I think about the preface of Delta of Venus a lot. In it, Nin explains how a “wealthy collector” hired Henry Miller and various others to write erotica for $1 a page. That’s about $18 in today’s money.
Miller bucked at the thought at first, but eventually wrote some. Nin did as well. A lot of their friends who needed money did as well, Harvey Breit, Robert Duncan, George Barker, Caresse Crosby.
They never met the collector, only his agent. He would pass along messages like, “Oh, he likes everything. It is all wonderful. But he likes it better when it is a narrative, just storytelling, no analysis, no philosophy.” or “Less poetry, be specific. “
That drove the writers mad because they were poets, aesthetics, and for them, the poetry and the philosophy was the thing.
Nin wrote, “Everyone was writing up their sexual experiences. Invented, overheard, researched from Krafft-Ebing and medical books. We had comical conversations. We told a story, and the rest of us had to decide whether it was true or false. Or plausible. Was this plausible? Robert Duncan would offer to experiment, to test our inventions, to confirm or negate our fantasies. All of us needed money, so we pooled our stories.”
They also felt they couldn’t use the characters and ideas they were working on in their legitimate work, so they had to invent new things. It forced innovation. It forced some of the greatest writers of the time to write porn and to specifically try and write smut, dirty and poetry-less smut. God, the idea thrills me because they couldn’t do it, the poetry snuck in, and that was the genius of it.
From those stories would come Delta of Venus as well as Miller’s Nexus, Plexus, and Sexus. Who knows what else it inspired.
Note, the collector was discovered eventually, and I’m desperate to find out more about him. His name was Roy M. Johnson. One source I found wrote of him:
“He had all the printed erotica in English, but who found – like the readers of murder-mysteries – that each story excited his imagination and his jaded virility only once. He thereafter continually needed fresh manuscripts written for him, two a week.”
If there is any person I want to write a biography of, it is Roy M. Johnson.