Henry and June (from A Journal of Love: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin 1931–1932) by Anaïs Nin. Recommended.
Henry and June (from A Journal of Love: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin 1931–1932) by Anaïs Nin is a portion of the writer’s famous journal from October 1931 until October 1932 — the year in which she met Henry and June Miller and fell for Henry’s sensuality and June’s mystery, a year of writing, lies, deceit, sexual awakening, introspection, psychoanalysis, and “love.”
Nin is an evocative, poetic writer, if not a particularly substantive one. Henry and June, edited from her journal to focus on Miller and his wife, is beautifully written but, in the end, is devoid of meaning to anyone other than the participants. She obscures the truth of how much she writes. If the journal is accurate, then Nin had mastered deception — she lies to her husband, to June, to Henry, to her psychoanalyst, to her lover/cousin Eduardo, to virtually everyone she knows, all seemingly in an attempt to hide herself from them, and perhaps from herself. She writes frequently of costumes, makeup, jewelry, nail polish and how one can put them on to create a new self. It quickly becomes clear that, despite the introspection of the journal, despite the psychoanalysis, despite her complete focus on herself and how she relates to those people in her life, Nin is no more self-aware by the end of the year than she was when she met Miller, and the reader can’t be too sure, either, of where Nin ends and where the self-deception begins. When the obvious is pointed out to her — that she is still trying to find the “love” that she didn’t get from her father — Nin accepts it at first, but denies it as she talks more and more to herself. And while she may grasp that her father’s abandonment was harmful to her, she finds it easy to mistreat her husband, whom she portrays as psychologically simple and refers to as a “child” without relating how he might feel to how she felt about her father. She seems incapable of grasping the importance of another person’s feelings, no matter who that other person might be.
Nin writes of spending entire days and nights with Miller, of going from him to Hugo, her banker husband, with no suspicion on Hugo’s part. Hugo is jealous of Miller, although she repeatedly tells her journal she doesn’t know why he would be. She writes of not wanting to hurt the soft, weak, emotional Eduardo, but continues her sexual relationship with him until he is bound to be crushed by her sudden decision to end it. She tells Eduardo about Henry, Henry about Hugo, and her psychoanalyst about all of them. She writes of having sex with three of them in one day, ending with “What does that make me?” She does not want to know the potential answer to that question. She wants “experience” at any cost. She does not want to be hurt, but she hurts others freely. She believes she has deep insight into others, but does not understand at more than a superficial level what their thoughts and feelings may be. Much of what she attributes to the elusive, mysterious June are the shifting sands of her own personality.
Not having read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, the book he was writing during the year of his relationship with Nin, it’s difficult for me to say how accurate Nin’s portrayal of him is. At times, she feels pity for him, for his weak eyes, for the mind-numbing work he does to support himself. At others, she describes him as “monstrous.” The sketch of Miller is less one of the man himself than of Nin’s infatuation with her own perceptions. At one moment he is the ultimate sensualist; the next, he becomes a gentle romantic. She also enjoys him largely for his worship of her as a writer and as a lover. The relationship is less about the dynamics of their interactions than about her ego and her relationship with herself. Miller is never much more than a two-dimensional, ever-changing character — Henry Miller according to Anaïs Nin. While Nin’s journal is certainly more thoughtful than those of most people, ultimately, it lacks the insight and depth that another writer could have brought to such an intense relationship. At the end, Nin and Miller are still strangers to the reader who has spent hours over dinner and in bedrooms with them. Perhaps it is Nin’s amorality that gets in the way of any true intimacy.
Nin has somehow become a model of a woman’s sexual awakening and awareness, perhaps because of the perceived candor of her journal and her desires for the depths and heights of sexual experience. It is as though such desires for such experiences are what should define a woman — a notion that may work for some women, but certainly not all who are sexually awakened in their own ways.
Henry and June is self-indulgent and even occasionally adolescent in its focus, obssessions, and attitudes. Perhaps because I find so little to relate to in Nin, I found her cold, uninteresting, and annoying — perhaps because I don’t like to be deceived. On the other hand, this will be a fascinating read for anyone who is deeply interested in Nin or Miller or anyone, like me, who would like to free themselves to speak freely in their own journals.
9 June 2001
Copyright © Diane L. Schirf.