At the time we were all writing erotica at a dollar a page, I realised that for centuries we had had only one model for this literary genre – the writing of men.
The preface of Delta of Venus is taken from Nin’s The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume III, and explains how she came to create this collection of erotica. Through her famous friendship with Henry Miller, she is encouraged to start contributing to Miller’s collection of stories for a book collector. When she forwards her stories she is told to “…cut out the poetry and anything but sex. Concentrate on sex.” She continues to submit them, the stories becoming more “outlandish, inventive and exaggerated.”
What starts as a need for money to fund her and her literary friends lifestyles, the final postscript of this preface, added over thirty years later, sees a more philosophical Nin. Here she discusses the difference between Henry Miller’s masculine approach to the project and her feminine poetic approach.
I had a feeling that Pandora’s box contained the mysteries of woman’s sensuality, so different from man’ and for which man’s language is inadequate.
Thus, Delta of Venus was born. Female written erotica is a hot topic at the moment due to the popularity of a certain trilogy. Much speculation and equal parts love and scorn have been heaped upon E.L James Fifty Shades Trilogy, which having not read I can not comment on. What is of interest is that it is erotica (apparently in the tamest sense of the word, but again, I shouldn’t even comment) written by a woman for women and it has tapped into something that appears to be lacking. There is a wealth of erotica that is written by women but not as accessible or as mainstream as their male counterparts. So at the very least, this book and its authors comments about it, make it very relevant over 60 years after it was written.
And so, to the stories themselves. What elevates Nin’s writing here is the very thing that the book collector complained of; the poetical, lyrical feel to these make them beautiful. The words themselves feel sensual, the tone so fitting with the subject matter elevating it from lurid and seedy. By her own admission, to combat the complaints over being over-poetical, there is a lot of boundary pushing here. Necrophilia, incest, rape and bestiality all feature here and it does make for uncomfortable reading. You admire how it is written and why it is being written but it is not an easy read. A lot of this can be rationalised by the preface, but still, you know, icky. Now, that isn’t a familiar word from me, is it?
In any list of any nature similar to that of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, there will always be comment or disagreement about why something is on the list and I have to confess to thinking that about a number as well. But it is very clear why Delta of Venus its significance to not only erotic literature but female written erotic literature being key. I can clearly say that I admired the writing and what Nin was hoping to achieve (outside of the $1 a page she was paid) or attribute to it. I was going to write that an open mind is needed when going into reading this, but this speaks to not approving or even relating to some of the more extreme subjects covered, just an understanding that they are in there and the purpose of why they are. So be forewarned if you decide to take the trip.