Delta of Venus is a collection of erotic short stories written in the 1940s for a private patron who remains anonymous even in posterity. In fact, the patron had apparently initially solicited the services of Henry Miller (an inferior writer, in my opinion), who found the work beneath him and therefore passed it on to his mistress, Anais Niin. Somewhat ashamed and worried it would devalue her actual literary work, she too remained anonymous and didn’t publish Delta of Venus under her own name until 1969. Rather than discrediting her as a writer of literature, it remains one of her most well-known and influential works, as well as one of the first erotic books written (and claimed by) a woman. Delta of Venus is amazing to me because of how Niin is able to write sex in a way that is somehow both vulgar and classy, explicit and poetic, disgusting and beautiful. Essentially a collection of short stories, she explores many major taboos including incest, pedophilia, sodomy, group sex, masochism, homosexuality and power struggles between the sexes; and she does so with enough charm to somehow make me find incestual pedophilia momentarily sweet. My personal favorite story in the collection was “Elena”, which is probably the tamest of the tales. It’s pretty much the same old story about a woman being sexually “awakened” by an older “Don Juan” type and a prolifically hot lesbian, but somehow she takes this predictable scenario to unexpected depths. According to the foreword in my copy of the book, the patron, while pleased enough with Niin’s work to continue commissioning it for a number of years, repeatedly told her “less poetry, more sex.” But somehow she kept it perfectly balanced with prosaic asides, and took good care to make the characters full people rather than sexual caricatures. she begins Elena by sort of addressing the daydreams of a horny woman while also addressing the non-gender specific problem of expectation:
“You cannot see him as he really is, you cannot see anyone as he really is. He will always be disappointing because you are expecting someone.”
and rather than ever saying “elena was jealous”, she characterizes elena as knowing better than to be jealous, but momentarily weakened by her own carousel of mental imagery:
“Then suddenly the realization that the belt was so old, that Pierre had always worn it, struck her with a strange, sharp pain. She saw him unfastening it in other places, other rooms, at other hours, for other women. She wanted to say ‘Throw the belt away. At least do not carry the same one that you wore for them. I will give you another. ‘ It was as if his feeling of affection for the belt were a feeling of affection for the past that he could not rid himself of entirely. For her, the belt represented gestures made in the past. She asked herself if all the caresses had been the same.”
It is no secret that a lot of the characters in the book are different manifestations of Niin, Miller, and many of their acquaintances, whose stories Niin used unabashedly when in need of new material. Perhaps one of the lines most telling of Niin’s own sexual viewpoint appears toward the end of the book in its last story, “Marcel”:
“I believe in saying it. There are enough mysteries, and these do not help our enjoyment of each other. Now the war is here and many people will die, knowing nothing because they are tongue-tied about sex. It’s ridiculous.”
Overall I give this book an 8/10 and would definitely rank it as among my top 25 favorite books. Feel free to comment if you want to know more about the book or if you want to tell me my review is shit. Next up is Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence!