A Woman Speaks – The Erotic Writing Of Anaïs Nin

The revolutionary feminist erotica of the noted writer and Henry Miller contemporary.

Anaïs Nin, in her book A Woman Speaks, says:

“I make a distinction between erotic writing that is beautiful and which is as poetic as can be, and pornography. I think that they should be distinguished, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t return to the art of erotic writing. The Europeans had a great tradition of it, and it was their best writers who did it. Here (America) it was a degraded thing, whereas in France very good writers enjoyed doing it. They always did that as part of the game.”

Anaïs Nin became known for her Journals and her association with Henry Miller. In later days, her novels attracted attention and she is praised by women as a feminist explorer. In the 1940s, she wrote some erotica that has been collected in two volumes, Delta of Venus and Little Birds. Her preface recounts how she came to write the stories:

“A book collector offered Henry Miller a hundred dollars a month to write erotic stories. It seemed like  Danté-esque punishment to condemn Henry to write erotica at a dollar a page. He rebelled because his mood of the moment was the opposite of Rabelaisian, because writing to order was a castrating occupation, because to be writing with a voyeur at the keyhole took all the spontaneity and pleasure out of his fanciful adventures.”

Nin was encouraged to try her hand.

“I felt I did not want to give anything genuine, and decided to create a mixture of stories I had heard and inventions, pretending they were from the diary of a woman. I never met the collector. He was to read my pages and let me know what he thought. Today I received a telephone call. A voice said ‘it is fine. But leave out the poetry and descriptions of anything but sex. Concentrate on sex.’ So I began to write tongue-in-cheek, to become outlandish, inventive and so exaggerated that I thought he would realise that I was caricaturing sexuality. But there was no protest. I spent days in the library studying the Kama Sutra, listened to friends’ most extreme adventures.”

Despite the demands to “leave out the poetry”, Nin became aware that her approach was totally different from the role models of erotic writing, namely the writings of men. For many years, she didn’t reprint the stories, feeling that she had repressed her own voice. Then she reread them.

“In numerous passages I was intuitively using a woman’s language, seeing sexual experience from a woman’s point of view. I finally decided to release the erotica for publication because it shows the beginnings efforts of a woman in a world that had been the domain of men.”

Nin died in 1977. Her Journals have now emerged in unexpurgated form. One series of extracts that explore the sexual relationship that she had with Henry Miller and his wife formed the book (and film) Henry and June. Another editing called House of Incest  revealed the story of Nïn’s sexual relationship with her father.

PAUL BUCK

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