Writer Anaïs Nin didn’t just keep a diary, she made journaling an art form. She began putting pen to page during her adolescence and continued documenting her most intimate, sexually frank thoughts — often involving famous friends and bedfellows like Henry Miller — until her death in 1977.
The erotica maven’s birthday is today, and we’re taking a look at several other well-known, scandalous diarists who have shared their candid (and often naughty) thoughts and experiences for all to peruse. In the age of celebrity sex tapes, some of these admissions may seem timid now, but they certainly made waves during their time. Who would you add to the list? Click on to read our picks, and weigh in with yours below.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Andy Warhol’s diary was written by his secretary Pat Hackett and not the pop art icon himself. From 1976 to 1987 (just a few days before his death) Warhol would phone Hackett daily to discuss the previous days events, provide a mundane list of his expenditures, and chat about life in general. More than 20,000 pages were transcribed by hand, typewritten, and eventually (posthumously) turned into a book. Details about the artist’s recollections of parties, famous friends (and foes) are all included — some of them more flattering and kind than others, which probably burned a few folks who found out his true feelings years later. The picture he painted of the cultural landscape during his time was fascinating no matter the subject.
Art press Editor-in-chief and secret hedonist Catherine Millet published an explicit copy of her sexual adventures The Sexual Life of Catherine M in 2002. Though Millet admits she did not consistently keep a diary during her exploits, the book still reads like one. As Will Rogers put it: “Memoirs means when you put down the good things you ought to have done and leave out the bad ones you did do.” Millet didn’t leave out anything. In her book she discusses open marriage, childhood masturbation, orgies, anonymous sex, and everything else you could possibly imagine. Needless to say, the highly respected curator caused quite a stir with her graphic account, however, many have applauded her unabashed honesty.
Marquis de Sade
The often repellent and always fascinating Marquis de Sade kept a lengthy journal during his imprisonment at the Charenton Asylum in France, where he eventually died in 1814. The sadistic Marquis spent most of his life in prisons for various acts — often obscene and related to his writings — but was finally declared insane by his family and locked up for good in 1801. The daily journal revealed a deep-seated paranoia and mania, but also detailed the Marquis’ deviant, darker thoughts. Though De Sade’s family tried to keep his work suppressed for years, two of the four journals were eventually published — an amazing feat considering his son ordered his manuscripts to be burned immediately after his death.
Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, wrote an extensive set of journals since childhood, totaling 13 volumes. After the Alice in Wonderland author’s death in 1898, his family took control of the writings, until 1969 when the British Library purchased them. An edited version was initially published in the 1950s, but the unexpurgated copy didn’t arrive until much later. Up until that point, Dodgson’s sexuality and claims of pedophilia were often at the center of conversation when it came to discussing the writer’s personal relationships — particularly the controversial one he had with young family friend, Alice Liddell. Dodgson abruptly cut all ties with the Liddells in 1863, but his diary doesn’t reveal the reasons why, as the pages for those dates are missing. (Four volumes also mysteriously vanished.) Speculation about a marriage proposal to an 11-year-old Alice and other inappropriate romantic entanglements have abounded, but only those lost writings contain the truth.
“I didn’t set out to write a book about sex or anal sex at all. I had an experience, started keeping notes. I was fascinated that I had this incredibly emotional and spiritual reaction to this act. The edge is fascinating to me. It’s the juxtaposition of the so-called high and low,” former New York City ballerina Toni Bentley shared during an interview.
Following in the footsteps of Catherine Millet, the dancer/writer (she co-authored Suzanne Farrell’s autobiography) has described herself as a “modest” and “shy” dancer, but you’d never know it while reading her 2004 opus about her passion for all things posterior (298 encounters to be exact). The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir shares Bentley’s quest of radical self-love and sexual identity.
“I love and only love the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs,” wealthy British landowner — and O.G. of modern lesbianism — Anne Lister confessed in her diary. Admitted 19th century homosexual women weren’t exactly popular during Lister’s time, which is why she poured her heart out into a four million-word diary. Yes, million. Not only that, but the journal was encrypted with her own invented Greek/algebra code that was recently deciphered. The journals documented the mundane details of everyday life alongside graphic lines about her passionate affairs with aristocratic women. She even married one, eventually.
“I am a male, age 23, and I am lactating. My breasts have never been so sore. Not even after receiving titty twisters from bully school mates. They had hair down there long before I stopped playing with dolls. I haven’t stopped playing with dolls. I havent masturbated in months, because I’ve lost my imagination. I close my eyes, and I see my father, little girls, german shepards, and TV news commentators, but no voluptuous, pouty-lipped, naked female sex kittens, wincing in ecstasy from the illusory positions I’ve conjured up in my mind. No, when I close my eyes I see lizards & flipper babies, the ones who were born deformed because their mothers took bad birth control pills. I am seriously afraid to touch myself.” —Kurt Cobain’s journals
Young libertine Lord Byron was “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but the poet was a lit celeb during his time. His penchant for married affairs, the birth of several illegitimate children, his confusing relationship with his half-sister Augusta, and other scandalous acts quickly tarnished his reputation. He ventured on a self-imposed exile from Britain and didn’t find resurgence in popularity again until his death. The wild and romantic scribe trusted his personal diaries to fellow poet Thomas Moore, who delivered them to Byron’s publisher, John Murray. To avoid another scandal and to save his own reputation, Murray burned the pages (with the blessing of several of Byron’s friends and the executors of his will). If only fireplaces could talk.