26 marks the birthday of author Henry Miller. Born in New York
City in 1891, he was the only child of a German-American working-class
His father, Heinrich, was a tailor. Louise (Nieting) Miller, his
mother, never showed much maternal affection toward her son, whom, along
with Miller's mentally handicapped sister, she beat regularly.
At school, Miller was a good student. But by the time
he reached the age of seventeen, he was rambunctious and rebellious.
He decided that he wanted to experience sex, so he visited his first brothel
where he promptly contracted gonorrhea.
to ten were the most important years of my life;" Miller said. "I lived in the street and
acquired the typical American gangster spirit."
With money his father gave him to finance his college education, Miller
traveled to the Southwest before veering north to Alaska. When he returned, he went to
work in his father's tailor shop, but he left after unsuccessfully trying to unionize the
workforce. He ran a speakeasy in Greenwich Village, but that, too,
proved unsuccessful. In 1917, he married Beatrice Sylvas
Wickens, an amateur pianist, and became a father. He also had a brief
affair with his mother-in-law.
From 1920 to 1924, Miller worked at the Western Union Telegraph Company.
He left his family and moved in with June Mansfield Smith, a Broadway
dancer, who encouraged Miller's literary aspirations. The relationship
inspired Miller's early novels, Moloch and Crazy Cock, the
latter published posthumously in 1991.
didn't begin to write seriously until he was 40, although he had published
essays and short stories in a magazine in the late 1910s. Clipped
Wings, which he wrote in 1922, was rejected by Macmillan Publishing Co.
June worked occasionally as a waiter, but her restless lifestyle, which
originally had attracted her to Miller, made him miserable. In 1930, he moved to France,
where he soon found himself penniless. He met Austrian writer Alfred Perlés, who paid Miller's rent and his cafe bills, and Anaïs Nin, who
entered his life in 1931. Shortly after, she began supporting him
In the fall of his second year in Paris, Miller wrote: "I have no money, no
resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive." His early
books were published almost exclusively by the Obelisk Press, founded by
Jack Kahane, who wrote erotic novels under the pseudonyms of Cecil Barr and
While in Paris, Miller wrote about his Bohemian experiences in
Tropic of Cancer (1934), of which he said, "This is not a book, in
the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob
of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time,
Love, Beauty...what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off
key perhaps, but I will sing."
book was immediately banned in the U.S. for its alleged obscenities and graphic
sexual content. In 1964, the Supreme Court finally ruled that
Tropic of Cancer could not be suppressed. It had already sold two
million copies. Meanwhile, the triangular relationship between Miller,
June, and Nin formed the basis for several of Nin's journals and the film,
Henry and June (1990).
When English writer George Orwell traveled
to Spain to report on the Civil War, he stopped in Paris to meet
Miller, who told him he was a pacifist. Miller's major works from
this period include Black Spring (1936), based on his childhood's
experiences in Brooklyn, and The Colossis of Maroussi (1941),
inspired by his visit to Greece in 1939.
1942, Miller moved to California, settling eventually on the coast outside Big Sur. "It is my belief that the immature artist seldom thrives in
idyllic surroundings," Miller wrote in Big Sur and the Oranges of
Hieronymous Bosch (1957). "If an art colony is established here it
will go the way of all the others. Artists never thrive in colonies.
Ants do. What the budding artist needs is the privilege of wrestling
with his problems in solitude - and now and then a piece of red meat."
In 1944, Miller married Janina Martha Lepska, a young philosophy student
more than 30 years his junior. Their marriage ended after seven years,
but Miller soon found a new companion, Eve McClure, an artist, whom he
married in 1953.
Henry Miller died in Pacific Palisades on
June 7, 1980.
Discover Henry Miller
Yourself - Check Out Today's Best-Selling