Monday, April 10, 2006

Seinfeld And The Overdue 'Tropic Of Cancer'

On October 16, 1991, an episode of Seinfeld aired that helped refresh the name 'Henry Miller' in the pop culture lexicon. That episode was called "The Library" and involved a long overdue copy of Miller's Tropic Of Cancer.

In this episode, the 42nd Street Branch Library charges Jerry with signing out Tropic Of Cancer in 1971 but never returning it.

JERRY: Yes I called before. I got this notice in the mail.

LIBRARIAN: Oh, Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller, Uh, this case has been turned over to our library investigation officer Mr. Bookman.

Intimidated by the overzealous Mr. Bookman [left], Jerry attempts to track down the book, starting with a reunion with Sherry, a girl he'd been seeing in high school.

JERRY: So Sherry, what do you remember about that day at the library?

SHERRY: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Friday afternoon. I wore a purple dress.

Purple? Ya' sure it wasn't orange?

SHERRY: Positive. And I was chewin' Dentyne. I always chewed dentyne. Remember Jerry? Dentyne?

JERRY: No Black Jack?

Licorice gum? Never! We were reading pasages to each other from that Henry Miller book.

Tropic of Cancer.

SHERRY: No, Tropic of Capricorn.

JERRY: Tropic of Capricorn?

Rememba? What holds the world togetha' ... "As I have learned from bitter experience
is sexual intercourse ."

JERRY: Wait a second. Wait a second. You're right. I had both of them. We read from Tropic Of Capricorn. I was all set to return Tropic Of Cancer. And then ...

The scene then flashes back to Jerry and George in high school [left]. Jerry entrusts the book to George.

JERRY: Here's the book. Don't let anybody see it. Don't let anything happen to it.

GEORGE: Jerry, it's me, George, don't worry, I'll return it.

Snapping out of the flashback, Jerry realizes that George is to blame.

JERRY: So Georgie Boy, guess what happened to Tropic Of Cancer.

GEORGE: How should I know?

JERRY: Because I gave it to you.


JERRY: Yeah, think. Don't you remember you kept begging me to see it then finally I agreed. You were supposed to return it. I met you in the gym locker room.

GEORGE: The locker room!

Turns out that George had been violated with a wedgie by the gym teacher, at which point he dropped the book and forgot about it. Left holding the bag, Jerry returns to the library and writes out a cheque for his 20-year overdue fine.

At the very end of the episode, we see the gym teacher--who had been fired over the incident--lying outdoors, a homeless man, with the copy of Tropic Of Cancer by his side.

Read the full script (by Larry Charles) at or

Incidentally, the line from Capricorn that is referenced in the script is bookended by two very non-Prime Time TV sentences (from p. 192):

"... What is unmentionable is pure fuck and pure cunt: it must be mentioned only in de luxe editions, otherwise the world will fall apart. What holds the world together, as I have learned from bitter experience, is sexual intercourse. But fuck, the real thing, cunt, the real thing, seems to contain some unidentified element which is far more dangerous than nitroglycerin..."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ignoring the risk that I may start a trend here of listing everything that remotely mentions Henry Miller, I feel quite tempted to write that I remember that there is also a mention of Henry Miller in TV-series The Thorn Birds (I happened to watch the whole series on DVD - 5 hours?- with some friends last xmas and, btw, it was absolutely horrible...). It is sort of in the beginning, perhaps episode 2 or 3 I should think, when the woman has just got married to a sessional farmhand. The newly weds have to move around a lot due to the husbands irregular work. The woman ends up living and working as a servant in some house somewhere isolated from the world in the Australian outback. The woman whos house it is is disabled and can't move around much or work and therefore spends all her time reading a mixture of what seems to be both pulp novels and high brow literature. At first there's some antagonism between the two females. Later on, the servant-woman realises that her 'new' husband isn't the dream prince that she thought he was and finally breaksdown. The disabled bookish woman helps her fight the depression by some unexpected feminist help towards self-liberation etc. This help, includes reading of course and the disable recommends Henry Miller. I think there's this scene where she says: "Oh dear you must read more. You must expand you mind. Learn to look out for your self. Here is some of my books that you must read." [not exact quote of course] Then she hands her lots of classic modern 20th C stuff and finally she says, to the effect of: "And you absolutly MUST read Henry Miller...he is very very ADVENTUROUS!!". Later on in the storyline, the servant-woman is dutily sitting outdoors by a table sipping (I guess) ice-tea and reading Tropic of Cancer (I think)...the implication is clearly that Henry Miller is "far out" "very dirty" etc., and I remember my girlfriend looking at me (as we watched the DVD) with a strange look and saying "But that's the same books that you are read all the time! I didn't know you were reading SUCH books!!!!"

8:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Northern Exposure, Cybill, and Saturday Night Live all mentioned Miller, the latter involving a predatory "Scout Master" who planned to read some HM to the boys. I also remember a Second City performance in which a skit unfolds wherein a Visibily Christian couple gives the gift of a Bible to their hosts, who promptly say, "We'll put it on the shelf right next to Tropic of Cancer." Another: in the 2nd Cape Fear, Robert De Niro uses Sexus to lure Juliette Lewis. Another: The Camper Van Beethoven spin-off, The Monks of Doom labelled one album The Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company, and Jewel mentions Miller and Nin in her "Morning Song."

See, RC and Tony, you've opened Pandora's Box! Let's keep it going!

1:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot Scorsese's After Hours, in which Rosanna Arquette reads Tropic of Cancer and Paul Hackett quotes the opening lines from memory. That's the scene that first turned me on to Miller.

1:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi James!
It’s the other way around actually : Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is reading « Tropic of Cancer » when he spots Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) and it’s Marcy who starts to quote Miller. Interestingly, there is a June (Verna Bloom) in the film. I wonder if the script-writer (Joseph Minion) did that on purpose?
I’m having a wonderful time reading your « Nexus Vol.3 »!
Pierre from Montreal

12:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for correcting my failing memory, Pierre!

8:36 am  
Blogger RC said...

Thanks to all of you for your ideas. Obvisouly, as you see by my next posting, it inspired my to compile your suggestions. Keep them coming, whenever they occur to you.

12:14 pm  
Blogger RC said...

By the way, Tony, I've been in the same situation, with a girlfriend unfamiliar with Miller suddenly getting whiff of his notoriety and wondering how exactly this applies to me. Always a challenge to have someone see beyond the four-letter words to appreciate the larger value of his work.

12:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rc, that is quite right. Me and my girlfriend was on a flight once and I was reading Crazy Cock and obviously I had to explain the title (me; "well, it's about this guy in New York in the 1920s/30s, his wife has an affair with another the man is quite jealous and, ultimately, he is the crazy cook..." her; "so basically you're reading a erotic lesbian love story?" me: "errr, not really...")...

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Blogger Angel charls said...

George had been violated by the gym teacher with a wedgie, at which time he dropped the book and forgot about it. Jerry comes to the library with the bag and writes a cheque for his 20-year late fine.
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