Henry Miller

Henry Miller was an American writer and artist born on December 26, 1891, in New York City. He is best known for his controversial and autobiographical novels “Tropic of Cancer” and “Tropic of Capricorn,” which gained him recognition and notoriety.

Miller is a fascinating character for a number of reasons. Learning that he quit his comfortable office job of eleven years at the age of 38 to pursue writing is what sparked my interest in his character. Take note that this all happened in 1930s America and Miller had no idea of how he was going to make money, let alone survive. 

That same year he moved to Paris to pursue his passion where he lived hand to mouth until 1934. Miller in this period would be the quintessential starving artist. He would live off the kindness of friends, panhandle and only occasionally work as he was writing his debut masterpiece “Tropic of Cancer”.

I still can’t get past the fact that someone at that age would have the courage to leave everything behind, with no guarantee of success, everything stacked against them and moving to a foreign country with nothing. All of this well before the comforts afforded by the extensive information of the internet. 

When reading Miller’s Tropic of Cancer I am left with an overwhelming sense of how happy and full of life Miller is in his circumstance. Paraphrasing a comment I’ve seen comparing Miller to Bukowski provides a good clue as to why Miller’s work is so special. ‘Miller is a lover of life, Bukowski endures life’. Having said this, ‘Tropic of Cancer’ is not a book for everyone. You will either love it or hate it. It was banned from sale in the United States for 27 years! 

I certainly can’t see a book like this being published today with its copious amount of sexism. In addition parts of the book are absurdly degenerate but Miller’s writing is both technically brilliant and wildly honest in which lies its true charm.

Miller’s rebellious and nonconformist spirit made him a symbol of counterculture and individualism. His rejection of societal conventions and his embrace of personal freedom resonated with the Beat Generation and later countercultural movements. His work stands the test of time for the aforementioned reasons.  

If you enjoy character studies I  recommend Asleep and Awake; a 30 minute Documentary profiling Miller.

“I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and the soul.” 

– Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

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