Whatever you may think of her writing, Anaïs Nin was definitely a femme fatale. Henry Miller was, he claimed, the "happiest man alive." Together, Nin and Miller created a literary language for sexual fulfillment; she in a diary whose original form still remains unpublished, he in novels banned in both the United States and England until court cases in the early 1960s permitted their publication and turned Miller into something Nin had already achieved: the status of a cult hero.
Nin and Miller met in Paris in 1931. Miller, an aspiring novelist, wanted to meet the banker's pretty wife who had sung the praises of D.H. Lawrence and whose books had been deemed "pornography" outside of France. Neither Nin nor Miller, at that point, had published much. Their mutual interest, as they freely admit, was in sex and in each other and, consequently, they began a long affair.
It was during this affair that both Nin and Miller produced their finest writing--the writings that would eventually become Nin's two diaries and her novel, House of Incest, as well as Miller's Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring. Each believed in, and nurtured, the others genius and Miller wrote that Nin's diary would take its place "beside the revelations of St. Augustine, Petronius, Abelard, Proust and others."
Miller, only forty-one, but already somewhat down-and-out, fascinated the twenty-nine year old Nin, whose vague yearnings filled the many pages of the diary she had been keeping since the age of ten. "He's a man who makes life drunk. He is like me," she mused. Nin and Miller, however, were not alike. One of their most essential differences was a difference typical between men and women--Nin censored herself, while the world censored Miller.
Published in 1963, Nin's diary caused a literary sensation. It was begun as a letter to her father, a man who abandoned the family when Nin was only ten, and it remained intensely private. Revised into frequent distortions, the diary was a record of a compulsion to conceal as much as of a quest for feminine fulfillment. A mixture of fact, fantasy and calculated lies, Nin's editor asserts that the diary nevertheless presents a "psychological" truth. Kate Millett hailed Nin as "the mother of us all" and the women's movement immediately embraced her writings. Author Erica Jong said that no woman had told "the story of women's sexuality" more honestly than had Nin.
Despite the praise, if we read between the lines, while still observing Nin's frenetic whirl from bed to bed, we come to realize that she was really never satisfied. Her insatiable appetite aside, Nin was, at heart, a prudish libertine. Her childhood molestation by her father, whom she, herself, seduced as an adult a year after meeting Henry Miller, seems to have contributed greatly to her private inhibitions. Although she flitted from bed to bed she sadly confessed, "I am hellishly lonely." Instead of sex, Nin longed for "what I give Henry: this constant attentiveness."
In the "Black Lace Laboratory," as Miller's apartment was dubbed, Nin and Miller conducted literary and erotic experiments, prompting Nin to write him a thinly disguised warning to herself, "Beware just a little of your hypersexuality!" Toward the end of his life, unable to write about women except as prostitutes, Miller claimed not to know what the sexual revolution was about, saying that he had always loved and honored women. Nin agreed, saying that Miller was a romantic, rather than a rake. At eighty, Miller confessed that far too many people engaged in sex without love.
Basking in the warmth of Nin's caresses, her skilled editing of his work, and the material possessions she lavished upon him, Miller wrote prolifically and with a rare genius. Eventually, his romance with Nin faded (or warmed) into friendship, but the legacy of their literary teamwork remained: In 1974, Nin was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. The Los Angeles Times names her Woman of the Year in 1976, the same year Henry Miller received France's Legion d'honneur. The 1990 movie, Henry and June is a chronicle of Miller's affair with Nin, which later became a triangle involving Miller's wife, June.
Nin and Miller have become cultural icons. Nin is the focus of women's study courses as well as being included in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Miller and his work need no comment. Although both Nin and Miller were pioneers of free speech and sexual freedom, and both helped to forge a new literature and a new culture, the ultimate emptiness of their lives, with its attendant lack of depth and meaning point to the futility of their attempt to wrest security and happiness from sexuality alone.