The Annotated Nexus - Pages 61, 62
61.1 the paintings
On page 55, Henry talks about a portrait Stasia makes of him. On page 60 [see 60.10], he talks about borrowing her paint and brushes. On page 61, we see further evidence that Stasia [Jean Kronski] was a visual artist, whose works were displayed inside the apartment. The moment the light in the basement apartment is switched on, Curley and friend jump at the sight: “[Curley’s] friend pretended to be frightened by the paintings. He couldn’t take his eyes off them.”
61.2 booby hatch
Curley’s friend claims to recognize the type of art—he’s seen the likes of them before “in the booby hatch.” A booby hatch has come to mean a mental hospital. A full etymological history is provided on the website Grammarphobia, which explains that a “booby” originally meant a fool or dunce. Interestingly, in explaining when the word “booby” came to be slang for a woman’s breast, the article refers to the Oxford English Dictionary as it cites Miller’s Tropic Of Cancer with the earliest reference ("boobies," p.111). However, the Online Etymological Dictionary states that “boobs” came into the language in 1929, and was likely derived from late 17th century references to boobies.
But breasts are not relevant in this case. The connection being made to Stasia and mental hospitals on page 61 has been established several times already in Nexus, starting at 8.26, 10.1 and elsewhere.
I think most people recognize this word as meaning an object that is used to pry open, or used to manipulate a lock so that it opens without a proper key (see etymonline). This is what Curley’s friend uses on a big trunk of Stasia’s found under her toilet box, and again on a little iron casket found inside. On page 62, Curley will refer to his friend as a “thief,” which explains how he happens to have a jimmy with him.
Once the small iron casket is removed from Stasia’s trunk and opened, the three men are confronted with a “heap of billets-doux—from friends unknown.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary translates this from French as “sweet letters” (or love letters), a term dating from 1673. Henry recognizes the handwriting of one of these letters as belonging to Mona. The letter opens, “Desperate, my lover…”
61.5 supposedly been flushed down the toilet
It’s curious that Miller comments that this letter from Mona had “supposedly been flushed down the toilet.” It would be easy to recognize paper that had been wet, but how could he know it had been in a toilet? A few days earlier, Miller had discovered bits of a torn envelope in the toilet [p.52], so perhaps he’s making his conclusion based on that. Curley tells Henry to hold onto the letter, because he “may need it later on.”