Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin

I personally think there is a huge divide between pornography and erotica. Some people don’t. Then again some people will possibly have closed there browsers before they get further than that first line and some people will have found this blog for the first time because of it. Isn’t it interesting the power of the words… porn and erotica. Well today’s post is about the Madame of Erotica herself Anaïs Nin and author many have recommended I try and not for the reasons you might be thinking you mucky minded lot! Though this review could end up not being for the faint hearted or easily offended, you might want to avert your eyes.

As Anaïs Nin states herself in the preface of ‘Delta of Venus’ this collection was never really intended to be published, in fact when these tales were originally written they were simply created for someone she names only as ‘The Collector’ in order to bring in the money. What she did want to do with the erotic tales she wrote was create more of a story and flavour of literature rather than just the mechanical act itself. In fact reading these now, I imagine they were quite steamy stuff in the 1940’s, it’s the beautiful prose and the underlying themes that make Nin’s collection so interesting to read.

Yes ok so there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of sex in these stories but it’s not of the ‘wham bam thank you man variety’, well actually sometimes it is but behind each act there is a story and occasionally almost a moral to the whole tale. Reading these I was actually reminded of fables and folklore on more occasion, especially in tales such as ‘The Ring’ which takes place in Peru and looks at the madness love can create, the opening tale ‘The Hungarian Adventurer’ seems to have a moral twist looking at promiscuity and the responsibilities you have with it.

Through this collection of fifteen works Nin not only deals with differing kinds of sex from true love and true lust to acts of sadomasochism, she also looks at other things in life. Sexuality is naturally a  big theme in a collection, there is a tale set in a Brazilian boarding school which deals with homosexuality on several levels and bisexuality is a recurrent theme but she also looks at peoples circumstances, lifestyles and their psychological states.  This can lead to the darker side of life in fact in the collection there are some rather tragic tales. ‘Mathilde’ is the tale of a hat maker who men simply cannot resist, which starts of rather hilariously, yet soon she falls into the world of opium leading to harder drugs and dangerous and frightening circumstances for the heroine.

There are also moments of hilarity, in the aforementioned ‘Mathilde’ the way she gets propositioned by some ‘suitors’ is utterly hilarious. I wont share for fear of getting turned into an ‘adult site’, lets just say its comical and happens here there and everywhere. ‘Lilith’ which I think was one of my favourite stories (there was one or two that left me a little nonchalant, but only one or two) has me laughing out loud. Lilith doesn’t really like sex and so her husband swaps her sweetener for the almost Viagra like Spanish Fly drug and tells her after. Her response being “what a trick to play on me. And I promised Mabel that we’d go to the movies together. I can’t disappoint her. She’s been shut in at home for a week. Suppose it begins to affect me at the movies.” Imagining that conversation over tea in the 1940’s really tickled me. This is a beautifully written collection of eye opening tales which if you look past the sex have so much more to say, if only ‘The Collector’ had known! 9/10

Do you think erotica can ever pass for literature or do you think those who suggest such a thing, like me, need a good talking to? Have you read any Anaïs Nin?



Filed under Anaïs Nin, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Short Stories

47 responses to “Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin

  1. Oh I agree that erotica is often literature and vice versa.

    I read Delta of Venus a number of years ago and barely recall it; I have a few other Anais Nin books on my shelves and I must read them.

    • I am going to give Little Birds a go next, I have a lovely old bright pink 70’s edition with yellow edged paper, I couldnt resist it when I saw it for 25p years ago.

  2. I’ve never read Anais Nin. She is one of those writers I have been aware of all my adult reading life but for some unexplicable reason never felt the urge/need to read her books. I will now. Thank you for this enticing and thought provoking review.

    • Thank you for that lovely comment Meike, very kind and means a lot. She is marvellous, there is so much more going on than just the saunciness, which is actually very funny at certain times. Hope you enjoy her when you try her.

  3. I read Delta of Venus a few years ago, and I would certainly agree that it is literature, not porn. It’s such a fuzzy line, though, isn’t it? My feminist instincts make me wary of getting into porn-related discussions, but there’s no reason why good writing and sexual content can’t go together. So to speak.

    I have a collection of Victorian erotica (words, not pictures) at home, though, and much of that… well, literature it ain’t!

    • Oh you know how I love Victorian things, have never tried any of their minxish works! Email me what its called, I might have to look it up.

      I have heard Little Birds isnt as good as Delta of Venus which is the direction I am heading in next with Nin. We will see, this for me is literature though I get what you mean about the fuzzy line… which sounds rude.

  4. I think there is a huge difference between porn and erotica, and even though I’ve not read this author, I would if I had the opportunity. I think it just comes down to whether it is vular or tasteful, and the refinement of the prose. I would think this would fit the bill. You had me at “not for the faint of heart or easily offended”. To me, that is the ultimate double-dog dare.

    • Hahahaha its less a dare in terms of the sexual parts of the book more as there are some dark depths going on with it all. I don’t want to put people off more prepare them I guess.

  5. Interesting – I’ve not read any Anais Nin – I definitely should though so thank you for your review.

  6. I read this many years ago. Yes you are right it is well written so if that makes it literature it is. Erotica — yes, though I’m never completely sure what the distinction is, actually.

    • I was wondering this after reading the book actually Harriet as there are lots of books nowadays with sex in (some awfully written) so what makes a book go from one genre to another? Interesting question and food for thought.

  7. yearzerowriters

    I have read A Spy in the House of Love and thought it was utterly marvellous. Like Harriet, I am not quite sure when any of the boundaries around erotica, porn, and literature form, except for the very strict boundaries of genres like yaoi. Where does one slot the bawdy (Chaucer/Rabelais), the transgressive (Sade), the salacious (Miller)? It’s one of the problems of having bookshelves in stores that you have to put things onto one or other of them, of course. The discussion always reminds me of the introduction of the NC-17 category in the US film world to separate out the “serious” steamy films from sheer smut.

    Nice to come across this blog – I found you through Jackie at Farm Lane, and the review of Beside the Sea.

    Dan Holloway

    • I have heard A Spy in the House of Love is very very good and actually I have seen that at the library so thats my next book to pick up I think.

      I have never heard of yaoi before!

      Thanks for popping by and commenting too! If you havent read Beside the Sea yet then do!!!!

  8. I was thrilled to read your review as I went through a bit of an Anais Nin phase a few years ago and wrote an article on her in Pen Pusher Magazine (have you ever come across it? It is quite a fun literary rag). I think that you make a good point when you bring out hw beautiful her prose is – it really is easy to believe that she spent her life, when not actually having sex, practicing her writing. I am inclined to say that there is a difference as you say between porn and erotica but that does not mean to say that any particular book is easily identifiable as one or another – I bet that a lot are quite ambiguous. I think that AN is clearly erotica though. I very much recommend her biography which is by Deirdre Bair. Lovely post thanks indeed, and happy Wednesday!

    • I have never heard of Pen Pusher Magazine, I will have to have a gander at it. I think Nin’s prose is utterly gorgeous, even when she is writing some shocking things (in lots of ways not just the sex) and the additional themes underneath make it an insightful book looking at society etc.

  9. kimberlyloomis

    I’m so glad you reviewed this book. Within the last few months I read “Delta” at a friend’s behest – her way of encouraging me to see what she thought of to be erotica instead of the current commercial fare that likes to tout itself as such. Nin’s prose is beautiful and her concept of humanity and all that goes into making certain decisions in life is nothing short of awe-inspiring. That she was able to do all you mentioned and within the context of a short story is a testament to her artistry.

    And, yes, there’s a great deal of difference between erotica and porn. 🙂

    • Oh I dont think anything, not that I have actually read any, that currently states its erotica is a patch on this. I think though maybe Nin always wrote something different from the mainstream erotica then though, or wrote underlying things that said more than others of its kind. I think I lost myself in what I was trying to say there hahaha.

  10. Deb

    One of my friends has a saying: “The difference between erotica and pornography is that in erotica there’s always a silk scarf somewhere in the frame.” I read DELTA OF VENUS in the 1970s and, as I recall, there’s a lot of “silk scarves” (of one sort or another) in it.

  11. I think there is a difference in that erotica is well written and will keep you reading with an emphasis on the story itself and porn is just the same scene repeated every few pages which gets pretty monotonous (would you believe). I read Delta of Venus many years ago and thought it was an interesting read.

  12. Jennifer

    Great post! I’d like to read one of her books and will look one up at the library.

  13. I so appreciate your review because as a teen I read a lot of Anais Nin’s diaries, but then steered clear of her fiction because I got the impression they were very sensual and that put me off. I’m glad to hear they have more of a literary bent, I did always think she was an excellent writer. Never read any erotica, but if I ever gave it a try I’d start with Nin.

  14. I think there is an enormous difference as well, and to me, that difference includes the intention behind porn and the intention behind erotica. I’m sure that line can sometimes become thin, but when that’s the case, it’s probably closer to porn than erotica.

    In porn (and I say this from an academic/theoretical perspective as I’m not a porn watcher but am fascinated by the arguments as a feminist), the intention is for someone (the viewer/reader) to watch/read about sex in order for some sort of sexual gratification. It typically subjugates the actors/characters so as to allow the viewer/reader to reach that gratification.

    Erotica, however, is less about subjugation and “just sex” and more about sensuality, sex, and story. It combines these elements and is not necessarily intended for sexual gratification, although it may for some.

    So one seems less offensive to me than another. I read Like Water for Chocolate last night, a very sensual book; however, it’s more about the characters and their sensuality than just the sex that they have.

  15. I’ve never read erotica but I’ve been considering Nin for awhile.

    It does trouble me, however, that she heartily endorsed Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer. I didn’t have a problem with the sexual content; it was the constant misogyny that angered me. Just about every woman, according to Miller, is a “c**t.” While the male characters have depth and diversity, the women are all just receptacles for the men’s lust.

    So would I consider it porn or erotica? Much as it pains me to do so, I would have to go with the latter. For me, porn is very simple and designed to have a strictly visceral appeal. It doesn’t even have to be sexual. Another blogger I read has a weekly feature he jokingly calls “book porn,” in which he posts photographs of all his new books. I agree with the general sentiment here that while erotica also focuses on sex, it does so in a creative, artistic way. Some great books are about war, some are about sex. Much as I hate Miller, I have to admit that he really was a talented writer.

    • I wouldnt say that Nin had the same attitude towards women as Miller did, though of course they were together, I do wonder if Miller said that purely to be controversial. It helps sales, both then and now.

  16. A lot of great discussion here. Have never read Nin but have always meant to.

    A film could have lots of sex but still be considered artsy or serious, right? And it wouldn’t be porn, for all the reasons people listed above about “silk scarves” and such (and of course, because it wouldn’t have the actual sex, but that’s another story!).

    • I think using the film analogy is a great one Lija because Shortbus and 9 Songs both have full on sex in them but its for a reason (well it does depend on your view I guess) and its part of the whole story/theme of the film.

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  18. novelinsights

    I’ve read some of the stories in this book and would agree that while it can be a fine line to tread Nin is definitely ‘literary erotica’! I don’t think that having sex in a book or even as the main subject should automatically mean it’s porn. I remember reading The Fermata which is absolutely filthy but also hilarious and brilliantly written. I need to get my own copy of this 🙂

    • Well if you think back it was with you I bought these on your recommendation, I didn’t link to you though in case you became known as a porn queen hahahaha. I am glad that you made me pick these up (50p for this and Little Birds) way back as this was a wonderful, shocking, saucy, funny and thought provoking read.

  19. Curzon Tussaud

    Erotica is using a feather, pornography is using the whole chicken.


  20. I read this many years ago and should dig out my copy because I’ve been trying to remember it lately and just have a vague recollection of it. I picked it up because of the film Henry and June about Henry Miller and his wife, June and Henry’s relationship with Anais. Strangely, the film did NOT make me want to read anything by Henry Miller.

    • I have never heard of the film Henry and June! I would be really interested in seeing that I wonder if its one that lovefilm have?

      I get the feeling anything you find out about Miller the less you would want to read anything by him, but then I bet that applies to more authors than we could think!

  21. A book I probably wouldn’t pick up on my own, but it sounds really great!

  22. Eva

    I’ve been curious about this since I had a roommate named Anais a couple years ago! lol (Oh, the reasons we pick up books.) I can’t say I’ve ever read erotica before, but I do think of it as different from porn. And your review left me wanting to give Nin a try. 🙂

    • I think if I ever get another cat and its a girl that I might have to call it Anais! Maybe I could call the other Nin hahaha.

      I would love your thoughts on Anais Nin, I think that you would find the prose beautiful so do give her a try if you can find her at your marvellous library.

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  24. Christina

    Ive never read Delta of Venus by the aclaimed author Anais Nin as you refer to as the Madame of Erotica! In the past Ive ordered books on Erotica from the VenusClub online bookstore and a majority of it has been GARBAGE but recently I found a male author known as Easily Aroused, an indecent gentleman from the UK who writes sensual erotica, the best since TheProvocateur on; in fact I wonder if EA isnt the provocateur!!!

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  26. I love Anais Nin. The only other erotica I enjoy is our own Fanny Hill. I was given Delta of Venus as a 16th birthday present by some very naughty brothers, one of whom is still a friend. I was very shy and knew nothing about sex then, and it certainly had the effect of enthusing me on the subject. I also love the way it is written. Her heroines have a lot in common with Jean Rhys’s, fragile, rather tragic artists’ models adrift in a world of booze, drugs and exploitative men. I read it regularly as her simple way with words is instructive to a writer.

  27. I’m currently writing a paper on Sexual fantasy and evolutionary theory in literature, where i have used Delta of Venus and A Spy in the House of Love , among others, as primary literature…
    I was curious to know, who came up with the name ‘Delta of Venus’? was it Anais Nin herself? I ask this, because i know it for a fact that both DOV and Little Bird were published posthumously…
    Delta of Venus is a Victorian euphemism for the vagina.
    The name itself could be an indication towards either her philosophy about sex, or a mockery of the prudish contemporary society.

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