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Henry Miller

Henry Valentine Miller was an American writer and painter infamous for a new breaking sort of "novels" that had a liberating influence on mid-20th century literature. His most characteristic works of this kind are "Tropic of Cancer" and "Tropic of Capricorn."
  • Background

    Henry Miller was born in December 26, 1891 in Yorkville, New York City. His parents were immigrants from Germany, his mother, Louise Marie Neiting, was from North Germany and his father, Heinrich Miller, from Bavaria. The family had no need in anything, there was enough money, Heinrich Miller was a tailor and this occupation brought him a good income. At a young age, Henry, who lived in Brooklyn for nine years, often spent time working in his father's shop. He would later describe his childhood as a difficult period in which he learned how to live in "the streets." Miller also had a younger sister, Lauretta Anna. The girl was sick with dementia and Henry often had to defend her from the other kids who would make fun of her. After the death of their parents Henry took his sister to his place and continued to take care of her.
  • Education

    • At school Miller was an exceptionally bright student, developing an early passion for reading. He particularly enjoyed adventure stories and literary classics. The boy graduated second in his class from the local Eastern District High School in Brooklyn, wanted to go to university, but did not pass the entrance exam.
    • After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the City College of New York, but left in two months because he disagreed with the traditional college system of education. There he studied the history of art.


    • At the age of seventeen, Miller visited for the first time a brothel, contracting gonorrhea. The young man passionately fell in love with a woman who was much older than him, but, nevertheless, Henry began to live with her. The first experience was unsuccessful and soon the future writer went to California. There he went to work at a citrus plantation and one day Henry accidentally visited a lecture on the idealism of Peter Kropotkin and Nietzsche, it was read by Emma Goldman. This event did not pass unnoticed: the main topic of the first Miller’s essay was the work of the great philosopher.

      Miller went on attending lectures read by Emma, after graduation he returned to New York. First, a young man worked in his father's workshop, he was a usual apprentice. Gradually, philosophy and literature increasingly fascinated Henry, although he dreamed of becoming a pianist for some time. Miller continued to be interested in these kinds of art, he also visited some lectures on Russian literature by John Pais in New York. Later, the writer said that they helped him to understand the "Russian soul."

      Later Henry worked briefly for a cement company, took then odd jobs. Unable to settle down, he travelled throughout South West USA and Alaska with money, which was intended to finance him through Cornell. In 1913 he went to work at the family tailor's shop, but had difficulties with his father whose drinking had increased. In 1917 Miller married Beatrice Sylvas Wickens, an amateur pianist, and became a father. He had also a brief affair with his mother-in-law.

      From 1920 to 1924 Miller was employed by the Western Union Telegraph Company. After leaving his family, he lived with June Mansfield Smith, a Broadway dancer, who encouraged Miller in his writing aspirations. The relationship inspired Miller's early novels Moloch , a rant against Jews, and Crazy Cock (published posthumously in 1991). Later Miller returned to this period in the trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion.

      Miller did not seriously begin to write until he was 40, although he had published essays and short stories in a magazine in the late 1910s. His book Clipped Wings, completed in 1922, was rejected by the publishing company Macmillan.

      Changing the direction of his life, Miller moved in 1930 to France, Paris. By December he was "rescued from starving" by Richard Galen Osborn, and spent the winter of 1930-31 at his studio, which looked out upon the Eiffel Tower. He then moved to the Villa Seurat to Michael Fraenkel's residencein the 14th arrondissement of Paris. Frankel, a Russian bookseller, was featured as the young writer Boris in Tropic of Cancer (1934).

      Miller soon became a familiar sight with his olive-green overcoat, wide-brimmed grey felt hat, and protruding bottom lip. He was chronically penniless, but Alfred Perles, an Austrian writer, paid his rent and his cafe bills, and June sent money. Also Anais Nin, who entered his life in 1931, supported him.

      With his friend Gilberte Brassai, born Gyula Halosz, who gained fame as a photographer, Miller shared love of the city at night.

      He created sensation with his classic first works, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn (1936), which offered a vivid picture of bohemian life in Paris and New York. The books were banned for nearly three decades in the U.S., before decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their literary value. An instant bestseller, Tropic of Cancer made Miller a prophet of sexual freedom.

      With the outbreak of World War II, Miller returned to the USA, feeling that he had failed as a writer.

      In 1957 Miller was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He wrote prolifically, revisited Europe numerous times and painted water colors. Miller had began to paint in the 1920s and continued to produce watercolors until the final days of his life. Grove Press published Tropic of Cancer in 1961 and the book gained a huge popularity. Miller was not enthusiastic about his imago, when his readers hailed him as the grand old man of sex. At that time he did not see himself as an "outlaw writer" and in interviews he tried to direct the discussion from sex to other subjects, without much success.

      Miller's later books include The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), a critical view of the United States, Quiet Days in Clichy (1956), depicting his life as a penniless writer in Paris, and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy (1965), which traced the crucial years of the narrator-hero in the United States during which he struggles to became a writer.

      Along with D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover and William Burroughs's The Naked Lunch, Miller's works helped to push back the boundaries of censorship in the 1950s He also influenced the Beat Movement writers. Also various volumes of Miller's correspondence with Lawrence Durrell, Anais Nin and Wallace Fowlie have been published.

      Henry Miller died on June 7, 1980, in Pacific Palisades, having influenced an entire generation of writers around the world and driven a wedge through censorship rulings in the United States.


    • 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), and Tropic of Capricorn (1939). He also wrote travel memoirs and essays of literary criticism and analysis.

      Some of his works were published by Obelisk Press in France under the pseudonyms Basil Carr and Cecil Barr.


    As a young man, he was active with the Socialist Party.


    Miller’s religious beliefs were esoteric, more mystical than the conventional religious paths most people know of.


    • National Institute of Arts and Letters



    Philosophers & Thinkers : Friedrich Nietzsche

    Politicians: Hubert Harrison

    Writers: Dostoevsky and Elie Faure, also Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, Carson McCuller, Walt Whitman, Rimbaud, Balzac, Lao-Tse.

    Sport & Clubs: riding bicycles

    Other interests: watercolor painting


    • Moloch or, This Gentile World, 1992 book
    • Relatioships with June Mansfield Smith inspired Miller's early novel Moloch, the second after Clipped Wings, a rant against Jews. It was written in 1920-1924, but wasn't published that time. Only 65 years later, in 1992, it was finally published.
    • Tropic of Cancer, 1934 book
    • "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller was published in 1934 in Paris, France. But was banned as obscene in the United States for twenty-seven years after its first publication. Only a historic court ruling that changed American censorship standards, ushering in a new era of freedom and frankness in modern literature, permitted the publication of this first volume of Miller’s famed mixture of memoir and fiction.

      One of Henry's friends, Michael Fraenkel, was featured as the young writer Boris in Tropic of Cancer.

      Now this book is considered as "one of the ten or twenty great novels of our century", Norman Mailer, an American novelist, said.
    • Tropic of Capricorn, 1939 book
    • The book is written in the period when Henry Miller was under the influence of surrealism. The book was published in 1939, in Paris. This book was also banned in the USA for almost thirty years.

      The book is famous for its frank portrayal of life in Brooklyn’s ethnic neighborhoods and Miller’s outrageous sexual exploits. The Tropic of Capricorn is now considered a cornerstone of modern literature.
    • The Colossus of Maroussi, 1941 book
    • The book was inspired by Henry Miller's visit to Greece in 1939 and published in the USA in 1941. Miller travelled to Greece at the invitation of his friend, the writer Lawrence Durrell. The text is ostensibly a portrait of the Greek writer George Katsimbalis, although some critics have opined that is more of a self-portrait of Miller himself.

      Miller himself considered this book to be one of his greatest works.
    • The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, 1945 book
    • This book is considered to be a critical view of the United States. It was published in 1945 after Henry Miller's return to the United States in 1939. He set out on a journey that was to last three years, visiting many sections of the country and making friends of all descriptions. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is the result of his odyssey.
    • Quiet Days in Clichy, 1956 book
    • One of the latest books of Henry Miller, depicting his life as a penniless writer in Paris and published in 1956 in France. ten years later, in 1965, after regular trial it was published in the United States.

      The novel served as the basis for two films.
    • The Rosy Crucifixion, 1965 book
    • The Rosy Crucifixion is a trilogy consisting of Sexus, Plexus and Nexus. Beginning in 1949 with Sexus, following in 1952 with Plexus, and finally concluding with 1959's Nexus, the three works are a dazzling array of scenes, sexual encounters and ideas, covering Miller's final days in NY, his relationship with June Miller and her lover, his take on the arts, his favorite writers, his thoughts, his insights, his days and his nights, finally ending with a glorious farewell to the life he'd known and an anticipation of the life he would lead.


    • Henry Valentine Miller was the first child of German-American working-class parents. After "Tropic of Cancer" Miller turned into one of the most widely read US authors worldwide. While it was Miller’s personal life and numerous relationships that provided the impetus for his controversial work, this same "lifestyle" and his willingness to candidly document it made Miller a 1960’s pop culture icon in the US and UK. His life was full of different relationships, even in his last years, Henry continued to fall in love, forming relationships with actresses like Brenda Venus. He also became a mentor to young writers like Erica Jong.
    • Father: Heinrich Miller - American German - tailor
    • Mother: Louise (Nieting) Miller - American German
    • Sister: Lauretta Anna - American German
      Lauretta Anna was a younger mentally handicapped sister of Henty Miller.
    • first wife: Beatrice Sylvas Wickens - amateur pianist
      Henry Miller married Beatrice in 1917. She was a 'good girl' that his mother would approve of, and their marriage helped him avoid going to war. Beatrice was critical and demanding, and sneered at Henry's ambitions to write. From that marriage came his first daughter, Barbara. They divorced in 1924.
    • second wife: June Edith Smith - Broadway dancer, occasional waitress
      June was a dark, beautiful Jewish femme fatale. They met in 1923 at a Times Square dance parlor. He fell madly in love with her, divorced Beatrice in 1924, and married June the same year. She encouraged him to quit his job and start putting his efforts into writing.

      In 1930, Henry left for Europe without June. In September 1930 June came to Paris but left without Henry. This was almost the end of their relationships. They divorced in 1934.
    • third wife: Janina Martha Lepska - Polish
      Janina Lepska, lived in Zabnow, Poland until coming to the East Coast at the age of 12, she became Lepska Miller when she married Henry Miller in Denver, Colorado in December 1944. In 1945, his second daughter, Valentine, was born. Life with Lepska proved to be difficult for Henry, with their constant arguments over the children, the arrival of guests, and their different points of view concerning life. Lepska left Henry in 1951.
    • forth wife: Eve McClure - Artist
      Miller met Eve in 1952. Eve was an artist, 30 years younger than Henry, she admired his works, and she was willing to take care of him. Soo his marriage to Eve started to fall apart. In 1959, Henry had an affair with Caryll Hill, which hurt Eve deeply and worsened her habit of alcohol abuse.
    • fifth wife: Hiroko Tokuda - Japanese - cabaret singer
      After Eve Henry turned to a 27- year- old Japanese woman, Hoki (Hiroko) Tokuda. Once again, he was in love with an unavailable woman, who would come and go mysteriously. His tribute to this romance was "Insomnia or The Devil at Large." But Hoki looked at Henry as a grandfather figure and seemed to have married him in search of a green card. By 1974 she had left the country, and was found running a club called Tropic of Cancer in Tokyo.
    • First daughter: Barbara (Miller) Sandford
      Barbara is the first daughter of Henry Miller from his first marriage with Beatrice Sylvas Wickens. Barbara was born in 1919.

      Nowadays it's hard to find any records of Barbara in the last 25 years or so.
    • Second daughter: Valentine Miller - American
      Valentine was born in 1945 in Berkeley, California from the third marriage of Henry Miller with Janina Lepska. At the age of 18 Valentine got married, but divorced after 1,5 years of marriage.

      Nowadays she happily lives on the Monterey Peninsula, California, USA.
    • Son: Henry "Tony" Miller - American
      Tony Miller is the brother of Valentine Miller and son of Henry Miller from his third marriage with Janina Lepska, born in 1948.

      Tony has largely disappeared from public life. In the middle of the 1990s, he was still assisting in distribution of his father's works, and in May 2005 he paid tribute to his father on the 25th anniversary of his death.
    • Friend, lover: Anais Nin
      Anais Nin entered Miller's life in 1931. She became his greatest love. Her passionate belief in Henry's writing, as well as her financial support, made "Tropic of Cancer" possible. Nin's diary tells about their love affair in the works "Henry and June" and "Incest". Henry's books about the Paris years omit his relationship with Anais Nin, keeping with his promise to Anais that he would not jeopardize her marriage with the facts of their affair. Even years later, when their relationship turned hostile, he didn't go back on his word.

      In some time, Anais, Henry, and June began a three way flirtation, their relationship marred with lies, deceit, and betrayal.

      By 1934, Henry and June were divorced and Anais Nin had become the mainstay in Herny's life.

      In August of 1934, Nin gave birth to a stillborn girl. She made it appear in her journals that her husband was the father but revealed later that the baby had really been Henry's.

      During Henry's relatioships with Anais Henry began an affair with Betty Ryan. There were several trips to New York and then Anais fled Europe, when Paris was in chaos, preparing for war. She was ill and failed to to meet Henry's ship when it docked. She was retreating from Henry more and more each passing year.
    Born December 26, 1891
    Died June 7, 1980
    (aged 88)
    • studied at Eastern District High School in Brooklyn
    • 1909
      studied at City College of New York, Student
    • 1909 - 1930
      Briefly worked for a cement company, then took various odd jobs
    • 1920 - 1924
      Western Union Telegraph Company


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