Feb 24, 12
Read in February, 2012
RENEGADE: Henry Miller and the Making of “Tropic of Cancer.” (2012). Frederick Turner. ****.
Yale University Press is publishng a series of books within a category they call, “Icons of America.” This is one of their publications. I’m sure I’ll be reading others in the near future. In this volume, the author traces the life of Miller from his Brooklyn beginnings to his life in Paris to his ultimate settlement in California after WW II broke out. Miller always believed that his ultimate goal was to be a writer, but a writer unlike any other America (or the world) had ever produced. To either gather material for his books – or simply to live a life that was easy to do – Miller spent most of his time with the low-lifes of the world. He rarely had any kind of a steady job, but was not averse to working when he had to do so. All the time, he was typing away at his books – the early ones of which, though now published – which in the estimation of his friends were crap. Throughout his life, Miller was obsessed with sex, and managed to meet and hook up with women who were likely candidates for his partners. His first serious relationship was with a woman much older than he, who helped him hone his sexual appetites. Next came June, a strikingly beautiful woman who was almost the perfect complement to his personality. June supported him for quite a while off her earnings as a prostitute, and helped send him to Paris. Ultimately, that relationship ended in screaming matches and the final check-in to a mental hospital of June, of whose later life nothing much is known. His book, “Tropic of Cancer,” was published in 1934 by The Obelisk Press in Paris – primarily known for its pornography. It was banned in America for twenty-seven years, until Grove Press finally won all of their court battles. Upon publication, the book was an instant success, though primarily because it broke so many taboos rather than for any intrinsic literary merit. Still, the author argues, the book produced a significant change in our national literature, and produced a new paradigm within American literature and culture. The author further argues that “Tropic of Cancer” continues the march of American folklore and literature as started by early story-tellers and continued by such writers as Mark Twain. Whether you agree with the conclusions or not, you will find this book to be a lively review of Miller and his life and works. Highly recommended.