Thursday, January 12, 2006

De Maigret's Photographs Of Henry Miller

The November 1972 issue of Magazine Litteraire (#70, published in Paris) was dedicated to the subject of Henry Miller. Amongst the tributes was a rare personal recollection of Miller by his Villa Seurat housemate, Arnaud de Maigret [the cover art--at left--was done by Raymond Moretti].

I've had a hard time trying to find biographical information about de Maigret. He was a photographer, is all I really know. Not even his article "Henry Miller et la Villa Seurat" contains much in the way of autobiography. Instead, it is a portrait of the Villa Seurat street and its residents, mostly Miller. In the piece, de Maigret states that he came to the street "around 1935." In 1939, he moved down a few houses to become a tenant in the home of artist Chana Orloff.

I took French immersion throughout high school (a pretty normal situation in Canada) but have had few opportunities to exercise my French muscles since then. That hasn't stopped me from attempting to translate parts of this article. Overall, I think I did a decent job, but I don't recommend that you quote me on anything.

“When I arrived at 18 Villa Seurat around 1935, my top-floor neighbour was a still unknown, greying 40-something named Henry Miller. In his glass-roofed studio, next to mine, he wrote. In order not to be interrupted, instead of locking his door, he put up an English sign with an obscene phrase, telling those who came to shatter his train of thought to go to hell. Perched on the summit of a high stool, his machine laying on a cabinet, he tapped-away from above for the entire day. He always wore a cap: “so that my ideas don’t fly away.” ............

"In the winter, our house was a glacier, the landlord as stingy with his money as he was with his coal. One night while Miller was out, I found, written by Mategot in chalk on the door of the cellar: “I’m frozen. Give us heat, or tomorrow I’ll paint this in oils and, if necessary, burn the words into the door.” If Mategot was cold at ground level, can you imagine how cold the top floor studios were? Using charcoal, I added my complaint next to the other, and, for extra measure, added: “I have icy stalactites on my roubignolles (testicles). Signed, Henry Miller.”

Miller was usually moving about like a cyclone, rushing down the stairs with the speed of light. Later that day, I heard him come home, slam the door, then stop dead in front of the inscription. He chuckled quietly. Then he rushed up the stairs, came back down like the wind, then before he could forget the word, went back up, but couldn’t find it in the dictionary.
The next day, he said:-- Tell me, Maillegrett, what’s a roubignolle?"

These are just two anecdotes about Miller. There are one or two more, including one in which they discuss the politics of the time (late 30's). I'll post those some other time.

I always picture the Miller of this era with one of those Stetson-type hats; until I read this and saw the photographs above and below, I never realized that he often wore a cap. Here's another de Maigret photo, of Miller warming his frozen roubignolles by the fire at Villa Seurat:

According the this reference in the University Of Victoria Miller collection, this photo was taken in 1935 or 36.

The rest of the Miller content in this issue of Magazine Litteraire includes: 1) a feature on the Dutch film version of Quiey Days In Clichy; 2) Le Zarathoustra de Brooklyn by Anne-Marie Bidaud; 3) Miller ou l'Ecriture du Desir by Robert Louit; 4) Henry Miller: 'L'obsenite dans la litterature au meme titre que dans la vie'; 5) Le Roc Heureux by Lawrence Durrell; 6) Un Ecrivain Americain Nous Est Ne by Blaise Cendrars; 7) Les Eaux Remiroitees (The Waters Reglitterized) by Henry Miller; 8) Faites L'Amour Pas Le Carnage (Make Love Not War) by Henry Miller.

Follow this link to see an on-line index of Henry Miller reviews and articles printed in Magazine Litteraire since 1986.

De Maigret appears to have contributed to a book on Parisien trains called Almanach du Cheminot (1958), but, otherwise, his internet presence is almost nil.

In the spirit of 'fair use,' I should mention that this de Maigret article ends with a copyright notice by Agence Maurice Renaut, but Mr. R appears to be inactive.

A thousand Thank Yous to Pierre from Montreal for access to this material.


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