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Anais Nin, Henry Miller and Paris are all mysterious entities that live and exist within one another. Through learning about one we learn about the others and the relationship that the three shared is a story that continues to inspire millions of people around the world.
So, how is it that a New York City native author/painter and a Cuban-American diarist became so synonymous with the City of Lights when, in reality, little of their long lives took place in Paris?
Anais was born in France but moved away at an early age. She and her mother relocated to New York City when she was 11 following the separation of her parents. Young Anais was emotionally torn: she missed her life in Europe, especially her father with whom she was very close, but quickly began to fall in love with New York and all things English. The frenetic energy of the bustling metropolis was cathartic for Anais who writes of being a very anxious and nervous young woman.
Eventually Anais married and was uprooted again when her husband Hugh accepted a job opportunity in Paris. Anais found herself back in Europe, but any fantasy she had about her once-home was forgotten. Hiding in their small studio on Rue Schoelcher, Anais would write of her dislike for Paris. She had attached herself emotionally to New York City and connecting with the intrinsically different city of Paris was a difficult adjustment. Not one to back down from a challenge, she decided that rather than isolate herself she would make detailed accounts of the artists and intellectuals that occupied southern Montparnasse café scene. Anais would frequent many of the legendary cafes, such as Café Dome where she would scribble away in her journal until late in the evenings.
Hugh’s job working at the bank was going well, and in 1929 Anais and he moved into a luxurious apartment at 47 Boulevard Suchet. This apartment became a creative outlet for Anais, and she designed many aspects of her opulent dwelling.
Sadly Anais’ time at the Suchet apartment was not long lived. Life in the city center was proving to be too expensive for Hugh and Anais and in 1930 they moved the suburb of Louvciennes into what is regarded as her most famous place of residence. It would be here that she would meet Henry Miller and both of their lives would change forever.
Henry Miller was living in room 40 at Hotel Central at No.1 bis rue du Maine while he worked for the Chicago Tribune as a ghostwriter. It was in this small studio that he would begin writing Tropic of Cancer, one of the most important pieces written on the subject of Paris in the history of literature. Upon invitation from a mutual friend, Henry made the short trip to Anais’ country home where the legendary authors were both fascinated with one another from first contact.
Anais wrote of the transformation she felt when she initially met Henry and her coy housewife ways were replaced with a passionate and artistic fever. She made a point to invite Henry over to her home, which he described as “The Laboratory of the Soul”, but soon they started making their dates outside of Louvciennes.
One could say that the true love affair began at a small Nordic themed café called, Le Viking. It was here that the two intellectuals would have long intimate conversations about Henry’s work and Anais’ attempts at writing.
In the spring of ’32, sitting at Le Viking which was located at 29-31 rue Vavin, Anais danced for Henry in a rare moment of spontaneity. The transformation she had described in her diary was now coming to fruition and it was clear to Henry that something had changed in her. After leaving Le Viking, Henry proceeded to write her a letter confessing his love to Anais and a few days later they would meet in Henry’s hotel room where they initiated their affair.
It is during this time that Anais seemed to morph into a different person from the young woman she describes in her early journals. She embraced life with open, excited arms and her attention to detail is not just lost in her diaries as she began to express herself through short stories, essays and novels.
While at the same moment, Henry Miller was in the process of crafting one of literature’s most wild, groundbreaking and meaningful pieces ever written. One cannot help but wonder what would have become of these two writers if it hadn’t been for the city they met in? It affirms yet again how the magic of little Parisian cafés can have an effect that resonates much louder than we can imagine.
photo 1: photograph of Anaïs Nin as a teenager, circa 1920, Author unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
photo 2: Henry Miller by Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
photo 3: Portrait of Anais Nin taken in NYC, circa 1970 by Elsa Dorfman [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons