- Category : Writer
- Type : MS
- Profile : 1/4 - Investigating / Opportunist
- Definition : Split - Small (62)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Service 4
Henry Valentine Miller (December 26, 1891 – June 7, 1980) was an American writer and painter. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new sort of "novel" that is a mixture of novel, autobiography, social criticism, philosophical reflection, surrealist free association, and mysticism, one that is distinctly always about and expressive of the real-life Henry Miller and yet is also fictional. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Cancer (1934), Black Spring (1936), and Tropic of Capricorn (1939). He also wrote travel memoirs and essays of literary criticism and analysis.
Miller was born to German parents, tailor Heinrich Miller and Louise Marie Neiting, in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, New York City. As a child, he lived for nine years at 662 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, known in that time (and referred to frequently in his works) as the Fourteenth Ward. As a young man, he was active with the Socialist Party (his "quondam idol" was the Black Socialist Hubert Harrison). He briefly—for only one semester—attended the City College of New York.
His first of five wives was Beatrice Sylvas Wickens, whom he married in 1917. The marriage produced a daughter, but Henry's roaming eye while working at the Telegraph company contributed to the failure of the marriage after several years. Henry's struggles, sexual escapades, failures, friends, and philosophy during this time are covered in some detail in the first of the "Rosy Crucifixion" trilogy series (Nexus, Plexus, Sexus), although his works should not be considered necessarily factual or chronological. During 1928/29, Miller spent several months in Paris with his second wife, June Edith Smith (June Miller). In 1930 he moved to Paris unaccompanied, and he continued to live there until the outbreak of World War II. Although Miller had little or no money the first year in Paris, things began to change with the meeting of Anaïs Nin who, with Hugh Guiler, would go on to pay his entire way through the 1930s including the rent for a beautiful and modern apartment at 18, villa Seurat. Anaïs Nin became his lover and financed the first printing of Tropic of Cancer in 1934 with money from Otto Rank.
In late 1931, Miller was employed by the Chicago Tribune Paris edition, thanks to his friend Alfred Perlès who worked there, as a proofreader. Miller took this opportunity to submit some of his own articles under Perlès name, since at that time (1934) only the editorial staff were permitted to publish in the paper. This period in Paris was highly creative for Miller, and during this time he also established a significant and influential network of authors circulating around the Villa Seurat. At that time a young British author, Lawrence Durrell, became a lifelong friend. Miller's correspondence with Durrell was later published in two books. During his Paris period he was also influenced by the French Surrealists.
His works contain detailed accounts of sexual experiences. His first published book, Tropic of Cancer (1934), was banned in the United States on the grounds of obscenity. He continued to write novels that were banned; along with Tropic of Cancer, his Black Spring (1936) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939) were smuggled into his native country, building Miller an underground reputation.
In 1939 Durrell, who lived in Corfu, invited Miller to Greece. Miller described the visit in The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), which he considered his best book. One of the first acknowledgments of Henry Miller as a major modern writer was by George Orwell in his 1940 essay "Inside the Whale", where he wrote:
“Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses. ”
In 1940, Miller returned to the United States, settling at Anderson Canyon in Big Sur, California. He continued to produce vividly written works that challenged contemporary American cultural values and moral attitudes. He was widely critical of consumerism in America, as reflected in Sunday After The War (1944) and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945). He spent the last years of his life at his home at 444 Ocampo Drive, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California.
While Miller was establishing his base in Big Sur, the Tropics books, still banned in the USA, were being published in France by the Obelisk Press and later the Olympia Press. There they were acquiring a slow and steady notoriety among both Europeans and the various enclaves of American cultural exiles. As a result, the books were frequently smuggled into the States, where they would prove to be a major influence on the new Beat generation of American writers (most notably Jack Kerouac) some of whom would adopt stylistic and thematic principles found in Miller's oeuvre.
The publication of Miller's Tropic of Cancer in the United States in 1961 by Grove Press led to a series of obscenity trials that tested American laws on pornography. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Grove Press, Inc., v. Gerstein, citing Jacobellis v. Ohio (which was decided the same day in 1964), overruled the state court findings of obscenity and declared the book a work of literature; it was one of the notable events in what has come to be known as the sexual revolution. Elmer Gertz, the lawyer who successfully argued the initial case for the novel's publication in Illinois, became a lifelong friend of Miller's; a volume of their correspondence has been published.
In 1968, Miller signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.
In 1967 he married his fifth wife, Hoki Tokuda.
In addition to his literary abilities, Miller produced numerous watercolor paintings and wrote books on this field. He was a close friend of the French painter Grégoire Michonze. He was also an amateur pianist.
After his move to 444 Ocampo Drive, Pacific Palisades, he held innumerable dinner parties for the artistic and literary figures of the time. His cook and caretaker was a young artist's model named Twinka Thiebaud who later wrote a 1981 book of his evening chats. Thiebaud's memories of Miller's table talk were published in a rewritten and retitled book in 2011.
During the last four years of his life, Miller held an ongoing correspondence of over 1500 letters with Brenda Venus, a young and vivacious Playboy playmate, actress and dancer. A book about their correspondence was published in 1986. An article detailing their affair ran in a special edition of Playboy in 1996. The article called her Miller's "twilight muse" during the bedridden final years of his life.
Before his death, Miller filmed with Warren Beatty for his film Reds. He spoke of his remembrances of John Reed and Louise Bryant as part of a series of "witnesses." The film was released eighteen months after Miller's death.
Miller died of circulatory complications in Pacific Palisades in 1980 at the age of 88. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered off Big Sur.
Miller is considered a "literary innovator" in whose works "actual and imagined experiences became indistinguishable from each other." His books did much to free the discussion of sexual subjects in American writing from both legal and social restrictions.
Miller's papers can be found in the following library special collections:
Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which has correspondence and other archival collections.
Syracuse University, which holds a portion of the correspondence between the Grove Press and Henry Miller.
Charles E. Young Research Library of the University of California, Los Angeles Library.
Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which has materials about Miller from his first wife and their daughter.
University of Victoria, which holds a significant collection of Miller's manuscripts and correspondence, including the corrected typescripts for Max and Quiet Days in Clichy, as well as Miller's lengthy correspondence with Alfred Perlès.
University of Virginia.
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Library.
It is estimated that Miller painted 2000 watercolors during his life, and that 50 or more major collections of Miller’s paintings exist. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds a selection of Miller's watercolors, as did the Henry Miller Museum of Art in ?machi City in Nagano, Japan, before closing in 2001. Miller's daughter Valentine placed some of her father's art for sale in 2005.
Miller's friend Emil White founded the nonprofit Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur in 1981. This houses a collection of his works and celebrates his literary, artistic and cultural legacy by providing a public gallery as well as performance and workshop spaces for artists, musicians, students, and writers.