Anaïs Nin by Carl Van Vechten 1949
February 21 marked the 108th birthday of Anaïs Nin, a controversial figure perhaps best known for her romantic dalliances with prominent figures such as Henry Miller, Otto Rank, Lawrence Durrell, Antonin Artaud and Gore Vidal. She worked as a psychoanalyst, wrote fiction, trained as a dancer, appeared in films by Maya Daren and Kenneth Anger, had an affair with her father, pianist and composer Joaquin Nin, and eventually married Rupert Pole sixteen years her junior when she was forty-four (she was already married to banker and experimental filmmaker Hugh Guiler at the time.) All of this and more she documents in her diaries, which span more than sixty years. It is, perhaps, not surprising then that Nin also dabbled in erotica; collections of her stories, Little Birds and Delta of Venus, are now considered some of the finest erotica ever written.
The books were not published until the late 70s, after Nin succumbed to a three-year battle with cancer. The stories themselves were written much earlier, in the 1940s when Henry Miller and Nin were both living in Paris. Miller, after publishing Tropic of Cancer, was approached by a third party to write pornographic stories for an anonymous collector at the rate of $1 per page. Soon, many of his artist and writer friends, including Caresse Crosby, Robert Duncan, and Nin were churning out what the latter termed “an abundance of perverse felicities,” encouraged by Miller to take advantage of this unforeseen source of income.
Anaïs Nin’s Little Birds and Delta of Venus, born out of what was part joke, part moneymaking venture, are erotica in the truest sense of the word. The stories are rich, vivid, beautifully written and populated by character types who embody the multi-hued spectrum of human desire. They deftly and, at times, humorously explore the various ways in which sexual hunger is felt, expressed, and consummated and the reader is often as surprised by the events that unfold as the characters are themselves. The settings, scenarios, and figures in Nin’s stories are largely informed by her own life and enriched and transformed by her considerable powers of invention and unique poetic voice.
Text by Anna Wittel