Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Henry Miller wrote Tropic of Cancer

Henry Miller
It is the birthday of writer Henry Miller (1891), whose explicit novels Tropic of Cancer (1934), Black Spring (1936), and Tropic of Capricorn (1939) were banned for decades in America. Miller wrote them as an expatriate in Paris. The Tropic books created a new genre of novel, combining fiction with autobiography, philosophical reflection, and social criticism. Black Spring was a retelling of Emily Bronte's literary classic Wuthering Heights.

Miller first visited Paris with his second wife, June Edith Smith, in the late 1920s, where they met French writer Anais Nin. Miller and Nin had an immediate attraction. In 1930, Miller returned to Paris alone. He and Nin lived a bohemian lifestyle together, although Nin was married at the time. They mixed with writers and French Surrealist painters, and became immersed in the city's creative culture. Miller worked as a proofreader at the Chicago Tribune's  Paris edition but mostly he was supported by Nin as he wrote of his life during the period, including detailed accounts of his sexual encounters. The result became Tropic of Cancer, which Nin paid with borrowed money to have published.

The book was banned as obscene in America but was often smuggled into the country. In 1961, Grove Press published the book in the United States. Officials called the book obscene and sought to have it banned, suing individual booksellers for selling it. The case went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, where Tropic of Cancer was declared a work of literature.

Tropic of Capricorn was a prequel to Tropic of Cancer. It detailed Miller's
difficult life with his wife, June, in New York during the 1920s before they went to Paris. At the time, he worked for Western Union Telegraph Company and wrote on the side, struggling to find his voice as a writer. This book, too, was sexually explicit and was  banned in the United States but the Justice Department eventually declare it not obscene.

Miller also wrote The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), a travelogue based on a visit to Greeece; Sunday After The War (1944), a collection of excerpts from other Miller writing; and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), an early indictment of America's wasteful, throw-away culture.

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