Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Visit To Eudora Welty

It's a story told mostly in Eudora Welty biographies: Henry Miller comes to visit her in Jackson, Mississippi in 1941, during his cross-America Air-Conditioned Nightmare tour, and he comes off as boring and rudely disinterested. However, I think some biographical context will help explain his mood at that time and offer some balance to the negativity of this anecdote.

Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was a photographer and writer, primarly on the subject of her home state, Mississippi. In 1941, she was 32 and had been publishing short fiction for five years. A collection of her work called A Curtain Of Green was released in 1941 by Doubleday Doran & Co. Doubleday also happened to be the publisher that was putting up the money for Henry Miller's Nightmare tour (and, of course, the book that would result). John Woodburn, a Doubleday editor, is said to have been the one to suggest that Miller stop in on Welty in Jackson during his travels. Miller wrote to Welty before arriving in March.

The Visit Itinerary

(Approximately) the first week of March, 1941. Miller arrived without a car (it wasn't far away, in Natchez). Welty and her Southern literary friends Nash Burger and Hubert Creekmore drove Miller to the following local sights:

* Nanchez (city) [same as Natchez ??]
* the Ruins Of Windsor [image below] (a picnic here?)
* Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg
* Rodney (ghost town)
* Dinner at The Rotisserie (Jackson's first Greek restaurant) on all three nights.

Criticisms From The Welty Camp
* Welty: Miller was "the most boring businessman you can imagine" [2];

* Miller was not interested in discussing his works with Creekmore [2];

* Welty: Miller did not remove his hat the entire time [2];

* While being given his personal driving tour, Miller would not even look out the winodw and seemed "infinitely bored" (Welty) [2];

* At picnics, he would say nothing [2];

* Miller was taken to the same restaurant three times, through three vastly different entrances; the third time he commented that he was surprised that a small town like Jackson would have three good restaurants (implying that he hadn't been paying enough attention to realize he'd already been there twice before) [1] [2] (drawn from [3]; on this on-line telling of the story, from an unknown and questionable source, Miller is said to have called Jackson a "hole").

Putting Miller's Mood In Context

Perhaps people had high expectations of Henry Miller's personality, based on the passionate and ribald biographical character he portrayed in his works. So why was he glum on this visit to Jackson? Here are a few possibilities:

1. His father had just died.
In February, his father Henry (Heinrich) Miller died suddenly at the age of 75. Miller had left his car in Natchez because he had to fly off to New York when he got word that his father was ill. He missed having a final goodbye with his father by two hours.

2. He had been traveling across America since October 1940.
Miller had been on the road for close to half a year at the time of his visit. It's entirely possible that he was feeling a bit of information overload by this point.

3. He may have just been rejected from Guggenheim funding.
Miller and his travel partner Abe Rattner had applied for grant money from the Guggenheim Foundation around September 1940. The winners were announced on March 23, 1941. Possibly, he had received a rejection notice before the annoucement (he felt angry enough about it that he included a list of the winners at the end of Air-Conditioned Nightmare).

4. He may have felt embarrassed around Welty.
When Miller wrote to Welty in 1940, he thought he was doing her a favour by offering to hook her up to the "unfailing pornographic market," in which he was dabbling at the time. To offer this to a female writer would not have seemed unusual to him, because he had been writing it with a group of others, half of whom were women (like Anais Nin). Between the time of the letter and the visit, however, Miller had developed a distaste for being involved with that kind of writing ("I don't want to do that work any more for anything": letter to Nin, Jan. 1941 - A Literate Passion). Eudora had shown the letter to her offended mother, who then made sure that Miller never set foot in the Welty home during his visit [1] [2].

In the published material that I've seen, Miller has never referenced Eudora Welty. Of this visit, only a couple of sentences about the Ruins Of Windsor made it into Air-Conditioned Nightmare (p.286). After his three-day visit, Miller picked up his car in Natchez and continued his American roadtrip. My guess is that he and Welty were never in touch again.

Welty biography sources: [1] Eudora Welty: A Biography (Suzanne Marrs), [2] Eudora: A Writer's Life (Ann Waldron). Much of this anecdote appears to come from a Welty interview in Conversations With Eudora Welty (Peggy Whitman Prenshaw) [3].

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Nexus: The Int'l Henry Miller Journal - Vol 2

Here's a short run-down of the second issue of the Nexus journal, from 2005. This journal has published three volumes over the past three years.


Cover: photograph of Henry Miller by Robert Young.

p. 2 - Guest Editor's Note by Karl Orend.

p.7 - The Street by Beatrice Commenge.
(about the various streets Miller had known)

p. 15 - The Secret Paris Of Henry Miller by J. Gerald Kennedy.

p. 60 - Making A Place for Henry Miller in the American Classroom by Karl Orend.

p. 67 - "Convinced of the dead certainty of death": Henry Miller's Tropic Of Capricorn and the Nexus of Fear and Violence by James Gifford.

p. 80 - Henry Miller and Otto Rank by E. James Lieberman

p. 100 - Nirvana Needed: The Anarchist Politics of Henry Miller by Eric Laursen

p. 117 - Turd in the Whorehouse, Bomb Up the Ass: The Anal Apocalypse of Henry Miller by Paul Hansom

p. 130 - The Scandanavian Connection: Impulses from Strindberg's Inferno and Hamsun's Hunger in Miller's Tropic Of Cancer by Finn Jensen

p. 144 - The Whole Man by Mark SaFranco

p. 140 - Georges Duhamel and Luis Bunuel in Tropic Of Cancer byYasundori Honda

p. 158 - Henry Miller Versus "Our Way Of Life" by Barney Rosett

p. 166 - Huckelberry Finn and Other Picaros -- Barney Rosett's Henry Miller in the Age of Racism, Oppression and War by Karl Orend

p. 230 - Photo: restaurant that appears as "Ginette's" in Tropic of Cancer.

p. 231 - Photo: store on rue de la Tombe Issoire in which Miller used to grocery shop.

p. 232 - Miller Notes (on Miller in new scholarship and popular culture)

Visit the Nexus journal website for information on purchasing any of the volumes.
Read a summary of Volume One.
Read a summary of Volume Three.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Henry Miller - George Orwell Timeline

The following points contain references to letters being written, but unfortunately I have no access to the content of the majority of these letters. Regardless, I think the flow of minor events illustrates the relationship between the two men. See below for citations.

September 1 - Tropic Of Cancer is published in Paris by Obelisk Press.

August - George Orwell begins reviewing for the New English Weekly.

Nov 14 - Orwell reviews Tropic Of Cancer in New English Weekly.

Nov 29 - Miller comments on this review in a letter to Durrell: "[Orwell] talks about 'the vilification of human nature' (sic!). Oh well ......"
Feb 25 - Michael Fraenkel (Miller’s housemate) writes to Orwell.

May 3 - Fraenkel again writes to Orwell. (In Inside The Whale, Orwell will say that Fraenkel, Lawrence Durrell and Miller “almost amount to a 'school'” of writing style.)

June - Black Spring is published. Orwell will make (mostly) critical reference to it in Inside The Whale.

August - Miller writes to Orwell.

September - Orwell writes Miller “at length” about Black Spring (ref: Happiest Man Alive, p.191)

September - Miller writes to Orwell.

Sept 24 - Orwell’s review of Black Spring appears in the New English Weekly.

Oct 6 - Miller writes to Orwell [seen at left in 1936].

Dec 15 - Orwell leaves en-route for Spain.

Dec (23?) - Before continuing on to Barcelona, Orwell visits Henry Miller in Paris.

Dec 30 - Orwell enlists with POUM in Barcelona.

Jan 20 - In a letter to Lawrence Durrell, Miller includes Orwell in a list of what he calls “all these bloody, bleeding blokes with their navel-strings uncut.”

March - In a letter to Durrell, Miller describes Orwell as “a nice chap, but ignorant.”
Mar 8 - Orwell sends a copy of his newly-published Road To Wigan Pier to Miller;

(date?) - Miller answers a questionnaire for the short-lived Marxist Quarterly magazine, stating that his response to war is pacifism. (Orwell will later reference this in Inside The Whale).
[the Quarterly ran for three issues, all throughout 1937; the issue Miller appeared in is unknown to me]

July - Orwell back in England.

September - Miller tells Durrell that Orwell has promised to take a subscription to for The Booster.

Oct 21 - Orwell reviews The Booster (this issue?) in the New English Weekly.

Oct 29 - Alfred Perles writes to Philip Mairet (editor of New English Weekly), presumably about Orwell, as the letter is now part of Orwell’s correspondence collection.

Nov 4 - An uncredited piece by Durrell appears in New English Weekly; it's a response to Orwell’s review of The Booster.

Nov 7 - Miller writes to Orwell. ("with enclosures")

Nov 11 - Orwell responds to Durrell’s critique of his Booster review, in New English Weekly. Orwell will later make a brief reference to The Booster in Inside The Whale.

Apr 20 - Miller sends a letter to Orwell while he is in a sanitarium in Kent. According to Ferguson in Henry Miller: A Life, (p.250), Miller offers to send Orwell copies of Tao Te Ching and Chuang Czu in order to back up his pacifist argument.

May 10 - Tropic Of Capricorn in published in Paris. In Inside The Whale, Orwell complains that he hadn’t yet read it due to the “Police and Customs authorities” who block access to it in Britain.

May 24 - Orwell begins writing Inside The Whale.
[incidentally, he wrote this domestic diary page just three days later].

June 13 - Letter from Jack Kahane of Obelisk Press to Orwell (Kahane would die that year, a fact referenced in Inside The Whale).
Aug 12 - Detectives raid Orwell's cottage at Wallington on a tip about "obscene items published by Obelisk" and seize his illegal copy of Tropic Of Cancer.

December - Orwell completes Inside The Whale.

Mar 11 - Inside The Whale is published.

(date?) - Orwell makes a minor reference to Miller in his Benefit Of Clergy essay on Dali: "Dali mentions L’Âge d’Or and adds that its first public showing was broken up by hooligans, but he does not say in detail what it was about. According to Henry Miller’s account of it, it showed among other things some fairly detailed shots of a woman defecating."

Mar 14 - Miller writes to Durrell: “Orwell – Pfui! That man lacks nearly everything, in my opinion. He hasn’t even a good horizontal view.”
May - Orwell sends Miller a complimentary copy of his latest novel, 1984.

Jun-Jul - Lawrence Durrell writes to Orwell.
Orwell biographical material (in timeline form): Remembering George Orwell website. They cite Gillian Fenwick's George Orwell - A Bibliography as their source. I have also culled a few facts from the Orwell biography Orwell: Wintry Conscience Of A Generation (J. Meyers) and Orwell: The Life (D.J. Taylor).
References to letters sent to Orwell, from the official Orwell microfilm collection in the UK [PDF].
Miller's letters to Lawrence Durrell taken from The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80, edited by Ian S MacNiven.
An informative and illustrated guide to the publication of Orwell's major works may be found at the Brown University on-line exhibit.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Inside The Whale

"When I first opened Tropic Of Cancer and saw that it was full of unprintable words, my immediate reaction was a refusal to be impressed. Most people's would be the same, I believe. Nevertheless, after a lapse of time the atmosphere of the book, besides innumerable details, seemed to linger in my memory in a peculair way."
--- George Orwell, Inside The Whale (1940)

On March 11, 1940, George Orwell's Inside The Whale was published in a limited run of 1100 copies; he had begun writing it almost exactly a year before. It contained three essays of his. The title essay, Inside The Whale, analyzed the work of Henry Miller. The blurb of the book jacket describes Miller as a "little known writer." He was indeed pretty obscure at this point, except for those in touch with the literary underground. According to this Brown University exhibit, Orwell probably earned less than ₤30 by the time the book went out of print (within the year; some copies were destroyed by bombing as well).

"[I]t will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses." [Orwell, Inside The Whale, Pt. III]

Orwell and Miller had begun a correspondence when Orwell gave some good press to Tropic Of Cancer in a review he wrote for the New English Weekly (Nov. 14, 1935). The two men met in person about a year later, when Orwell paid Miller a visit in Paris.

In Inside The Whale, Orwell declares Tropic Of Cancer an "important" book (and tells why), but the essay reserves its praise mostly for that one book alone; Black Spring is compared with less than favourable results (although he is impressed by the "opening chapters" of the latter). Orwell fires off so much humbling criticism that you sometimes forget the last complimentary thing he said about Miller.

"[Miller] seems to me essentially a man of one book. Sooner or later I should expect him to descend into unintelligibility, or into charlatanism: there are signs of both in his later work." [Orwell, Inside The Whale, Pt. III]

My purpose here is not to dissect or fully summarize the text of this essay. For that, I draw your attention to Stephen Starck's essay Damning Praise: George Orwell Confronts the Works of Henry Miller, found in the first issue of the Nexus journal. (for a smaller taste, peruse this excerpt from Narrative Detours by Raoul Ibarguen.)

"Orwell has written one of the best essays on Miller, although he takes the sociological approach and tries to place Miller as a Depression writer or something of the sort. What astonished Orwell about Miller wasd the difference between his view and the existential bitterness of a novelist like Celine." (Karl Shapiro, The Greatest Living Author (1960)]

I will, however, offer this summary: Inside The Whale is broken into three parts. (the entire essay may be read on-line at Etext and NetCharles). Orwell uses Miller as a springboard to dicuss politics, the state of literature, Paris, Communism, and a number of other topics. Parts I and III focus on Miller; Part II is a diversion. In Part III, George Orwell talks about his visit to Henry in Paris in 1936; I will cover this subject in my next posting.

Inside The Whale was later published in extended editions with the title Inside The Whale And Other Essays (see some of them at Alibris). I've been unable to find any commentary by Miller on this essay in particular.

"[Precisely] because, in one sense, he is passive to experience, Miller is able to get nearer to the ordinary man than is possible to more purposive writers. For the ordinary man is also passive." [Orwell, Inside The Whale, Pt. I]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Annotated Nexus - Page 19

19.0 Half of this page concerns a Berdayev quote about Dostoyevski and the hope for spiritual transformation of our world. Miller credits Dostoyevski with obliterating this hope, and for appealing to his American side, but not his "Asiatic" one.

19.1 Berdyaev
Miller follows up the previous Berdyaev quote at 18.9 "since it brings us one step closer to Heaven."

19.2 "The Church is not the Kingdom of God....."
This Berdyaev quote was extracted from The Russian Idea (1946), pp. 208-210. (a few more related quotes from this book can be found here; works by and about Berdyaev [seen in banner art, at right] may be found here.)

19.3 eschatological
Related to the religious (esp. Christian) prophecies of the end of the world and re-birth of a new one, or Second Coming. (Merriam-Webster's definition)

19.4 "rendered nugatory"
This is what Miller says Doestoevski did to any hopes ("eschatological or otherwise") he may have had, as well as any Western-influenced "cultural aspirations" he had. Miller actually places these two words in quotations; I can't figure out why.

19.5 This Mongolian side of me
By comparison, Miller notes that his "Asiatic" or "Mongolian side" remains untouched by the negation of 19.4. It was often pointed out that Miller has a slight Asian look to his appearance, especially Mongolian. This description seemed to appeal to Miller's interest in Orientalism and Eastern spirituality. He describes it as an ancestral "root" and "unfathomable reservoir" in which "all the chaotic elements of my own nature and of the American heritage have been swallowed up as the ocean swallows the rivers which empty into it."

19.6 being American-born
Henry Miller, born December 26, 1891, in New York City. Miller's Americanism is credited with sharing affinities with Dostoyevski's "characters and the problems which tormented them." Miller compares "American life" with Mr. D's "everyday Russian life." This comparison continues onto page 20.

<--- Previous pages 17 & 18 Next page 20 --->

The photograph of the Mongolian man was taken by Kim Buckley &amp;amp; Richard Baxter; from their travel blog.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Books Of Friends

Henry Miller entered his 80s in the 1970s, but his mind was still fluid with memories of his childhood. In that time, Miller created a series of chapbooks, which became known as the Book Of Friends trilogy.

BOOK OF FRIENDS - (Book Of Friends, Volume I)

The writing of the series began with the new year in 1973. "I have begun a big book - 'The Book Of Friends,' I am calling it tentatively," wrote Miller to Lawrence Durrell on January 3, 1973. "It's easy going, to my liking. Simple, nostalgic, perhaps even sentimental at times" ... "The past is like an open book -- rather, a cinerama spactacle. Nothing is ever lost, what! Have 30 friends listed. Hope I can finish it befoe I croak."
[The Durrell-Miller Letters 1935-80, ed. Ian MacNiven, p. 461]

Miller's first installment (over 100 pages) took two years to complete. Miller's agent at the time, Jack Ketchum (who's real name is actually Dallas Mayr), made the deal with Capra Press to publish it (from Ketchum interviews: ref 1/ ref 2).

I. Stasiu (Stanley Borowski)
II. Joey And Tony (Imhof, really Insley)
III. Cousin Henry
IV. Jimmy Pasta (Tony Marella)
V. Joe O'Reagan
VI. Max Winthrop
VII. Alec Considine

The book was released in limited and trade editons by Capra Press in 1976, then as a paperback in 1977. [ref. Ashley's variations]. The U.S. cover was adorned with a Miller watercolour he titled "Happy Days."

MY BIKE & OTHER FRIENDS - (Book Of Friends, Volume II)

Miller continued to write through ailing health. In a letter to Durrell from June 16, 1977, he declared that he had completed volume two ["(five Jews, one Gentile and the last chapter -- 'My Best Friend' -- about my racing wheel!)]. [ref. Durrell-Miller, as above; p. 486]

III. Vincent Birge
IV. Emil White
V. Ephraim Doner
VI. Jack Garfein
VIII. My Best Friend (his bike)

Three editions of this volume were published in 1978, totalling just less than 10,000 copies overall [ref. Ashley]. You can find a description of the Joe Gray chapter on the PBA Galleries wesbite [Personal Archive of HM Pt. 2, Item 39]


The final book of friends is partly a profile of Alfred Perles (ak.a "Joey," "Alf," etc). The majority of the book is actually filled out by impressions of 13 women in his life (amusingly, Miller refers to them as the "other women in his life," besides Perles that is). In the preface to this section, Miller states that, at the end of December 1977 (just having turned 86), he became inspired to write about these women at a time when he thought that he would "do very little further writing, if any at all."

Over the next year and a half, Miller wrote this final part of the series. While reviewing the proofs in June 1979, he wrote to Lawrence Durrell: "It's a queer book with ten stories about women-in-my-life tacked on, together with an epilogue about Anais and her unfair treatment of Joey..." [The Durrell-Miller Letters 1935-80, p.505] From what Miller says, I assume that three more profiles were quickly added before it went to press (but the epilogue remained). Joey was published by Capra Press in October 1979.

I. Joey (Part 1)
II. Joey (Part II)
III. Pauline
IV. Miriam Painter
V. Marcella
VI. Camilla
VII. Melpo
VIII. Sevasty
IX. Aunt Anna
X. Florrie Martin
XI. Edna Booth
XII. Louella
XIII. Ruth And The Fur-Lined Coat
XIV. Renate And The Astrologer
XV. Brenda Venus

In the 1980s, all three books of the trilogy were published in a single collection.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Miller Blog Disclaimer

To All Who Read This Blog

This blog is an amateur's personal project--conducted in public--to explore the subject of Henry Miller. This exploration is neither complete nor worthy of your unquestioning trust. As we have all probably learned by now, information should not necessarily be considered valid by virtue of the fact that it is on the internet. I do attempt--to the best of my ability--to post accurate information; but, please note, I have not read everything written by or about Miller, nor have I managed to put the whole complicated mess into irrefutable order. That's what I'm trying to do, piece by piece, with this blog. In fact, that is the point of this blog. As I learn more, I update older entries. This is a work in progress.

This blog is a fan site for Miller. It is a collection of bits of information, a scrapbook, an aggregator, a webzine. For absolute authority, seek out the serious scholars and their works.

It is my responsibilty to make the attempt to portray the life and work of Henry Miller--who was a loved human being with a valued legacy--with as much honesty and accuracy as possible. It is your responsibility to realize that you are reading a personal blog from some anonymous guy on the internet.

Let me define this blog in a different way, to further the point I'm trying to make: instead of thinking about this as being a blog about Henry Miller, consider that it is really a blog about a guy who is the process of researching the life of Henry Miller. You may disagree with this statement, but by understanding this perspective, you are in a more accurate headspace when considering the degree of credibilty with which you should read.

If you feel that I am misrepresenting the memory and legacy of Henry Miller, please let me know.

If I am posting material that you have created and you don't feel that it has been used in the spirit of "fair use," please let me know.

If you disagree with my analysis of anything, please leave a comment and help set the record straight. I am entitled to my opinions and interpretations, but would hate to be dead wrong about an actual fact. This is especially true as I annotate Nexus.

Having said all of this, please know that I am trying to be more diligent with my references, with making my uncertainties more obvious, and just generally working from a position of good will and good intention.

I appreciate everyone who visits and especially those who leave comments. It makes this project more fun and worthwhile to know that other Miller fans are out there.