This is the story of how I discovered that not all of Anaïs Nin’s erotica has been published, despite Delta of Venus and Little Birds editor John Ferrone’s insistence to the contrary.
When Ferrone approached Nin in the 1970s about publishing the erotica she had written in the 1940s for a collector at a dollar a page, she initially bristled at the idea, fearing it may taint her reputation as a serious writer. However, Ferrone made a convincing argument after reassuring Nin that not only would it not harm her reputation, but it would bolster it since the writing was, as we now know, brilliant and ground-breaking. The rest is history—Delta of Venus and Little Birds became New York Times bestsellers shortly after Nin’s death in 1977 and have been translated into dozens of languages across the world.
Ferrone said that of the 850 pages of raw material he was given, only scraps remained, nothing worth publishing. But I, by a minor miracle, was to find out that this is not so.
Gunther Stuhlmann was Nin’s longtime literary agent and, I’m proud to say, a friend of mine. After he passed, his wife Barbara gave me much of his archive because she felt I might be able to do something with it. One day, not long ago, I was going through a folder that held a collection of correspondence from the 1980s, and among it was a letter from Ferrone to Stuhlmann saying that an auction house was selling a copy of a book illicitly printed in 1950 called Auletris, which supposedly contained original Nin erotica. The book was one of five copies in existence and contained two stories—“Marcel,” which is about 50 pages long, and “Life in Provincetown,” which is a similar length. A severely edited version of the former story appears in Delta (17 pages long), while the latter is nowhere to be found in any Nin book or archive.
What intrigued me were the half dozen opening pages of “Life in Provincetown” (page 1 is below) that the auctioneer had Xeroxed for Stuhlmann—they most definitely contained Nin’s writing, and they seemed to indicate she was at the top of her game when they were written. I had to find the rest of this book!
After a lot of research, I found out that a copy was hiding in plain sight in the special collections of a university library, and I was able to obtain a copy of the text. When I read the entire manuscript, I knew it had to be published, because it is valuable for three reasons—first, not a word of the Provincetown story has ever seen the light of day; second, “Marcel” appears in its original form, unedited, with several lengthy passages that landed on the cutting room floor, never to be seen again; and third, because the quality of the writing is superb and not tinkered with for commercial reasons.
Auletris breaks many taboos—there are tales of incest, sex with children, rape, voyeurism, cutting, sadomasochism, homoeroticism (both male and female), autoerotic asphyxiation, to name a few, all set in old Provincetown, Paris, and other exotic locales; the characters are deliciously decadent, and the themes are largely based on Nin’s own experiences recorded in her unexpurgated diaries. This book comes along just as interest in both Nin and the genre of erotica is booming.
Auletris will be published by Sky Blue Press this autumn.
Another book inspired by the Stuhlmann archive: The Portable Anais Nin.