Preface to the book,
Narrated by Vanessa Hart
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It is an interesting fact that very few writers have of their own accord sat down to write erotic tales or confessions. Even in France, where it is believed that the erotic has such an important role in life, the writers who did so were driven by necessity, the need of money.
It is one thing to include eroticism in a novel or a story and quite another to focus one's whole attention on it. The first is like life itself. It is, I might say, natural, sincere, as in the sensual pages of Zola or of Lawrence. But focusing wholly on the sexual life is not natural. It becomes something like the life of the prostitute, an abnormal activity that ends by turning the prostitute away from the sexual. Writers perhaps know this. That is why they have written only one confession or a few stories, on the side, to satisfy their honesty about life, as Mark Twain did.
But what happens to a group of writers who need money so badly that they devote themselves entirely to the erotic? How does this affect their lives, their feelings towards the world, their writing? What effect has it on their sexual life?
Let me explain that I was the mother confessor for such a group. In New York everything becomes harder, more cruel. I had many people to take care of, many problems, and since I was in character very much like George Sand, who wrote all night to take care of her children, lovers, friends, I had to find work. I became what I shall call the Madame of an unusual house of literary prostitution. It was a very artistic 'maison', I must say, a one-room studio with skylights, which I painted to look like pagan cathedral windows.
Before I took up my new profession I was known as a poet, as a woman who was independent and wrote only for her own pleasure. Many young writers, poets, came to me. We often collaborated, discussed and shared the work in progress. Varied as they were in character, inclinations, habits and vices, all the writers had one trait in common: they were poor. Desperately poor. Very often my 'maison' was turned into a cafeteria where they dropped in, hungry, saying nothing, and we ate Quaker Oats because that was the cheapest thing to make, and it was said to give strength.
Most of the erotica was written on empty stomachs. Now, hunger is very good for stimulating the imagination; it does not produce sexual power, and sexual power does not produce unusual adventures. The more hunger, the greater the desires, like those of men in prison, wild and haunting. So we had here a perfect world in which to grow the flower of eroticism.
Of course, if you get too hungry, too continuously, you become a bum, a tramp. Those men who sleep along the East River, in doorways, on the Bowery, they have no sexual life at all, it is said. My writers some of them lived in the Bowery — had not reached that stage yet.
As for me, my real writing was put aside when I set out in search of the erotic...The sexual life is usually enveloped in many layers, for all of us — poets, writers, artists. It is a veiled woman, half-dreamed.
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