The Wizardress of Ensorcellment
Anaïs Nin, inadvertent comedienne and ensorcellress both; “sensuality is a secret power in my body,” she once said. But since she said it, it’s not such a secret anymore, now is it? One critic called her “A major minor writer”. That critic was obviously wearing anti-ensorcellment venom.
And don’t get Gore Vidal started on the topic of the word ensorcellment. Because of their seemingly love-hate relationship they sniped at each other in later years and, much to her chagrin, he modeled the character Marietta after her in his novel Two Sisters, whose “favorite word is ‘ensorcelled.’ She cannot write a book without it. Unfortunately I cannot read a book that contains it.”
By the way, Gore made for some pretty great quotes. Did you know… he was once engaged to Joanne Woodward and she broke up with him to date Paul Newman? but they remained good friends all three forever after so it’s all good.
There is not one human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise. – Gore Vidal
The more money an American accumulates, the less interesting he becomes. – Gore Vidal
A narcissist is someone better looking than you are. – Gore Vidal
Anyway, back to Anaïs..
So like the Wizard of Oz, behind the Emerald city and all its magic and hoo-haw and la-di-da was a little man with a projector. He projected these images of a magical place overseen by a magical wizard but when discovered in a back room he was just a little guy with spectacles and a projector. But did it matter? Because Dorothy still learned what Homer spent about 450 pages trying to figure out, and bad witches were melted and flattened so it was all good, even if the guy behind the Emerald City was not an actual wizard. Which is a tangent I have been pondering since reading a biography of Anaïs Nin, whose favorite word was, hilariously, “ensorcelled” which makes the voices in my head sound out, “sorcerer, sorcery, syllabus, psycho, Psilocybin, sorted, sooty, scented, surplus, sushi.
For the writing of The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin by Noel Riley Fitch, the author studied Anaïs’ original diaries, which are a different flavor than her published diaries, and her thinly-veiled autobiographical poetic novels. It seems there were many Anaïs’ — even by her own admission — as she told an author that even at home she had carefully fabricated personae – and that they didn’t all live the same life.
Ensorcellment was her favorite word, appearing in all her novels, which pretty much encompasses everything she wrote since her published diaries were so reworked as to make one wonder what sort of treatment she might have gotten on Oprah’s couch had her diaries been a Book of the Month pick and then, a la James Frey, the truth was nakedly exposed.
The writing of Anaïs Nin is revered by many, and one of her biographers calls her a major minor writer, but that’s not the fascinating part; the discrepancy between the actual life and the published life is where it gets hilarious.
When her first diaries were published they portrayed a woman who was financially and otherwise independent and lived and traveled the world over, forced to earn her keep by writing erotica and ensorcelling (to bewitch or entrance) everyone she met, and who, as a devoted and selfless friend, underwent utter deprivation and saved for months depriving herself of food and sewing her own clothing in order to buy a typewriter for her dear and poor friend Henry Miller. That’s hilarious. Her diaries indicate that out of a portion of one week’s allowance she bought the typewriter.
In reality, according to legal documents, and in her own words in her original diaries, she was married to a wealthy international banker, Hugo Guiler, and had numerous affairs on the side which he chose to not notice, including a 9 year affair with that dear pal Henry Miller, her psychoanalyst Otto Rank (a disciple of Freud), her father, and numerous others. Yes, her father. That’s not one of the hilarious parts.
When her maids were paid, and her personal allowance was spent, she wrote erotica for cash. Basically Hugo supported both she and Henry Miller, his money buying that typewriter, and Anaïs would most often pay Henry’s rent so he’d not have to take a “menial job at a newspaper” or the like. In her diaries she describes sleeping with so many men at once that she often had 2 or 3 “appointments” in a single day. In later years she married again at which point she was being supported by two husbands, one on each coast. She didn’t bother to divorce Hugo due to her deep concern for his feelings and not wanting him to be alone. She would often tell friends that one or both of her husbands were experiencing financial difficulties but all her money was spent flying back and forth and so of course she could not contribute or in any way alleviate their fiscal stresses. Anaïs was married to Hugo for 54 years, and for the last 30 of those years was also married to Rupert Pole (although at one point she unmarried him for fear of being busted by the IRS as having two husbands, but they remained together). Good thing there was none of this fancy interweb stuff back then, she’d have been busted!
Her published “diaries” brought her a legion of adoring women who, in an effort to emulate their brave heroine, left their husbands and began a bohemian life of adventure and deprivation. At readings they were vociferous and thunderous in their applause. Interestingly, the author notes that only at the Smith College lecture did the students quietly knit through the talk and not have an emotional response.
But when word of her supporting husbands and other details leaked out these emulating women began to turn on her, causing Anaïs to be inexplicably bewildered at this counter-ensorcellment. This was among the most fascinating biographies I have yet read. And the first I have heard of that fabulous word, ensorcellment.
For an interview with another biographer about the inevitable denunciation of Anaïs and etc see this Salon article.