[1891 - 1980]
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York
Higher Education: 2 months at New York City College (according to one biographer, Miller became "disillusioned after an encounter with Spenser’s Faerie Queene")
On Education: "[G]oing to school so many hours a day, learning all that nonsense, is what I call utter garbage. The only part of education I approve of is kindergarten. The rest cripples you, makes an idiot of you. I know this sounds crazy, but I believe that we’re all born creative. We all have the same creative instincts. Most of us are killed off as artists, as creative people, by our schooling."
Work Experience: Bellhop, garbage collector, cement mixer, gravedigger, employment manager at Western Union, employee at Park Department in Queens, manager of New York City speakeasy, starving artist, proofreader on the Paris edition of The Chicago Tribune
Family and Relationships: Married 5 times (Beatrice Sylvas Wickens, June Edith Smith Mansfield, Janina Martha Lepska, Eve McClure, Hiroko Tokuda); 2 daughters and a son; also had well-documented affair with writer Anais Nin
Favorite Authors: Celine (Journey to the End of the Night), Blaise Cendrars, Joseph Conrad, Dostoevsky, Theodore Dreiser, Elie Faure, Rider Haggard, Knut Hamsun (Hunger), Hermann Hesse (Siddhartha), Jack London, Nietzsche, Marcel Proust (Remembrance of Things Past), Isaac Bashevis Singer, Oswald Spengler, Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass)
Other Literary Influences: Taoistic writing, Oriental philosophy
On Ernest Hemingway: "Hemingway in my mind was not the great writer they make him out to be. He was a craftsman. But he wasn’t a craftsman as good as Somerset Maugham. There was a real craftsman. But if you are a craftsman you go on turning it out. It gets thinner and thinner . . . as much as I put him down, that first book, The Sun Also Rises, had a lot to do with my going to France; it inspired me to go."
On George Orwell: "He was like so many English people, an idealist, and, it seemed to me, a foolish idealist. A man of principle, as we say. Men of principle bore me . . . I regard politics as a thoroughly foul, rotten world. We get nowhere through politics. It debases everything."
On Jack Kerouac: "I have been fascinated by Kerouac, I must say. Very uneven writer, perhaps and I don’t think he has yet show his full possibilities, Kerouac . . . But he has a great gift, this great verbal gift like Thomas Wolfe had, you know, and a few others. Tremendous gift I think, but to me rather undisciplined, uncontrolled and so on, but I am fascinated by one book of his called The Dharma Bums."
On William S. Burroughs: "Burroughs, whom I recognize as a man of talent, great talent, can turn my stomach. It strikes me, however, that he’s faithful to the Emersonian idea of autobiography, that he’s concerned with putting down only what he has experienced and felt. He’s a literary man whose style is unliterary."
Tenure in Paris: 1930-1940
First Published Novel: Tropic of Cancer ( "[T]he Paris book: first person, uncensored, formless - fuck everything!")
Age When Tropic of Cancer First Published: 43
Publisher: Grove Press
Year in Which Tropic of Cancer Finally Published in the United States: 1961 (U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled book was not obscene)
Last Lines, Tropic of Cancer: "Human beings make a strange fauna and flora. From a distance they appear negligible; close up they are apt to appear ugly and malicious. More than anything they need to be surrounded with sufficient space - space even more than time. The sun is setting. I feel this river flowing through me - its past, its ancient soil, the changing climate. The hills gently girdle it about: its course is fixed."
Anais Nin on Tropic of Cancer: "This book brings with it a wind that blows down the dead and hollow trees whose roots are withered and lost in the barren soil of our times. This book goes to the roots and digs under, digs for subterranean springs."
Ezra Pound on Tropic of Cancer: "At last, an unprintable book that’s readable." [Another critic once described Miller’s entire body of work as "toilet-wall scribbling."]
Origin of Tropic Titles: Miller’s pet names for June’s breasts - Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn
Selected Works: Tropic of Cancer (1934), Black Spring (1936), Tropic of Capricorn (1939), The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), Sexus (1949), The Books in My Life (1952), Plexus (1953), Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch (1957), Nexus (1960), Under the Roofs of Paris (1983) [Note: Sexus, Plexus and Nexus make up trilogy called The Rosy Crucifixion]
Favorite of His Own Books: The Colossus of Maroussi
Sample Sex Scene from Under the Roofs of Paris: "She has a bush as big as my hand and as soft as feathers. She lifts her dress in the front, takes my dong out and rubs John Thursday’s nose against her whiskers . . . will I pinch her breasts, she moans, and would I be offended if she asked me to kiss them, perhaps to bite? She’s catting for a fuck, that she’s been paid to come here has nothing to do with it now . . . she’d probably give the money back and something extra besides just to get a cock into that itch under her tail now . . . "
Awards and Honors: Elected to National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1957; French Legion of Honor, 1974
On His Readers: "I would say that perhaps less than 10 percent of my readers are the only ones I’m interested in having read me. The others are worthless. My books don’t do them any good or me any good. You see, I believe that over 90 percent of everything that is done in the realm of music, drama, painting, literature - any of the arts - is worthless."
On His Critics: "Critics are just people, after all. They criticize, because you didn’t write the kind of book they wanted . . . I don’t write for the critics. I write for myself and the reader, whoever he or she may be."
Favorite Films: Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or, Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, Five Easy Pieces
Least Favorite Film: "Bonnie and Clyde! Did I hate that! I was clapping to myself when they machine-gunned them to death at the end. Dynamite them! Blow them to smithereens! It was so vulgar, that film. I love obscenity but I hate vulgarity. I can’t see how people can enjoy killing for fun. Also, there was a perverse streak there. There was a suggestion that the hero was impotent. I don’t like that. I like healthy sex. I don’t like impotence and perversion."
Hobbies: Writing, painting, astrology, eating, roaming the streets of Paris, playing Ping-Pong ["I keep the Ping-Pong table handy for people I don’t want to talk to. You know, it’s simple. I just play Ping-Pong with them."]
On American Artists: "I feel that America is essentially against the artist, that the enemy of America is the artist, because he stands for individuality and creativeness, and that’s unAmerican somehow. I think that of all countries - we have to overlook the communist countries of course - America is the most mechanized, robotized, of all."
On Christianity: "The Christian Church in all its freakish ramifications and efflorescences is as dead as a doornail; it will pass away utterly when the political and social systems in which it is now embedded collapse. The new religion will be based on deeds, not beliefs."
On the Civil War: "At Gettysburg, at Bull Run, at Manassas, at Fredericksburg, at Spottsylvania Court House, at Missionary Ridge, at Vicksburg I tried to visualize the terrible death struggle in which this great republic was locked for four long years. I have stood on many battlefields in various parts of the world but when I stand beside the graves of the dead in our own South the horror of war assails me with desolating poignancy. I see no results of this great conflict which justify the tremendous sacrifice which we as a nation were called upon to make. I see only an enormous waste of life and property, the vindication of right by might, and the substitution of one form of injustice for another. The South is still an open, gaping wound."
On Civilization: "For 72 years I’ve been waiting to see some breakdown of the artificial barriers surrounding our educational system, our national borders, our homes, our inner being - a shattering of the wretched molds in which we’ve lived - but it never happens. We have the dynamic but we don’t set it off. I get sick of waiting."
On Hippies: "Always, in the past, as soon as they become adults they join the Establishment. They become conservatives. The radical always becomes a great conservative. And the revolutionary becomes a tyrant, just like the one he overthrew."
On Obscenity: "I feel I have simply restored sex to its rightful place in literature, rescued the basic life factor from literary oblivion, as it were. Obscenity, like sex, has its natural, rightful place in literature as it does in life, and it will never be obliterated, no matter what laws are passed to smother it."
On Politicians: "One has to be a lowbrow, a bit of a murderer, to be a politician, ready and willing to see people sacrificed, slaughtered, for the sake of an idea, whether a good one or a bad one."
On Politics: "Don’t ask me about politics. I’m against war. And I never voted in my life. But I’ll tell you one thing - I’m living with this hope: that the youngsters will get rid of all the old birds and wiseacres. In this country the ordinary man, you know, is dead inside before he’s 40. It’s not his fault. It’s the fault of mechanized things. There’s a lack of individuality. Everything is made for comfort and ease."
On Joyce’s Ulysses: "There are passages of Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet - if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content. And this is not to denigrate the talent of the author. This is simply to move him a little closer to the good company of Abelard, Petrarch, Rabelais, Boccaccio - all the fine, lusty genuine spirits who recognized dung for dung and angels for angels."
Henry Miller on Film: The Henry Miller Odyssey (full-length documentary with insights from Miller’s friends Lawrence Durrell, Anais Nin, Alfred Perles, Brassai, Lawrence Clark Powell, Joe Gray and Jakob Gimpel); Henry and June (notable as the first NC17 film, based on Nin’s famous diaries)
Place of Death: Big Sur, California
Final Resting Place: Ashes scattered off coast of Big Sur
"It's a distortion. Henry, Look at me! Look! You can't see me or anyone as they are! I wanted Dostoyevsky!"
—Henry & June, 1990
TROPIC OF CANCER TRIVIA
• Miller was 43 years old when Tropic of Cancer was first published in 1934 by Obelisk Press in Paris.
• Tropic of Cancer was finally published in the United States in 1964 after the Supreme Court ruled the book as not being obscene (Grove Press, Inc. vs. Gerstein).
• Ezra Pound on Tropic of Cancer: "At last, an unprintable book that's readable."
• Miller's pet names for his second wife June's breasts: Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.
• George Orwell called Tropic of Cancer "the most important book of the mid-1930s."
• Samuel Beckett referred to Tropic of Cancer as "a momentous event in the history of modern writing."