Sometimes I think I’ve made a clean break with Anais except for purposes of nostalgia, but when I saw Barbara Kraft’s memoir of the end of Anais Nin’s life I knew I had to read this book. Several years ago, I began a quest to understand the path that Anais took, and discern whether or not it brought her to a place of happiness. Perhaps, I thought, if it had, I could follow her lead.
If you’ve been reading my previous blogs (or know anything about Anais), you know that the path she took ultimately led her to maintain open (and even bigamous) marriages and other relationships and run in a fascinating circle of writers, artists, and other interesting people. Personally, I believe that Anais was one of the most talented female writers to have ever lived, but I got lost in the web of her writing and never got the clear, concise answers that I wanted.
Reading this memoir took me a couple of evenings. Part journal, part biography, Barbara Kraft includes a lot of her own feelings about her personal relationship with Nin, acknowledging that she wasn’t particularly a fan of Nin’s work before she began being mentored by her. They established what seems to have been a close relationship, and Nin (by this time an icon of the feminist movement) encouraged Kraft to leave her unhappy marriage and publish her own journal, among other things.
The author of this book met Anais and her second husband Rupert Pole, and then independently met Henry and then Hugo.
If you remember the story, Anais was married to the banker Hugo Guiler
, with whom she had an open marriage. She met Henry Miller
while living in Paris in the 1930s, and they established a clandestine relationship that lasted for years. Other lovers and friends came and went throughout the course of the journals – all interesting, many famous – but the erotic parts were all intially edited out of her 7-volume published journals, preserving the people in her life from knowing the realities of her dalliances, glossing over truths. In the final stages of life, there is no more varnish.
Barbara Kraft met Anais during a time when the public perception of her was of a “pure” woman: one that was virtually untarnished by the influence of men. A woman that was true to herself and lived her own way. Women looked to her as a sort of guru, a guide – perhaps that way that I initially did.
When Barbara met Anais, she was living a seemingly normal California life with Rupert
, in a small hous. He scrimped and saved his meager income from his U. S. Forestry Service career to build her a house designed by Eric Lloyd Wright
– a place he hoped to anchor her. Anais was young for her years, and in the height of her literary celebrity (despite being taken less seriously by more traditionally styled authors).
While battling cancer, Anais confessionally talked to Barbara in more detail the closer they grew. What is revealed in this book, in a very concise form, is much the same as a condensed version of the unexpurgated journals that Rupert edited and released for her. What is revealed in this book is the simple truth that Anais was a victim of childhood incest and spent her life struggling with poverty, dependent on men. The picture painted in this simple ‘memoir’ is of the “steel butterfly” – an elegant woman that was unable to stand alone, and so spread her dependence out in manageable doses. Is it really that black-and-white? Obviously not, because she often depended on men to help other men in her life – for instance, doing radical things like supporting Henry Miller with her husband Hugo’s money and even financing the publication of Tropic of Cancer with money from one of her other lovers (Otto Rank).
Was Henry the “love of her life?”
“Henry would send me twenty, thirty, and forty page letters. Often I received two in a week. They were rather intimidating… I could never respond on that level. Henry didn’t save them [her letters] for the most part. I was really the muse to Henry. I was never dependent on him. We were able to maintain the passion because there was no responsibility involved. I could leave Henry and go home to my husband, who took care of me.” She spoke in this book of how he was too unreliable to count on for anything, but so much fun. Anais needed reliability, security – and found her fun elsewhere, until her last several years. In the long run, though, she left Henry.
Henry always missed Anais, but married three times, divorced them all, disgusted that no real woman could meet his ideal. Anais said
Kraft and Miller
“He said the most startling thing to me, Barbara. He asked me, ‘What has it all been about? What are all those words? Why all that writing? For what?’ “ According to Kraft, he told her that if he was reincarnated, he said that he wanted to come back as a gardener because writing is “a curse. Yes, it’s a flame. It owns you. It has possession over you. You are not master of yourself. You are consumed by this thing. And the books you write. They’re not you. They’re not me sitting here, this Henry Miller. They belong to someone else. It’s terrible. You can never rest. … I hate inspiration. It takes you over completely. I could never wait until it had passed and I got rid of it.” Regret at the way he’d spent his life.
Hugo was frail and old, by this time, and Anais still had a room in his place. He’d lost the money she depended on for years “gambling in the stock market,” and her diaries were supporting him. He kept her toothbrush and makeup where she left it, showing it off like an art exhibit, playing film reels of her to guests, saying in awed tones “This is the authentic voice of Anais Nin.” He didn’t even have her other home address, her other phone number; he knew she traveled, and her friends – their friends – were in on the scheme of keeping her other life a secret. She wished she’d divorced him, made a clean break, but the marriage had been too long, she’d needed him too much, and she owed it to him to spend the end of her time repaying him for his years by taking care of him the way that he’d taken care of her.
Did any of that maker her happy?
When Anais lay fighting death, Barbara asked her the question of happiness:And the next day or the day after, sitting in my usual chair next to your bed, your hand hot and dry in mine, I asked you if you had known much happiness in life. “Hardly any,” you whispered, turning your head to look at out the window at the dank sky…
I never knew much about Rupert before now, but Anais seemed to believe that after years of men after men after men, that he was both solid and passionate. She told Barbara “In Rupert I found the wedding of marriage and passion. Never deny passion, Barbara. You never know where it will lead. Passion can lead to love.”
I believe that Rupert Pole was the love of Anais’ life. She was able to settle down with him to a life that appears smaller than many of the other lives open to her. In the end of her days, she was even willing to help him meet his physical needs elsewhere when she was no longer able. And he devoted his entire life to her words, establishing a literary foundation in her honor, editing and publishing four “unexpurgated” versions of her journals, which included erotic content about her other lovers. He continued to support Anais’ legal husband, Hugh Guiler, even after her death. The woman he spent the rest of his days with as his companion was someone that translated Anais’ works into Japanese.
So- all of the long, convoluted journeying aside, she seems to have ended her days in a relatively normal, contented life, with a man that loved her very much, and whom she appeared to love as well. I suppose that’s about as happy as any ending can ever get.
The one unfortunate part of the book is that it seems that Barbara Kraft, as so many other women, seemed to forget that Anais was human, and our choices are our own. No results are guaranteed from anyone else’s formula. There’s a twinge of bitterness and blame in this book for the consequences that publicly sharing her own journeys caused Barbara Kraft, and I can relate to that – which is sad, because our choices were really all our own.