Early Diary, Vol. 2, by Anaïs Nin

A Review by Alan Nicoll

This is the second of Anaïs Nin's early diaries, covering the summer of 1920, when she was age 17, through February, 1923, when she turns 20. In this volume Anaïs talks of her writing, including the publication of a poem, her reading, notably Emerson, and of her family: Joaquin, Thorvald, and her mother. She writes a reproachful letter to her father. She tells of her cousin Eduardo and his growing love for her. She describes many dances and evenings devoted to music and shows. And she speaks of Hugo (Hugh) Guiler, her future husband.

The focus of this volume is the story of Anaïs and Hugo. Her transports of rapture at this growing "friendship" are mostly delightful, but there is also a persistent strain of idealism and fantasy in her thinking that is disturbing. Some of the entries are astonishingly pretentious, and one feels that Anaïs is setting impossible goals for Hugo, or any man, to meet. It must be granted that Hugo's words sometimes match her own.

At one point Hugo asks her, "Will you wait for me until I love you as you deserve to be loved?" This leads to considerable trouble between them, I think due to Anaïs's impatience and Hugo's undemonstrativeness. For months her feelings run the gamut, rising and falling histrionically as she contemplates his defects and how he has hurt her.

Her mother has been suffering financial and physical difficulties, so Anaïs takes modeling jobs which lead her into increasingly unsavory circumstances, culminating in a stay away from home, at Woodstock. This leads to a memorably passionate outburst on August 8, 1922, which begins: "The world has assumed a monstrous shape in my eyes. I am working myself up into a state of volcanic anger at all things in it. I walk about raving and exclaiming inwardly, consumed by indignation, looking at all things with the utmost scorn and contempt." (p. 462) Also, Hugo goes to Europe for three months to cure a physical ailment (tuberculosis?).

When a trip to Cuba is offered by an aunt, Anaïs decides on the astonishing course of marrying a "rich Cuban" so that her mother can be supported. Equally astonishing, her family apparently takes this sacrifice as a matter of course, considering it an excellent plan. Anaïs goes to Cuba, then writes little until she receives a letter from Hugo which she describes in the entry for October 26, 1922. He has decided that he now can love her as she deserves to be loved, but she adheres to her plan and writes in her diary, "How long it took him to say it! And through my infinite joy and supreme satisfaction quivers but one red-blood arrow of unutterable pain, for it is too late, too late, too late, my own beloved, my dearest, too late!" (p. 500)

Eventually, for no particularly good reason other than that she wants to, she decides she will marry Hugo after all. This causes her some distress at what she sees as a dereliction of duty, but I am more inclined to think that she finally came to her senses.

In the first volume, Anaïs seemed at times to be "too good to be true." In this volume, there is sometimes a sense of that, but there is also an increasing dread that she is very foolish about love, that her head is full of stuff and nonsense, and that much heartbreak will result. The writing here consists occasionally of tedious flights of vague fantasy, excessively generalized philosophy, and seemingly unsupportable claims of great suffering. But this is nitpicking. I am utterly captivated by this astonishing record of a human life.

10/23/01; revised 11/1/01

Quotations from this volume.