Friday, March 18, 2011

393. Delta of Venus – Anais Nin

History: A collection of short stories largely written in the 1940s while Nin was writing erotica for a private collector. The book was first published posthumously in 1978.
The collection of short stories that makes up this anthology was written during the 1940s for a private client known simply as "Collector"'. This "Collector" commissioned Nin, along with other now well-known writers (including Henry Miller), to produce erotic fiction for his private consumption. Despite being told to leave poetic language aside and concentrate on graphic, sexually explicit scenarios, Nin was able to give these stories a literary flourish and a layer of images and ideas beyond the pornographic. In the introduction, she called herself "the madam of this snobbish literary house of prostitution".
The stories range in length, and are tied together not just by their sexual premises, but also by Nin's distinct style and feminine viewpoint.
The Hungarian Adventurer - A Hungarian Baron seduces wealthy women then vanishes with their money. He can't control himself and eventually begins to have sex with his daughters, then his son. Eventually they abandon him.
Mathilde - a Parisian hatmaker named Mathilde, seduced by the Baron at a young age, leaves her husband for the opium dens of Peru. She is seduced by a slasher, but then rescued.
The Boarding School - A priest lusts after a sweet boy, but then he is raped by a gang bang.
The Ring - An Indian from Peru fell in love with a woman of Spanish descent, and they had to keep the love affair secret. So they exchanged rings, but he put the ring on his penis where it wouldn't be seen. They ran away together, but his penis still remained sensitive, and he was jealous.
Mallorca - A woman invites another girl to a lesbian skinny-dipping swim in the sea, but it is a trick to lure her to the attention of a man who is also naked in the water. The ruse works, and the seduced girl are happy with her male lover.
Artists and Models - Highly erotic classic short story in which a woman poses nude for a sculptor. At first their relationship is entirely professional and platonic, but the artist passes the time by sharing stories about less innocent relationships between artists and their models. The model, eager for more such stories, seeks storytellers among the rest of the artistic community of Paris. She learns of an artist who makes models pose in just a pair of slashed panties while he stares at her with his penis exposed, and only satisfies his lust on the panties once she has got dressed and left. The model realises that her sculptor friend is deliberately making mistakes in his work, so that he has to start again on fresh blocks of stone in order to keep her there. By this time however, she is dating a leading dramatist who is too polite to seduce her properly, as he is married and a celebrity. His cruel tendency to keep her waiting for his full affection infuriates her. Her artist friend, now becoming her lover, begs her to avoid seeing the man. The dramatist is jealous of the artist seeing her in the nude daily, and begs her to stop seeing him and making love to him. She continues to see both men, and uses the sexual teachings of each to satisfy the other.
Lilith - She is in a crumbling relationship with her husband. One night, he tells her that he has slipped a Spanish Fly aphrodisiac into her tea to make her more open to sex, but she is not due to stay in. She is going to a cinema with a girl friend, and once out, she imagines her uncontrollable passion turning her on to any man and even her lady friend, but the drug takes its time. Even back home with her husband, nothing seems out of the ordinary. Finally, he admits to a cruel joke. He gave her no such potion. Lilith now dreams of getting her hand on real sexual stimulants.
Marianne - The most autobiographical of the stories given that Nin wrote her stories for a mysterious figure called only The Collector. Here, The Collector sends her to a girl who can edit the work for her, and the narrator finds out that the girl has written her own story, inspired by what she has read. The girl is virginal, and also an artist. She is involved with a man who pays her to paint him naked, but never lets her touch him, causing her intense sexual anxiety.
The Veiled Woman - A man is offered a chance to earn money making love to a beautiful rich stranger, though he will never be allowed to know her identity. He accepts the offer and gets taken blindfolded to a fantastic and profitable sexual encounter. Months later, by chance he learns that she also invited men to watch him in action. He is left paranoid that all of his sexual encounters may have been secretly watched.
Elana - Elana has read D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and feels as if her own love life is bland by comparison. A gay man, who will make love to her only up to a point, as he harbours a phobia about women’s vaginas, then seduces her. She also has an affair with Pierre, a fugitive anarchist, who is on the run for crimes against the state. Elana also experiments with lesbianism. She has so much sex without love that she feels hardened and immune, comparing herself to someone walking on hot coals without burning her feet. She knows that Pierre will move on out of her life, but she is content to make love to him before that day comes.
The Basque and Bijou - Bijou is a recurring character in Nin’s erotic stories. She is a renowned and notorious Parisian prostitute. The Basque is one of her clients.
Bijou is bought out of the brothel by the Basque, who cruelly makes her both wife and slave. He makes love to her with his friends watching at his house, and expressing approval. They later violate her and help the Basque to forcibly shave her vagina. Bijou is frightened as outside of her brothel she has lost control and allowed herself to be dominated. Bijou has one avenue of escaper. During the days when the Basque is away she works as an artists’ model, posing evocatively to turn the art students to passionate love for her. She then meets secretly with the most aroused student for sex. Bijou takes hypnosis with a hypnotist who molests and penetrates her while she is in a trance, though she is faking the trance. He collects samples of her underwear. When he starts talking of wearing her vagina skin as earrings she gets away from him quickly. Later, Bijou, the Basque, the hypnotist, and Elana (another recurrent figure in Nin’s stories) have a picnic together, where they have an orgy. The Basque allows Bijou to be raped by a passing dog, but forbids her physical contact with the hypnotist or himself. Soon afterwards, the Basque walks out on Bijou, reflecting on his old school mistress, whose clothes he liked to wear. Dark, sometimes nasty, but compulsive reading.
Pierre - The anarchist who appears in Elana has aback story of his own, in which his sexual awakening involved the necrophiling of a woman’s body rescued from a quayside. Chased and almost captured, Pierre receives a slow sexual education from other women but he remains haunted by his crime.
Manuel - A flasher who is danger of being arrested. He gets work for one woman who pays him by looking at his genitalia when he drops his trousers. He eventually meets a female equivalent to himself, and they go away happy to flash their private parts at each other.
Linda - A woman in a very open marriage, who told by her hair-dresser that she ought to meet men who treat her badly in order to more appreciate the men who treat her well, meets up with a man who refuses to have sex with her, but who is willing to make love to a handkerchief she has wiped her genitalia with. He does this right under her nose.
Marcel - An insecure man, who lacks self-confidence, gaining sexual education from the narrator and visiting can-can clubs, but the decadent beautiful free-love world is soon to be shattered by the impending Nazi occupation, and everyone senses it.
Review: Delta of Venus joyously explores the art of human sexuality. Anais Nin's writing style is at once lyrical and straightforward. While she leaves no doubt in the reader's mind just what is going on, her countless love scenes are imbued with so much warmth and dignity that one could scarcely find them offensive. But most importantly, Anais understood that sex is nothing without emotion, and it's the emotions of her myriad characters that cause the reader to turn happily florid with every page. She understood that while sex is not to be taken lightly, it's certainly not something to be restrained, either. Lastly, of all the locales depicted in this collection of stories, she lends a special affection to Paris. I suspect that of all of Anais' lovers, the City of Light was the dearest to her heart, to wit: "At five I always felt shivers of sensuality, shared with the sensual Paris. As soon as the light faded, it seemed to me that every woman I saw was running to meet her lover, that every man was running to meet his mistress." and "But we were enjoying an orgasm, as couples do in doorways and under bridges at night all over Paris."
Opening Line: "There was a Hungarian adventurer who had astonishing beauty, infallible charm, grace, the powers of trained actor, culture, knowledge of many ongues, aristocratic manners."
Closing Line: "Marcel was remembering this, too.
Quotes: "He asked the three men to hold her. Bijou squirmed at first and then realized it was less dangerous to lie still,for he was carefully shaving her pubic hair, beginning at the edges, where it lay sparse and shining on her velvet belly. The belly came down in a soft curve there. The Basque lathered, then -"
Rating: Good.

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