Little Birds is a collection of erotic Short Stories. Nin's fictional preface states that when she wrote it she was in New York, a sort of transatlantic Gertrude Stein to a circle of struggling writers and artists. Nin was in New York in the 1940’s (probably avoiding the Nazis). The final line of the preface “The sexual life is usually enveloped in many layers, for all of us-poets, writers, artists. It is a veiled woman, half dressed.” suggests a unifying theme but I think the earlier line “Most if 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.” is more apposite but then, I suppose, suum cuique.
Little Birds tells of a Parisian artist who only becomes aroused by exhibiting himself to young women. He moves to an apartment next to a girls school and entices some students with beautiful birds he has placed on the veranda, but, lacking adequate self-control, exposes himself too soon scaring the girls away before gaining their confidence.
The Woman at the Dunes tells of a single man engaged in casual nocturnal voyeurism at a French seaside resort. He meets a mysterious naked woman among the dunes who slowly seduces him to an intense climax. She relates to him her first seduction in a crowded square at the execution of a criminal by a man she could not see after which she leaves, anonymous.
Lina, is very possessive of the author, but though apparently very sexual, is repressed. The author takes her to a hypnotist who both hypnotizes and seduces her. He then begins to seduce the author, but Lina stops him, has him take her again and simultaneously, Lina herself fervently seduces the author. Lina wakes from the trance remembering nothing and leaves forever.
Sisters tells of Edna, unhappily married, and seduced by actor Robert. Sister Dorothy returns from study and falls in love with Robert. Faithful to her sister Dorothy flees to Paris with Donald, but Robert follows. Robert and Dorothy marry, but Dorothy can not forgive herself betrayal of Edna and is “frigid”. Donald develops a particular habit of having male and female friends by to make love and let him watch. Donald has Dorothy do this and is moved to join his friend in taking her. Dorothy comes and then returns quickly to Robert, and, though she could not come with him (only when she was with Donald imagining Robert) she was can at least thereafter maintain the pretence.
Sirocco. The author meets a woman in Morocco during the Sirocco (evoking restlessness and impermanence) and hears how she married a missionary’s son in China. Her husband was wealthy employing many servants with whom he dallied. The woman tired of this and fled to Shanghai. Receiving a telephone call from him as she made love to her new lover she enjoyed continuing the call and lovemaking, finally telling her husband what she was doing.
The Maja. What conservative Spanish Maria’s husband, the artist Novalis, loved best about her was her resemblance to the Maja of Goya’s paintings. She would not undress except in the dark or pose nude for him. Finally he tricked her with sedatives, disrobing her and painting her. She returned from a trip to find Novalis masturbating among his many nude paintings of her, and, understanding him at last, she disrobed and took him passionately.
A Model is a story of a young woman’s progress in sexual awakening as she works as a nude model. It appears to have autobiographical elements in it. Rejecting conservative and timid paramours she finally becomes the lover of a man who unashamedly invites her to dinner and theatre to seduce her.
The Queen is a Toulouse Lautrec flavoured story of a Parisian artist in love with and inspired by a famous prostitute named Bijou. He painted her and asked her to meet him at a festival but she had already found new companions.
Hilda and Rango starts as a few autobiographical lines hinting at Nin’s experience with Henry James (an American writer in Paris) and then she is seduced away by an earthy, powerful Mexican artist (shades of Diego Rivera, though I have not heard they were lovers). Rango delays a very long time before finally taking her fully.
Ingénue Laura and artist Jan use their respective drawings of dogs mating as a sort of dance of seduction.
This story is sort of a doublet of Sirocco set in New Orleans instead of China with the difference that protagonist Fay, instead of leaving her servant seducing husband, wins him by imbuing herself with the same saffron aroma borne by the servants.
New York Lesbian Socialite Mandra reveals to the unresponsive Mary the joys of orgasm by introducing her to anal sex, and then spends an evening of mutual gratification with friend Miriam in the back seat of Miriam’s automobile as Miriam’s husband takes them to a nightclub.
The Runaway depicts a runaway young woman who is taken in by two men who both begin to train her in lovemaking. Such a relationship seems predatory by the standards of our day.