Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Henry And June Get Hitched

"'You remember that day we got married…in Hoboken? You remember that filthy ceremony? I’ve never forgotten it.'” –-- Henry Miller to June in Plexus, p. 38.

Henry Miller’s divorce from his first wife, Beatrice Wickens, was finalized on March 29, 1924. He was now free to marry June Mansfield, which he did just two months later, on June 1, 1924. The wedding was devastatingly unromantic, leaving the newlyweds with a deep feeling of disappointment.

“With the death of her father Mona [June] became more and more obsessed with the idea of getting married,” writes Miller in Sexus, [p.434] before going on to tell the story of their wedding day [452+]. Miller had kept disappointing June with his subdued enthusiasm for getting hitched (yet again), but her threats to leave finally convinced him it was something he had to commit to. “'I found the woman I need, and I’m going to keep her.'” [1-414].

It was decided to get married in Hoboken, New Jersey, instead of locally in Manhattan or Brooklyn. “Perhaps to conceal the fact that I had been married before, perhaps we were a bit ahead of the legal schedule.” [1-452]. In Mary Dearborn’s Happiest Man Alive, she suggests that June had been lying to Henry, claiming to be underage; in New Jersey, it would have been easier to claim she was 21, since it was less likely that a New York record would be available to prove she wasn’t [p.87] (although she actually was...got it?). Even late in life, June misleadingly told interviewer Kenneth Dick that she was only 17 in 1923, [Colossus Of One, p. 165] when in fact she was 20, making her 21 in 1924.

Henry and June were living with Emil Conason and his wife Celia (Cele, or Ceil), who had agreed to act as their witnesses. When Henry and June stepped onto the Hudson Tubes on their way to Jersey, the mood was already turning dark. June kept reading into Henry’s words and actions, insisting that he didn’t really want to marry her. One stop before Hoboken, June stepped off the train, prompting Henry to follow her: “‘What’s the matter with you—are you mad?’” [1-452]. On the platform, Henry kissed and embraced her, giving her reassurance that he wanted to marry her.

Henry describes Hoboken as “a sad, dreary place. A city more foreign to me than Peking or Lhasa” [1-452]. Once they find City Hall for their civic ceremony, they go into a panic: the office was going to close at noon (it was a Sunday), and the Conasons hadn’t shown up [2-87; 3-167]. June convinced Henry to find a couple of people on the streets to act as replacement witnesses. Henry paid off two men--later described by both June [3-167] and Henry [1-452] as “bums”—to swear to the magistrate that they’d known the couple for a significant period of time. The civic official presiding over the marriage was A.C. Carsten (a former Police Recorder [ref.]). He was not very convinced about the credibility of the witnesses (“Where did you pick him up—in the garbage can?” [1-453]), but still proceeded with the formalities in a very dry, automatic, even contemptuous manner, as the noon closing time was less than 30 minutes away. “That ceremony let me down,” wrote Miller in Sexus. “I could have murdered that guy.” [454]. The marriage certificate was paid for with money the broke couple had borrowed. [1-452] The lack of finances also meant there were no rings to be exchanged [4-96].

The City Hall at Hoboken, circa 1913 (source)

Henry and June Miller felt horrible on the ride back to New York. Hand in hand with June, Henry spoke of humiliation and regret (over the way the marriage took place). June was resigned, on the verge of tears. They then met up with Ned Schnellock (brother of Emil) and his girlfriend Marcelle. During a few drinks with them, June let out her stress with a fit of unending laughter that Ned called "hysterical" [1-457]. Later in the evening, the group moved on to celebreate their new marriage by watching the dancers at the Houston Street Burlesque.

When he and Ned had a moment alone, Henry responded to his friend’s challenge that the marriage was “a little impetuous” : “You think it’s a mistake, eh? Let me tell you this…I never did a better thing in my life. I love her. I love her enough to do anything she asks of me. If she asked me to cut your throat…if I thought that would make her happy…I’d do it.” [1-457]

That’s one romantic bastard.



[1] Miller, Henry. Sexus. [2] Dearborn, Mary. Henry Miller: Happiest Man Alive. [3] Dick, Kenneth. Henry Miller: Colossus Of One. [4] Ferguson, Robert. Henry Miller: A Life.


Anonymous Eric L said...

I think more work needs to be done exploring this 'romantic' side of HM. Perhaps he did not break completely from the romanticism of the 19th century the way he broke so clearly with the 'modernists' and 'art as puzzle' writers of the early 20th.

Or maybe he was just in love.

10:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear …..
While searching on the internet for info about the Dutch ‘modernist’ architect Jan Gerko Wiebenga, I landed on your Henry Miller blog. I should like to quote from it (or rather from Miller’s book.) You may wonder why. Wiebenga (of Brooklyn) married in New Jersey on 2 May 1925 Johanna C.A. van Loon (of Hoboken) ‘volgens de Ordonnantiën Gods en de wetten van de Staat New Jersey’, witnessed by Helen Schiever, Ethel Rubin, A.C. Carsten, Recorder Hoboken N.Y.. The document of the marriage was copied on 16 September 1925 in the City Hall of The Hague NL. (nr. 290). It is as reading Sexus, is it not?
jan molema

prof dr ir ing J. Molema
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