Thursday, November 20, 2008

Plexus On The Blacklist

In the early 1950s, Henry Miller pondered whether he should self-censor his novel Plexus or face yet another battle with state censorship. As his recent Sexus had proven, it was not just the United States wielding the big black marker—it was England, Japan, and even France.

Miller was feeling the heat of censorship in the 1950s. In the “Preface” to Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch (1957), Miller laments that the majority of his books are still banned in America. “As to how and where to get the banned books, the simplest way would be to make a raid on the customs house of any of our ports of entry.”

Amongst the blacklisted titles in the States were Sexus (1949) and Plexus (1952): parts One and Two of what would become The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy. Sexus in particular created quite a stir. Barely cooled from the printing presses, copies were seized almost immediately upon publication in 1949, even in the (theoretically) more liberal France, where Tropic of Cancer had first been published in 1934. Sexus is at present forbidden to be published—in any language!—in France,” wrote Miller in 1957. [1]

Despite the Sexus controversy in France, Parisian publisher Editions Correa was the first to print Plexus. It came out as a French translation in 1952, in tentative run of 100 copies [2]. In August that year, Miller had no idea if he’d ever see an English edition in France (not to mention the U.S.) [3]. Early the following year, 1953, he received an offer from Maurice Girodias to publish an original English edition of Plexus in France [4]. Released in April 1953 [5], it became the first title under the brand new imprint, Olympia Press [6]; a brave move by Girodias, whose previous publishing house, Obelisk Press, was responsible for releasing Sexus in France, and suffered ruin from the resultant legal troubles. [6]

Plexus was first published in English as a two-volume set, in a batch of 2,000 copies each [5]. The books were not yanked from booksellers’ shelves in France, but were still not legally available in America. A year later, on April 2, 1954, Miller issued a advertising letter to various prospective buyers in the U.S., announcing that there were still “a few hundred copies of the Olympia Press two volume edition of Plexus still available from the publisher in Paris.” Miller had no way to guarantee that the ordered copies would pass through U.S. Customs without being confiscated, so he offered to sell copies on an honour system: if processed through him, he would make sure that a post-paid copy was mailed out to the customer from Paris. If seized, the client would not have to pay for the book he did not receive (otherwise, $10 was expected to me mailed to Henry V Miller, Big Sur, California). The option was available to order directly from the publisher, but, in this case, a pre-payment was required but no refunds offered if the book was collected by Customs. In the letter, Miller also warns readers that (quoting Roger Jackson's summary) “he has reason to believe that it will be [banned in France] in the near future.” [7]

(A copy of this letter is currently in the collection of the Alderman Memorial Library at the University of Virginia, and is listed by Shifreen & Jackson as A89).

It appears that the central problem that the American ‘moral guardians’ had with Plexus related to a particular sexual scene. Miller suggests this in a letter to New Directions publisher James Laughlin on February 8, 1955: “I don’t want to cut words and phrases here and there—just those pages dealing with Ulric and his former schoolteacher—somewhere along the middle of the book” [8]

On page 380 of Plexus, Miller friend Emil Schnellock, under the pseudonym “Ulric,” tells a story about having sex with his former high-school teacher, Miss Barinsfeather, a few years after graduation. Ulric runs through the sexual acts that he and Miss B indulged in, as he attempted to satisfy an unending erection. The sexual references are explicit.

A few days after writing to Laughlin, Miller received a planned visit from Huntington Cairns. Cairns was the U.S. federal censor, but also a literary man who had developed relationships with a few controversial writers, including Henry Miller. “I am going to speak to him about Plexus,” wrote Miller, “whether, if the two or three offending pages were cut, he thinks it might safely be published here.” [8]

Miller did not like the idea of a “castrated” edition of Plexus [9], but, with most of his books unavailable for sale, he welcomed a “good sale” where he could get it. But it was more complicated than just a few pages of sexual bragging from Ulric’s mouth. During his visit with Henry, Cairns made him aware that the Post Office authorities were “very much opposed” to him, as a person, as a concept. They would do everything they could to stop the distribution of his work. Plexus was already on a list of banned books and would combed over, word by word. “I would not only have to delete long passages (several pages), but words and phrases, here and there.” And there was still no guarantee that they would not object to broader content, like his tone or purpose. “I don’t trust them!” [9]

“I grow more and more pessimistic with respect to these books. The climate ere is not improving, that’s a cinch.” [10]

Plexus remained banned in the U.S. until August 10, 1961 [11], after which time it could be legally imported. The first (authorized) American edition was finally published--unexpurgated--by Grove Press in 1965 [12].
[1] Miller, Henry. 1957. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch. "Preface."; [2] Shifreen, Lawrence, and Roger Jackson. 1993. Henry Miller: A Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1: A83a, p. 254; [3] Miller, Henry, and Anais Nin. 1987. A Literate Passion. Letter from Miller, Aug 2, 1952; p. 392; [4] ibid, Feb 10, 1953 - p.393; [5] Shifreen & Jackson, Biblio Vol 1: A83b, A83c; p. 255; [6] Gaétan Brulotte, and John Phillips. 2006. Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature. CRC Press, 2006; p.978; [7] Shifreen & Jackson, Biblio Vol.1: A89, p. 278. With details from the University of Virginia source linked above; [8] Miller, Henry, and James Laughlin. 1996. Henry Miller and James Laughlin: Selected Letters. George Wickes, ed.; Feb 2, 1953 - p.100; [9] ibid, March 15, 1955 - p. 101; [10] ibid, April 6, 1955 - p.104; [11] Hutchison, E.R. 1968. Tropic of Cancer on Trial. Evergreen, 1969; p. 60; [12] Shifreen & Jackson, Biblio Vol.1: A83o - p.263.


Blogger Eric D. Lehman said...

Hey! Just in time for the U.S. banned books week! Even our weak little University library had a whole section of banned books.

No Miller, though. I actually spoke to the manager about that oversight...

10:34 am  
Blogger John said...

gucci outlet
ralph lauren outlet
abercrombie & fitch
north face outlet
louis vuitton handbags
chanel handbags
adidas originals
michael kors
louis vuitton outlet
supra shoes
coach outlet
uggs for men
uggs outlet
mulberry handbags
canada goose outlet
louis vuitton handbags
gucci outlet
michael kors outlet
ray ban outlet
hollister kids
ugg outlet
lebron james shoes
ugg boots
nike huarache
coach outlet store online
ugg boots
polo ralph lauren outlet
uggs boots
oakley sunglasses
michael kors outlet
ugg australia
michael kors outlet
ugg boots

2:41 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

michael kors outlet
canada goose jackets
vans shoes
ugg outlet
air max 90
louis vuitton
coach outlet clearance
michael kors outlet clearance
nike store uk
hermes belt

1:55 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

uggs outlet
canada goose coats
timberland shoes
nike flyknit
celine outlet online
coach outlet store online
coach factory outlet online
true religion jeans outlet
louboutin outlet
discount oakley sunglasseszhi20161222

1:56 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

mcm bags
coach outlet
louis vuitton outlet
moncler paris
ray-ban wayfarer
ray ban pas cher
pandora uk
kate spade
polo ralph lauren
ray ban sunglasses wholesale

10:59 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

lebron shoes
san francisco 49ers jerseys
cincinnati bengals jerseys
lebron james shoes
nike huarache
cheap nike shoes
saints jerseys
ralph lauren outlet online
adidas nmd r1
michael kors outlet

8:53 pm  
Blogger raybanoutlet001 said...

boston celtics jersey
ray ban sunglasses
nike blazer
gucci sito ufficiale
cleveland browns jerseys
nba jerseys
converse shoes
christian louboutin outlet

1:53 am  
Blogger raybanoutlet001 said...

instyler max 2
eagles jerseys
nike tn pas cher
cheap michael kors handbags
ralph lauren outlet online
lebron james shoes
canada goose jackets
louis vuitton sacs
tennessee titans jersey
philadelphia eagles jerseys

9:21 pm  
Blogger caiyan said...

kate spade
tods outlet
abercrombie and fitch
coach factory outlet
toms outlet
pandora outlet
fit flops
ralph lauren outlet
coach outlet store

1:46 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

yeezy boost 350
curry 3
louboutin shoes uk
michael kors outlet store
chrome hearts
adidas superstar shoes
nike air zoom
kyrie shoes

9:52 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

longchamp handbags
ugg boots
ed hardy uk
49ers jersey
nike outlet
ugg outlet
michael kors bags
saics running shoes
yeezy boost 350 white

9:20 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home