Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Annotated Nexus - Page 64

64.0 Anastasia acts as peacemaker after Henry criticizes Mona. She encourages them to go out on the town as planned. Initially unsure where they’re going, the couple ends up where it all began for them: at Chin Lee’s on Broadway, where they fall in love again as they reminisce about the night they first met.

64.1    Headed for the subway
Silently, after leaving the apartment, Henry and Mona walk arm-in-arm with no clear agenda for their evening. They find themselves near the subway, so they hop on for Manhattan. Back at 9.5, I had done a bit of online research and guessed that the closest subway entrance to their home would have been Clark Street Station.

64.2    same old Broadway
“…same old neon hell’s afire,” writes Miller as he and Mona rise to street level from the subway. The couple is returning to the scene where they first met and initiated their relationship; see, for example, Sexus pages 50 and 261.

64.3    Chin Lee’s
Strolling down Broadway, Henry and Mona find themselves in front of a Chinese restaurant called Chin Lee’s. I had written a little bit about this place in my blog article about Wilson’s Dance Hall. Chin Lee’s was located at Broadway & 49th Street, across from Wilson’s. “Shall we go up?” asks Mona in Nexus, establishing that it was located on an upper floor. She leads Henry to the booth in which they sat during their first date here.

The story of Chin Lee’s is written about by author and activist Grace Lee Boggs, whose father, Chin Lee, owned a chain of Chin Lee restaurants in America, starting in the 1910s. In her autobiography, Living For Change (1998), she writes that her father had opened the Broadway location in 1924 (at the time, it was his largest location; others were located in Buffalo, NY, Providence, RI, Boston, MA, and elsewhere). Here, Lee Boggs confirms that the Broadway Chin Lee’s occupied the second and third floors of 1604 Broadway, with a seating capacity of nearly one-thousand. There was a huge neon marquee facing Broadway, and a smaller one facing the 49th street entrance. [for these details, see Lee Boggs’ autobiography, pp.8-9].

The restaurant was a huge success, because it offered a six-course meal and live entertainment for under one dollar. Another Manhattan Chin Lee’s was open in 1928, at Broadway & 44th Street. [p.9]

64.4    that first night—a thousand years ago
Miller refers to the night they’d had first eaten here as being “a thousand years ago.” In fact, it was during the summer of 1923 (see my post). In Nexus, Mona (June) recounts everything about that first date: the food, the conversation, the music (or at least Miller says she does, without providing us with the details). This loosens them up again. By the end of the dinner, they “looked at one another with new eyes, more hungry eyes, greedy eyes than ever before…”

< previous page 63                ***            next page 65 >

Monday, September 06, 2010

Tropic Of Capricorn: The War Years

Henry Miller's Tropic Of Capricorn was published in France just as World War II began. The war--and the social mores at the time--made it a battle to distribute the book in the U.S. during the years 1939-1945.


Henry Miller was reading the proofs to his forthcoming novel, Tropic Of Capricorn, as Hitler plotted his invasion of Europe. It was January 1939 [1]. Miller was still in Paris, [2] where he had begun writing the novel nearly seven years earlier. [3]

Miller had completed the writing of Capricorn the previous September, 1938 [4]. Throughout that month, the world had listened tensely as Adolf Hitler demanded annexation of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Earlier in the year, France had already committed itself to the aid of the Czechs, should the Nazis invade [5]. During the third week of September, Miller took a vacation in southern France [6], but not before leaving the original Tropic Of Capricorn manuscript with his publisher, Jack Kahane of Obelisk Press. As instructed, Kahane kept the document in a personal vault at his bank [7]. Miller wanted it in safe keeping, just in case “Paris is bombed & Obelisk wiped out” by the threatening German war machine. [7]

The Obelisk Press in Paris had already published Miller’s Tropic Of Cancer (1934), Aller Retour New York (1935), Black Spring (1936), Scenario (1937), and was in the process of releasing Max And The White Phagocytes (1938) when Henry completed Tropic Of Capricorn [8]. Jack Kahane set a publication date of February 1939 for Miller’s latest book. [9]


In February 1939, the language of war was becoming stronger--the British made a public declaration to stand alongside France should the provocative Germans attempt an invasion. Meanwhile, in northern France, near the Belgian border, the Imprimerie Georges Frère, in the town of Tourcoing, printed off 1,000 copies of Tropic Of Capricorn [10]. The problem, however, was that Henry Miller, who was solely responsible for proofreading and correcting proofs, had not yet given his approval to start the presses [11]. This error would delay distribution of the book for several weeks, as they had to create a yellow “Errata” sheet that listed the typographical errors [12] and then bind the sheet on the page before the title page, on all 1,000 copies [10].

Above: The yellow "Errata" sheet that had to be added to the first edition of Tropic Of Capricorn because the printers had not waited for Henry Miller to give them his proof-read corrections (1939).

The looming war was stirring a hostile environment for the release of Capricorn, which was even more sexually explicit than Tropic Of Cancer. Capricorn may cause trouble for us all here,” wrote Miller in April 1939, when the novel was still sitting in boxes, “because of the Puritanical wave coming in with the war fever” [13] … “There is a danger now that the French may suppress it. They are going crazy with new laws.” [14]

During this delay period, Obelisk received at least 800 pre-orders for Capricorn, gobbling up most of the original 1,000 [15]. Another batch of 3,000 was printed [16], with adjustments made to the price on the flaps [10]. Finally, all variants of this first edition were officially released on May 10, 1939 [10].


Miller’s Tropic Of Cancer was banned in America in 1939, but Capricorn had not yet been added to the blacklist [17]. But it was an inevitability. If readers in the USA were to get their hands on Capricorn, it would have to be a secret endeavour, by word of mouth, hidden behind counters and mailed in sealed envelopes.

Frances Steloff of the Gotham Book Mart was an instrumental player in this underground network. An American merchant marine had smuggled hundreds of copies of the first edition into New York [18], from where Steloff would clandestinely distribute copies from her West 47th shop [19] at $10 a copy [18]. By arrangement with Steloff, Miller attempted to mail some copies directly to an American buyer, but these were seized by Customs [20].

Thinking ahead to publication in the U.S., Miller’s American publisher James Laughlin arranged to have three chapters of Capricorn published in his annual New Directions in Prose & Poetry, in order to get a hold of the U.S. copyright on the novel. These excerpts were eventually published at the end of 1939 [21].

Also by the end of 1939, a pirated edition of Tropic Of Capricorn made its way to America. The bootleg copies of the Obelisk original had been photographed and printed in Shanghai [22].

Having fled Paris for safety, Miller was visiting with Lawrence Durrell and his wife in Corfu in August 1939, three months after the release of Capricorn. He had not heard from Jack Kahane in a while. “I don’t write him either,” wrote Miller on August 6th. “Know nothing about the fate of Capricorn, and care nothing” [23]. Miller could not know the fate of Kahane, who was to die of heart failure four weeks later on September 3, 1939: the day that the U.K. and France declared war on Germany [24].


Although Obelisk Press would continue on under the control of Kahane’s son, Maurice Girodias, and would publish several more editions of Capricorn into the early 1960s, the war years would not produce any more editions of the novel [25]. However, there were attempts.

A friend in the States told Henry of plans to establish a press in Mexico, on which he would publish both Tropics [26]. It apparently didn’t happen. In 1943, bookseller Ben Abramson told Miller his intention to have Capricorn published in the United States. By March 1944, only 60 pages had been typeset—it would be a long process [10]. Later that year, during a stay with Caresse Crosby near Washington, D.C., Miller was asked to read from Tropic Of Capricorn for the Library Of Congress’s Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature [27]. The four LPs were cut in the Recording Laboratory of the Library on December 11, 1944.

“Now soon the Capricorn comes out, privately printed…,” wrote an expectant Miller to Lawrence Durrell in February 1945 [28]. But, as the war entered its final stages in August 1945, and with two-thirds of the book already typeset, Ben Abramson’s project came to an abrupt end when the nervous printer began destroying the type by melting it—he had become afraid of legal prosecution for his role in publishing the controversial novel [10].


The Germans had surrendered to the Allies in May 1945. The war was winding down.

While Abramson’s project perished in flames in August 1945, Tropic Of Capricorn gained new life in France. Obelisk Press issued a second edition in a batch of 10,000 (although on cheaper paper) [29].

With the official surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945, World War II was over. The U.S. war against Henry Miller, however, would continue.

The Nazis entered Paris on June 14, 1940. Henry Miller had taken a train out of Paris a year earlier, on May 30, 1939.


[1] The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. Edited by Ian. S. MacNiven: letter from Miller, January 1939, p.112; [2] According to the return addresses in Miller’s letters to Durrell, he was back in Paris from his southern France trek by at least by November 5, consistently through to January 1939 and beyond; [3] Letters To Emil. Edited by George Wickes. In letter dated October 5, 1932, Miller writes that he had just completed the first 60 pages of Capricorn; [4] The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. In a letter dated Sept. 25/38, Miller mentions that he finished Capricorn a “few days ago.” Also, in the actual novel, he signs off with the date “September 1938”; [5] For my WWII history throughout this article, I didn’t go much further than Wikipedia, with their summaries of the year 1938 and 1939, and their WWII timeline; [6] See Note 4 plus Mary Dearborn’s Happiest Man Alive, p.197; [7] The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80, p.101 (Miller, Sept. 25/38); [8] Shifreen & Jackson’s Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1—which is organized chronologically—lists these titles with these dates; [9] Henry Miller and James Laughlin: Selected Letters. Edited by George Wickes. In a letter by Miller dated Oct. 19/38, p.14; [10] Details listed under item A21, in Shifreen & Jackson’s Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1; [11] The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80: letter from Miller, dated March 1939, p.123; [12] ibid, but the details about the Errata sheet come from Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1, A21; [13] Henry Miller and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, p.20: Miller letter dated Apr. 23/29; [14] ‘Four Previously Unpublished Letters From Henry Miller to Gershon Legman’. From Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, No. 1, Vol. 1, p.10: Letter from Miller, May 13/39; [15] The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80, p.129: Miller letter from May 1939; [16] This comes from Miller: see Note 14. Important details about the first edition are clarified in item A21a of Jackson & Ashley’s Bibliography of Primary Sources, Volume 2, which corrects the A21 listing from volume one. Essentially, it is clarified that, what had been identified as a variant first edition in Volume 1 is in fact all first edition. Miller’s letter to Gershon seems to clearly identify that there was an initial batch of 1,000, followed by another batch of 3,000, all of them released simultaneously. A21a also details some printing corrections made on the cover price listings—I am guessing this happened during the 3,000 batch; [17] ‘Four Previously Unpublished Letters From Henry Miller to Gershon Legman’. From Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, No. 1, Vol. 1, p.7: Letter from Miller, March 1939; [18] Happiest Man Alive, p.201; [19] See my posting on Steloff and her book store; [20] Happiest Man Alive, p.201-202; [21] Henry Miller and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, p.23: Laughlin letter June 1939. This item is listed as B7 in Shifreen & Jackson, Vol. 1 (“Three chapters from Tropic of Capricorn”); [22] Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1: A21c; [23] A Literate Passion: Letters of Henry Miller and Anais Nin. Edited by Gunther Stuhlmann: p.322. Miller letter, Aug 6/29; [24] Pearson, Neil. Obelisk: A History of Jack Kahane and the Obelisk Press, p.72; [25] As is evident by reading the chronological listings in Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1; [26] Happiest Man Alive, p.216: the unnamed friend had plans to print both Tropics; [27] Martin, Jay. Always Merry and Bright: the Life of Henry Miller, p.414. Also so recording date details in the Library of Congress link provided within the text; [28] The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80, p.178: Miller letter, Feb 18/45; [29] Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1 : A21d.