Book Review: Henry and June by Anais Nin


Inserting myself into the world of Anais Nin has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life of reading. Earlier this summer I read one of Nin’s diaries (the fourth) and became entirely engrossed and obsessed with her words. There were sentences on every page that I felt so unbelievably connected to- sentences that led me to forget to inhale because I couldn’t believe someone had written my emotions so clearly.

Nin’s relationship with Henry Miller was hinted at in her diary, but the relationship is most fully exposed in Henry and June, which I’m not sure whether was sold as fiction or nonfiction (perhaps fiction to save her ass?). I cannot believe that this book is not talked about more, that the universe hasn’t swayed me to the book multiple years ago. Nin has become a new favorite of mine, a woman I respect, admire, and question. She seems to me an erotic Virginia Woolf, a woman concerned with life, death, suffering, happiness in shorter sentences. Nin’s determination speaks to Woolf’s: ‘The impetus to grow and live intensely is so powerful in me I cannot resist it. I will work, I will love my husband, but I will fulfill myself.’ Nin writes as if her life depends on it, as if she’d lose everything if she did not. And this mad commitment attracts me immensely.

The novel describes Nin’s multiple relationships that happen simultaneously: that of her husband Hugo, her friend and possible lover June, June’s husband Henry Miller (famous American writer), Nin’s cousin Eduardo, and her psychoanalyst Allendy. The beginning of the novel finds Nin in a state of confusion: Eduardo has announced his love to Nin, but she is unsure of whether or not she returns those emotions. She also feels pangs of lust for him and for others, but knows that for her, there can be no sensuality without love. Nin’s happiness with her husband Hugo flares at the beginning of the novel, and her sense of loyalty is strong. When Nin meets June, however, this loyalty begins to evaporate. Upon meeting June for the first time Nin writes: ‘Her beauty drowned me. As I sat in front of her I felt that I would do anything mad for her, anything she asked of me. She was color, brilliance, strangeness.’ There exists an undeniable desire in Nin for June, a sexual longing that Nin feels uncomfortable with because of (in my opinion) what society has transformed women’s sexuality into. Nin questions herself and her seemingly wrong desires- am I a man somehow? She asks herself. But Nin’s sexuality is simply acting. In the end I do believe that we crave who we crave, gendered or not. But how strange it is to say that, even today.

Eventually, when June leaves the city and abandons Henry, Nin begins spending more time with Henry. The two discuss literature and their own writing, serving as one another’s critics before the writing hits the press. A love rooted in literature- a dream. Eventually the two succumb to their attraction to one another, an event that ignites a wild, blindingly hot love affair. Nin reasons to herself that her heart still lies with Hugo, that her love for Henry exists only in the way he makes her crave and moan. Nin is surprised when she finds herself falling into something heavier with Henry, a sensuality and almost-love that extends beyond the body: ‘When it is finished, it is not finished, we lie still in each other’s arms, lulled by our love, by tenderness- sensuality, in which the whole being can participate.’ This is the kind of sex I’m dreaming of, the kind that sets fire to the way a brushing of the arms can feel, that takes away the demoralizing tone of a bed or a body after finishing, that exists in such a natural realm that it’s quite unbelievable. When I think of Nin caught up in this supreme halcyon, I want to weep. The sense of an ending is permanent throughout every rendezvous with Henry, evident in Nin’s guilt when she returns to her husband. This obsession and passion creates a presence too large for this world, and we know as well as Nin knows that it cannot last.

Nin continues to struggle with her sexuality, still desiring June, still awed by her encounters with Henry, still disappointed by her lack of feeling with Hugo. Possibly my favorite part of this work is the awareness Nin has throughout: although she has fallen in love with Henry and possibly June as well, she remains aware of the madness one descends into when one falls in love in such a supreme way. She writes: ‘I want to be able to live in madness with you but I also want to be able to understand afterwards, to grasp what I’ve lived through. Because I am not always just living, just following my fantasies; I come up for air, for understanding.’ Nin wants awareness. Her aversion to pain and to madness positions her strangely to Henry and allows her moments of clarity. Nin has dove into loving another and into self-awareness, two enemies who battle one another constantly; seeing the tension in her book is startling and impressive. We can see it here, when Nin writes: ‘I could stay here all night writing you. I see you before me constantly’ about Henry showing her deep love for him and then writes on the next page: ‘You will not break me. You are molding me like a sculptor. The faun is to be made woman.’ Despite Nin’s obvious love and obsession with Henry, she remains independent and wanting of a free-will. What a tug-of-war.

‘Do not seek the because- in love there is no because, no reason, no explanation, no solutions.’ Nin feels herself slipping and keeps herself upright only by writing. But let me show you the beauty of Nin’s writing on her love for Henry. These are some of the best passages I’ve seen on romantic love.

‘Tonight I love him, for the beautiful way he has given me the earth.’
‘Sacred completeness. I come out dazed in the mellow spring evening and I think, now I would not mind dying.’
‘And with these words, he kisses me and awakens me, I who have been sleeping 100 years.’
‘And in the circumference of my solitude I know I have found a moment of absolute love. His greatness fills the wounds and closes them, silences the desires. He is asleep. How I love him! I feel like a river that has overflowed.’
‘I feel loved for myself, for my inner self, for every word I write, for my timidities, my sorrows, my struggles, my defects, my frailness.’
‘To have a summer day like today and a night with him- I ask nothing more.’
‘Today I can’t work because yesterday’s feelings lie ready to pounce on me out of the softness of the garden. They are in the air, in the smells, in the sun, on myself, like the clothes I wear. It is too much to love this way. I need him near me every moment- more than near, inside of me.’
‘At certain moments, when I look into his unreadable blue eyes, I have a sensation of such torrential happiness that I feel emptied.’
‘When I say I love him sensually- I love him in many other ways- when he is laughing at the movies, or talking quietly in the kitchen; I love his humility, his sensitiveness, the core of bitterness and fury in him.’
‘I love you in such a way that our love can be destroyed, and yet nothing can sever the fusion that has been.’

These sentences are so beautiful and capture the exact sentiments I’ve had when in love, when I’ve been so enamored by someone that they seem to possess me entirely. I wept at some of these passages, at their accuracy, at the poignant reality that these emotions will most likely die. Can one really stay in love with another forever? It seems impossible that the love written about here could ever end. But I’ve felt that way before, that I couldn’t exist if that love didn’t, that the world would simply end before our love would finish. And it’s finished. And the world is still moving. I’m still moving. There is tragedy in Nin’s love with Henry, a dangerous tragedy bound to lead to extinction.

Nin begins to reflect on her knowledge that her affair with Henry will end. She asks: ‘Was all this so wonderful because it was brief and stolen? Is it madness to believe this could go on?’ Nin’s awareness of herself and her strength prevail again, shake her back into herself. Nin predicts the ending before it ends: ‘All this is a dream now. At the time it happened I had a feeling in my body as before a cloudburst.’ Nin’s strength allows her to triumph over the madness of love and to appreciate the eden that was while contemplating what a life without it would mean.

I could read Nin’s reflections on loving Henry and possibly loving June forever. I believe in love, still, after the logical research has debunked a love longer than 15 years, after many people I know have discredited monogamy, after all of the horrible heartbreaks. I believe love can exist in such an all-encompassing, life-fulfilling way. And although it may end, it’s worth it. Such a love opens the door to your soul, shows you how to love and how to be. As Nin says, ‘Love reduces the complexity of living,’ and ‘It is easy to love and there are so many ways to do it.’

I can’t express how much I adored this book, how much I appreciate Nin’s writings and philosophies. Nin, I love you and the way you love. Thank you for your writings.

‘I say this is a wild dream- but it is this dream I want to realize. Life and literature combined; love, the dynamo; you, with your chameleon’s soul, giving me a thousand loves, being anchored always in no matter what storm, home wherever we are. In the mornings, continuing where we left off. Resurrection after resurrection.’


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