Anaїs Nin and The Delta of Venus
Have you heard of Anaїs Nin? If you are reading this, you really should have. If you enjoy a spicy romantic book now and again, you should offer a quiet thank you as you read. If you can have an intelligent conversation about modern sex and relationships, you should probably thank her too.
Who was she? In 1903, a girl was born in Paris to two sophisticated artists. Her parents could be described as Cuban-French, although they could probably support several other labels instead. Anaїs was brought up in France, but died an American. Her early life was turbulent, and her first jobs at the age of sixteen were as an artist’s model in New York. In 1923, she married her first husband in Havana, and moved back to Paris.
This was the Paris of the twenties, a wonderful, frenetic place, full of artists, writers, poets and their various hangers-on. Dali, Chagall and Picasso were there, with writers like Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, and Pound. I will not even start on the poets and philosophers. It must have been a great time to sit in those uniquely Parisian cafes and discuss everything the new century had to offer.
Among the people talking and thinking were Anaїs and her new friend Henry Miller (famous for The Tropic of Capricorn, and other sexually loaded books). Anaїs was drawn to the subject of sex. Then she lived in the apartment of an American man who was away for the summer, and discovered a stock of French erotica. One by one, I read these books, which were completely new to me. She later said I had never read erotic literature in America… They overwhelmed me. I was innocent before I read them, but by the time I had read them all, there was nothing I did not know about sexual exploits… I had my degree in erotic lore.
Anaїs began to write. She turned out a library of material. Her journals, deeply introspective, covered 1931 to 1974 and are a goldmine for historians. Her fiction interests me more, both for its delicate sexiness and for the intriguing hints of a wide and sexy life. She seems to have had a go at nearly every literary and artistic figure of her age, and often included their wives in the party. She managed to run two unwitting husbands in America, one on the east coast and one on the west. Her exploits with Henry Miller were almost certainly wild and adventurous, but we are never quite sure how far they went. After all, in those years ladies did not admit to such things.
She says she took up erotic writing because she was poor and starving in New York. That might have been true, but the experiences she was writing about came from the decadence and free-loving of Paris in the twenties. Perhaps her most famous and accessible books are The Delta of Venus and Little Birds. Treat yourself to them this Christmas. They are full of erotic snapshots, gentle, rewarding, sometimes frustrating, always deeply true. I first read them half a life time ago, and they still excite me. I am jealous of her imagination, and even more of the fun she must have had before putting pen to paper.
Anaїs died in America in 1977. I wonder if she looked back on her life and realised that she had made a difference, that she had contributed to freeing women and giving them back their sexuality. The fact that we can now read and write and think about erotic romance is, in part at least, a tribute to her.
Jacqueline lives in Far North Queensland, on the shore of the Coral Sea. She keeps herself busy with her cats and garden, and by writing books - some of which are far too naughty for her own good. You can find out more about Jacqueline and her books at www.jacquelinegeorgewriter.com