Born in Paris, Anaïs Nin started her celebrated diary at age eleven, when she was immigrating to New York with her mother and two young brothers. The diary became her confidant, her beloved friend, in which she recorded her most intimate thoughts and kept watch on the state of her character.
Offering an amusing view of Nin’s early life, from age eleven to seventeen, it is also a self-portrait of an innocent girl who is transformed, through her own insights, into an enlightened young woman.
“An enchanting portrait of a girl’s constant search for herself . . . will delight her admirers as well as new readers.” —Library Journal
“One of the most extraordinary documents in the annals of literature.” —Providence Sunday Journal
“[The Early Diary is] not merely an overture to the great performance. It deserves our attention on its own as a revelation of the rites of passage of a young girl in the early part of the [twentieth] century and as an expression of the collision of cultures between Europe and America.” —Los Angeles Times
Preface by Joaquin Nin-Culmell
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July 25. Last look at Barcelona and last thoughts. The mountains rise up in majestic beauty. The setting sun shows its last pale rays. Here and there, the blue sky holds little white clouds. As I look at this landscape, my mind is crowded with thoughts. We are going to leave Barcelona, leave this beautiful country. No more shall we see this blue sky which delights me so. No more shall I be able to touch my lips to the sweet face of dearest Grandmother. No more shall I be able to surrender to nameless thoughts that always come to me in the evening when I lean on the railing of our balcony, in the silence of the night. And last of all, I am sad to think that we are leaving a country that has been like a mother and a lucky charm for us.
July 26. The ship sailed at 4. We were laden down with flowers and candy, also with kisses. Everyone wept because dearest Maman was leaving. I understand why everyone loves her. She is so sweet, so lovable and above all so good, oh, so good. She never says no to us if she can help it. We spent a very bad night, the heat did not let us rest. At 5, we arrived at Valencia. I have written a lot to finish my story, but luckily I have also managed to devote a moment to my diary. The sea is lovely, and I think we will have a very nice trip. The ship is not crowded; we can do whatever we like because Joaquina Sánchez gave Maman a letter of recommendation for the purser, a very pleasant man who seems very nice. I shall stop for now, with a promise to write more tomorrow. The ship is called the "Montserrat."
July 27. I am keeping my promise to come back to this page. This time, the title of the page will be "Poetry Page."
Toward the Horizon
Far far away toward the horizon I still seem to see Someone dear to me,
July 28. Yesterday I had to stop quickly, so on this page there will still be a little of the Past. Yesterday, then, we reached Málaga. After eating, we left the ship, but we couldn't do anything because Madam the Mad Englishwoman interfered. Therefore we went back immediately. Today we got up very early in the morning and after drinking our daily cup of café au lait, we got off the ship, and this time we were all alone, that is, without anyone to interfere with what we wanted to do. We took a carriage and went shopping, and after that we went for a walk along a drive lined with palms and other trees. In the background we could see magnificent rocky mountains decorated with a few little houses that disappeared among the leaves and flowers. The houses in this country look a lot like Cuba. The women cannot go out except to go to church or to the bullfight, and even that is unusual. I consider it a very ugly custom, and if I couldn't go out as I wished, I would leave this country, if only because of that one custom of the inhabitants. One thing I find very strange is that the hawkers and other people who go about the town, can you imagine, ride on a burro or a little white donkey or even on mares. The countryside is very picturesque. Everything is mountainous, nothing flat. The town is small. I noticed that there are very beautiful grapes, olives, and wine. I read the part about the wine in my geography book, but the other things are my own observations. We sail at two o'clock.
July 29. Today we arrived at Cadiz at 5 in the morning. This is the city that everyone says is so wonderful. At 7 we were all washed and dressed and got up to the bridge just in time to watch the departure of the Golondrina (a small steamboat), for we were far from the harbor and had to take the Golondrina to get there. We went down to breakfast, after which each of us went about his own work until noon. Exactly at noon we got on the boat, and there we were, on our way. After a trip that took half an hour, we finally reached Cadiz, a city where there is nothing to see except beggars on every corner. The few inhabitants, or the few who go out, all look ready for the undertaker; they are all old, infirm, blind, lame, etc. The town seems dead to me and the only pretty thing is a drive overlooking the sea, lined with trees, where one sees an occasional bouquet of flowers amid the leaves. But even that is sad because half the plants are dry and uncared for and look so mournful. The only thing that interested me and that had dignity was the cathedral. I am going to describe it for you:
The first thing I saw was a large door supporting two life-size angels on two columns. A priest guided us through the church. The gilded silver altar was very large indeed. In front of it, on an antique table built entirely of oak was a huge book, a very old Bible. Great beams everywhere in every nook and cranny of the altar. At one moment, when I had lagged a little behind, it became very dark. It was impressive and I felt as though I were in an ancient castle, but all those ideas flew away when Maman called me. After crossing several galleries supported by beams and columns carved with Latin scripture, the priest led us down a dark little staircase. We went down, not without risk of breaking our necks, and found ourselves in something like a walled dungeon. A shudder chilled my blood. The priest explained that this room was dug twelve feet below the sea, his voice resounding loudly amid those gigantic walls. Next he led us into a kind of cave dug into the wall; at the back a 200-year-old crucifix dominated the cave. The priest showed us three graves of priests and a bishop. Then he led us farther on to where the wall was entirely made up of holes that were used as tombs. He showed us a Virgin sculptured out of a single block of stone, very beautiful. The priest guided us toward a little staircase which we climbed, opened a large door to a kind of sacristy, but very big. He spoke a word to another priest, who opened a wardrobe and took out a huge bunch of keys. He opened another big wardrobe where we could see a magnificent miniature altar, 18 inches high, all in gold. The cross was made of pearl mixed with gold thread, a marvel. The priest locked the wardrobe carefully and opened another, in which we could admire a magnificent gold chalice set with pearls and with a big emerald in the center. What wealth! After closing that wardrobe, he opened another where we admired the hilt of a sword that had belonged to a king of Spain. Maman then remarked, "Here you are able to preserve these things because the churches have never been pillaged, but in France all the relics were burned and looted." It's true, my poor country expelled her priests, her nuns, threw out everything, everything. I blush to think of it. For the first time France committed an act of which I shall always be ashamed. No, I don't mean France, but her people, who really were not the French people but proud, envious, evil-minded, selfish people who joined together under the name of the French people. A Frenchman could never have had a dishonorable idea like that of driving out priests and nuns who only did good. No, no, I repeat, they were not French.
July 30. I had already written these last pages when the purser came to ask Maman's permission to take us for a boat ride on the Golondrina. Maman couldn't make up her mind, but the purser insisted, saying: just over and back. Maman agreed and we left. It was 9:30. The moon had just risen, the stars were shining, the boat got under way. It was a lovely trip, and after a half-hour ride, we disembarked. The purser sent a boy for meringue glacé. We waited for about a quarter of an hour, and during that time Thorvald1 and I amused ourselves by asking riddles of the purser, the captain and a priest who came with us. I still don't understand why a priest who is a passenger should wear a captain's uniform, as ours did. Finally the boy came back and the purser came triumphantly, singing Au Clair de la Lune and carrying the package of meringue glacé. We got back on board the Golondrina and left. I had difficulty eating my meringue; there was a big piece that I couldn't bite into and that dripped on my dress, so I took advantage of the darkness to take it out with my fingers and throw it away. After that delicious treat, we began to talk, then sing, and since I remembered Marlborough s'en Va-t-en Guerre, I began to sing it. Everyone happened to know it, so there we all were in the moonlight, singing Marlborough s'en Va-t-en-guerre at the top of our lungs. Then we began to talk about stars, and the trip, I described Brussels, etc. When we got back to the ship, it was 11:30. I told all this to Maman, then went to bed. Now here I am awake again, bathed and breakfasted. Today at 2 we leave Cadiz to travel 13 days to New York.
July 31. Here I am again, and this time I have nothing to say. The sea is not bad but the ship rolls a lot, so that not one passenger has escaped being seasick. I was seasick too but not too much. I leave you quickly but only because I have nothing to tell you. Till tomorrow.
August 1. This is a new month, and there will be happy days because we are going to see our aunts again. We are still on the ship and since I have nothing to tell, I will have a little chat with my dear diary.
I am eleven years old, I know, and I am not serious enough. Last night I said to myself: tomorrow I will be good. Good? I wasn't any better than I was the day before. Now here is a new month, and I haven't yet thought out how to be more sensible, how to master my impulses and my temper. I am ashamed to be so undisciplined. I hereby resolve that with God's help I will be more reasonable. Today the day is nearly over and it isn't much, but for the rest of the day I will observe silence. Not talk, but answer politely. Not seek out conversation, but work on my shawl, which must be finished at least by day after tomorrow.
August 2. It is evening, I have been lost in contemplation and here is all my achievement:
The moon, my visions
The moon shines, the stars come out, a soft breeze caresses my meditation. On the right, one still sees the setting sun showing itself humbly behind the moon, which now rules the heavens. Finally the sun disappears altogether and then the moon, shining still more brightly, proudly ascends the throne of the sun. I greet you, Madam, the stars seem to say. Then as in a dream I catch sight of:
Grandmother who kisses me Papa who is working Mama who weeps Thorvald who plays his violin Someone saying to me, "I love you"
August 3. I had the idea that in my diary I would do a portrait of each member of the family. Today I have a portrait of Papa that I am going to exhibit:
This is my Papa, my dear Papa. This is the face of the greatest pianist in the world. Sometimes he plays softly, sometimes powerfully. The way he plays tells me whether he is sad or gay. It is majestic to see his hands make the keys obey, everyone is spellbound. Every concert crowns him with success, thousands of laurel wreaths rest upon his brow, wreaths of glory that he has won and well deserves. His name is on every tongue, he is invoked as the god of music. No one can compare to my Papa, no one plays like him, no one can imitate him.
There, it's finished! Now I shall talk about Maman. I am carried away: Dearest Maman, oh! I love you, I love you, I will do anything for you. Just ask! ask! and I will do it.
Maman delightful singer, Maman, tender loving mother, Maman, a mother devoted to her children.
Maman deserves better than heaven. God should have a special heaven for a mother like my Maman, and that heaven would be only for her and for Grandmother, as no one else deserves it.
You are looking at a great singer, my Maman. She has met with great success everywhere and, like Papa, she wears many laurel wreaths to reward her efforts. Besides being a great singer, she is devoted to us, more than any other mother in the world. Maman has a heart of gold, the kindness of her glance says so. I love her so much and she loves us deeply too, I know. My dear Maman does everything to give us pleasure, all her sacrifices are for us, she works only to assure the future for all of us. When I was sick, she was at my bedside day and night. Anything she could do to please me, she did, with never a second to herself. My dear Maman showed such kindness that I could never repay her by myself, but God will help me. She kisses me goodnight with so much sweetness, and without a kiss from my angel I couldn't even close my eyes. No mother on earth does more than Maman. Love, love to Maman, my dearest beloved angel.
August 3. Today I almost finished my scarf and while I was working on it, I thought, is it for Maman? for Grandmother? for my godmother? I haven't decided yet, but I think it will be for Grandmother. Thorvald was sick and spent the day in bed. From time to time I went by to see if he needed anything, which earned me the title of little "Sister of Charity." The sea continues to be very calm and I am not bored a minute.
August 4. The second mate invited us to his cabin. He has a typewriter and I would have liked to type my diary on it because no one in the family will be able to decipher my horrible handwriting, but Maman gave me to understand that it would be better if I left it handwritten the way it is. I haven't too much to say. I have my shawl almost finished, I just have to do the edge which I will decorate with wool of the same color. Maman tells me not to write too much because she doesn't like me to be indoors, so I will finish, but not without saying one last thing: every day I try to practice one virtue. I believe in that way I will get to be a better person.
August 5. Still nothing to tell, but anyhow, let's try. My shawl is almost finished. Maman has started the trimming. I have started a story. I haven't found the title but I think I will call it:
Touching Memory of the Shipwrecked Charles Ledoure and of Captain Lucien Couragon
August 7. Excuse me for writing in pencil, but I am on the bridge. I will give you a description of the weather: There is no sun, the sky is gray, the wind blows, the sea is covered with foam, the waves throw a fine spray over the bridge, the water is gray. The ship ducks its head so deep that water got into several of the cabins.
Marguerite in first class a lady in second a lady in second two other ladies in second a man in first Maman in first two other ladies in first are seasick.
I thought I would copy here something that happened to me before my trip. I wrote it in my notebook but am afraid of losing it. I begin:
July 16, 1913, Barcelona. We were at Carmen Karr's place where Maman was to sing one last time, a farewell performance because we were leaving for New York. Many friends were there and among them three nuns wearing the same habit as in the clinic where I stayed when I was sick. All evening I could think of nothing but the clinic and the nuns. Two of the nuns who were there looked a lot like Sister Norberta and Sister Regina. Finally I couldn't contain myself and feeling sure it was they, I went to Maman and whispered in her ear: "Maman, ask the name of those nuns. They look like Sister Norberta and Sister Regina." Maman paid no attention and after a few minutes I asked her again. Then Maman took me over to the nuns, saying, "This is my daughter, who thinks she has a vocation." One of the nuns then leaned down and kissed me. That gentle kiss seemed to say Come with us.
This impressed me so that I felt like crying, but Maman went on, "My daughter was nursed by two nuns who wore a habit like yours and she would like to know your order, because she thinks you look like them." The nun answered, "We are Dominican nuns." Maman then turned to me and said, "You see, these aren't the nuns you thought they were." Then Maman put me in a chair next to the nuns and went away. The nun asked me, "Would you like to become a nun?" I was embarrassed and answered, "Yes, but not if I have to leave Maman." The sister smiled. I am still intrigued by that adventure.
August 9. I have started to make a neat copy of the story I wrote. I must announce to my diary that we are going to arrive in New York. I shall be happy to see my aunts. But I am also sadder and sadder to leave Grandmother. It's true, I miss her kisses, I miss her sweet expression as much as her kisses, but perhaps we shall go back to Barcelona, I hope so. My shawl is nearly finished, just one row still to be added. I have decided it will be for Maman because Grandmother can't wear a light color like blue.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin 1914-1920"
Copyright © 1978 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.
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About the Author,