Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who's Who in 'Tropic Of Cancer'

“This is libel, slander, defamation of character.”
--- Henry Miller, Tropic Of Cancer (p.2)
Tropic Of Cancer contains some shockingly unflattering portraits of people Henry Miller knew personally. Although Miller protected his own identity in his first draft of Cancer, signing off as “Anonymous,” [1] he was not so discreet with his real-life characters. “I am living in the Villa Seurat,” reads the original opening line, “the guest of Michael Fraenkel.” [2] Michael Fraenkel---not even the courtesy of a fake surname! By the time Tropic of Cancer hit the presses, however, Michael Fraenkel became “Boris”; likewise, everyone else took on an alias.

But, to anyone within or knowledgeable about Miller’s social circle in the 1930s, the real identities were not very difficult to figure out. “I really should have sued him for having me appear as a sex fiend in the guise of Van Norden,” stated Wambly Bald in the 1960s [3]. A man named Jean Moscelli sued Miller for libel over a portrayal relating to a “Jimmie’s Bar” story told in Cancer [4]. June Mansfield, Henry’s wife, was emotionally shaken by his portrayal of her in Cancer. “I remember how you winced when you read the first pages of this book,” wrote Miller in an early, unpublished section of Cancer. “You did not wince only—you howled. You uttered the foulest, cruellest words I have ever heard. You would have killed me with your words if you had talked another five minutes …. [You] shrieked that you would like to take a knife and kill me, that a knife was too good for me …” [5].

Pseudonyms were used in every edition of the book since it was first published in 1934. But, in 1941, Miller, trying to raise funds, sold a “keyed” copy of Cancer to erotica publisher Gershon Legman, among others; in it, he wrote down some real names of his characters. According to Miller biographer Jay Martin, this keyed copy of Cancer passed through two more pairs of hands before ending up at the archives at the University of Texas [6]. However, publisher Roger Jackson writes that this keyed copy at the U of Texas is “not one which Miller annotated. This copy is a 1948 Obelisk Press edition which has a simple listing of 7 characters on one of the preliminary pages” [7]. [item currently listed in U of Texas Harry Ransom collection].

Using letters, early typescripts and other sources, in 1993, Roger Jackson published his own listing of pseudonyms and their real life counterparts from Tropic Of Cancer (in Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1, pp.939-941). The following list draws heavily from Jackson’s list, with a couple of additions, and includes pseudonyms for which I have no real name to attach :

ANATOLE = Anatole Pachoutinsky [8]
BORIS = Michael Fraenkel
BOROWSKI = Ossip Zadkine
CARL = Alfred Perlès
ELSA = Greta ? [13]
= Eugene Pachoutinsky
FANNY (Moldorf’s wife) =
FILLMORE = Richard Galen Osborn
GALLAGHER = Tex Carnahan
GERMAINE = Germaine Deaugard
IRENE = Grace Hodgson Flandrau
CRONSTADT = Walter Lowenfels
KRUGER = Frederick Kann [11]
MADAME DELAORME = Germaine Dulac
MARK SWIFT = John Nichols
MARLOWE = Samuel Putnam
MOLDORF = Joseph Millard Osman ? [12]
MONA = June Mansfield
PECKOVER = Madison Kirby [9]
SYLVESTER = Joseph Schrank
TANIA = Bertha Schrank
VAN NORDEN = Wambly Bald
WILKIE = Herbert Wilkie
WREN, Mr. & Mrs. = Mr. & Mrs. Bloom
When considering the character and reputation of these real people, all of whom have passed on, don’t forget that Miller had taken creative liberty in his characterizations. Karl Orend writes that Michael Fraenkel “accepted” that “Miller was writing symbolic fiction.” And we, as readers, must acknowledge this as well. Even Miller--who maintained his actual identity, “Henry Miller,” in Tropic of Cancer--acknowledged that his character was not necessarily authentic. “I created a monstrous character in my books and gave him my name; he’s a demon, a rouge, a scoundrel … It was mostly exaggeration and bravado, you see. The character was me and wasn’t me. It is as if there are two Henry Millers" [10].
[1] Jay Martin. Always Merry And Bright, p.264; see also the facsimile of this first page signed “by Anonymous” on p. 51 of Henry Miller’s My Life And Times; [2] facsimile of original corrected typescript page, Henry Miller, My Life And Times, p.53; [3] Kenneth C. Dick, Colossus Of One (1967), p.196; [4] Karl Orend, The Brotherhood of Fools & Simpletons, p.51 – no further details available about who Moscelli was; [5] Roger Jackson (editor). From Tropic Of Cancer: Previously unpublished sections, pp.93, 95; [6] All from Jay Martin’s article, “Biography And Humanity”: Humanitas Communitas, 1999: p.20. Online PDF; [7] Shifreen and Jackson. Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol.1, pp.939; [8] This is confirmed by George Wickes in the Letters To Emil index, p.161; [9] Recently identified by Kreg Wallace at Miller Walks; [10] Quote taken from Karl Orend's "On the 70th Anniversary of Tropic Of Cancer," p.25 -- the original quote is from a letter to Anais Nin, I believe, but I couldn't find it.; [11] In the Comments section of this posting, Kreg Walace points out how Kruger seems to be Kann: "Miller actually meets up with him again in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare when he arrives in Kansas City (Kann left Paris in 1936 to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute) and he tried to interest Miller in Freemasonry. I don't think Miller actually names Kann in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, but the indication that he was a painter who had once put Miller up in his apartment on the rue Froideveaux makes his identity clear"; [12] In the Commenst section of this post, Kreg at Millerwalks makes a case for this possibly being the true identity of Moldorff: "Moldorf is associated with Cronstadt (Lowenfels) and Boris (Fraenkel) in Tropic of Cancer. Osman and Lowenfels lived in the same building in Paris and it was Osman who introduced Miller to Fraenkel. At the time, Miller was helping Osman write a book on the treatment of infirm children;" [13] In the Comments section to this post, Michael makes a case that Elsa's real name is Greta: "On page 89 of Letters to Emil, Miller mentions a woman called Greta who lived with him and Michael Fraenkel at the Villa Seurat. His letter was written in November of 1931, and apart from Elsa having been substituted with another German maid during or after Miller's stay, it looks as though it could be the same woman."