cover image Anais Nin: A Biography

Anais Nin: A Biography

Deirdre Bair. Putnam Publishing Group, $39.95 (654pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13988-8

Nin (1903-1977) is largely regarded as a sometimes risibly affected writer of erotic fiction (The House of Incest) and of a voluminous and sexually frank diary. National Book Award winner Bair (Samuel Beckett: A Biography) maintains that Nin is ``a major minor writer'' ready for critical rehabilitation. That claim is neglected as the author herself focuses on the stormy, lurid erotic history of an undeniably self-absorbed woman. Nin befriended James Merrill, Gore Vidal and Henry Miller, had affairs with Miller and her analyst, Otto Rank, and was a bigamist for half her life. The first biographer with access to Nin's complete diary, Bair uncovers extensive documentation of an incestuous relationship between Nin and her father, as well as suggestions of a sexual liaison with her brother Thorvald. The evidence for the latter exists only in the diaries, which Nin rewrote so heavily that their validity is suspect; one critic calls them ``liaries.'' The basis for Nin's fiction, the diaries were themselves intended for publication. Vidal assailed Nin for her ``thundering solipsism''--a charge Bair tacitly endorses without any complementary argument about the aesthetic stature of a woman whose career rested on ``the fascination of herself as a subject.'' (Mar.)