Henry Miller’s and Anais Nin’s letters are so packed with questing passions that real life pales alongside. On paper, these are lovers who should go down in history with the likes of Heloise and Abelard. Their real lives were tumultuous and guarded, as they were both married to someone else--Nin to Hugh Nin, a banker, and Miller to June Miller, a neurotic alcoholic. But in their letters, they met with surprising openness. Their hearts and souls embraced on all levels, from discussions of D. H. Lawrence and Oswald Spengler to conniving their own trysts.
The full extent of their love affair has never before been divulged. Although a selection of Miller’s letters to Nin were published more than 20 years ago, they were judiciously edited by Gunther Stuhlmann, respecting the wishes of the principals, to reveal only the literary side of their relationship. Now at last, with those constraints removed and with Nin’s letters added, we are given the full dialogue of what they meant to each other and the people around them.
These letters begin in Paris in 1932 and end in 1953 with Miller in Big Sur and Nin in New York. They open with Miller’s voice, “drunk with life,” springing the gates of passion for the woman who would become “the greatest person I have known. . . . I owe her everything.” And Nin, demure yet responsive, allowing her petals to be parted. Her voice, compared to Miller’s, is careful and controlled. They share dreams, ideals, anguish and ecstasy, but always in two modes. Baring their souls, they often used language scandalous in its time, but which would hardly raise an eyebrow today. Nin wrote, “We’re going to have a week such as we never dreamt yet. The thermometer will burst. I want you so desperately.” And Miller, notorious for assailing the boundaries of acceptable language in his published work, remained as moderate in these letters as he did in his personal life.
They were really writing about and sharing together their most profound thoughts on Life, Death, Love and Freedom. “We are writers and make art of our struggle,” wrote Nin.
Although they actually saw each other only every week or two during the early ‘30s, they wrote to each other almost continuously. In one year alone, Miller wrote 900 pages to Nin! Moreover, some of those letters were several thousand words long. At the same time, Miller was up to his neck with other correspondents, including the relentless Michael Fraenkel, and writing “The Tropic of Cancer” and “The World of Lawrence.” Nin, meanwhile, was playing her wifely role to Hugh, with dinner parties and domestic chores, studying psychoanalysis with Otto Rank and Rene Allendy, writing “The House of Incest” as well as her famous “Diary.” In this day and age, so much writing seems nothing less than phenomenal. Words flowed from them with a life of their own. The act of writing may have even surpassed the act of living.
At one point in their romance, a falling-out occurred, and Nin, who had been contributing to Miller’s livelihood, wrote, “Today you shocked me deeply. . . . The truth is you are completely happy in Clichy, alone. I will see that you continue to have your security, your independence. But that is all, Henry. All the rest is dead. You killed it.” This inspired Miller to action. He knocked off a 3,000-word letter in reply, saying, “When I get in a telephone booth, I may get tongue-tied, and that’s why I send you this letter.” A letter, in one sense, became more important than their so-called real world. Nin and Miller lived by their pens.
I was privileged to know both of them in their later years, although I never saw them together. Much ink had flowed since their Paris days, their love lives had turned in different directions, yet their loyalties for their shared years dwelt in their hearts.
When Nin fell upon hard times, just before the “Diaries” were published, it was Miller who sent her money. They were once-in-a-lifetimes to each other; and though their dream of making a life together was never fulfilled, there is little doubt that they were the most profound people in each other’s lives. In this book’s last letter, Nin wrote, “Probably if I had then the sense of humor I have today, and if you had then the qualities you have today, nothing would have broken.” For fans of Miller and Nin, “A Literate Passion” is a long-awaited revelation and answers those questions that have long been nagging.