Saturday, September 30, 2006

Big Sur: The Way It Was

Henry Miller arrived at Big Sur, California, in 1944. Thanks to Earthflix, you can now watch the documentary Big Sur: The Way It Was on-line (provided you have Quicktime). The film is broken up into eleven parts. Henry appears in several segments, giving his impressions of this coastal region. In Part Four, Miller tells of his origins there:

"I fell into Big Sur by accident. I never knew of Big Sur and I was just taken one day by Varda, whom I was living with in Monterey. He brought me down, put me up at Lynda Sargent’s home in a log cabin, where Nepenthe is […] That’s where I was living. I must have stayed two or three months with Lynda before they found me a cabin. I had never had any experience living in the country, doing all the rough work, fending for myself. Suddenly I had to do everything, cook, you know.

"I’ll never forget that climb up and down that hill on Partington Ridge for the mail every day. […] I lived at Anderson Creek in that shack, one of those convict shacks, do you recall, at the edge of the cliff. That was marvelous. Marvellous. Though we had no conveniences, we paid seven dollars a month rent; think of it. When you look back, those days of poverty are the best."

A few other quotes from Henry:

"The most important thing about Big Sur, I think, was the neighbours. Never anywhere in the world did I find people like in Big Sur. The good neighbour. One felt absolutely secure there […]
Another thing I like about Sur: it kills off the weak. Only the strong survive there, I think."

The documentary--shot in the late 1960s-- features many Big Sur-era photos of Henry that I've never seen elsewhere, as well as a shot of Miller's mailbox, where the letters of Lawrence Durrell, Anais Nin and others were once stuffed.

Miller's loyal assistant at Big Sur, Emil White, is also interviewed on camera. “[In 1944] [Henry] was the only one on Partington Ridge, " says White. "He needed help. He’s not very handy with his hands, except on the typewriter.”

Besides the Miller footage, the documentary also provides an overview of Big Sur, it's history, its culture in the 1950s, and a profile of the hippie-active Big Sur of the late 1960s. Miller is heard on voice-over, criticizing the young. "The adults have failed," he says.

I had touched on Miller's life in Big Sur in this post here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Excerpts From 'Colossus Of Maroussi'

On the website Halieis: Echoes of an Excavation in Greece, are four excerpts from Henry Miller's account of his time in Greece, Colossus Of Maroussi.

Here's one of them:
"Mornings I would often walk to the Acropolis. I like the base of the Acropolis better than the Acropolis itself. I like the tumble-down shacks, the confusion, the erosion, the anarchic character of the landscape. The archaeologists have ruined the place; they have laid waste big tracts of land in order to uncover a mess of ancient relics which will be hidden away in museums. The whole base of the Acropolis resembles more and more a volcanic crater in which the loving hands of the archaeologists have laid out cemeteries of art. The tourist comes and looks down at these ruins, these scientifically created lava beds, with a moist eye. The live Greek walks about unnoticed or else is regarded as an interloper. Meanwhile the new city of Athens covers almost the entire valley, is groping its way up the flanks of the surrounding mountains."

The other three excerpts are longer: On disembarking from boats; On dining in Herakleion, having arrived in Crete by aeroplane; On a miserable stopover in Porto Cheli.

On another blog, you can read an excerpt from Colossus in which Miller characterizes the English in Greece. (excerpt of the excerpt: "The Englishman in Greece is a farce and an eye-sore: he isn't worth the dirt between a poor Greek's toes.")

Click here to read another brief snipet from the book [scroll down], one which includes the line "Everything here speaks now, as it did centuries ago, of illumination, of blinding, joyous illumination."

A young guy named Steven has transcribed a Colossus passage about peace on his MySpace page ("The peace of the heart is positive and invincible, demanding no conditions, requiring no protection.")

And then there's the rare Anton Wurth art book Dipsy Doodle (1992), which includes text from Colossus translated into German to accompany his Miro-style artwork.

As mentioned in previous postings, you may also listen to Henry himself read from Colossus Of Maroussi on UbuWeb.

Finally, it seems only right that I include my own excerpt from the book:

"During all the years that I have been writing I have steeled myself to the idea that I would not really be accepted, at least to my own countrymen, until after my death. Many times, in writing, I have looked over my own shoulder from beyond the grave, more alive to the reaction of those to come than to those of my contemporaries. A good part of my life has, in a way, been lived in the future. With regard to all that vitally concerns me I am really a dead man, alive only to a very few who, like myself, could not wait for the world to catch up with them. I do not say this out of pride or vanity, but with humilty not untouched by sadness.

"Sadness is perhaps hardly the right word either, since I neither regret the course I have followed nor desire things to be any different. I know now what the world is like and knowing I accept it, both the good and the evil. To live creatively, I have discovered, means to live more and more unselfishly, to live more and more into the world, identifying oneself with it and thus influencing it at the core, so to speak."
[Henry Miller, The Colossus Of Maroussi (NDP75), p. 206]

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Annotated Nexus - Pages 15 & 16

15.0 & 16.0 On these pages, Miller ends his mockery of the cross-gendered crowd and launches into an emotional debate with Stasia about Mona, jealousy and the true nature of Love. This debate continues to page 18.

15.1 drags
Reference to the men and women dressed "in drag" at the Greenwich Village bars Miller had just visited [see 14.6 +] Being in drag means, of course, cross-gender dressing. The Wikipedia listing for the term "drag" states that the word came into use in the 1870s, suggests that it's an abbreviation of "dressed as a girl," and that the term "drag queen" was coined in 1941.

15.2 gwacious!
Miller mocks the feminine lisp of the gay men in drag saying "gracious" (think Truman Capote saying this; in fact, Capote was a celebrity by the time Miller wrote this). "Every one of them, the boys particularly, was a born artist."

15.3 "all was not well with Mona and myself"
Miller believes that Statia's recent exposure to the Village's "atmospere in which love and mutual understanding ruled," gives her a contrasted impression that he and Mona are having relationship troubles. In fact, Mona (June)'s worship of Miller had diminished by this point in their marriage, due to his lack of creative success, his willingness to find day jobs to earn money (instead of living as a true artist), and his occassional conservative or "bourgeois" leanings.

15.4 "Mona's not a liar"
One evening, Henry and Stasia happened to be alone in the Remsen Street apartment. An argument seems to ensue from a comment Henry makes about Mona's dishonesty. Stasia goes on the defensive. The following quote from her is a great addition to the portrait of Mona/June as a relaible source for information: "She invents, she distorts, she fabricates ... because its more interesting. She thinks you like her better when she complicates things."

This from someone in her defense! Stasia then blames Henry for believing Mona all the time. Mona's lying ways are also mentioned on page 10 and page 13.

15.5 "Jealous?"
Henry accuses Stasia of being jealous of her own admission that he "mean[s] everything to [Mona]." Stasia counters that she is "outraged" instead that he can be "so blind, so cruel" to Mona.

15.6 Czarina
When Henry accuses Stasia of playing a game, he characterizes her as being a "thoroughly astounded Czarina." (wife of a Czar) I assume this on-going reference to her apparent bloodline to Russian nobility is meant to suggest that she demands respect purely by association.

15.7 "her fly was unbuttoned and her shirttail was hanging out"
Miller then undermines her dignified image (as he'd already done in 8.25 and 10.5). In other words, Stasia is pretentious.

16.1 "Do you know what love is?"
Stasia's accusation in 15.5 sets Miller off on a rant that lasts nearly two full pages. He lays into her with an onslaught of rhetoric; I count 17 statements ending with question marks on page 16 alone. This page consists of an attack on her character and ability to understand love.

16.2 "you once had a dog you loved"
A minor bit of biographical info about Jean Kronski (Stasia).

16.3 "you have made love to trees"
This reference to an apparent romantic interlude had by Stasia with a tree is mentioned twice more in Nexus. Page 48: "Stasia took to reminicing [...] about the trees she used to rub herself against in the moonlight." On page 121, Stasia talks about wanting to "go naked again and rub against trees [...] I can make love to a tree, but not to those filthy things in pants who crawl out of those horrid buildings."

This later rant against men finds similarity on page 16, where Miller precedes the above statement with the challenge "Tell me, have you ever been in love with a man?"

Incidentally, Miller physically works with trees later in this book, and speaks romantically about them.

16.4 "We might arrive at truth."
Stasia is left silent after Henry's first volley. He likes having these talks, and foreshadows some deeper heart-to-hearts he and Stasia will have later in Nexus, when he states "You know, we could really have an interesting talk. We might even get somewhere. We might arrive at truth." Truth was, in my mind, Miller's ultimate noble value in life.

16.5 "you didn't go to the observation ward on your own, did you?"
Henry continues to aggressively analyze Stasia. If she's so "securely at one with [her]self and the whole wide world," then why would she "deliver [her]self up for observation"? [see 8.26, 10.1 +, and 13.4].

16.6 "you're out, thanks to my efforts"
This is a continuation of the questions raised at the beginning of Nexus [see page 10] about the true situation behind Stasia's admission to a mental hospital. I'll be honest with you here: I'm confused about the real sequence of events. Did Mona admit her to the ward? How exactly did Miller get her out: simply by talking to the interns or through Dr. Kronski's influence?

<--- Previous page 14 Next pages 17 & 18 --->

The photo of the nude on the tree was taken by Nick Ash.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

June - A Biography

In a previous post on June Mansfield Miller, I had directed everyone to a website of Cara Bradley's research on the subject of June. She had posted it in 1998, and now that resource seems to be gone. Thanks to the Google cache feature, I'm still able to see some of the original material. I hope Ms. Bradley won't mind if I feature her biography of June Miller for use on this blog, before it disappears.


According to the family's naturalization record, June's father was Wilhelm Smerth, born in 1878 in Galicia, Austria. He married her mother, Francis Budd, in Buckovina, which was then part of Austria. They had five children: Maria Augusta, Herman, June, Sigmund, and Edward. June, the second daughter and third child, was born on January 28th, 1902.

In 1907, when June (at left) was 5 years old, the family left Hamburg on the "Batavia" and emigrated to the United States, arriving at Ellis Island on July 10th. They took up residence in New York City, where Mr. Smerth found work as a presser in the clothing industry. The family name was Americanized to Smith and the family became American citizens on January 23, 1923.

June, a precocious and original girl, with ambitions of becoming an actress, dropped out of school at the age of 15 to become a taxi dancer in a Broadway dance hall. Around this time, she changed her last name from Smith to Mansfield, and was generally known by this name from this point onwards. The reasons behind this change are not clear; it is suspected that the change was prompted by the death of the writer Katherine Mansfield, who had by this time become a cult figure in Greenwich Village. June herself later offered the macabre explanation that as Smerth means "death" in Polish, Mansfield was the nearest English equivalent of "cemetery."


It was while working as a taxi dancer on Broadway in New York City that June first met Henry Miller. Miller, married, employed at Western Union, and generally dissatisfied with his life, was soon dancing with Mansfield. The impact of this initial encounter on Miller is apparent in his later writing, where it has been written and rewritten. Miller claims to have seen June gliding by with other men, and overheard her talking about Strindberg and some of his other favorite writers. He bought a string of tickets and danced the rest of the night with her, meeting her at a Chinese restaurant across the street after the dance hall closed. From this very first meeting, Miller was intrigued by June's labyrinthine mind and frustrated by her evasion of his questions. June remained evasive as Miller's infatuation grew; he left his wife in order to wholeheartedly dedicate himself to his pursuit of June.

Finally, on June 1, 1924, Henry and June took the train to Hoboken, New Jersey to get married. The day was not without its trials; at one point June, doubting Henry's affections, got off the train, and later, the friends who were to serve as witnesses failed to show up, necessitating the hiring of two strangers to fill the role.

Marriage didn't settle Miller's uneasiness about his June's erratic behaviour. He was constantly trying to unravel her stories to find out her true origins. Her stories always changed and all that Henry could be certain about was that none of them were true. All of this, while frustrating, inspired Henry the writer. June soon convinced him to quit his job at Western Union to completely devote himself to writing. She developed a variety of schemes to support them financially, from dancing jobs to running a speakeasy to collecting money from a string of admirers whose integrity Henry always doubted. They moved from apartment to apartment, accumulating large debts, and always just a step ahead of the landlords.

One of these admirers took center stage in June's life in October 1929 when, after returning to the apartment after a three day absence, all her talk focused on her new friend, Jean. Jean Kronski, a 21 year old artist and poet, soon moved in with Henry and June. Tension rose as Henry was suddenly forced to compete with a woman for his wife's affections. Miller later wrote obsessively about this period in his life, about living in chaos with the two women and finally being abandoned by his wife. Without any warning, June and Jean left for Paris in April 1927, leaving Miller to put together the pieces. June was soon cabling Henry, asking for money. By late May it became apparent that June and Jean had quarrelled, and Jean had left France. June finally returned to New York, and her life with Henry, in July 1927.

In 1928, June and Henry went on a lengthy tour of Europe, using funds secured from "Pop," one of June's admirers. Each week she visited Pop and presented pieces of Henry's writing for Pop to peruse, passing them off as her own in order to gain his financial support. Their situation did not improve after their return to New York City and in 1930 Miller, desperately poor and disillusioned about his ability to write, returned to Paris alone. Communication with June was scarce, and her unfulfilled promises to send Henry money left him struggling to survive.

June herself arrived in Paris in December 1931 for a brief visit, during which time she was introduced to Henry's new friend Anais Nin (left). The two women were immediately transfixed by each other; Nin, like Miller, was mesmerized by June's mythical nature, as is evident in much of her later writing. By the time June left Paris in late January 1932, she left behind 2 writers tormented by her engimatic personality. Miller and Nin wrote obsessively about Mansfield in subsequent months, sharing their perceptions of this evasive woman.

June returned to Paris in October 1932 and a complicated emotional struggle erupted. In June's absence, Nin and Miller had grown close, and June faced the loss of the two most important people in her life. The resulting scenes were frightening; the violent emotional eruptions culminated in June asking Henry for a divorce before leaving Paris for the final time in late December 1932. They were divorced by proxy in Mexico in 1934.


Following her return to New York City in December 1932, the details of the remainder of June's life are sketchy. Despite her monumental role in Nin and Miller's later writing, interest in her waned after direct contact with the writers ended. She married Stratford Corbett, a U.S. Military officer and moved around the country with him before he left her. She then returned to New York City, where she was employed as a social worker in Queens. These years were marked by ill health and poverty.

She only met with Henry Miller once after the 1932 separation; on a trip to New York in the 1960s, Miller visited his ex-wife. He was astounded with the scene he encountered; ill and destitute, June was a withered fragment of the powerful women who had dominated his lifelong writing. June was still living in New York in 1969, but this is the last mention of her that I have been able to locate.

For an exploration of June's later years, I strongly recommend reading James M Decker's June Miller: Remnants Of A Life, published in the Nexus journal #3.

Incidentally, my postings on June seem to get more internet traffic than anything else I've ever posted. We all seem to be as fascinated with her as Henry was.

Also see my posting about
June's employment at The Pepper Pot in Greenwich Village, as well as references to her in my on-going annotation of Miller's novel, Nexus.

The relationship between June and Anais Nin is explored on

The film stills used on this posting are of Uma Thurman and Fred Ward as Henry and June, in Philip Kaufman's 1990 movie, Henry & June.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cecily Mackworth On Henry Miller

This past July 2006, English writer Cecily Mackworth died at the age of 94. She'd tried her hand at many types of writing, but succeeded mostly as a literary travel writer. By the age of 26, in 1937, her list of published works was limited to a handful of poems in the London Mercury. That summer--a year since moving to Paris--she met Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell and the rest of the Villa Seurat circle. It was an exciting time at 18 Villa Seurat: Durrell was newly arrived, The Booster was being published, and the household was a social and creative hive, with the likes of Alfred Perles adding to the action. Mackworth fell in for a time with this writers' circle.

Cecily Mackworth's memoir Ends Of The World (1987) spends a few pages detailing these moments at Villa Seurat. (Mackworth's photograph--circa 1961--can be seen below, left)


Mackworth "drifted into a picture gallery in Montparnasse" one lazy afternoon during the late summer of 1937. Here she met David Edgar, who was also browsing. During conversation, Mackworth stated that she "wanted to write." "[David Edgar] gave me an icy stare," she wrote of the occassion, "and said, 'You must meet Henry Miller!'" Edgar led Mackworth "at a brisk pace" to 18 Villa Seurat.

"There were a lot of people standing about or sitting on the floor. A corkscrew staircase led up to a loggia. A gramaphone was playing Stormy Weather. [click here to listen to a 1933 Duke Ellington version of this song while you read the rest of this post (search the title on the page; plays in Real Player only)]. Henry himself was rather bald, spectacled, already middle-aged...a general impression of untidiness...clothes rumpled, perhaps not very eager, concentrated look, as if he was waiting for sonething to happen and wanted to be ready for it. Later, I realized he was waiting for the moment when he would want to write."

"When the writing moment came, it made no special difference [...] Henry just moved over to the table in the corner and started to write. Once he began, he went on, apparently never feeling the need to take a walk or go to bed. He wrote on without fuss; pages of Tropic Of Capricorn piled up beside him while the red wine in the bottle at his elbow sank lower and lower."
[Ends Of The World, p. 5].

Mackworth goes on to tell how Alf Perles would bring Henry some food, which Miller would shove into his mouth with one hand while writing with the other. These writing sessions sometimes went on for 24 hours, "until he had said whatever he wanted to say."


"Henry believed that people could do whatever they wanted to do, and that the trouble with most of them was that they did not want enough. If you wanted to write, you sat down and wrote; if you wanted to write poetry, you sat down and wrote poetry. Grammar, vocabulary, and so on were just accessories. 'A real poet can write poetry in any language,' he said, and showed me as proof a peom for his friend Hans Reichel, written in German, a language of which he had only the scantest knowledge." [Ends Of The World, p. 6].

Mackworth also describes Henry's like of the Cafe d'Alesia, which can be read about in this posting from Miller Walks.


In 1938, Henry published the work of Mackworth under the title Eleven Poems. This was apparently done as an "off-shoot" of The Booster publication that Miller, Durrell and company were creating at the time. I've been unable to find much more information about Eleven Poems.

Mackworth stayed on in France after everyone else fled in 1939, though the Nazi invasion forced her to flee in June 1940. From this experience came a book, I Came Out Of France (1941) that gained her some degree of success (and the admiration od TS Eliot).

Mackworth and Miller don't seem to have stayed in touch after 1938; I've found no reference to her in Miller's published letters.

Many thanks to Kreg for the idea and the information.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Miller On MySpace

I'm not sure how the massively popular MySpace did it, but somehow Henry Miller has been resurrected from the dead and now maintains his own account on MySpace. Currently, he has 257 friends.

This MySpace page is actually useful, beyond the amusing gimmick. It includes a nearly year-by-year timeline of his adult life. As well, it acts as a fan message board and allows Henry Miller fans to interact with each other through their MySpace accounts.

There is also a less-active page for Miller fans at Tribe.

Would Henry have enjoyed the internet? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. Personally, I think he'd love the idea, but ultimately he'd prefer his old habits and books. Having said that, I can see him keeping a blog of his daily thoughts, yet detesting email (in favour of the fine art of writing letters).

**UPDATE (June 2007): I saw the worm on the hook about three years after everyone else, but I finally took a bite and have my lip snaggled on it: I am now on MySpace (but just for Miller).

Sunday, September 03, 2006

91 Remsen Street, Brooklyn

Upon marrying June Smith (Mansfield) on June 1, 1924, Henry Miller and his new wife set out to find a newlywed home. They had been living in a state of increasing tension with Emil Conason and his wife in an apartment on Riverside Drive, and needed a place of their own. The couple were very happy at 91 Remsen Street for just over a year, in what Miller termed their "Japanese love nest." However, their difficulty in paying the rent eventually overwhlemed them, causing them an eviction.

As far as I can tell from Google Maps, 91 Remsen Street is at the corner or Remsen and Henry Streets in Brooklyn.

Above, I've included a map with archival images of Remsen Street, as found in the Digital Library collection of the New York Public Library. (the maps are from Yahoo Maps).

91 Remsen Street is said to have been in a higher class section of Brooklyn Heights, and it was the only house on the street that was divided into apartments. It had been formerly owned by a (future) corrupt federal judge by the name of Martin Manton.


Henry Miller's novel Plexus opens with the acquisition of this new apartment, which Miller describes as "stunning," but also "far beyond our means." He and June manage to convince the landlord that they are upstanding citizens with an income that easily covers the rent ($90/month). In actuality, June would have to "extract" the first month's rent from an admiring clerk at the Broztell hotel. Plexus covers the entire period at 91 Remsen Street (all the way to page 288).


* The Millers rent an apartment (June 1924);

* Henry Miller quits his job at Western Union in order to write full time (Sept. 1924);

* Henry's old pal Joe O'Reagan ("O'Mara" in Plexus) stays with the Millers for a few months, without consent of the landlord (approx. Nov. 1924);

* Henry begins his Mezzotint project and, with June's help, distributes them throughout New York. To help make sales easier (especially from male buyers), the prose poems are passed off as June's: they are signed "June E. Mansfield/91 Remsen St.";

* Henry and June are evicted (Sept. 1925).


"The floors were of inlaid wood, the wall panels of rich walnut; there were rose silk tapestries and bookcases roomy enough to be converted into sleeping bunks. We occupied the front half of the first floor, looking out onto the most sedate, aristocratic section of Brooklyn...."

"Back of our two rooms, and separated by a rolling door, was one enormous room to which had been added a kitchenette and a bath. For some reason it remained unrented. Perhaps it was too cloistral. Most of the day, owing to the stained glass windows, it was rather somber in there, or should I say--subdued. But when the late afternoon sun struck the windows, throwing fiery patterns on the highly polished floor, I enjoyed going in there and pacing back and forth in a meditative mood." [both quotes from Plexus, pgs. 10-11]

Two of the art prints the Millers added to the walls were The Opium Smoker (presumably by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouy; image above, at left) and The Wailing Wall (possibly by Gustav Bauernfeind?; image above, at right). Both works are in the 'Orientalist' style.


The landlord--Mr. Taliaferro, from Virgina--is portrayed as a fine, courteous, generous Southern gentleman in Plexus. Even as Taliferro approaches Miller about the rent that is in arrears by several months, there is an empathy that makes for a tender eviction on page 285. It's suggested in the Miller biography, Henry Miller: A Life (p.108), that Miller was also ejected for breaking house rules, such as sneaking a gas stove into the bathroom and letting O'Reagan sublet without Taliferro's knowledge.

Henry wrote a letter about the eviction to his friend Emil Schnellock:

"Saturday afternoon (a hot afternoon in Montana, I guess), he dropped in on me casual like, when June was out, and drew a chair up to my bedside while I lay back apathetically, and he told me a quiet little story. He was the best friend I ever had and now he's gone back on me, too. He says the jig is up. Whether I come across with the rent or not, he won't promise whether I can stay or not.That's about as clear-cut as he made it sound to me..." [Letters To Emil, pp. 12-13].

Henry then invites Emil to "sneak a bottle over" to the apartment for a celebration of the "passing of the glories of Remsen Street," which includes a toast to the Mezzotints.

Visit this posting to see which apartments followed. This includes a return to Remsen Street, at a different house.


Someone named "Stella" on the I-Explore photo community has posted the above picture of 91 Remsen. Another link includes four more views of this section of Remsen. Several other contemporary photographs of Remsen Street (though not #91 in particular) may be found on Flickr.

Does anyone know if the plaque seen in the photo above is in honour of Henry Miller?