke, Anaïs addressed me. "We used to go to a place called the Jitterbug. It was owned by the prize fighter and actor Canada Lee."

Caresse nudged me. "Do you know who he is?"

I was excited. I knew the answer. I remembered the Hitchcock movie Lifeboat I'd seen on TV and the Negro actor in it who'd recited the 23rd Psalm for a dead child they had thrown overboard. I'd wept alone in the living room hearing the compassion in that man's deep, reverberating voice.

"He was in Lifeboat!"

Anaïs beamed at me approvingly.

"He was also blacklisted," Caresse added. "They hounded that beautiful man into an early grave."

Anaïs said, "Canada Lee was Caresse's lover."

"Oh." I looked at fleshy Caresse with her collapsed face in a new light.

Anaïs whispered in Hugo's ear. He lowered his head, smiling, and brought his wife's watermelon-polished fingertips to his lips. They leaned into each other as she kissed him on his neck. Watching them, a void ached in my chest. I'd never seen married people be affectionate and romantic; my parents had fought until they divorced and my aunt and uncle never touched. I imagined Anaïs and Hugo's love, their marriage, as what I yearned for but never expected to find.

Jean-Jacques tapped my hand. I looked down. He was passing me a burning hand-rolled cigarette. I'd noticed an odor, distinct from the Gitanes and Sobranies, and when Jean-Jacques said, "Kif," under his breath, I guessed what it was. No one I'd ever known had tried pot, but that didn't stop me from putting the rolled cigarette to my lips and inhaling as I would a Kent.

"Oold it in," Jean-Jacques said in my ear.

Coughing, I tried to hand it back, but Jean-Jacques murmured, "To Caresse." It went around the circle of passengers without comment, each hand covering it as the next received it, though I didn't notice who smoked and who didn't. I was too absorbed in the sudden intensification of sound, the beauty of streetlights streaming through the inky night, and my release from self-consciousness. The limo, Ella on the radio, their animated faces, Anaïs snuggling with Hugo, the bursts of laughter — everything blended and flowed.

Until my feet hit the ground. The pavement lurched under my heels, and Hugo chivalrously stabilized me. Languidly, arm in arm, Anaïs, Millie, and Caresse were walking toward the art deco facade of the Lenox Lounge. It seemed to be taking them a long time.

From above my head, someone growled, "Look at that white and pink flower." I looked up past the club's neon sign to a narrow metal balcony where a sinewy man, so dark he gleamed purple, was leaning forward in a folding chair looking down at me. "Pretty enough to pick."

I wanted to be where Anaïs, Millie, and Caresse were, but my legs seemed to pull like taffy, getting nowhere. Then I felt Hugo's hands on my waist from behind while Jean-Jacques stepped in front of me, and we all filed, like a Chinese dragon with twelve legs, through the entrance of the narrow bar into the back room.

Sconces glowed like hot embers against the orange walls. A table had been reserved for us, the only white people there, it seemed. When Anaïs selected her chair, I willed myself beside her.

A waitress with large hoop earrings asked for our drink orders. She didn't even give me a second look when I ordered a bourbon and ginger ale, a drink my aunt once let me try.


Excerpted from "Apprenticed to Venus"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Tristine Rainer.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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.

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