Monday, November 11, 2013


Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller, Grove Press, 1961, 318 pp

This book was published in something like 1934 in France and was instantly banned everywhere else. It was called immoral and smutty and indeed I first read it while at a babysitting job in the 1960s during my ongoing search for the truth about sex.

Beginning with Nabokov's Lolita and D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, the famous obscenity trials of the 1950s brought such books into legitimate print in the United States. Many of them became overnight bestsellers. Tropic of Cancer was the #6 bestseller in 1961.

I suppose you could say that these books started the sexual revolution. They certainly did for me. Raised in a German Lutheran family under the thumb of guilt, trying to be "good" and fascinated with being "bad," they led me down the treacherous path of "personal freedom."

When I read Tropic of Cancer in my teens I was thrilled to learn all the dirty words and to discover that some people had sex whenever they felt like it and just because they wanted to. Somehow it was lost on me that Henry Miller was a guy while I was a girl. Even today, despite Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, and all my other spiritual sisters in crime, women and personal freedom, women and sex, women and just about anything else you can think of is still a long work in progress.

Reading Miller now in my mid 60s, I saw that he was even more dangerous than the old Puritan hierarchy ever dreamed. (Or maybe they knew?) His auto-biographical fiction was a big fuck you to the repressive control of progress, materialism, money-grubbing, and even, if I may be so bold, to the imperialist vision of the Western white man's world where if everyone just agreed with big cars, Coca Cola, and democracy, we would have utopia (translation: world domination) across the earth.

Basically the man was an anarchist; not the angry, destructive kind but the happy, optimistic kind. So OK, I am now old enough to know that life is various and complicated, that easy answers are not available. But wow, it sure was bracing to read his propulsive, all-caution-to-the-wind, song of himself. Even when he was hungry, cold, and broke on the streets of Paris, you get the feeling the kid's alright.

He lived almost 88 years!

(Tropic of Cancer is available in paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

No comments:

Post a Comment