Delta of Venus is Anais Nin’s most famous book, written in the 1940s and published in 1977. I wanted to read it because it is included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and I was curious about the author’s stories. I wasn’t sure what kind of stories I would encounter as I don’t usually read erotica, but I certainly wasn’t expecting such stories. Delta of Venus was a book that surprised and challenged me.
Delta of Venus consists of erotic stories that Anaïs Nin wrote for a dollar a page at a time when she needed money. When I read this information and the reader’s wishes who placed the order, I thought that it is not a subject that the author specifically wanted to write about, but I wonder how much it differs from what she wanted to write.
And frankly, I found all the stories to be very poor from a literary point of view. I don’t know how right it is to expect erotic stories to be literary, but I expect to enjoy literary pleasure from every book I read. Although, I am not sure how correct it is to criticize the Delta of Venus in terms of its place in the history of literature. Because when you think about it, it’s really amazing to read that female characters can be just as sex-hungry and open and free about it as men.
Delta of Venus contains “deviant” narratives such as sadism, incest, rape, BDSM, paedophilia, necrophilia and so on. While I read some stories in shock, I read some stories in horror. The reason for this is entirely due to the brutality of the stories. Leaving these aside, these stories would be read purely for the freedom of the female characters. With pleasure!
Delta of Venus
Delta of Venus: As influential and revelatory in its day as Fifty Shades of Grey is now, Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus is a groundbreaking anthology of erotic short stories, published in Penguin Modern Classics
In Delta of Venus Anaïs Nin conjures up a glittering cascade of sexual encounters. Creating her own ‘language of the senses’, she explores an area that was previously the domain of male writers and brings to it her own unique perceptions. Her vibrant and impassioned prose evokes the essence of female sexuality in a world where only love has meaning.
This edition includes a preface adapted from Anaïs Nin’s diary that establishes a context for the work’s gestation, and a postscript to her diary entries in which she explains her desire to use ‘women’s language, seeing sexual experience from a woman’s point of view’.
Anaïs Nin (1903-1977), born in Paris, was the daughter of a Franco-Danish singer and a Cuban pianist. Her first book – a defence of D. H. Lawrence – was published in the 1930s. Her prose poem, House of Incest (1936) was followed by the collection of three novellas, collected as Winter of Artifice (1939). In the 1940s she began to write erotica for an anonymous client, and these pieces are collected in Delta of Venus and Little Birds (both published posthumously). During her later years Anaïs Nin lectured frequently at universities throughout the USA, in 1974 and was elected to the United States National Institute of Arts and Letters.
If you enjoyed Delta of Venus, you might like Stephen Vizinczey’s In Praise of Older Women, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.
‘Anaïs Nin excites male readers and incites female readers … and she comes against life with a vital artistry and boldness’
The New York Times Book Review
Anaïs Nin was a part French part Cuban author born on 21st February 1903 in Neuilly, France. Born in a family where art was wholeheartedly appreciated, Nin began writing when she was very young. She never gained any formal education after the age of sixteen when she left school and worked as a model for an artist until her mother moved her to New York City where Nin spent most of her time writing her diaries. She got married to her first husband Ian Hugo (Hugh Parker Guiller) in March 1923 and moved to Paris the next year.
Her diaries Vol.1, 1931–1934 tell us about her intimate relationship with Henry Miller, an American writer and painter. Her husband did not want to become a part of these diaries so he is not mentioned anywhere in them, but Nin was a part of Ian’s film ‘Bells of Atlantis’ (1952). At the age of 44 she met the actor Rupert Pole and developed a passionate romantic relationship with him that ended in marriage in March 1955. Her first husband was completely unaware of Nin’s marriage to Pole.
This ‘bicoastal trapeze’ led to Nin leading two lives which revolved around lies. The following statement by Nin shows us how confusing her life had become. “I tell so many lies I have to write them down and keep them in the lie box so I can keep them straight.” After some legal issues that arose due to claims by Pole and Guiller as having her as a dependent on their tax returns, the marriage between Nin and Pole had to be annulled. Despite the end of their marriage, they continued to live together till her death.
All these incidences were mentioned in her diaries, and that is what Nin is known best for. Her journals provide us with a deep understanding of her personal life. Pole, Guiller and Miller were not her only lovers. She was involved with several other men, all of them prominent authors or important figures.
She is also popular for her erotic novels and was one of the very few women in the modern West who authored erotica. Her famous novels of this nature were published in the 1970s. These include ‘Delta of Venus’ and ‘Little Birds’. Nin was thought to be bisexual because of her ‘ménage à trois’ between her, Henry Miller and his wife June Mansfield Miller, although she completely denies this claim.
Some of Nin’s novels are ‘Under a Glass Bell’ (1944), ‘Seduction of the Minotaur’ (1958), ‘In Favor of a Sensitive Man’ (1976) and ‘Waste of Timelessness: And Other Early Stories’ that she wrote in 1932, but was published posthumously.
Anaïs Nin took part in some of the most remarkable literary movements and artistic engagements that happened in the 20th century. These include the ‘surrealist movements’ of the 1930s and the 1940s, the ‘Avant Garde’ crowd, and the feminist movement in the 1960s. She was awarded with an honorary doctorate degree from ‘Philadelphia College of Art’, appreciating her contributions to English Literature. After battling with cancer for almost three years, Nin died on 17th January 1977 in LA, California.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: