Masterpieces of

World Literature


 

(CONTENTS)


 

 

 



 


 

 

 


Henry Miller

 

Henry Miller
American author

born Dec. 26, 1891, New York City
died June 7, 1980, Pacific Palisades, Calif., U.S.

Main
U.S. writer and perennial Bohemian whose autobiographical novels achieve a candour—particularly about sex—that made them a liberating influence in mid-20th-century literature. He is also notable for a free and easy American style and a gift for comedy that springs from his willingness to admit to feelings others conceal and an almost eager acceptance of the bad along with the good. Because of their sexual frankness, his major works were banned in Britain and the United States until the 1960s, but they were widely known earlier from copies smuggled in from France.

Miller was brought up in Brooklyn, and he wrote about his childhood experiences there in Black Spring (1936). In 1924 he left his job with Western Union in New York to devote himself to writing. In 1930 he went to France. Tropic of Cancer (published in France in 1934, in the United States in 1961) is based on his hand-to-mouth existence in Depression-ridden Paris. Tropic of Capricorn (France, 1939; U.S., 1961) draws on the earlier New York phase.

Miller’s visit to Greece in 1939 inspired The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), a meditation on the significance of that country. In 1940–41 he toured the United States extensively and wrote a sharply critical account of it, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), which dwelt on the cost in human terms of mechanization and commercialization.

After settling in Big Sur on the California coast, Miller became the centre of a colony of admirers. Many of them were writers of the Beat generation who saw parallels to their own beliefs in Miller’s whole-hearted acceptance of the degrading along with the sublime. At Big Sur, Miller produced his Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, made up of Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus (U.S. edition published as a whole in 1965). It covers much the same period of Miller’s life as Tropic of Capricorn and, together with that book, traces the stages by which the hero-narrator becomes a writer. The publication of the “Tropics” in the United States provoked a series of obscenity trials that culminated in 1964 in a Supreme Court decision rejecting state court findings that the book was obscene.

Other important books by Miller are the collections of essays The Cosmological Eye (1939) and The Wisdom of the Heart (1941). He was also a watercolourist; he exhibited internationally and wrote about art in To Paint Is To Love Again (1960). Various volumes of his correspondence have been published: with Lawrence Durrell (1963), to Anaïs Nin (1965), and with Wallace Fowlie (1975).

 



Henry Miller in Brooklyn

 

Henry Miller in Brooklyn

 

 

 

 

 

Tropic of Cancer

Henry Miller
1891-1934

Henry Miller's infamous autobiographical novel was first published in the 1930s by the risque Parisian press, Obelisk. Because of its sexually explicit themes and language the book was banned for the following thirty years in both America and Britain. When it was finally published, in America in 1961 and in the UK in 1963, the novel gained cult status. In the book, Miller explores the seedy underbelly of Paris, where he lived as an impoverished expatriate in the 1930s, with a unique sensuality and freedom. Unshackled by moral and social conventions, Miller peppers his book with philosophical musings, fantasies, and a series of explictly described anecdotes about his sexual encounters with women.
The novel is, as Samuel Beckett remarked, "a momentous event in the history of modern writing," and undoubtedly did much to break down societal taboos about sex and the language used to talk about sex. The novel inspired the Beat generation, whose rejection of middle-class American values led to a search for truth through the extremes of experience. However, feminist critics, most notably Kate Millet, have identified the irrepressibly misogynistic character of the work. Women are frequently represented as passive and anonymous receptacles, whose only role is to satisfy men's physical desires. It is certainly true that the sheer violence of Miller's prose overshadows any putative eroticism or titillation that the novel's reputation may lead the reader to expect.
Although Miller's work has achieved great popularity, this is perhaps a result of his reputation as a writer of "dirty books" rather than as a writer of good literature, and indeed, there has been a good deal of critical disagreement about the literary" quality of his work.

 

 

Tropic of Capricorn

Henry Miller
1891-1934

There is something monstrous about Tropic of Capricorn. As what Miller called a "fictional autobiography," it is hardly a novel at all but a proudly mongrel meeting place for diary, memoir, expose, rant, and romance. It is Miller's egotism that makes the book addictive,the magnificent ambition of his fascination with himself. And it is Miller's egotism that similarly renders the book almost intolerable, his relentless fascination with a profoundly misogynistic self.
Written in a style that allows sentences to roll on for pages or spits them out in sharp brief sequences, Tropic of Capricorn is as enchanted with language and its madnesses as other texts of late modernism. But where Joyce and Beckett sculpt and order their texts with visible meticulousness, Miller's macho pioneer raids on his consciousness, sensibility, and sexuality have a chaotic artfulness.
Though begun in 1932 and not published until 1939, during which time Miller was in Paris, Tropic of Capricorn is a 1920s New York novel. It is a post-war novel in that it is simultaneously at ease with and appalled by the normalization of war and of the civilizations that spawn war. It is a New York novel in so far as only that city of innumerable voices could have given Miller the jumble of raw, damaged, and unfinished stories of exile, hope, and loss that he consumes with such appetite. At the loose heart of this novel is Miller's experience as an employment manager (and company spy) at Western Union. Appearing in the novel as the "Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company," it is a technologized network of miscommunication.There is therefore something appropriately and viciously ironic in Miller using his critique of the company to communicate so fiercely what Tropic of Capricorn is about: himself.

 

 

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy