Sunday, September 18, 2005

Miller Banned In Norway, 1957

UTUKTIG (Norwegian) = Lewd
On May 10, 1957, Henry Miller's Sexus was confiscated by Norwegian authorities as being lewd and obscene. It was the first time in 70 years that a ban of this kind has been enforced in Norway. A Danish edition of Sexus had been published in the Autumn on 1956, without incident, but in May 1957, two Norwegian booksellers were charged with its distribution under these resurrected obscenity laws.
Sexus was published in Denmark in 1956 by Hans Reitzel (not to be confused with Henry's artist friend, Hans Reichel). Reitzel had opened his publishing house, Hans Reitzels Forlag, in 1949. In 1955, he began to publish Miller's works in Denmark, including the two Tropics (according to this list). Sexus was translated to Danish by Joergen Rothenborg and released as two parts.
(Miller maintained a relationship with Reitzel; he visited and stayed with him in Denmark in 1959 and 1961. Reitzel continued to publish Miller's work at least until 1964.)
The Danish Sexus was imported into Norway by nine booksellers. On May 10, 1957, all copies of the book were confiscated in Norway and two booksellers singled out for legal action. The courts ruled against both booksellers for having "offered for sale, exhibited, or in other ways endeavored to disseminate obscene writing." The case moved on the the Supreme Court.
Hans Reitzel Forlag issued a defense of Miller that summer, in the form of an 8-page booklet called Henry Miller: Pornograf eller Profet?, written by Peter Rhode. A translation of the document was mailed to Miller, along with a letter by Danish defence lawyer, Trygve Hirsch.
The two booksellers were represented by Trygve Hirsch (from what I can make from the Norwegian biographies on the web, he once wrote novels under the pseudonym Stein Ståle during the 1940's. But what do I know about Danish: maybe this is someone else). In 1957, Hirsch wrote a letter to Henry, asking him to provide his "point of view" as author of Sexus, which Hirsch planned to read in court.
This letter was written on September 14, 1957. Miller's first reponse to Hirsch (replied to immediately) is re-printed in Henry Miller: Between Heaven And Hell (1961 - essays on Miller and censorhip). I can't be certain whether this letter was read in court or not. In February 1959, Miller wrote a second letter, in which he refers to the first ruling:
"I am reminded of certain passages in the Court's decision which reflect on my sincerity as well as on my ability to think straight. These passages contain the implication that I am often deliberately obscure as well as pretentious in my "metaphysical and surrealistic" flights. I am only too well aware of the diversity of opinion which these 'excursi' elicit in the minds of my readers. But how am I to answer such accusations, touching as they do the very marrow of my literary being?"
This second letter, in which Miller pleads the case for honest freedom of speech, would later be widely printed as Defence of the Freedom to Read (first as a pamphlet in Oslo, then in a 1959 copy of the Evergreen Review, and then in The Henry Miller Reader [1959]). This essay was later adopted by Grove Publishing when Miller later took heat for Tropic Of Cancer in the U.S.
The two booksellers were cleared of all charges, yet the copies of Sexus remained confiscated.
Sexus was finally published in Norway in 1995, by Den norske Bokklubben.
This entry was inspired by an article on the Italian website Edizioni di Passione. A copy of Hirsch's letter can be found there as well. If you're like me and can't read Italian, try stumbling your way through this awkward Google English translation of the same page.
A history of censorship in Norway can be found at Take a look at the history of Miller works banned across the globe by searching Henry's name on this site.


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