Delta of Venus : erotica

by Anaïs Nin

Hardcover, 1977





New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.


In Delta of Venus Anais Nin penned a lush, magical world where the characters of her imagination possess the most universal of desires and exceptional of talents. Among these provocative stories, a Hungarian adventurer seduces wealthy women then vanishes with their money; a veiled woman selects strangers from a chic restaurant for private trysts; and a Parisian hatmaker named Mathilde leaves her husband for the opium dens of Peru. Delta of Venus is an extraordinarily rich and exotic collection from the master of erotic writing.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Widsith
I was rereading bits of this last night after seeing several one- or two-star reviews of it pop up in my feed recently. And scanning through some of the other reviews here and on GoodReads, there's a lot of people objecting that it's ‘icky’ – one reviewer lists all the things that feature in Delta, things like incest, rape, paedophilia, and then just says, ‘Ew, right?’

WELL NO NOT EW ACTUALLY. I mean yes, ew, if you like, of course a lot of these things may not be very appealing depending on your tastes, but more fundamentally I just think this is a misunderstanding of the genre. The whole point of erotica is often not so much to turn you on as to go to places that other writing cannot – to break down taboos. Like other kinds of genre fiction, it should be mind-expanding. In the same way that, for instance, science-fiction or fantasy tries to conjure up other civilisations in order to contextualise our own, so erotica is the one genre which gets to look at social conventions one by one and imagine what would happen if they didn't exist or if they were systematically ignored. The idea is to open you up to new experiences, and it's often meant to be unsettling and challenging rather than arousing – although certainly one key motive is to prompt that unexpected jolt from the reader where an internal voice says, Whoa, why do I find that idea so hot? I thought I'd dealt with all this in therapy.

Having made the counter-intuitive case that good erotica isn't necessarily sexy – Exhibits A and B being de Sade and Bataille – I should say that Anaïs Nin is nowhere near as far along the scale as those two. Her writing is – well I won't say ‘sexy’, because that's so subjective (one man's boring theme exercise being another woman's dependable two a.m. go-to), but it is definitely rich and sensual and I think there is a lot to admire about her prose style. Here we go, let's check out some hot Pierre-on-Elena action:

He was in France without papers, risking arrest. For greater security Elena hid him at the apartment of a friend who was away. They met every day now. He liked to meet her in the darkness, so that before they could see each other's face, their hands became aware of the other's presence. Like blind people, they felt each other's body, lingering in the warmest curves, making the same trajectory each time; knowing by touch the places where the skin was softest and tenderest and where it was stronger and exposed to daylight; where, on the neck, the heartbeat was echoed; where the nerves shivered as the hand came nearer to the center, between the legs.

This is typical of her approach, which makes use of a lot of short, simple clauses, either separated into different sentences, fairytale-like, or strung together with semicolons into long, dreamy bouts of poetic description. She applies this ruthless sensuality equally to the sex and to the moments of violence or sadism that crop up in the book. I am far from the world's biggest Anaïs Nin fan, but I do think it is important that we have a woman finally writing about this kind of thing, rather than what we had for hundreds of years previously, viz. men guessing what women thought about it. I'm thinking John Cleland, Pierre Louÿs, et hundreds of al.

Nin always prompted a lot of varied reactions from other women, some thinking, Finally someone is saying it, and others being more like, Whoa there, speak for yourself, sister. Meanwhile men's excitement was split between the stuff they recognised (‘women think like us!’) and the stuff that seemed new (‘women don't think like us!’). I do think it's interesting that you can draw a line from Delta of Venus in the 1940s right through to, let's say, Nancy Friday's Women on Top in 1991, and see that most of the themes have barely changed at all.

I don't think Delta of Venus is a great book, but I do think it's an interesting and important one and I have a real soft spot for it. Of course in real life Anaïs Nin was as mad as a box of frogs, but she was the right person at the right time and I like a lot of what's in here – as the reviews show, it still has the power to challenge people today, when you might think the whole thing would have seemed rather passé.

‘Don't burn someone's is NOT OK,’ says one reviewer earnestly. Well, yes, fair enough…it's just as well then that this isn't fucking reportage, it's a piece of creative writing. Jesus. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be in my bunk going over page 117 again.
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LibraryThing member dreamingtereza
In the preface to this sensual and exotic collection of interrelated short stories, Anais Nin provides the account of the mysterious patron who offered to pay one dollar per page for the erotica that she and her counterparts wrote for him. Several times she recounts his complaining that there was "too much poetry and not enough sex" in her stories. And, as a result, several times she endeavored to leave out the poetry and focus solely on sex, as he wished, to the point that she "began to write tongue-in-cheek, to become outlandish, inventive, and so exaggerated that [she] thought he would realize [she] was caricaturing sexuality." And yet he wanted more specifics, and less poetry still.

While the characters who people these stories may be caricatures, they are still quite believable and incredibly human in their foibles and plights, though somewhat underdeveloped (It's erotica, after all; what can one expect?). Despite her efforts to "leave out the poetry," these stories are wonderfully lyrical. If anything is "caricatured," it's her not-so-subtle marriage of form and content: the stories, like the sexual act itself, tend to exhibit a grace and fluidity throughout only to come to an abrupt and jarring end.
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LibraryThing member MelmoththeLost
I'm not a great fan of erotica but this is such a seminal (ahem) work that I felt I had to give it a try.

The blurb on the back cover says that Nin "conjures up a glittering cascade of sexual encounters". A cascade of sexual encounters it surely is. Whether it's a glittering one is another matter.

Ultimately this book fell flat, or maybe flaccid, for this reader. Erotica, of all forms of writing, is a fragile thing in which pages of careful, teasing build-up can be deflated instantly by a single jarring word and it doesn't help that Nin is writing in American English and in dated American English to boot.

apart from anything else, to this Brit an ass is a large, hairy, grey and long-eared quadruped of largely equine persuasion. So when Nin writes, as she repeatedly does, that her protagonist of the moment "spread the buttocks of the/my/her ass" it conjures up images of a sexual encounter very different the one she was clearly intending. "Ass" instead of "arse" is just naff.

And what on earth is one to make of the word "panties"? Has there ever been a less erotic word used of female underwear?

But the biggest cringe of all is the repeated use of the word "sex", mostly for the female genitals but also occasionally for the penis. Sorry, but this is a tweeness much too far. Used of the cunt, it's the sort of word an embarrassed nun might use to explain a medical problem to a young male doctor. Erotic it is not. Even when I can stop laughing. Sorry.
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LibraryThing member lydia1879
I have mixed feelings about this one, like a lot of people.

On the one hand, it's Anaïs Nin, the one-woman powerhouse who wrote erotica in the 20th century. Erotica from a female perspective, which no one was doing at the time. On the other, reading it, it didn't always feel like her.

And I generally don't read books for the plot or the characters, I read it for the writing. So if it didn't feel like her, it just took me twice as long to read one story as it might've otherwise.

I realised, while reading this book, that I much prefer Nin's stories when they were written from a female perspective. I feel that she puts parts of herself in her stories, and the more I read, the more I'd find out about her. Her vulnerabilities, her eccentricities, her dreams.

Yes, it was dark, yes it was erotic and sensual in that it engaged all the five senses.

It's hard to rate this book because overall, it's not my favourite of her works, and yet some of the stories were my favourite in this book and otherwise.

It's been a strange and wild ride, Anaïs. Only you could puzzle me the way you do.

And thank you so much to Christina for buddy-reading this with me! It's been on my shelf so long, it's great to tick it off my to-read list.

(Uh, also, I should say, this book is riddled with triggers. So, let's get started. tw: rape, non-consensual sex, beastiality, necrophilia, underaged sex... all the things. It's pretty dark.)
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LibraryThing member Sophiejf
I haven’t read Anais Nin before and thought as she is an important literary voice of the 20th century, that I ought to familiarise myself with her work. But I’m not sure I can continue reading these stories, they are a desolate landscape; utterly bleak, completely brutal, I’m just not coping. If I read any more I may actually need therapy. I thought Anais Nin might perhaps be a modern risqué version of Colette or a female DH Lawrence, but I find instead the most horrific, sad, terrible material.

So far, Nin has written about incest, gang rape, pedophilia and mutilation in almost clinical prose. I’m glad I read her preface where she explains that she wrote these stories under financial duress for an anonymous client who specifically requested stories about sex with no love and no poetry. She thinks however that in spite of that, the stories do contain a feminine voice buried within them. I believe that to be true and perhaps Nin is subversively (within this context of commissioned stories) highlighting the terrible things that can happen to the human psyche when you remove love, attachment and poetry from desire. Whilst I respect Nin as a writer, I just don’t want to spend any more time in this disturbing world.

This book is not for the faint-hearted or the overly sensitive and is definitely not for me. But for those who are more robust and curious…well, sure…see what you think. It has a kind of beautiful darkness.
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LibraryThing member AlCracka
Yep, this is happening.

So Anais Nin wrote this stuff at a dollar a page for an unknown collector who kept telling her to write less literary crap, more of the in and out. Which infuriated her, because she thought he was destroying everything interesting about sex. Which is basically the same debate people are having today about internet porn.

And she keeps punishing him for it. In one story a woman has an erotic opium experience, and it's pretty hot I guess, and then suddenly it's like "And then the guy almost slashed her vagina up because he was a psycho! The end." Which is basically just Nin saying "Ha ha, I killed your boner."

In the first story, a dashing guy who's basically The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis commercials is bored by normal sex and starts seeking out increasingly perverse experiences. So the first bit, where there's this hot singer lady who goes around to the private booths after her act and blows guys, is - again - pretty hot; but by the end of the story, he's trying to shove his cock into his sleeping preteen son's mouth.

And that's also a debate that continues today: some anti-porn folks say that the ubiquity of porn encourages people to search out ever-more-extreme forms just to find something new. For what it's worth, anecdotally, this has not been my experience.

In any case, I don't know why this guy kept paying Nin. She was pretty much just fucking with him

Update: putting this aside until Jo catches up with me.
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LibraryThing member Noisy
Undoubtedly erotic and undoubtedly well written, but I was left unmoved. The introduction explains that the stories were written to order, and so lyricism was constrained. The picture of Paris in a certain era was fairly evocative, but - perhaps understandably given that I'm a man - I had little empathy with the characters. Would I recommend it? It passes the time. Hmmm - that's it; nothing more to say.… (more)
LibraryThing member screamingbanshee
I couldn't read this in one go (erotica overload!) and the chapters lent for easy reading over a long time.I realize now why Anais Nin is so esteemed. Her prose lends much beauty and sensitivity to human sexuality.
LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
By today's standards, this is pretty tame reading, but when it was first published, it was some pretty racy stuff! What you find here is actually worthy of being labeled literature, but make no mistake, these stories are not likely to show up on a high school reading list. These short stories have beginnings, clearly defined endings and the middles are filled with finely crafted stories and adult fantasies. Like a well cut cocktail gown, a lot is revealed, but just enough is left to our imagination that we want to see more. I highly recommend Little Birds as an ideal companion volume to this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member HendrikSteyaert
Did not finish the book. I found the few stories that i read mediocre and not at all exciting, what i expect erotic stories to be.
LibraryThing member ChicGeekGirl21
Not particularly erotic (a better word would be "sensual"), but excellently written.
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
Maybe this is a "dirty book" but it is also a magnificent piece of literature. It is unfortunate that it is saddled by the "erotica" tag, because it is so much more. This is sexual psychology, human emotional interaction...and there is plenty of sex.

Think of this as a pyscho-sexual-emotional smorgasbord. And enjoy it.… (more)
LibraryThing member realbigcat
After having read Little Birds I expected something even better. I would say it's a comparable read. Based om todays standards it's on the milder spectrum of erotica. As with any short story collection I found some stories much more enjoyable than others. Her use of the term "sex" for the most intimate female part and sometimes male part becomes annoying or even laughable. If you are new to the erotic genre then you would enjoy this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I like the way Nin treats sex and relationships, and some of her shorter stories are fascinating and erotic in equal measures. Yet I found her style annoying in this novel more so than in her others; she has a habit of ending sentences with comma-separated strings of adjectives which I found tiresome, distracting (as an obvious example). Is it so difficult to use the word 'and'?… (more)
LibraryThing member Diwanna
Some of these stories were a little disturbing. Some were very sweet. Overall an enjoyable book in this genre. I look forward to reading more from Anais Nin.
LibraryThing member anna_battista
The best erotic fiction I've ever read.
LibraryThing member leforestiere
there is little literature within these pages. special for the time it was written. men or really female thoughts / fantasies?
LibraryThing member cupocofe
this book should come with trigger warnings for genital mutilation, paedophilia, incest, and gang rape -- among other things, i'd wager, only i didn't get that far.

this isn't erotic in the slightest. don't even start with milestones and breakthroughs in literature and art. if i'm in the mood for something like this book's contents, my time will be better spent watching tentacle porn.

call me rattigan's aunt edna, i don't give a damn.

still interested in her journals.
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LibraryThing member 50MinuteMermaid
Sensual and sultry, I feel that I need to read some French feminists and then give this book a second close reading. It's amazing erotica, but I suspect there's so much more to it...
LibraryThing member kakadoo202
very disappointed in this book. child porn and child molesters and pedofiles within the first few chapters really turned me off.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Nin, then writing for "the collector," writes short stories that beguile us with the forbidden (at the time) and the taboo. Her unique style and perspective, give these stories a voice like no other. Literate porno, but mostly just literate by today's standards.
LibraryThing member Auntie-Nanuuq
I thought this to be a very well written and extremely entertaining book of an adult genre.

I like it so much I own a hard cover copy.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Very well-written book. No continuing story (to speak of) but a look at a variety of characters and their fantasies and adventures.
LibraryThing member IsabelWinsorAuthor
I read this book back in high school and what a revelation!
LibraryThing member tapestry100
Well, quite frankly, Delta of Venus was not for me. I think part of the problem was in reading the foreword that explains how Nin came to be writing erotica, and knowing that she was purposefully trying to be over the top and push the envelope, I found these stories to be neither erotic nor titillating (not that erotica is supposed to be titillating, but I think you get the idea). Instead, I found myself giggling and rolling my eyes more often than not when reading the stories. Perhaps if I didn't know her reasons for writing them beforehand, I would have approached the book differently? Who knows. As a book club pick for my book group, this was a good selection that created some great discussion, but I don't think I would actively pursue more of her erotica in the future on my own.… (more)



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