Authors: Henry Miller

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

American novelist, essayist, and short-story writer

December 26, 1891

New York, New York

June 7, 1980

Pacific Palisades, California

Biography

Creator of a first-person style that deftly mixes fact, philosophy, and fantasy, Henry Valentine Miller was born in the Yorkville section of Manhattan. His father, Heinrich, drank heavily; his mother, Louise, was stern and domineering; his only sibling, Lauretta, was mentally handicapped. Miller spent most of his youth in Brooklyn, living in Williamsburg from 1892 to 1900 and Bushwick from 1901 to 1907. An earnest reader, he enjoyed close friendships with neighborhood boys but felt inhibited among his female peers. In 1909 he entered the City College of New York but soon left. After beginning work as a cement company clerk, he embarked on a rigorous physical regimen that included pacing cyclists on their weekend races. In the years that followed Miller moved from job to job, meeting many people, including the anarchist Emma Goldman during a trip west. Upon his return to New York, he worked in his father’s tailor shop. In 1917 Miller married the pianist Beatrice Sylvas Wickens; their child, Barbara, was born two years later. In 1920 he began a four-year stint as the employment manager of Western Union.

Frustrated in an unhappy marriage, Miller became infatuated with June Edith Smith, whom he met in a dance hall in 1923; the following year he left Western Union, divorced Beatrice, married June, and tried to develop his literary skills. During the emotionally turbulent years that followed, he and June eked out a bohemian existence, earning money through a variety of schemes. In an outburst of creativity in 1927 Miller sketched the notes that formed the basis of Tropic of Capricorn and the trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion. In 1930 Miller left June in the United States and embarked on his second visit to Europe, eventually arriving in Paris; he and June were divorced by proxy in 1934. That same year he received world attention as a result of the publication of Tropic of Cancer. Besides garnering much praise for him, the work gained worldwide notoriety for itself and Miller because of its sexual frankness (Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, The Rosy Crucifixion, and other works by Miller were banned in the United States and Great Britain until the 1960’s). During this period Miller wrote the epistolary Aller Retour New York, a scathing account of a visit to Manhattan, and the wide-ranging correspondence with Michael Fraenkel that comprised the Hamlet books. He also began his close relationship with Anaïs Nin, who provided him with financial and emotional support and sparked his interest in D. H. Lawrence.

Henry Miller.

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Tropic of Capricorn, Miller’s most stylistically complex work, appeared in 1939. Many readers in the United States who did not first encounter Miller’s writing via smuggled editions of his books did so through the collection The Cosmological Eye, which included his short story “Max” as well as an essay on director Luis Buñuel’s film L’âge d’or (1930). Leaving France in 1939, Miller traveled to Greece, where he visited Lawrence Durrell and met raconteur George Katsimbalis, a kindred spirit whom he dubbed the Colossus of Maroussi. His book by the same title is often cited as his greatest work. In 1944 Miller moved to Big Sur, California, and married Janina M. Lepska, with whom he had two children before their divorce in 1954. Miller then married Eve McClure; the two were divorced in 1962.

In 1957 Miller was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Sciences; in 1960 he served as a judge at the Cannes International Film Festival. Grove Press first published Tropic of Cancer for distribution in the United States in 1961; subsequent legal action established the company’s right to bring Miller’s banned writings to a receptive public. In 1962, Miller established a home in Pacific Palisades, California, where he lived until his death in June 1980. There he reaped the pleasures and difficulties of his fame, lending his support to artists, small presses, and literary magazines while pursuing his interests in nonfiction writing and watercolor painting. His unhappy fifth and last marriage, to Hiroki “Hoki” Tokuda, lasted from 1967 to 1978. Miller appeared in Warren Beatty’s film Reds (1981) and served as the focus of several documentaries and recordings. Miller's final, semiautobiographical novel, Moloch; Or, This Gentile World, which was published posthumously in 1992, is a fictionalized account of his first marriage.

Miller believed that the full value of his work would not be appreciated during his lifetime, since the restricted distribution of many of his writings focused attention on the scandalous aspects of his genius rather than its overall substance. The misleading attribution by Grove Press of the pornographic Opus Pistorum (1983; also known as Under the Roofs of Paris) to Miller, who penned only a small portion of the work, exemplifies the difficulties engendered by his notoriety. In a literary era populated with portraits of paralyzed and pessimistic intellectuals, Miller employed his expressive first-person narrative voice, developed over a lifetime of compulsive letter writing, to celebrate spiritual growth and creativity.

In 1981, Miller's friend Emil White transformed his own home in Big Sur, California, into the Henry Miller Memorial Library to preserve Miller's literary and artistic legacy. Gradually, literary critics have also taken notice of Miller and published several volumes of interpretation and critical analysis on his work in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

Author Works Long Fiction: Tropic of Cancer, 1934 Black Spring, 1936 Tropic of Capricorn, 1939 The Rosy Crucifixion, 1949–60, 1963 (includes Sexus, 1949, 2 volumes Plexus, 1953, 2 volumes Nexus, 1960) Quiet Days in Clichy, 1956 Moloch; Or, This Gentile World, 1992 Drama: Just Wild about Harry: A Melo-Melo in Seven Scenes, pb. 1963 Nonfiction: Aller Retour New York, 1935 What Are You Going to Do about Alf?, 1935 Max and the White Phagocytes, 1938 Money and How It Gets That Way, 1938 The Cosmological Eye, 1939 Hamlet, 1939, 1941 (2 volumes with Michael Fraenkel) The World of Sex, 1940, 1957 The Colossus of Maroussi: Or, The Spirit of Greece, 1941 The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941 The Angel Is My Watermark, 1944 (originally published in Black Spring) Murder the Murderer, 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 The Amazing and Invariable Beauford Delaney, 1945 Echolalis: Reproductions of Water Colors by Henry Miller, 1945 Henry Miller Miscellanea, 1945 Obscenity and the Law of Reflection, 1945 Why Abstract?, 1945 (with Hilaire Hiler and William Saroyan) Maurizius Forever, 1945 Patchen: Man of Anger and Light, with a Letter to God by Kenneth Patchen, 1946 Of, by and about Henry Miller: A Collection of Pieces by Miller, Herbert Read, and Others, 1947 Portrait of General Grant, 1947 Remember to Remember, 1947 Varda: The Master Builder, 1947 The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder, 1948 The Waters Reglitterized, 1950 The Books in My Life, 1952 Nights of Love and Laughter, 1955 (Kenneth Rexroth, editor) Argument About Astrology, 1956 A Devil in Paradise: The Story of Conrad Mourand, Born Paris, 7 or 7:15 P.M., January 17, 1887, Died Paris, 10:30 P.M., August 31, 1954, 1956 The Time of the Assassins: A Story of Rimbaud, 1956 Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, 1957 The Red Notebook, 1958 The Intimate Henry Miller, 1959 (Lawrence Clark Powell, editor) The Henry Miller Reader, 1959 (Lawrence Durrell, editor) Reunion in Barcelona: A Letter to Alfred Perlès, 1959 To Paint Is to Love Again, 1960 The Michael Fraenkel-Henry Miller Correspondence, Called Hamlet, 1962 (2 volumes) Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, 1962 Watercolors, Drawings, and His Essay “The Angel Is My Watermark,” 1962 Books Tangent to Circle: Reviews, 1963 Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller: A Private Correspondence, 1963 (George Wickes, editor) Greece, 1964 Henry Miller on Writing, 1964 (Thomas H. Moore, editor) Letters to Anaïs Nin, 1965 Selected Prose, 1965 (2 volumes) Order and Chaos chez Hans Reichel, 1966 Writer and Critic: A Correspondence, 1968 (with W. A. Gordon) Collector’s Quest: The Correspondence of Henry Miller and J. Rivers Childs, 1947-1965, 1968 Insomnia: Or, The Devil at Large, 1970 My Life and Times, 1971 (Bradley Smith, editor) Henry Miller in Conversation with Georges Belmont, 1972 Journey to an Unknown Land, 1972 On Turning Eighty, 1972 Reflections on the Death of Mishima, 1972 First Impressions of Greece, 1973 Reflections on the Maurizius Case, 1974 Letters of Henry Miller and Wallace Fowlie, 1943-1972, 1975 The Nightmare Notebook, 1975 Books of Friends: A Tribute to Friends of Long Ago, 1976 Four Visions of America, 1977 (with others) Gliding into the Everglades, and Other Essays, 1977 Sextet, 1977 Henry Miller: Years of Trial and Triumph, 1978 My Bike and Other Friends, 1978 An Open Letter to Stroker!, 1978 (Irving Stetner, editor) Some Friends, 1978 Joey: A Loving Portrait of Alfred Perlès Together with Some Bizarre Episodes Relating to the Other Sex, 1979 Notes on “Aaron’s Rod” and Other Notes on Lawrence from the Paris Notebooks of Henry Miller, 1980 (Seamus Cooney, editor) The World of Lawrence: A Passionate Appreciation, 1980 (Evelyn J. Hinz and John J. Teumissen, editors) Reflections, 1981 (Twinka Thibaud, editor) The Paintings of Henry Miller, 1982 From Your Capricorn Friend: Henry Miller and the “Stroker,” 1978-1980, 1984 Dear, Dear Brenda: The Love Letters of Henry Miller to Brenda Venus, 1986 (Gerald Seth Sindell, editor) Letters by Henry Miller to Hoki Takuda Miller, 1986 A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, 1987 (Gunther Stuhlmann, editor) The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-1980, 1988 (Ian S. MacNiven, editor) Henry Miller’s Hamlet Letters, 1988 (Michael Hargraves, editor) Letters to Emil, 1989 (George Wicks, editor) Conversations with Henry Miller, 1994 (Frank L. Kersnowski and Alice Hughes, editors) Henry Miller and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, 1996 (George Wicks, editor) Bibliography Brown, J. D. Henry Miller. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1986. A concise assessment of Miller’s work in relation to the events of his life, with a particularly good summary chapter entitled “Autobiography in America.” Brown writes with clarity and knows the material well. Includes a chronology of the events of Miller’s life, a bibliography of his writing through 1980, and useful sections listing interviews, bibliographical collections, biographies, and selected criticism. Dearborn, Mary V. The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. A sympathetic account of Miller's life that looks at his romantic life, politics, and career. Ferguson, Robert. Henry Miller: A Life. New York: Norton, 1991. A full and sensitive treatment of Miller’s life and work. See especially the first chapter for the problems involved in interpreting Miller, the response of feminist critics, and the difficulties of evaluating Miller’s memoirs. Includes notes and bibliography. Gottesman, Ronald, ed. Critical Essays on Henry Miller. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. Divided into sections on the early Miller (includes biographical material and book reviews); the “phallic” Miller (including conflicting interpretations by Norman Mailer and Kate Millett); the “orphic” Miller; the “American” Miller; and various retrospectives of his life and career, including memoirs. Includes introduction and bibliography. Jahshan, Paul. Henry Miller and the Surrealist Discourse of Excess: A Poststructuralist Reading. New York: P. Lang, 2001. Arguing that descriptions of Miller’s literary style as “surrealist” evade a serious analysis of the work, Jahshan shows that Miller’s texts share with those of the French surrealists an imagery of excess, but one which is economically and masterfully geared toward a reader whose response(s) help in constructing a peculiarly Millerian version of stylistic deviation. Lewis, Leon. Henry Miller: The Major Writings. New York: Schocken Books/Random House, 1986. Concentrates on the seven books regarded as the heart of Miller’s achievement as a writer, offering detailed critical analysis of each book as well as a comprehensive estimate of Miller’s entire life as an artist. Relates Miller to the American writers he admired and to Albert Camus and the surrealists of the 1920’s to locate him within literary and cultural traditions. Includes a bibliography and related criticism. Mathieu, Bertrand. Orpheus in Brooklyn: Orphism, Rimbaud, and Henry Miller. Paris: Mouton, 1976. Mathieu is an expert on the work of Arthur Rimbaud, and his study focuses on the parallels between Miller and the French poet, particularly in regard to Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi (1941). Mathieu is very knowledgeable, writes with energy and insight, and offers the useful thesis that Miller’s work is constructed on a plan similar to Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Mitchel, Edward, ed. Henry Miller: Three Decades of Criticism. New York: New York University Press, 1971. A representative compilation which indicates just how much controversy and personal response Miller’s work elicited during the first three decades after Tropic of Cancer was published. Widmer, Kingsley. Henry Miller. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Updates Widmer’s 1962 work, taking into account the final years of Miller’s career and the criticism that appeared after Widmer’s study. A succinct yet comprehensive introduction. Includes chronology, notes, and annotated bibliography.

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