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Miller, Henry (1891-1980).

writer. Born in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, Miller was brought up by his German American parents in Brooklyn. He spent two months at City College in 1909, and took a job with a cement company. Then he traveled in the Southwest and Alaska. He returned home in the next year and went to work in his father's tailor shop. In 1920 he became employment manager for the Western Union, in 1927 he was operating a Greenwich Village speakeasy, and in 1930 he left for France, where he would live for nine years. During this period he published Tropic of Cancer (1934) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939), as well as Black Spring (1936). After his return to New York in 1940, he traveled in the United States, wrote voluminously, and finally settled in Big Sur, California.

Most of Miller's books are autobiographical. The first part of Tropic of Capricorn chronicles his frantic, hilarious years with Western Union. <IR> TROPIC OF CANCER </IR> covers his years of bumming around Paris. Black Spring consists of autobiographical sketches ranging from Brooklyn to Paris. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch (1956) tells about his life on a secluded mountain top overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But the period he kept returning to in most of his books is his childhood in Brooklyn's 14th Ward: "From five to ten were the most important years of my life; I lived in the street and acquired the typical American gangster spirit." Though an expatriate for many years Miller always insisted that he was "just a Brooklyn boy." "At sixty-six," he wrote, "I am more rebellious than I was at sixteen . . . now I am positive that youth is right,--or the child in its innocence."

Miller was an American romantic, convinced that the secret of a man's life lies partly in his ability to recover his childhood innocence and purity of feeling. He turned to the events of his own life in search of this innocence as have other notable American writers: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wolfe. With Whitman, whom he named as a major influence, he shared a compulsion to recognize the body.

The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), a travel book about Greece, is one of his most interesting works. Where thousands of tourists and scholars had sought the secrets of ancient Greece in its ruins, Miller found the spirit of Hellenism in living people, with whom he drank much wine, ate great meals, and talked long into the night. His short studies of outcasts, derelicts, and prostitutes display a warm compassion and tender humor, especially The Alcoholic Veteran With the Washboard Cranium and Mademoiselle Claude. Miller can be hilariously funny, not only about sex, but about odd characters, as in Astrological Fricassee, and about people he has known, as in Max and the White Phagocytes (1938), the story of a deracinated European Jew he befriended. His love for America comes out even in such a pointedly critical work as The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), a collection of essays based on a nationwide tour he made in 1941, and its sequel, Remember to Remember (1947).

Miller's early works were long unavailable in English-speaking countries. Judged obscene, they were published in France by the Obelisk Press. Only in the freer 1960s did it become possible for Americans to gain easy access to Miller's books. Tropic of Cancer was first printed in the U.S. in 1961, 27 years after its Paris printing. Tropic of Capricorn followed in 1962, Black Spring in 1963. Other works unavailable in the U.S. until the 1960s, even though they were written here, include an autobiographical trilogy, The Rosy Crucifixion, comprising Sexus (1949), Plexus (1953), and Nexus (1960). Release of all of these books in rapid succession did much to extend Miller's reputation considerably beyond the influence the Paris editions had already had on the <IR> BEAT GENERATION </IR> .

Among Miller's many other books are Aller Retour New York (1935), about a trip to New York during his Paris period; The Cosmological Eye (1939), his first American publication, stories and sketches; The Wisdom of the Heart (1941), sketches and essays; Sunday after the War (1944), sketches; The Plight of the Creative Artist in the United States of America (1944); Obscenity and the Law of Reflection (1945); The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder (1948), a tale of a clown; The Books in My Life (1952); Nights of Love and Laughter (1955), stories; The Time of the Assassins (1956), a study of Rimbaud; To Paint Is to Love Again (1960), with reproductions of some of his paintings; and Selected Prose (2 v. 1965). My Life and Times (1971) contains recorded interviews. Several volumes of his extensive correspondence have been published, Hamlet (2 v. 1939, 1941), with Michael Fraenkel; Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller (1963), edited by George Wickes; Letters to Anais Nin (1965); and Letters of Henry Miller and Wallace Fowlie (1975). Lawrence Durrell edited The Henry Miller Reader (1959). <IR> NORMAN MAILER </IR> wrote about Miller and printed selections from his work in Genius and Lust: A Journey Through the Major Writings of Henry Miller (1976).
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Publication:Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:852
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