A few days ago, I found out an erotica story by Anaïs Nin was unearth and published last year. I hadn’t heard about it, and I was excited to dig into new words by Nin.
In Auletris, we are given a particular gift; Nin at her most unedited. We get dreamy visions, purple prose, languid perfumed sentences that very acutely appear to be trains of thought specifically conjured for the erotica collector who was paying her.
This gives the work a very human feel, with almost a nervous energy, as if an artful storyteller was pushed to make up something on the spot at a party. The craft is there, but many of the tools she uses seem to be missing. You can almost hear the “ums” and pauses as she thinks up what comes next.
Knowing Nin and her process, from reading all of her diaries, a few biographies, and so on, I know she is an iterative writer. The first draft is just a rough starting point. Her work is rewritten and reworked and edited by her and by her publishers, and often by lovers and friends.
The main story in Auletris, Life in Provincetown, seems raw and almost handwritten, if that makes sense. There is a lovely feeling of seeing virgin text, but also a lot of crude sentences, odd plot structures, and sometimes just nonsense.
“She was honeyed and golden now, like some precious honey.”
It’s difficult to find that line anything but an awkward ramble. Something that would have been picked up and fixed in the next round. There are a few bits like this as well as some repeated lines and other blatant errors.
There are also a few problematic bits, like her oft used “like a negress” as an indicator of wildness or uninhibitedness. There is a brief bit where an adult man convinces a preteen girl to touch his penis, for which she comments, “sure, I do it for my father every morning.”
Still, I was amused and found myself pulled into many passages and little subplots. The main story is about a woman, an artist model, who lives in Provincetown and sleeps with almost everyone in town. She is beautiful, with a huge sensual mouth, and she had various sexual adventures. The story then follows various other people in her little neighborhood. The adventures range from sweet, to hot, to downright weird, to terrifying (rape in a concentration camp.) The story ends abruptly, as if the last pages were missing, which very well might be the case.
There is something distinctly femme in these two stories. There is also a very strong attraction to men and women in descriptions. It also shows enjoyment of the body in terms and specifics that are often overlooked today. The soft feel of the lush hair on a woman’s legs. Delight in the “fine down” around the nipples. The sometimes overpowering scents of someone’s sex or sweat.
More than any of the stories in Delta of Venus or Little Birds, this work seems the most transaction, if that is the word. There is little of the elegance of stories like The Hungarian Adventurer. It is simple, and that simplicity lends itself to seeing past the rather limited plot to the raw words. This is a wonderful writer trying hard to pump out some smut for a collector so she can get money to pay the rent. Perhaps that’s what connects with me the most.
I enjoyed it for what it was—two unpolished stories from a writer I love.