Henry Miller’s James Joyce: A Painful Case Of Envy

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by Sam Bluefarb (April 2012)

“To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!”  
–James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This essay was first published in the Spring 1999 issue of the James Joyce Quarterly. Permission was gracefully granted to New English Review by the Editors of the Quarterly and the University of Tulsa. Portions of the original text were revised and edited by the author, and some passages deleted, but the purpose and integrity of the original essay remain.

I came to Henry Miller’s work by way of Lawrence Koenigsberg, a New York friend, who was also a casual friend of Henry Miller. On the occasion of his return to America from Europe, Miller stayed at Larry’s place on the lower East Side for a brief time. Some years later, on the occasion of my discharge from the army and my own return from Europe, I, too, was invited to stay at Larry’s for a few days before resuming my way back to California. In that time, Larry raved about this writer—Henry Miller—whom I had never heard of, and made me promise to read his work and to visit him up at Big Sur when I got home. I kept that promise about two years later.  By then I had been settled into civilian life and completed a couple of semesters at college under the GI Bill.

One morning, soon after I got home, I took a bus up to Hollywood—a car was an out-of-reach luxury–and got off at the mythic Hollywood and Vine intersection, near the now long-gone Satyr Bookshop. At the time, the Satyr was one of the few bookstores in Los Angeles that carried a wide selection of avant garde writers, including the works of Henry Miller. Also packed tightly into a stack of shelves, at the back of the store, as though there was something shameful about them, were the works of Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Herman Hesse, Kenneth Rexroth, Federico Garcia-Lorca, Gertrude Stein, and other Modernist writers. There were no Tropic of Cancer's or Tropic of Capricorn'sAn Excursus on War (1941). Another attention-getter was The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945); it would be the first of Miller’s many works I would devour in the next few years.

Having just come out of a war, I was curious about this “excursus on war.” The essay, written while the war was still raging, overwhelmed me by the fiery passion of its militantly pacifist message. “Overwhelmed” would be an understatement. Years later I realized that I had allowed my own passion to override a more balanced view. But at the time, I was swept up by the pyrotechnics of its effusive rhetoric. Later, I came to the conclusion that Miller was a much better writer when he wrote about himself and his adventures than when he wrote as philosopher-cum-guru.

By late 1946, when I was well into my second semester at the college, I borrowed a copy of Tropic of Cancer from a fellow vet who had smuggled it in from Paris. Yes, I found that “Henry,” as Larry referred to him, was indeed the marvelous writer he had raved about—its prose sparkled with boundless energy–far beyond the skeptical expectations I might have had at the time. And after Tropic, Nightmare and MURDER, I found myself hooked, not so much by the anti-war message of the latter as by Miller's honesty and courage—at a time when liberal and communist writers supported the war. The powerful vernacular style was like an invigorating wind blowing through American literature. The poet Karl Shapiro was a bit more extravagant: In his introduction to the no-longer-banned U.S. edition (1961), he applauded Miller as “the greatest living author.”[1] Less excessively, George Orwell praised the vernacular style “as . . .a  friendly American voice speaking to you. . . [in which] English is treated as a spoken language. . . .”[2]

Now, decades later, my respect for Miller’s critical essays, the social as well as the literary (e.g., Murder the Murderer (1941), The Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud (1956), respectively, and other non-creative studies), has considerably diminished, and even more to the point, the passion for his work has long cooled.

A critical tipping point for me was Miller’s attack on Joyce in the chapter, “The Universe of Death” in The World of Lawrence, (1980). [3] I see Miller’s impassioned attack on Ulysses as driven by envy, which, in turn, produced an incandescent hatred not only of Joyce but of his greatest work Ulysses (1922). And although Miller may have read that novel (how well, who can say?), he flatly refused to read “Work in Progress,” later, Finnegans Wake (1939).(Although who can blame him there, since the Wake is a formidable challenge to anyone, but he should have been honest enough to admit it.) “Ulysses was enough for me. I am no longer interested in Joyce, [or] in his progress,” he wrote.[4] Miller would not be the first, or the last, to balk at reading the Wake. But the admission tells us more about Miller than it does about the difficulty of that work.

All this brings me to some general comments about “The Universe of Death”: There is an animus in it hard to find in any other piece of twentieth-century literature, an envy so intense that it borders on blind hatred, softened only when he feels obliged to give Joyce a grudging compliment: “His work is the most triumphant monument to disillusionment that has ever been erected” (104). But that can be said of other great works of literature. Think of Hamlet, of Madame Bovary, of A Portrait of a Lady, in which the theme of disillusionment may be even greater. Yet these works do not elicit the rage that Miller directed at Joyce, possibly because they were too far away in time—and in generations and circumstances, both literary and biographical—to be the object of such intense animus. (Another rather amusing example of literary jealousy is Ernest Hemingway, who had to go back to the nineteenth century to “get into the ring with” and “take on” such “rivals” as Stendhal, Ivan Turgenev, and Leo Tolstoy, to use Hemingway’s habitual boxing metaphors. But then his was an impersonal rivalry, not the venomous personal envy that Miller bore for Joyce.)

Initially, Miller intended to mount an attack on Joyce, Marcel Proust, and D. H. Lawrence. But that was not to be—at least not when it came to his (final) assessment of Lawrence. Although Miller took Proust to task for his obsession with a dying aristocracy in Remembrance of Things Past (1922),[5] Revised in the D. J. Enright translation In Search of Lost Time (1981,1992), his assault on Proust never reached the level of blind fury as it did with Joyce. As for Lawrence, Miller’s view of him took on quite another—and unexpected—turn. Which leads to a cautionary tale, as related in “Universe of Death”:

Jack Kahane, publisher of Miller’s first book, Tropic of Cancer [6] had urged Miller to write a “brochure” about his famous contemporaries—Joyce, Proust, and Lawrence—to pave the way for the reception of the work. It would show Miller as someone to be taken seriously and not just an obscure “cunt painter.” Miller balked at the idea. Why should he be placed in the position of a sycophantic follower? But at Kahane’s further insistence, he finally gave way and feverishly began to jot down notes that were to form the basis of that brochure. But the notes were to grow and grow, as did Miller’s newly awakened admiration for Lawrence. And what was intended as an introductory “brochure” became, many years later, The World of Lawrence, which was not published until 1980, the year of Miller’s death.

When Miller set out to write his brochure, Proust, Joyce, and Lawrence were, presumably, going to be the targets of his attack. But we now know that is not what happened: Lawrence became an icon, and Proust was let off easily, but when it came to Joyce, Miller dropped all restraint. Ironically, the earlier brochure, which was to pave the way for Tropic of Cancer, was never published, in spite of Kahane’s fond wishes to the contrary. But the notes for the brochure have survived to form the basis for The World of Lawrence.[7]

*          *          *

In “The Universe of Death,” a chapter in The World of Lawrence, Miller attempts to destroy Joyce’s stature as one of the great writers of his time. He attempted to do so by tearing down Joyce’s work, the prime target being Ulysses (1922). The essay is not so much a critical analysis, in the sense of Matthew Arnold’s touchstone criterion, the “disinterested endeavor to learn the best that is known and thought in the world;”[8] it is Miller’s attempt to portray Joyce as a cold medieval scholar, “all mind,” a description hardly intended as a compliment. So “mind,” for Miller, becomes a pejorative. But the operative and most frequently used word with which he assaults Joyce—and Ulysses—is “death.” Needless to say, Miller does not employ the word in any legitimate literary or critical context; rather, it is meant as an ad homonym attack—some seventeen times, not counting its inclusion in the title of the chapter. The word most used after “death” is “dead” and after that “dying.” Other labels employed in Miller’s hysterical assault on Ulysses, are “mortuary,” “cadaver,” “fear of life,” and others with similar meanings.

As if thirty-four references to death and dying in a chapter of some thirty pages were not enough, Miller piles it on with even greater gusto by applying such “critical judgments” to Joyce’s work as “pox,” “glaucus fluid,” “vomit,” “malady,” “disease,” “stagnant cesspool,” “dirty crummy” (about Molly’s bed), and “dung”—a stream of vituperation rarely seen in literary criticism, before or since. But then Miller did not profess to be a literary critic; indeed, his contempt for professional literary critics was as great as, if not greater than that in which he held Joyce. In view of such a litany of abuse, it is difficult to take Miller seriously as a literary critic, any more than we can take him seriously as a thinker. His enthusiasms were heady (vide Lawrence), and his hatreds gave no quarter, so Miller’s language is not the literary critic’s but the hater’s, a hater who wished to destroy a figure that he, Henry Miller, could never hope to rival—though he had some pretensions, as we shall see.

Here are some further examples from The World of Lawrence, now highlighted within the context of phrases and sentences: “For at bottom, there is in Joyce a profound hatred for humanity—the scholar’s hatred”; “[Ulysses] is like a vomit spilled by a delicate child whose stomach has been overloaded with sweetmeats”; “[Ulysses is a] stupendous deluge of pus and excrement”; “Joyce the mad baboon”; “a cadaver like Joyce”; and on and on.

Joyce was only some nine years older than Miller, but he was already famous enough for the younger man to look upon him as a father figure or at least as an older brother, with all of the sibling rivalry implicit in those words. Yet what sticks in Miller’s craw is that Kahane should have the chutzpah to urge him to write a critical treatment of his great contemporaries—Joyce, Proust, and Lawrence. Miller could not bear the thought that anyone close to his own age could be his superior. Although something of a Freudian, even when he damns Freud, he cannot help but act out the Freudian role, that of a son who needs to vanquish the father synthesized as Proust/Joyce. With Proust, as we have seen, it is a stage killing rather than the mayhem he reserved for his true bête noire, James Augustine Joyce.

Miller criticizes Joyce for substituting art for life. Yet Ulysses is a work throbbing with life and the lives of Dubliners—all crammed into a sixteen-hour day—their public concerns and private frustrations, their religion, their politics, their nationalism, their families, their assignations, their cuckoldings (and the gossip growing out of them), and even their culinary preferences (Bloom “relishing” the inner organs of animals). To that end, Joyce was not only a recorder of life in all of its variety, but he employed as many varied techniques to achieve that end; yet he belonged to no school, no coterie, no clique, whether realist, surrealist, or naturalist—Modernist was a label he would never have applied to himself, anymore than to any of his fellow writers at the time. He was first and foremost the word juggler, the punster, the jokester, the symbolist (lower case), the creator of prose styles ranging from the repertory of the music hall to its antipodes, the clinical language of the medical report, [9] literary roles demonstrating a virtuosity unequaled not just in the twentieth-century novel but in every novel before and after. By contrast, there is little of the virtuoso or symbolist in Miller, except in a few self-conscious forays into the surrealist “night life.”[10]

Charles Rossman, who wrote an introduction to Miller’s notes for that seminal brochure, has this to say of Miller’s attack: “[Miller] offers no sustained and coherent argument [against Joyce]” (249). Short but not-so-sweet–but accurate. What is troubling here is that between those first inchoate and formless notes and the work that grew out of them, published decades later, Miller seems not to have undergone a sea-change, nor a rethinking of his views toward Joyce. One might have thought that in his maturity, if not old age, he would have had some second thoughts about his attacks of some fifty years earlier. But there is nothing to suggest that he had relented or changed his mind; indeed, he allowed those intemperate outbursts to stand, with no allowances for the mellowing of age or a revision of his earlier positions. That he did not change his opinion, eloquently reveals something of the deep intensity of Miller’s lifelong (one-sided) war on Joyce. (I have never run across anything in the voluminous literature on Joyce that suggests that he was even aware of Henry Miller. Could that have been an added thorn in Miller’s side?) Here was a man who spoke of Joyce as having a deep hatred for the human race. But then, in passing, so did Jonathan Swift, a fellow countryman, which did not detract from his stature as one of the great satirists of all time. Indeed, that very quirk of character may well have inspired the passion in Swift’s satire. But if Miller described Joyce as having a hatred for the human race, what was his own attitude toward his fellow humans? Let the following passage from The World of Lawrence speak for itself:

I am for a complete fanatical and religious revolution. I don’t care how much blood is spilled, nor how many people are exterminated. I wouldn’t mind if half the earth were depopulated, if there sprang up a plague that strewed the earth with cadavers so that the very heavens stank. I think it would be a relief to have a genuine stench, a putrescent stench and not just the stench of SHIT [Miller’s capitals]. I think, if you will permit me the delicacy, that Joyce is such a stench. As much as I have championed Lawrence so much and more will I attack Joyce.” (18-19)

A harmless blowing off of steam? A gory fantasy summoned up to assuage some deep-seated frustrations? Personally, I have my doubts that Miller meant what he said. If memory serves, he appeared to be a surprisingly gentle person when contrasted against the passionate anger in much of his work. But if he was just sounding off for effect, then enough time had passed—some fifty years—for him to correct for error. As I have indicated, what is revealing is that, as late as 1980, pending the publication of The World of Lawrence, he allowed the passage to stand. By then, he had witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust, the millions murdered in Russia and China, Pol Pot’s killing fields, yet there is not even a disclaimer, not even a footnote to amend or qualify such an outburst. If it was vintage Miller out to shock, that would not only be a bad joke but an assault on conscience, his own as well as ours.

Unlike Joyce, Miller had small patience with the best in English literature, much less the English people. Unfortunately for him, he wrote off one of the great literatures of the world, as well as its greatest eminence, William Shakespeare, whom he dismissed as possessing more “girth” than “depth”.[11] And although both he and Joyce shared an admiration of the Europeans—for Joyce, Henrik Ibsen and Gustave Flaubert; for Miller, a galaxy ranging from Rimbaud to Fyodor Dostoevsky to Céline–Joyce possessed something that Miller lacked: a thorough grounding in the English poets and prose masters, from the writings of the early Anglo-Saxons to contemporary authors. There are two exceptions to Miller’s stunted view of English literature: these are, of course, D. H. Lawrence and that other Lawrence, his friend Durrell. But then both of these came closer to the Europeans than they did to their own countrymen. Miller reinforces that view when, in an interview in the Paris Review in 1961, he says of Durrell: “I hardly think of him as an English writer. I think of him as un-British completely.”[12] As for D. H. L, even that demigod had his limits for Miller, for although he came to look upon Lawrence as a savior, he regarded him as a truncated one. In dying in his forties, Lawrence did not live long enough to fulfill the promise that Miller imagined for him. Lawrence may have been a revolutionary but, for Miller, not a fully evolved one. Yet Miller celebrated the Englishman for his crusade against a civilization that would create sexually repressed, soulless robots: in short, everything that would stifle the “spontaneity of blood” (a whiff of Nazi “philosophy” here?). But, in many ways, with the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s over, that is a battle long won—or lost—depending on your point of view. But if it was a victory, it was a Pyrrhic victory with the resulting efflorescence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Joyce, on the other hand, did not wish to save anyone or worship saviors. (Miller vehemently denied his faith in saviors, but his ardor for Lawrence, not only as a writer but as a prophet, suggests otherwise. Note the adjective in the subtitle to The World of Lawrence—a passionate appreciation). As we now know from looking back at the history of Ulysses in England and America, Lawrence and Miller had something in common with Joyce—the works of all three were banned in those countries. With Joyce, however, sex is there, to be sure, but it is just another current (albeit a powerful one) in the stream of life and not the obsessive preoccupation that it became in the work of Miller or, in a less crude though more artistic way, with Lawrence. The implication of both Miller’s and Lawrence’s message is that the use of sex in their works—or its repression—was only a vehicle to expose the underlying sickness of a society whose pathology led to repression and the maladies growing out of it. Yet in spite of such a noble goal, in Miller’s work, women become whores, “cunts,” or “sex objects,” though that latter term of feminist coinage would have only brought a shrug of indifference from him.

Joyce has also used the “f-” and “c-” words, as we so delicately call such sexually explicit terms today, but unlike Miller, he never employed them as sneering disparagements; instead, with him, they are incantatory, as in Molly Bloom’s “earth prayer” celebrating the power and innate wisdom of Woman. And even in that sphere—the sexual—Molly Bloom’s affirmative “yes” is a considerable contrast to Miller’s snide references to cunts and whores and lays. The claim that these words were used by characters in a work of fiction, (though in fairness to Miller, he himself never made such a claim) does not wash, since, as we already know, Miller always insisted that he was not writing fiction; he was writing about himself, Henry Miller, his life and times. If there is any doubt, as Miller repeatedly insists, he puts that doubt to rest: Is there any doubt that he, Miller, is the “hero” of his works and the writer who wrote them; and that Henry Miller, the character, and Henry Miller the writer, are one and the same?[13]

*          *          *

Not just in his attack on Joyce but elsewhere, Miller draws a line between “art” and “life.” For Miller, art is seen as artifice, something precious and artificial. This is a false dichotomy, of course, for life and art can coexist without one necessarily excluding the other. But according to Miller, art is something dead—again that word!—never the equal of life, at best an irrelevancy (as though art were not as much a part of life as speech and every other human expression!); for Miller, art—that is, “literature” (the word always used in quotes)—as distinct from “life,” is always fake, something apart, a hobbyhorse for the art-for-art’s sake crowd.

But others have seen other connections: Hamlet speaks of the art of the theater as “holding the mirror up to nature,” read: life; and Aristotle in the “Poetics,” a work much admired by Joyce, speaks of it as an “imitation of life,”[14] but Miller was about to change all of that. According to him, Joyce retreated from life by placing art above life—a questionable assumption, since Joyce created art out of life. The passages in Ulysses that give us the pulse of Dublin on 16 June 1904 are as filled with life as anything Miller produced in his entire massive, if uneven, output. Joyce’s Dubliners—with Everyman Bloom as representative of all of them—bear within them the yearnings, the joys, the sorrows of all of us and are not limited, as in Miller, to marginal characters—eccentrics, lumpens, and a mixed bag of surrealistes with whom he rubbed shoulders in New York and Paris.

*          *          *

If imitation is a form of flattery, then attempting to best the thing imitated is beyond flattery; it is an inverted kind of envy; in Miller’s case, however, it was an envy so great that he intended to out-Joyce Joyce. In a letter to Kahane expressing his displeasure at having to play second fiddle to Joyce and Proust, quoted in The World of Lawrence, Miller says that he is determined to add a chapter to the Tropic of Cancer that would “rival or excel” Molly Bloom’s long celebration of life in the closing pages of Ulysses (12). But if death and dying, as Miller insists, is what Ulysses is all about (Paddy Dignam’s funeral cortege on its way to Glasnevin; Bloom’s thoughts on death and the corruption of the body in that cemetery; the religious routines of burial; the death pangs of Stephen Daedalus’s mother), life has its innings, too. In “Oxen of the Sun,” not only the death of the body but the death of the soul is personified in the roistering, half-drunk medical students in the Holles Street maternity hospital. But even as they poke fun at the birth—and death—process, life, like the knocking at the door in Macbeth, intrudes with the arrival of Mina Purefoy’s baby.

Bloom, there in the hospital to pay his respects to and show his concern for Mrs. Purefoy – who has been in labor for three days – observes the horseplay and clownings of the medical students. He views those young men dimly and censoriously and cogitates on doctors who pronounce a patient dead, then go up to the delivery room to oversee a birth: As he dolefully observes, “From one extreme to the other” (U 6.382). But it is in the birth of Mrs. Purefoy’s baby that Joyce answers the snide cynicism of the students in that life-affirming scene that gives the lie to the idea that Joyce was “half in love with. . .death.” If there is death, there is birth, too—and the business of living in between—that is what Ulysses is all about.

As for Miller, by contrast, he could only produce what is actually one long work, in spite of the parts—the “books”—that are broken down into discrete titles, publication dates, and themes—the “novels,” the philosophical “excurses,” the books about books (The Books in My Life), the travel books (The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), perhaps Miller’s best work, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare), memoirs of Paris in the 1930s, the autobiographical Tropics, and the massive trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion[15]. What Miller has bequeathed to us and American literature is a deluge of millions of words, more than rivaling Thomas Wolfe’s gargantuan output, all focusing on a single subject, Henry Miller, and collectively titled “The Adventures of Henry Miller” by Henry Miller (a leaf out of Proust here?). And while Miller was far from being a minor writer—Tropic of Cancer is 50 in Modern Library’s list of greatest English language novels–he did not approach the stature of an I. B. Singer, a Saul Bellow, a Scott Fitzgerald, or the Ernest Hemingway of the short stories. Yet while Miller’s achievement is not comparable to theirs, one must grant him an important place in the pantheon of American writers. His influence on a later generation of poets and authors, especially on the Beat writers, was formidable, though they rarely gave him credit for it.

*          *          *

Frank Budgen says of Molly Bloom: “There can be but few women in literature that do not look sickly in their virtues and vices alongside Molly Bloom.”[16] And for all his envy of and anger at Joyce, Miller cannot resist a grudging admiration (typically cast in a catalog of Milleresque superlatives) for one of the great female characters in fiction. In The World of Lawrence, he comments—paradoxically and self-contradictorily, considering the attacks he has already aimed at Joyce–“[Molly Bloom is] the very image of Woman, [who] bulks large and enduring. Beside her, the others are reduced to pygmies. [She] is water, tree, and earth. She is mystery. . . . With Molly Bloom . . . woman is restored to prime significance—as womb and matrix of life.” (110-11; my italic, SB). Compare Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley with Joyce’s Molly or any of Miller’s “cunts” to show how weak and ineffectual they are. Beside Molly Bloom, Constance Chatterley is a pathetic victim, a plaything of fate, not an active and energetic player in it. (Had Lawrence chosen his wife, the earthy Frieda, on which to model an important female character in his work, even as Joyce did with Nora, he might then have been able to say, “This is the woman other women should try to model themselves on!”). And while Lawrence treats Lady Chatterley as victim, Miller treats his females—dare we call them characters in a novel?—as predatory whores at worst, and, at best. loveable “pals” or “acquaintances” (Mademoiselle Claude) with whom to share a meal, a drink, a bed. But these are fractional women limned by fractional men—the effeminate Lawrence in one case, the roguish Miller in the other. On the other hand, Joyce was neither Miller’s rogue nor woman-dependent Lawrence. He was an all-around family man, who, as is now common knowledge, drew on Nora Joyce, née Barnacle, for his creation of Molly Bloom. And like Nora, Molly is neither a victim à la Lady Chatterley nor is she Miller’s accommodating Ibsenite doll of a good, bad whore; she is a strong, earthy woman, both spouse (if legally belated by some twenty-seven years) and, before that, common-law wife.

Even in Molly’s long somnolent altitudo that ends Ulysses, she is more alive when half asleep than Lady Chatterley is, fully awake. Could anyone ever imagine Molly Bloom putting up with the empty, dead life that was Constance Chatterley’s, until Mellors, game-keeper extraordinaire and Lawrencian savior, appears on the scene? But then Lawrence—and Miller—had an axe to grind; Joyce had no axes, no agendas, only the compulsion to “recreate life out of life.”

At the end of the day—that sixteen-hour day—Ulysses is about flawed human nature. And when, in the winding down of Molly’s long interior monologue that ends both the day and the novel, she impatiently gives vent to the statement “I wouldnt give a snap of my two fingers for all their learning why dont they go and create something” (U 18.1564-65), we wonder how that outburst could have been overlooked by Miller, for it is, ironically, a cri-de-coeur that Miller—and Lawrence—would have, and should have heartily endorsed.

*          *          *

“Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion,” says Arthur Koestler,[17] and that includes what was once my own hyped-up view of Miller the writer. Yet I must make a distinction between the writer and the man, even though Miller would have scoffed at the idea: For the impression that Henry Miller left me with, both in 1947, accompanied by my old friend, the late Richard (“Dick”) Hawthorne, and the hour or so my wife Eva and I spent with him in the spring of 1955, was a stunning contrast to the persona of his works.

On that last occasion, in 1955, I found the road up to the summit of Partington Ridge and Miller’s cabin steep and treacherous, made even worse by its unpaved mix of dirt and gravel. And even as I slid the gear home into low, ready to climb that road, I already had apprehensions about the return back down. If the journey up would be no pushover, I had little doubt that the way down could be even more hazardous. Miller, all too practiced and familiar with that precipitous descent, having negotiated it with his jeep whenever he went into Carmel or Monterey for some shopping, agreed that it had its challenges and thoughtfully offered to lead me down.

Arriving at the highway (I with a sigh of relief), Miller got out of his jeep, came over to my car, and stuck his head through the open window to say good-bye to my wife and me. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, but before he returned to his jeep, I signaled that I had something more to say. For some odd reason, a sentence from Charles Reade’s The Cloister & the Hearth (1861) came to mind.[18] It had been years since I had read the novel, but certain words had stuck, and I repeated them on this occasion: “There is nothing but meeting and parting in this world,” a melancholy thought, given the possibility we would not meet again—which turned out to be the case. Miller’s response was immediate: “Maybe,” and his eyes lit up, “but what is important is to meet!”

As I have said, I am no longer the youthful admirer of decades past, but I will always remember Henry Miller as a thoughtful, soft-spoken, gentle man, in contrast to the apocalyptic persona of his works—the deceptive callousness, the urge to blow things up. Now I look upon all that as the posturings of a man drunk on his own passionate language, which he allowed to get out of hand. Thus, sadly, a good man, and in many ways a fine writer, surrendered to an envy so great that it ate away at his soul—and blurred his vision of one of the great writers of our age.

Sam Bluefarb and Dick Hawthorne
With Henry Miller
Big Sur, California
Summer, 1947



[1] Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (New York: Grove Press, 1961), v.

[2] George Orwell, “Inside the Whale,” in A Collection of Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1953) 213, 215

[3] Miller, “The Universe of Death,” The World of Lawrence: A Passionate  Appreciation (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1980), pp. 65-117. Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text.

[4] The quotation comes from one of two notebooks of Miller’s housed in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. It is quoted in Charles Rossman, in: Miller, “The Universe of Death,” The World of Lawrence: A Passionate Appreciation, 65-117.

[5] Marcel Proust ,  À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time:: Nouvelle revue francaise, 1922)

[6] For information on Jack Kahane and Miller’s brochure, see The World of Lawrence (p.104). Miller’s first book was The Tropic of Cancer (Paris: Obelisk Press, 1934)

[7] I wish to thank Richard B. Watson, of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center and managing editor of Joyce Studies Annual, for sending me, at my request,, copies of Miller’s notes, which proved invaluable to me in the writing of this essay.

[8] See Matthew Arnold, “The  Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” Essays in Criticism (New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1927), p. 38.

[9] [I]n 1903, Joyce left for Paris to study medicine, but he soon abandoned this after finding the lectures in French too difficult. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Joyce

[10] The phrase is Miller’s. See Miller and Bezalel Schatz,  (Berkeley: Henry Miller and Bezalel Schatz, 1947), a limited edition, silk-screened, hand-written text that sold for $100, a considerable sum in those days—and not exactly a bargain today!

[11] Miller, The Cosmological Eye (Norfolk, Conn: New Directions, 1939), p. 231.

[12] Miller, Writers at Work: “The Paris Review” Interviews, ed. George Plimpton (New York: Viking Press, 1963), p.180.

[13] Even the most honest of autobiographies—and if we take Miller at his word, Tropic of Cancer is autobiography, as indeed is much of his work such  “objective”  and self-revealing works, more often than not, will tend to exaggeration and doctoring. So that, in effect, there is a healthy dose of fiction in the most “truthful” autobiography. This can often be as unconscious as it is “truthful.”

[14] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blackmore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974)), 3.2.22 and Aristotle, The Poetics (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1920).

[15] See Miller, The Books in My Life (New York: New Directions, 1969); The Colossus of Maroussi (San Francisco: Colt Press, 1941); The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (New York: New Directions, 1945); Tropic of Capricorn (Paris: Obelisk Press, 1939; and The Rosy Crucifixion (Paris:Odelisk Press, 1949)..

[16] Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the making of “Ulysses” (Bloomington: Indina univ. Press, 1967), p. 206.

[17] Arthur Koestler, The Yogi and the Commissar  (1945, New York: Collier Books, 1961), p. 195.

[18] Charles Reade, The Cloister and the Heart, or, Maid, Wife, and Widow; a matter-of-fact romance ( New York: Harper Books, 1914) Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text.

Sam Bluefarb is Prof. Emeritus, Los Angeles Harbor College.

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