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Henry (Valentine) Miller (1891-1980)

 

American writer whose autobiographical novels had a liberating influence on mid-20th century literature. Because of the frank portrayals of sexuality, Miller's major novels have been banned in several countries. In the 1960s Miller became one of the most widely read US authors. In his autobiographical works Miller created a myth out of his own life, about a free-spirited, penniless American writer who has a number of affairs and spends his time between New York and Paris.

"The bulk of my readers, I have often observed, fall into two distinct groups: in the one group those who claim to be repelled or disgusted by the liberal dosage of sex, and in the other those who are delighted to find that this element form such a large ingredient." (from The World of Sex, 1965)

Henry Valentine Miller was born in New York, N.Y, the first child of German-American working-class parents. Miller had also a younger sister, Lauretta Anna, who was mentally handicapped and whom he often had to defend from the other kids who would make fun of her. Miller's father, Heinrich Miller, was a tailor. Louise (Nieting) Miller, his mother, never showed much affection toward her son – she used to hit her children, also Miller's sister.

At school Miller was a very good pupil. He attended the college of the City of New York, but left after two months. In Stand Still like the Hummingbird (1962) the author explained that it was Spenser's Faerie Queene which decided the issue for him. "To think that this huge epic is still considered indispensable reading in any college curriculum! Only the other day I dipped into it again, to reassure myself that I had not made a grave error of judgment. Let me confess that today it seems even more insane to me than when I was a lad of eighteen. I am talking, be it understood, of "the poets' poet," as the English call him. What a poor second to Pindar!" Miller had been a voluminous reader from his childhood. At that time his favorites were Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Elie Faure, whose study, History of Art, had been translated into English by one of his father's customers.

At the age of seventeen, Miller visited for the first time a brothel, contracting gonorrhea. He worked briefly for a cement company, took then odd jobs, and started in 1909 an affair with Pauline Chouteau, who was 37-years old. Unable to settle down, he travelled throughout South West USA and Alaska with money, which was intended to finance him through Cornell. In 1913 he went to work at the family tailor's shop, but had difficulties with his father whose drinking had increased. In 1917 Miller married Beatrice Sylvas Wickens, a amateur pianist, and became a father. He had also a brief affair with his mother-in-law.

From 1920 to 1924 Miller was employed by the Western Union Telegraph Company. After leving his family, he lived a with June Mansfield Smith, a Broadway dancer, who encouraged Miller in his writing aspirations. The relationship inspired Miller's early novels Moloch , a rant against Jews, and Crazy Cock (published posthumously in 1991). Later Miller returned to this period in the trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion.

Miller did not seriously begin to write until he was 40, although he had published essays and short stories in a magazine in the late 1910s. Clipped Wings, completed in 1922, was rejected by the publishing company Macmillan. His wife June earned extra income as a waiter and occasionally sold her body to support them both. Her restless life style, which first had fascinated Miller, made him miserable.

Changing the direction of his life, Miller moved in 1930 to France, Paris. He rented in February a fifth-floor garret in the tiny Hôtel Napoléon Bonaparte at number 61 on rue Bonaparte. The rent, less than $20 per month, turned out to be too much for him. In the autumn he resided with June in Hôtel des Ecoles on rue Delambre for a period. By December he was "rescued from starving" by Richard Galen Osborn, and spent the winter of 1930-31 at his studio, which looked out upon the Eiffel Tower. He then moved to the Villa Seurat to Michael Fraenkel's residencein the 14th arrondissement of Paris. Fraenkel, a Russian bookseller, was featured as the young writer Boris in Tropic of Cancer (1934).

Miller soon  became a familiar sight with his olive-green overcoat, wide-brimmed grey felt hat, and protruding bottom lip. He was chronically penniless, but Alfred Perlés, an Austrian writer, paid his rent and his cafe bills, and June sent money. Also Anaïs Nin, who entered his life in 1931, supported him. In the fall of his second year in Paris Miller wrote: "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive." Miller's early books were published almost exclusively by the Obelisk Press, founded by Jack Kahane, who published erotic novels under the pseudonyms of Cecil Barr and Basil Carr. After living two years at Clichy, Miller returned to the Villa Seurat.

With his friend Gilberte Brassaï, born Gyula Halász, who gained fame as a photographer, Miller shared love of the city at night. "I have found my counterpart in dear Halász," he said to his literary agent, Frank Dobo, "a "wanderer" like me, who sets out on an exploration with no other aim but continual investigation." Miller also wrote an article on Brassaï, 'The Eye of Paris', stating: "Perhaps the difference which I observe between the work of Brassaï and that of other photographers lies in this – that Brassaï seems overwhelmed by the fullness of life."

During this time Miller came under the influence of surrealism, Céline, and the literary circle, which included Lawrence Durrell and Anaïs Nin. He created sensation with his classic first works, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn (1936), which offered a vivid picture of bohemian life in Paris and New York. The books were banned for nearly three decades in the U.S., before decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their literary value. An instant bestseller, Tropic of Cancer made Miller a prophet of sexual freedom.

When the English writer George Orwell travelled to Spain to report on the Civil War, he stopped in Paris and met Miller, who told him that he was a pacifist. Miller's major works from this period include Black Spring (1936), based on his childhood's experiences in Brooklyn, and The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), inspired by his visit to Greece in 1939. The triangular relationship between Miller, June and Nin formed the basis for several of Nin's journals and the film Henry and June (1990).

With the outbreak of World War II, Miller returned to the USA, feeling that he had failed as a writer. At John Steinbeck's birthday in Monterrey he made love to one of the guests on the lawn. In 1942 he moved to California and lived from 1947 in Big Sur on the coast. "It is my belief that the immature artist seldom thrives in idyllic surroundings," Miller said in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch (1957). "If an art colony is established here it will go the way all the others. Artists never thrive in colonies. Ants do. What the budding artists needs is the privilege of wrestling with his problems in solitude – and now and then a piece of red meat." In 1944 Miller married Janina Martha Lepska, a young philosophy student, who was over 30 years his junior. Their marriage ended after seven years. "I live all alone like a monk, a celibate, an exile," Miller  confessed to his old friend Brassaï. (Brassaï's archives contain 168 letters from Miller.) However, Miller found soon a new companion, Eve McClure, an artist, whom he married in 1953.

In 1957 Miller was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He wrote prolifically, revisited Europe numerous times and painted water colors. Miller had began to paint in the 1920s and continued to produce watercolors until the final days of his life. Grove Press published Tropic of Cancer in 1961 and the book gained a huge popularity. Miller was not enthusiastic about his imago, when his readers hailed him as the grand old man of sex. At that time he did not see himself as an "outlaw writer" and in interviews he tried to direct the discussion from sex to other subjects, without much success.

In the early 1960s Miller had affair with Renate Gerhardt, a German translator. When she founded a publishing company, Miller helped her financially. Most of his life Miller had lived without regular income, but when his books started sell, he bought a house on Ocampo Drive 444 in the Pacific Palisades, which looked like it belonged to a movie star. He also had to hire accountants and lawyers to plan taxes. In 1969 the feminist writer Kate Millet attacked Miller in his book Sexual Politics, and two years later Norman Mailer defended him in The Prisoner of Sex. Miller died in Pacific Palisades on June 7, 1980. He was married five times. In 1967 he married a young Japanese cabaret singer, Hiroko "Hoki" Tokuda, who refused to have sex with the old writer. They divorced in 1977. She later ran a Tokyo night-club called 'Tropic of Cancer'.

"Henry was so enthralled by women that he sought to demystify their mysterious parts through the violent verbal magic of his books. The violence is rooted in a sense of self-abnegation and humiliation before them. He is, as the Freudians would say, counterphobic.'' (Erica Jong in The Devil at Large, 1993)

Miller's later books include The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), a critical view of the United States, Quiet Days in Clichy (1956), depicting his life as a penniless writer in Paris, and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy (1965), which traced the crucial years of the narrator-hero in the United States during which he struggles to became a writer. "I'm a desperado of love, a scalper, a slayer. I'm insatiable," Miller wrote in the first part, Sexus. "I eat hair, dirty wax, dry blood clots, anything and everything you call yours. Show me your father, with his kites, his race horses, his free passes for the opera: I will eat them all, swallow them alive." A study of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, whose rebelliousness attracted Miller, came out in 1951.

Along with D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover and William Burroughs's The Naked Lunch, Miller's works helped to push back the boundaries of censorship in the 1950s  He also influenced the Beat Movement writers. Miller's last love was Brenda Venus, an actress; his letters to her were published in 1986. Also various volumes of Miller's correspondence with Lawrence Durrell, Anais Nin and Wallace Fowlie have been published.

For further reading: Happy Rock, ed. by B. Porter (1945); Art and Outrage by L. Durrell and A. Perlès (1959); Henry Miller by A.K. Baxter (1961); Henry Miller and the Critics, ed. by G. Wickers (1963); Henry Miller by K. Widmer (1963); Henry Miller by G. Wickers (1966); Henry Miller: Colossus of One by K.C. Dick (1967); The Mind and Art of Henry Miller by W.A. Gordon (1967); The Literature of Silence by I. Hassan (1968); Form and Image in the Fiction of Henry Miller by J.A. Nelson (1970); Henry Miller grandeur nature by Brassaï (1975); Genius and Lust by Norman Mailer (1976); Orpheus in Brooklyn by B. Mathieu (1976); Always Merry and Bright: The Life of Henry Miller by J. Martin (1978); Henry Miller rocher heureux by Brassaï (1978); Henry Miller Bibliography with Discography by Michael Hargraves (1980); Henry Miller - A Life by Robert Ferguson (1991); The Happiest Man Alive - a Biography of Henry Miller by Mary V. Dearborn (1991); The Devil at Large by Erica Jong (1993); Conversations With Henry Miller, ed. by Frank L. Kersnowski, Alice Hughes (1994); Henry Miller and the Making of "Tropic of Cancer" by Frederick Turner (2012) - Film: Henry and June (1990), directed by Philip Kaufman, starring Fred Ward (as Henry Miller), Uma Thurman and Maria de Medeiros.

Selected works:

  • Tropic of Cancer, 1934
    - Kravun kääntöpiiri (suom. Pentti Saarikoski, 1962)
    - film 1970, prod. Tropic Productions, dir. Joseph Strick, starring Rip Torn, James T. Callahan, Ellen Burstyn, David Baur
  • Aller Retour New York, 1935
  • What Are You Going to Do about Alf? , 1935
  • Black Spring, 1936
    - Musta kevät (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1968)
  • Scenario, 1937
  • Max and the White Phagocytes, 1938
  • The Cosmological Eye, 1939
    - Kosmologinen silmä (teoksista The Cosmological Eye, The Wisdom of the Heart, Remember to Remember, suom. Kalle Varila, 2001)
  • Hamlet, 1939 (with Michael Fraenkel)
  • Tropic of Capricorn, 1939
    - Kauriin kääntöpiiri (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1967)
  • The World of Sex, 1940
  • The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941
    - Kosmologinen silmä (teoksista The Cosmological Eye, The Wisdom of the Heart, Remember to Remember, suom. Kalle Varila, 2001)
  • The Colossus of Maroussi, 1941
    - Marussin kolossi (suom. Pentti Saarikoski, 1962)
  • Sunday after the War, 1944
  • Murder the Murderer, 1944
  • The Angel is My Watermark, 1944
  • The Plight of the Creative Artist in the United States of America, 1944
  • Semblance of a Devoted Past, 1944
  • The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, 1945
    - Ilmastoitu painajainen (suom. Pentti Saarikoski, 1964; Petri Leppänen, 2007)
  • Henry Miller Miscellanea, 1945
  • The Amazing and Invariable Beauford Delaney, 1945
  • Maurizius Forever, 1946
  • Of, By and About Henry Miller: A Collection of Pieces by Miller, et al., 1947
  • Remember to Remember, 1947
    - Kosmologinen silmä (teoksista The cosmological eye, The wisdom of the heart, Remember to remember, suom. Kalle Varila, 2001)
  • Varda, the Master Builder, 1947
  • The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder, 1948
    - Hymy tikkaiden juurella (suom. A. K. M. Taipale, 1960)
  • Sexus, 1949
    - Ruusuinen ristiinnaulitseminen: Sexus (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1970)
  • The Waters Reglitterized, 1950
  • Rimbaud, 1952 (translated by F. Roger-Cornaz)
  • The Books in My Life, 1952
  • Plexus, 1952
    - Ruusuinen ristiinnaulitseminen: Plexus (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1971)
  • Nights of Love and Laughter, 1955 (with an introd. by Kenneth Rexroth)
  • A Devil in Paradise, 1956
  • The Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud, 1956
    - Salamurhaajien aika: proosallinen tutkielma Rimbaud’sta (suom. Einari Aaltonen ja Seppo Lahtinen, 2000)
  • Quiet Days in Clichy, 1956 (photographs by Brassaï)
    - Hiljaiseloa Clichyssa (suom. Seppo Loponen, 1968)
    - films: Stille dage i Clichy, dir. Jens Jørgen Thorsen, starring Paul Valjean, Wayne Rodda, Ulla Koppel, Avi Sagild, Susanne Krage; 1989, Jours tranquilles à Clichy, dir. Claude Chabrol, starring Andrew McCarthy, Nigel Havers, Barbara De Rossi, Stéphanie Cotta. Story: an elderly American writer recalls the sexual encounters of his youth.
  • Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, 1957
  • The Red Notebook, 1958
  • Art and Outrage, 1959
  • Reunion in Barcelona: A Letter to Alfred Perlès, from Aller retour New York, 1959
  • The Henry Miller Reader, 1959 (edited by L. Durrell)
  • The Intimate Henry Miller, 1959 (with an introd. by Lawrence Clark Powell)
  • To Paint Is to Love Again, 1960
  • Nexus, 1960
    - Ruusuinen ristiinnaulitseminen: Nexus (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1972)
  • The Best of Henry Miller, 1961 (edited by Lawrence Durrell)
  • Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, 1962
  • Joseph Delteil, 1962
  • The Michael Fraenkel-Henry Miller Correspondence Called 'Hamlet', 1962 (2 vols.)
  • Just Wild about Harry, 1963
  • Lawrence Durrell & Henry Miller: A Private Correspondence , 1963 (edited by George Wickes)
    - Yksityinen kirjeenvaihto (suom. Matti Rossi, 1964)
  • Greece, 1964 (drawings by Anne Poor)
  • Henry Miller on Writing, 1964 (selected by Thomas H. Moore from the published and unpublished works of Henry Miller)
  • The World of Sex, 1965
  • Rosy Crusifixion, 1965 (trilogy Sexus, Plexus, Nexus, U.S. edition published as whole)
  • Journey to and Antique Land, 1965
  • Letters to Anaïs Nin, 1965 (edited and with an introd. by Gunther Stuhlmann)
  • Selected Prose, 1966
  • Insomnia or the Devil at Large, 1966
  • Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel, 1966 (introduction by Lawrence Durrell)
  • Collector's quest: The correspondence of Henry Miller and J. Rives Childs, 1947-1965, 1968 (edited, with an introd., by Richard Clement Wood)
  • Writer and Critic: A Correspondence with Henry Miller, 1968 (by William A. Gordon)
  • The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder: A Story, 1971 (with a foreword by the author. Illustrated by Norman LaLiberte) 
  • Face to Face with Henry Miller. Conversations with George Belmont, 1971 (Entretiens de Paris de Henry Miller, translation by Antony Macnabb and Harry Scott)
  • Insomnia; or, The Devil at Large: a First Edition Book & Portfolio , 1971
  • On Turning Eighty: Journey to an Antique Land; Foreword to the Angel Is My Watermark, 1972 (drawings by Bob Nash)
  • My Life and Times, 1972
  • Reflections on the Death of Mishima, 1972
  • First Impressions of Greece, 1973
  • Reflections on The Maurizius Case: A Humble Appraisal of a Great Book, 1974
  • Letters of Henry Miller and Wallace Fowlie, 1943-1972, 1974 (with an introd. by Wallace Fowlie)
  • The Nightmare Notebook, 1975
  • Genius and Lust: A Journey Through the Major Writings of Henry Miller, 1976 (compiled by Norman Mailer)
  • Entretiens à Pacific Palisades avec Christian de Bartillat, 1976
  • Gliding into the Everglades, and Other Essays, 1976
  • The Ineffable Frances Steloff, 1976 (with A. Nin)
  • J'suis pas plus con qu'un autre, 1976
  • Our America: Abraham Rattner, Henry Miller from New York City to New Orleans by 1932 Buick October 1940 to January 1941: A Sunderland Arts Centre Exhibition, 1976 (with A. Rattner)
  • Henry Miller's Book of Friends: A Tribute to Friends of Long Ago, 1976 (Brooklyn photos by Jim Lazarus)
  • Four Visions of America, 1977 (Erica Jong, Thomas Sanchez, Kay Boyle, Henry Miller)
  • Sextet, 1977
  • Mother, China and the World Beyond, 1977
  • Open Letter to Stroker: Inspired by the Writings and Art Work of Tommy Trantino, A Prisoner in Trenton State Prison, New Jersey, 1978 (ill. by the author; The Lore of the Lamb by Tommy Trantino)
  • Henry Miller Years of Trial and Triumph,1962-1964: The Correspondence of Henry Miller and Elmer Gertz, 1978 (edited by Elmer Gertz and Felice Flanery Lewis)
  • Love Between the Sexes, 1978
  • My Bike & Other Friends: Volume II of Book of Friends, 1978
  • The Theatre & Other Pieces, 1979
  • Joey: A Loving Portrait of Alfred Perlès together with Some Bizarre Episodes Relating to the Opposite Sex, 1979
  • Henry Miller et Joseph Delteil : Correspondance Privée 1935-1978, 1980 (edited by F.J. Temple)
  • Notes on "Aaron's Rod" and Other Notes on Lawrence from the Paris Notebooks, 1980 (edited by Seamus Cooney)
  • The World of Lawrence: A Passionate Appreciation, 1980 (edited with an introd. and notes by Evelyn J. Hinz and John J. Teunissen)
  • Reflections, 1981 (edited by Twinka Thiebaud)
  • The Paintings of Henry Miller: Paint as You Like and Die Happy: with Collected Essays by Henry Miller on the Art of Watercolor, 1982 (foreword by Lawrence Durrell; edited by Noel Young)
  • Henry Miller Reader, 1983 (edited by J. Calder)
  • Your Capricorn Friend: Henry Miller and the Stroker, 1978-1980, 1984
  • Dear, Dear Brenda: The Love Letters of Henry Miller to Brenda Venus, 1986 (text by Brenda Venus; edited by Gerald Seth Sindell)
    - Rakas, rakas Brenda (suom. Margit Salmenoja, 1987)
  • Letters from Henry Miller to Hoki Tokuda Miller, 1986 (edited by Joyce Howard)
  • A Literate Passion: Letters of Anais Nin & Henry Miller, 1932-1953, 1987 (edited and introduced by Gunther Stuhlmann)
  • The Durrell-Miller Letters 1935-1980, 1988 (edited by Ian S. MacNiven)
  • Henry Miller's Hamlet Letters, 1988 (edited, and with an historical introduction by Michael Hargraves and an original preface by Henry Miller)
  • Letters to Emil by Henry Miller, 1989 (edited by George Wickes)
  • Henry Miller-The Paintings: A Centennial Retrospective, 1991 (foreword by Lawrence Durrell; preface by Gary Koeppel; introduction by Deborah Johansen, editor)
  • Nothing but the Marvelous: Wisdoms of Henry Miller, 1991 (edited by Blair Fielding)
  • Crazy Cock, 1991 (foreword by Erica Jong; introduction by Mary V. Dearborn)
    - Hullu kukko (suom. Heikki Salojärvi, 1992)
  • Octet: Forgotten Works of Henry Miller, 1991
  • Aller Retour New York, 1991 (introduction by George Wickes)
  • Into the Heart of Life: Henry Miller at One Hundred, 1991 (edited by Frederick Turner)
  • - Molok eli Tämä pakanallinen maailma (suom. Heikki Salojärvi, 1993)
  • Henry Miller: Stories, Essays, Travel Sketches, 1992 (edited by Antony Fine)
  • A Devil in Paradise, 1993 (fist published in 1956)
  • The Mezzotints, 1993 (with an historical introduction by Roger Jackson)
  • Henry Miller and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, 1995 (edited by George Wickes)
  • Conversations with Henry Miller, 1994 (edited by Frank L. Kersnowski and Alice Hughes)
  • The Colossus of Maroussi, 2010 (introduction by Will Self; afterword by Ian S. MacNiven)


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