I’m being frivolous of course, (except about the Mum part, I said stop reading) although it is true that Anais Nin originally wrote the pieces in the collection Delta of Venus as pornography. I guess it would be the 1940’s equivalent of writing for Penthouse Letters. But Nin was an artist and couldn’t help herself making her work literary, despite her client’s demand to ‘leave out the poetry and descriptions of anything but sex.’
There is a reason that the stories in the collection are important, and there’s a good reason why I could find the book on the shelf of my local library and not the X-rated video shop four doors up from it (yes, I live in strange neighbourhood.) The stories examine the sexuality of women in a way that seems as much honest study as titillation.
The story in the collection that most drew me in, was Artists and Models. It is told by a young artist’s model in New York’s Greenwich Village. She poses for Millard, an old sculpture who tells her sexually charged stories from the community of artists he used to live in back in Montparnasse. The model starts to attend parties in Greenwich Village and she meets John, a successful singer who is married. She begins an affair with him, but he insists she stops modelling. Millard won’t allow her to, and she remains modelling for the old artist. Eventually, she begins an affair too with Millard, the two secret relationships become difficult for her to manage, but she admits she enjoys the danger and the intensity of the situation.
There is freedom in Nin’s stories, a liberation, particularly in the stories Millard tells of Montparnasse. It seems at the same time rules such as fidelity are being broken down, even older rules are being enforced, such as men’s ownership of women. Nin is exploring ideas in a world that is so heavily stigmatised that even if she found any type of answer, it would be shouted down. In a lot of ways, we have progressed only marginally from the time in which Nin was writing. In an era of explicit rap videos and advertising, where sex is constantly flashed in front of us, we are still no nearer to understanding what true sexuality is or means.