The publication of something new from none other than Anaïs Nin is itself the stuff of stories, akin to the live capture of a unicorn, or, at the very least, the discovery of long-buried pirate’s gold. It is an occasion to rejoice and once again make pilgrimage to the shrine of that great mother-goddess, the self-described “madame” of modern literary erotica. What a transcendent thrill to hold this book in one’s hands and read that glorious, hypnotically rhythmic, dream-spinning prose that was and is like nothing else.
What we know and take for granted today as literary erotica would be utterly unimaginable without the work of Anaïs Nin. Yet, as editor Paul Herron tells us in his concise, densely informative introduction to Auletris, the author “didn’t take her erotic writing seriously…” Famously paid a dollar a page by a private collector for her now-classic tales, the writing of which she rather dismissively likened to forays into “literary prostitution”, Nin’s erotica was heavily edited for posthumous publication. Delta of Venus appeared in print shortly after the author’s death in 1977. Little Birds followed in 1979. One of the stories in Auletris is the unedited version of Marcel, which appears, severely pruned back, in Delta of Venus. The other story in this new volume, Life in Provincetown, has never before been seen beyond private circles: only five copies of Auletris were produced, the original typescript and four carbons, which were “bound into books by the Press of the Sunken Eye” in 1950. This new edition, according to Herron, “is reproduced as it appears in the original (typescript) minus misspellings, typos, and minor formatting problems, allowing the reader to see Nin’s words as they were intended for the collector.”
And what extraordinary words they are! Everything we have come to love and revere in Nin’s work is here: the writing is, by turns, poetically inspired, sublime, sensuous, cerebral, steamy, trangressive, disturbing, psychologically searing, and joyfully sumptuous in its amoral abandon. As in this passage from Life in Provincetown, a kind of prose-rhapsody on themes of sexual frustration and voyeurism:
She laughed like someone plunging into too cold water, and gasping, and then feeling the warm reaction and the new sensation… She laughed as if pleasure were new and beginning to invade her. Ah … ahh … came her voice in the darkness. If he could have seen her move he would not have been as clearly aware of her pleasure. He felt this pleasure of hers rippling through his muscles. The walls were so thin he could feel it all in his body. Ah … ahh … There was a silence. This silence disturbed the Portuguese more than anything. What could keep her so still after her rippling and open pleasure? What caress could silence her suddenly, as if too profound to cause an exterior proof of joy?
Or this from Marcel:
Last night after reading some of Hans’ writing, his sensual themes, I raised my arms over my head. I felt my satin pants slipping a little at the waist; I felt my belly so vividly; I felt my belly and sex so alive. In the dark Hans and I threw ourselves into a prolonged orgy. I felt that I was taking all the women he had taken, everything that his fingers had touched, all the tongues, all the sexes he had smelled, every word he had uttered about sex, all this I took inside me like a big orgy of remembered scenes, a whole world of orgasms and fevers, and I devoured everything as Hans and I were devouring each other in a dark banquet of teeth into flesh, and flesh soldered together by currents of ever-returning desire.
So far, so magnificent. Yet it would be dishonest to say that Life in Provincetown, for all its beauty and narrative surprise, is a perfectly finished work. More a promising chunk of literary ore not fully refined, the series of small erotic episodes that make up the whole can feel disjointed at times, even somewhat perfunctory, though this might be expected from “writing to entertain under pressure from a client” as the author herself described it, something that had to be turned out in a terrible hurry. Yet, make no mistake, had Nin cared to apply her brilliant, painstaking perfectionist’s attention to the polishing of this work, it would—I have no doubt—be among the greatest, most daring pieces of erotic fiction to come out of the twentieth century.
Wholeheartedly, passionately, deeply, madly, joyously recommended!
[Note: Amazon has made this book unsearchable on its site. The link above and below should allow interested readers to navigate to the hidden product page, but a concerted effort to censor, suppress, and limit access to the book is now blatantly obvious. See this insightful commentary on censorship of the book, as well as further information about this issue at Skyblue Press.]