This Day In Literary History
On June 7th, 1977, Delta of Venus, the classic short story collection by the legendary French writer Anaïs Nin, was published. It was published posthumously, as Nin had died six months earlier at the age of 73.
Anaïs Nin was born Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell in Neuilly, France, in 1903. Her father, Joaquin Nin, was a Spanish concert pianist and composer.
Her mother, Rosa Culmell, was a classically trained singer of French and Danish descent. As a young girl, Anaïs and her family lived in Spain and America before moving back to her mother's French homeland.
When the Nins moved back to France, they first lived in an apartment rented from an American friend who had gone away for the summer.
Anaïs, then in her teens, stumbled across the man's collection of erotic French paperbacks and read them all. By then, she had already determined to become a writer, and had begun keeping the diaries for which she would become most famous.
In the early 1930s, Anaïs Nin was living the bohemian life in Paris when she met the legendary American writer Henry Miller, then a down-and-out expatriate trying to start his own career as a novelist. She let him read her diaries, and they were a revelation to him.
Her writing had the poetry and passion that his lacked. With Anaïs serving as his muse, Miller wrote his classic debut novel, Tropic of Cancer (1934), which made his name as a writer. Meanwhile, Anaïs worked on her own fiction.
While they tried to get their writing careers going, Anaïs and Henry struggled to make ends meet, as France had also fallen victim to the Great Depression. They and some of their writer friends soon discovered that they could make $1 per page writing pornographic literature for an anonymous private collector.
That was the equivalent of $15 per page in today's money; though at first, they wrote erotica just for their own amusement, soon it became an important source of income during the dark days of the Depression when work was hard to come by.
Believe it or not, for Henry Miller, writing decent erotica in those days was a struggle. Anaïs Nin, however, was brilliant at it. Her erotic stories, told from a woman's perspective, were dazzling, poetic, sensual, and even philosophical at times, while also surprisingly graphic.
She explored all the known sexual taboos, including male and female homosexuality, sadomasochism, and incest. Though she retained her original manuscripts for these stories, she never intended to have them published.
During her amazing career, Anaïs Nin wrote many great novels, including House of Incest (1936), The Four-Chambered Heart (1950), and A Spy in the House of Love (1954), but she was most famous for her diaries.
The diaries were published in a series of eleven volumes over the years. They would also appear as collections of excerpts, the most famous of which was Henry and June: From a Journal of Love (1986).
Henry and June: From a Journal of Love contained excerpts from Anaïs' diaries chronicling her relationship with Henry Miller, which began as a close friendship and evolved into a passionate love affair.
The affair would become a ménage à trois of sorts when Miller's wife June arrived in Paris to live with him. Anaïs was fascinated by June and attracted to her, but usually preferred sex with men.
This memorable volume would be adapted by director Philip Kaufman as the highly acclaimed and controversial 1990 feature film Henry & June, starring Fred Ward as Henry Miller, Uma Thurman as June, and, in a bravura performance, Maria de Medeiros as Anaïs Nin.
Though it contained no hardcore sexual content, Henry & June became the first feature film to be rated NC-17, which had replaced the X rating. Most critics and filmgoers agreed that the rating was undeserved.
By 1976, Anaïs was losing her battle with cancer when a publisher approached her about releasing a volume of her famous erotic short stories, which everyone knew about but nobody had seen - except for the patron who had paid her to write them. She still didn't want to publish them.
Knowing that her ex-husbands Hugh Parker Guiler and Rupert Pole, both of whom she still loved, had fallen into poverty, she changed her mind and agreed to have the erotic stories published so they could have some money to live on. She died in January of 1977 at the age of 73. Six months later, Delta of Venus was published.
As the publisher had expected, the short story collection was a huge hit, though Anaïs Nin had considered the stories embarrassing because they were more caricature than serious writing and had been penned for a private patron's money rather than written for publication.
Nevertheless, they possessed a literary quality, providing a memorable exhibition of Nin's talent for erotic literature and adding to her legacy as a feminist icon. With the success of Delta of Venus, a second erotic short story collection, Little Birds, was published in 1979.
Quote Of The Day
"It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it." - Anaïs Nin
Today's video features a reading of Anaïs Nin's classic short story collection Delta of Venus, performed by Ingrid Pitt. Enjoy!