Sunday, December 09, 2007

Preface to 'My Friend, Henry Miller'

Miller scattered biographical details of his life throughout nearly everything he wrote. This includes prologues to books he did not write himself. When his great friend, Alfred Perles, published a hardcover Miller biography/memoir in 1955 called My Friend, Henry Miller, Miller provided the preface. After all, Perles wrote the book "virtually under my nose at Big Sur," as Miller states. In 1962, a paperback edition of the book was released on Belmont. The original preface was kept, but re-named "Prologue," and a new "Preface to the Belmon Edition" was added. The latter was written by Miller in Berlin on May 18, 1962. The paperback went on sale in September of that year.

Below are a handful of annotated biographical details found within the preface and prologue.

from the Prologue
* If we meet again, as we probably will [...] if it is not in the rue Delambre that we bump into one another, it will be the same street under a different name ...
Miller confirms for us that he had first met Perles on rue Delambre. This meeting took place in May 1928, during Miller's first visit to Paris, with his wife June. Perles makes reference to this meeting on page 13 of his book: "When I first met Henry with Mona [June], in 1928, shortly before the Wall Street crash [...] I bumped into them in the rue Delambre--they were staying at the Hotel des Ecoles."

* In 1928 I had never even heard of Big Sur. It was about 1930 or 1931 that I saw for the first time the name Point Sur. I was then reading The Women at Point Sur by Robinson Jeffers, at the Cafe Rotonde, a rather strange place for such a pursuit.
The narrative poem The Women at Point Sur was published in 1927. In August that year, Time Magazine profiled Jeffers and "Point Sur." Time even put him on the cover in 1932, a few months after Miller wrote about one of its characters to Anais Nin: "And I don't mind at all saturating my work with it--sex I mean--because I'm not afraid of it and I almost want to stand up and preach about it, like that nut in The Women of Point Sur. He was cracked and people forgive that, but I am quite sane, too sane almost, madly sane." (February 13, 1932; from A Literate Passion, p.8). Miller would eventually meet Jeffers in 1954: "Met Jeffers the other day. He's OK. In fact, he's fine--like a good hound. A trembling rock." (March 5, 1944; HM and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, p. 42).

* Point Sur [...] "looks a little like Bingen on the Rhine," I remarked.
Miller makes this comparison to Alf (one which Perles disagrees with). Miller had obviously visited Bingen at some point during one of his several tours of Europe.

* I remember the day when he [Perles] received that wonderful, appreciative, encouraging letter addressed to him by Roger Martin du Gard, now a celebrated figure in French literary annals.
Miller talks about a fan letter sent after the release of Perles' Sentiments Limitrophes (1936). Roger Martin du Gard (1881 - 1958) was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1937 for his cycles of novels called Les Thibault. Miller states that the two of them "wept a little then burst out laughing" when Perles read the flattering letter aloud.

from the Preface to the Belmont Edition

* Until he [Perles] left for England, sometime in '37 or '38, there was hardly a day when we did not meet, eat together, and above all, laugh together.
My impression had been that Perles left Paris in 1939, when everyone else cleared out. Miller's assertion here suggests otherwise.

* This paperback edition arrives at a timely moment. At the time the book was written neither of us dreamed that the Tropic of Cancer, or any of the other books published in Paris, would be openly distributed in America.
The U.S. release of Cancer (1961) was still fresh in Miller's mind when he wrote his preface in May 1962. For this reason, much of the brief preface dwells on his opinion about the freeodm to read ("the censorship of books, films, plays serves no purpose"). He also writes about the value of paperbacks.

* Only recently, in a small California town, I came upon the scarcely known book which Perles had so often talked to me about in Paris--Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parsifal.
This Mediaeval German poem from the 13th century--about a quest for the Holy Grail--was the basis of a Wagner opera of the same name. Although Miller implies that he'd only heard Perles talk about this book before 1962, he still made reference to Parsifal in Tropic Of Cancer in the 1930s: "On the merry-go-round, one doesn't get anywhere, whereas with the Germans one can go from Vega to Lope de Vega, all in one night, and come away as foolish as Parsifal." (p. 26).

____________


"[Due to the proliferation of translations in paperback] We are at last beginning to have a worldwide view, instead of an insular one we so long nourished. We are no longer exploring outer space alone but that inner space in which man has his being and through which he will attain in the not too distant future to new levels of consciousness." -- Henry Miller, "Preface"

4 Comments:

Blogger Craig Photography said...

Great Blog, I have just re-discovered a passion for re-reading Miller...

10:52 am  
Blogger RC said...

Hey Craig, thanks for the comment.

9:46 pm  
Blogger john jones said...

Would be grateful if anyone can help me resolve a query. It's nothing of any earth-shattering import, only a minor bit of fluff, which has me mildly intrigued!

A couple of pages into chapter two of SEXUS, HM recounts visiting "Ulric's" studio while a group of Ulric's friends from Virginia and North Carolina are present.

During his visit, HM talks of getting a little drunk and has an argument with one of the fellows, and he relates how a "tall, lanky chap, who later became a famous movie star, rose to his feet and threatened to knock [him] down."

When I first read this passage years ago, I inevitably got to toying with the idea of who it could possibly be, and more or less decided it was very likely James Stewart, who, physically anyway, fits the description.

Now, having just made a return to reading the Miller oeuvre, and with the Internet now available to supply me with information (there having been no Internet back in the early Seventies when my Millermania was at its height!), I thought maybe now's the time to reconsider the issue.

Well, anyway, wherever it was I read it just recently - on the Internet or in a biography of Miller - I saw a mention of the name Randolph Scott (a name well associated with Hollywood, of course) in connection with Emil Schnellock (Ulric); and which, of course, could have well have been the tall, lanky chap from Ulric's studio. Much more likely so as the actor Randolph Scott does apparently hail from North Carolina, whereas James Stewart is from Pennsylvania, which is east of New York.

As I say, I'd be grateful if anybody can shed a little light on the query, and by doing so, help sate my curiosity!

Thanks!

10:11 am  
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