Sunday, December 07, 2008

Dragging His Heart To 181 Devoe Street

Henry Miller was raised in the 14th Ward of Brooklyn (Williamburg), but his feet often took him over to adjacent 17th Ward of Greenpoint, at Brooklyn’s northern tip. The exact destination was usually the same: 181 Devoe Street, between Humboldt and Graham. This was the parental home of his first love, Cora Seward. Cora left a deep mark on Miller, appearing throughout his lifetime of writings as either Cora Seward or 'Una Gifford.' This intense but unrequited love for Cora will be explored in a post of its own, some day. For now, suffice it to say that she was his teenage infatuation; Henry took frequent melancholic pilgrimages to her home at 181 Devoe, around 1907-1911.

Google map of 181 Devoe St.

Henry met Cora at his Eastern District high school in 1907, when he was 15. “[W]ith the advent of Cora Seward, it was impossible for me to look at another girl,” wrote Miller in his first Book of Friends [p.62]. “But whenever she gazed at him,” describes biographer Jay Martin, “with disconcerting shyness he was absolutely tongue-tied.” [1] He would sometimes see her at a party, and trembled, even stumbled, whenever he was lucky enough to snag a dance with her. [2;4]

Cora lived in Greenpoint, “a neighborhood which was not far removed from our neighbourhood but which was different, more glamorous, more mysterious.” [3] Unable to properly express himself to Cora, Henry settled for being in her presence vicariously, by walking the Greenpoint streets that were familiar to her. “It was the same walk night after night—a long, long walk to Cora’s house on Devoe Street and then home. I never stopped to ring the door bell and have a chat with her. I was content to merely walk slowly past her home in the hope of seeing her shadow in the parlor window. I never did, not once in the three or four years during which I performed this crazy ritual.” [4] It took almost an hour to walk from Decatur Street to 181 Devoe. [5] “He prefers to take a long walk so that at the end of an hour he may find himself, as though by accident, directly beneath her window. He fears to linger there more than a minute lest the door open suddenly and one of her family, perhaps a younger sister, espy him and make fun of him.” [6] Often, on his way back home, he “would yell her name aloud, imploringly, as if to beg her to grant me the favor of an audience from on high.” [2]

Over a decade later, in his first semi-autobiographical novel (Moloch), Henry would write that he could not think of Greenpoint without “a vicious tug at his heart. Maujer, Conselyea, Humboldt Streets; the streets that Cora had once trod. These streets, forlorn now, were consecrated to HER. If the truth were known, he had even kissed the flagging of these very streets. Late at night, of course, and in a moment of terrible anguish.” [6] (incidentally, Henry writes about a majestic impression that Humboldt Street--which intersects with Devoe--had made on him as a child, in Tropic of Capricorn, pp.152-154).

At the end of high school, Henry had a group of friends who dubbed themselves the Xerxes Society—most of them lived in Greenpoint. In Moloch, Miller writes of friends getting him drunk in order to serenade Cora Seward outside her home (in the book, he uses the name “Cora” but says she lives on nearby Maujer Street). “In front of her home they stop, drag Moloch [Miller] into the middle of the street, and perform a mystic ceremony. Their shouting and laughter is enough to wake the dead. But no one appears at the window. Not a shade is drawn” [Moloch, p.69]. Henry then approaches the stoop to make a “mad, fantastic” speech---“Everything that he has kept locked in his breast pours forth” [p.70]. The speech is met with applause from his friends, but there’s not a peep from Cora.

Henry’s infatuation eventually disgusted his friends [7], who one by one disappeared from his life. Without Cora or friends, Henry re-directed his energies into bicycling. He would ride anywhere and everywhere—except for Greenpoint [7].

Henry’s final visit to Cora at 181 Devoe Street came around 1913, when he was 21. It was only the second or third time he’d ever rung her doorbell, but he wanted to say goodbye before he took off for the West, possibly forever. “Instead of inviting me in, she stepped outdoors and escorted me to the gate which opened up onto the sidewalk, and there we stood for perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes exchanging pointless remarks” [2]. He told her all about The West, but bit his tongue from saying he might send for her one day. With regretful lack of courage, Henry politely shook her hand instead of hugging her and giving her a final passionate kiss. He walked away, never once turning his head, imaging hopefully that she was “standing at the gate, following me with her eyes … wait[ing] until I had rounded the corner before rushing to her room, flinging herself on the bed, and sobbing fit to break her heart” [2].

The following year, Cora Seward was married to a scientist.


This NexTag real estate listing seems to suggest that 181 Devoe Street still exists (and is valued at around $725,000). Using the amazing Google Street View feature, I am able to virtually stroll down these same streets that young Henry once did--right past 181 Devoe and back again. This Google Street feature only gives an approximate address, so # 181 can't be identified this way. However, in Book Of Friends v.I (1976), there is a photograph of 181 Devoe, under which Henry has captioned "where my first love lived" [p.49]. The image matches up to the frame grab I've provided above. 181 Devoe should be the taller white building with the beig stoop (next to the shorter building). Below is a frame-grab of the building and the stoop on which Henry drunkenly declared his love for Cora Seward. Confirmation of this is welcome from any Brooklynites out there.

If you've got a lot of time to kill and want to use the powers of the internet to get into the head of tragically love-lorn Henry Miller at age 18, use the Google Street View feature (linked above) to virtually wander the streets of Devoe, Humboldt, Conselyea, etc while listening online to this: "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland"(this version appropriately recorded in 1910), a song that Henry would play on the piano while thinking of Cora (ref. Book Of Friends I, p.100).

"Dreaming of yoooou, That's all I dooooo..." That boy had it bad. Seriously.


[1] Martin, Jay. Always Merry And Bright: The Life of Henry Miller; p.24; [2] Miller, Henry. Stand Still Like The Hummingbird, p. 47-49; [3] Miller, Henry, Tropic Of Capricorn, p. 153; [4] Miller, Henry. Book Of Friends (v.I), p.96; [5] Miller, Henry. My Life & Times (hardcover), p.185; [6] Miller, Henry. Moloch, or This Gentile World, p. 68; [7] Miller, Henry. Book of Friends (v.II): My Bike & Other Friends, p.105-107.


Blogger Eric D. Lehman said...

Great post.

Love that google street view!

6:07 pm  
Blogger Eugene Schmidt said...

I grew up in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint section of Brooklyn in the 1960s.
I was born on Maujer Street (mentioned in Capricorn and Nexus), betweeen Humbolt and Graham, which put me parallel with Cora Seward on DeVoe Street, though of course I didn't know it at the time, and in any event she was long gone.
I attented Henry Miller;s alma mater, Eastern District High School, albeit 50 or 60 years later.
No wonder that when, as a teenager, I discovered Miller, I felt such a closeness and kinship with the man.
And yes, when my own young heart was broken, I dragged myself up adn down past the house at 181 DeVoe Street.
Incidentally, we always considered DeVoe Street a part of Williamsburg rather than Greenpoint, the border line having always been a matter of dispute among locals.
Now, so many years later, I see that I still true to the Miller spirit, wasting company time surfing for my favorite writers on the internet.
Thanks for a great site!

2:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superb post! What a beautiful touch with that song at the end. It really recreates the atmosphere of those days.
Anyone who ever felt this way will recognize himself in Miller.

4:36 am  
Blogger RC said...

Thanks everyone, and thanks Eugene, for sharing your personal recollection of those streets.

11:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm dumbfounded. 181 Devoe St. was my grandmothr's house. I lived there when I was an infant and then spent untold hours there every week. And of course the whole family was there for Sunday dinner. My fondist childhood memories revolve around 181 D. I'm sending this to all my cousins.

3:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a P.S. to my previous comment. I will confirm that the photo you show is indeed 181 Devoe Street. As I mentioned I spent a great deal of time there until my grandmother sold the house in the early '50s. In addition I passed by there a few years ago and took a photo from across the send to the cousins. Yours is much better. Thank you.

5:10 pm  
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 Minko Chen said...

tiffany jewellery
ralph lauren uk
replica watches
true religion uk outlet
air max 2014
christian louboutin,louboutin,louboutin outlet,louboutin outlet italia,scarpe louboutin
tiffany and co
pandora outlet
designer handbags,handbags outlet,cheap handbags,purses and handbags,wholesale handbags,designer bags,bags outlet,handbags wholesale,cheap purses,discount handbags,handbags sale,wholesale purses,handbags and purses,designer purses
cheap uggs
louis vuitton bags
hermes outlet store
cleveland cavaliers
true religion outlet
longchamp handbags outlet
louis vuitton outlet store
abercrombie and fitch
mizuno running shoes
cheap jordans

9:36 pm  
Blogger Gege Dai said...

new york jets jersey
ysl outlet online
jordan 11
valentino shoes
san francisco 49ers jerseys
nike free running
giuseppe zanotti shoes
valentino outlet
abercrombie outlet
buffalo bills jersey
air max 90
minnesota vikings jerseys
washington redskins jerseys
chicago blackhawks jerseys
cleveland cavaliers jersey
air jordan 11
mizuno running shoes
carolina panthers jersey
dallas cowboys jerseys
browns jerseys
eagles jerseys
jordan 4
seattle seahawks jersey
nike trainers uk
chicago blackhawks
lions jerseys
green bay packers jerseys
san diego chargers jerseys
pittsburgh steelers jersey
miami heat jersey
ed hardy tshirts
denver broncos jerseys
green bay packers jersey
cleveland browns jerseys
jordan 13

5:39 am  
Blogger Gege Dai said...

redskins jerseys
nike free run
baltimore ravens jersey
nike outlet
seattle seahawks jersey
air max 2014
nike foamposite
golden state warriors jersey
raiders jerseys
mizuno shoes
chicago blackhawks jerseys
philadelphia eagles jerseys
cincinnati bengals jersey
cleveland browns jerseys
denver broncos jerseys
seattle seahawks jerseys
chicago bears jerseys
boston celtics jersey
celine outlet online
los angeles lakers
tods shoes
air max uk
cincinnati bengals jerseys
lions jerseys
kansas city chiefs jersey
tommy hilfiger uk
detroit lions jerseys
minnesota vikings jersey
miami heat jerseys
san diego chargers jerseys

11:48 pm  
Blogger Gege Dai said...

canada goose outlet
michael kors outlet clearance
coach outlet
prada outlet
nike huarache
yeezy boost 350
canada goose jackets
oakley sunglasses
louis vuitton
ugg boots

1:53 am  
Blogger dada24 Xu said...

pandora jewelry outlet
nike air huarache
moncler uk
moncler outlet online
cheap nfl jerseys
vans outlet
kd shoes
discount oakley sunglasses
birkenstock outlet
louis vuitton outlet online

2:05 am  
Blogger dong dong23 said...

ralph lauren uk
mont blanc pens
ray ban wayfarer
michael kors outlet
ugg boots
michael kors outlet
jordan outlet
rolex watches
louis vuitton belt
michael kors canada

10:58 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

nike huarache
michael kors outlet
lions jerseys
longchamp le pliage
michael kors handbags
cheap nike shoes sale
golden state warriors jerseys
reebok shoes

8:52 pm  
Blogger LCc 03 said...

yeezy boost 350
michael kors outlet
yeezy boost 350 v2
adidas superstar shoes
longchamp bags
michael kors uk
nike zoom running shoe
ferragamo belt
longchamp bags
kobe 11

11:49 pm  
Blogger happy 123 said...

led shoes
tory burch shoes
fitflops clearance
lacoste online shop
led shoes for kids
hogan outlet
yeezy boost 350
harden shoes
adidas online shop
pandora charms

1:01 am  
Blogger happy 123 said...

michael kors outlet
authentic jordans
nike roshe uk
nike air huarache
adidas tubular
kyrie 3
tory burch shoes
michael kors outlet store
kobe 9

9:36 pm  
Blogger jeje said...

nike trainers sale
ed hardy
cheap ray ban sunglasses
nike air huarache
true religion jeans
cheap snapbacks
coach factory outlet
buffalo bills jerseys

9:35 pm  
Blogger Yaro Gabriel said...


jeep shoes
michael kors outlet
basketball jerseys
ferragamo outlet
mac makeup
uggs outlet
canada goose outlet
karen millen dresses
kate spade outlet
true religion jeans

10:02 pm  
Blogger SSSSSS said...

jordan 12
ray ban sunglasses
michael kors
hermes belts
michael kors outlet store
nike lebron 11
adidas yeezy
basketball shoes

3:42 am  
Blogger jeje said...

ugg boots uk
jordan shoes
off white clothing
snapbacks wholesale
nike presto femme
chrome hearts
ray ban sunglasses
oakley sunglasses wholesale
ugg boots clearance
maillot football pas cher

9:15 pm  
Blogger Stjsrty Xtjsrty said...

pandora outlet
golden goose
christian louboutin shoes
michael kors handbags
louboutin shoes
ugg boots
off white jordan 1
canada goose uk
superdry clothing
ray ban eyeglasses

3:54 am  
Blogger Yaro Gabriel said...


coach outlet online
gentle monster sunglasses
ferragamo outlet
stussy clothing
canada goose jackets
coach outlet store online
oakley sunglasses
stuart weitzman shoes
canada goose outlet
true religion outlet

4:02 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home