CR Muse: The Profound Writings of Anaïs Nin

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This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.

Chances are that even if you haven’t read one of Anaïs Nin’s books, you’ve come across one of her maxims online. Her musings on life, love, sex, and being a woman are romantic, inspired, and—despite being written in the early 20th century—impeccably modern. A diarist and novelist, her talent lay in capturing a distinctly feminine point of view, spinning her thoughts on womanhood into beautiful prose. Today, Nin’s work is compared to Girls, Sex and the City, and other female-driven works that capture the zeitgeist. In truth, her writings weren’t an immediate success; despite writing since she was 11, Nin didn’t have a hit until she was in her 60s.

“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through,” she once wrote. “Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” It’s a particularly insightful quote from—and about—Nin, as she certainly was not one to remain in one place or with one person. She was born Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell in France in 1903. By 1914, her father had abandoned her family, causing Nin’s mother to uproot them to New York. It is said that this was how her diary began: by penning letters to her father. (She never sent them.)

After marrying her first husband Hugh Guiler (better known as Ian Hugo, the name he adopted when he became a filmmaker) at 20, she returned to France. His wealth allowed her to pursue her writing, and even fund the careers of others. Henry Miller was a benefactor of her generosity, as well as a friend and a fan.

For a while, she was a writer’s writer, finding praise among authors but not among publishers or critics. For years, she self-published her work, which was influenced by surrealism, psychoanalysis, and erotica. In 1966, she found literary success after publishing The Diary of Anaïs Nin, the first of many volumes. Her book was particularly timely as young women were asserting themselves by fighting for and enjoying a newfound freedom. Nin’s voice championed her own sexuality, desires, and ambitions while also narrating women’s lives. “The young recognize me as a precursor,” she later said. “They identify me with my struggles, with my self-liberation, with the kind of writing I do.”

It is not that the act of publishing diaries was groundbreaking, but Nin’s talent certainly helped promote feminine voices in literature. Everything from deep female desires to idle musings were equally worthy of thought, consideration, and enjoyment. In a way, the spirit of Nin’s work is alive now more than ever. Through social media, women capture and distill their lives to an audience almost as if it were second nature. And while they needn’t be diarists (in the most literal sense, at least) to document their thoughts, there is an enduring desire among some women to craft their identities and use their voices to tell their own stories, just as Nin did.

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