The Art Monster at the End of This Book

Writer and diarist Anais Nin took the same liberties as her male peers — all of them, including the horrendous ones.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
14 min readDec 6, 2023

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A blank diary, open, with a pen on it.
There’s about to be some scandal in here. Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

I first read Anais Nin when I was eighteen years old. It was 2000, and I had just started blogging, though no-one called it that back then — I kept a public “diary,” on a LiveJournal knockoff called OpenDiary.com, and had to learn hex codes and basic HTML to make it look the way I wanted, which was (I assure you) very ugly.

Anyway: I wanted my diary to be riveting for all five of my followers, so when I found a book about famous diaries in the dollar bin of a used bookstore, I picked it up. That book was no great shakes, and I can no longer recall its author or title, but somewhere — as an example of a particularly bad diary, in fact — the author reviewed the fourth volume of Nin’s seven-volume series The Diary of Anais Nin. The review included a capsule biography (underground writer, became a feminist icon in the ’70s, knew a lot of artists, dreamy and “poetic” and self-absorbed to a fault) which sparked my interest. I wanted to become an interesting person. Nin already was one, and she seemed to share my ideas about what an interesting person should be.

Of course, Nin was forty-something years old when she had those ideas, and I was a teenager. The dreaminess and self-absorption that were inevitable at my age were worrisome at hers, though this didn’t occur to me at the time — I saw nothing wrong with a grown woman acting like a teenager, since teenagers don’t believe any adults can possibly be more mature or insightful than they are.

But, like all capsule biographies of Nin — and most full biographies — that book’s description of her was misleading. Nin wasn’t revered by the feminist movement in the year 2000, nor was her writing held in high esteem or regarded as particularly “avant-garde” by the literary establishment. Most people knew her, not as a diarist, but as a pornographer; her erotica collection, Delta of Venus, had been published against her wishes shortly after her death in 1977, and promptly eclipsed the rest of her work.

Moreover, the diaries published during Nin’s lifetime — the ones I first read, and based my fandom on — had been heavily edited…

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Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.