Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Henry Valentine Miller was born in the Yorkville section of Manhattan’s Upper East Side the day after Christmas in 1891. His father, Heinrich Miller, was an affable raconteur who ran a tailor shop, while his mother, Louis Marie Nieting, liked the stability and order of a stolid community of merchants and conventional shops. Before Miller was a year old, his family moved across the East River to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where young Henry spoke German until he entered school. He was a good student, ranking second in his high school class, and upon graduation in 1909, he entered City College of New York but dropped out after only one term.
For the next few years, he worked at a variety of jobs, traveled to California (where he met Emma Goldman), read widely, and began to dream of becoming a writer. Financial restrictions kept pulling him back to Brooklyn and his parents’ home, and after a number of affairs, he married Beatrice Wickens, a piano teacher, in 1917. Two years later, his daughter Barbara was born, and in that same year, his first written works were published—a few reviews for a small short-story magazine called The Black Cat, based in Salem, Massachusetts.
Miller succeeded in getting a job as an employment manager for Western Union Telegraph Company in 1920, a position he used as the basis for the first part...
(The entire section is 1175 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Miller became famous for the wrong reasons and stayed famous for the right ones. Although his books have never been studied in American schools, he is one of the United States’ most widely read authors. Beyond the shock of his examinations of previously forbidden aspects of human behavior, readers have discovered his erudition, his insight into every aspect of human nature, his mastery of an appealing style of expression (what George Orwell called his “friendly American voice”), and his judicious critique of contemporary society. His work, although uneven, eccentric, sprawling, and not always tasteful, remains compelling in accordance with Ezra Pound’s definition of literature—“News that stays news.”
(The entire section is 109 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Henry Valentine Miller was born on December 26, 1891, in the Yorkville section of New York City. Both of his parents were of German stock: His father, a gentleman’s tailor, came from jovial people; his mother and her family typified the austere, industrious, respectable bourgeois life against which Miller was to rebel so vehemently. For the first nine years of his life, the family lived in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the Fourteenth Ward. For Miller, this was a child’s paradise.
When Miller was ten years old, his family moved to Decatur Street, the so-called Street of Early Sorrows, in Brooklyn’s Bushwick section. His teenage experiences there helped form his attitudes on life, literature, and women. Miller was an affable young man; his special friends at this time were members of the Xerxes Society, a musical crowd. Male conviviality would be important to Miller throughout his life.
Miller was a model student and graduated as salutatorian from high school, but his formal education ended after a few months at the City College of New York. Always an avid reader—he had read through the Harvard classics as well as many romantic and adventure tales—Miller became an autodidact. By the time he was twenty years old, he had devoured such diverse authors as Joseph Conrad, Madame Blavatsky, and François Rabelais and had decided that he wanted to be a writer—about what, he did not know. Besides frequenting theaters in New York and...
(The entire section is 1506 words.)
The three decades marking the most productive period in Henry Miller’s life as a writer coincided with the period in which the legal community in the United States confronted the issues of publishing and distributing literary works that some people deem obscene or pornographic. The number of court cases on this issue reached an all-time high from the mid-1950’s to the early 1960’s. Famous trials considered such literary masterpieces as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959), Edmund Wilson’s Memoirs of Hecate County (1949), and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Some of these works were unavailable in the United States for many years as court cases dragged on or settled against publication.
The greatest number of trials involved Tropic of Cancer, first published by the Obelisk Press in Paris in 1934. In 1961, Grove Press published the book in the United States. Reviewers were mixed in their assessment, but tended to be sympathetic, perhaps because they realized that the publication involved a major censorship issue. Grove Press anticipated only minor opposition to the distribution of Tropic of Cancer since they had successfully defended the case for the U.S. publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1959. Within a short period,...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Biography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Miller was an unsuccessful writer until his experiences as a penniless expatriate in Paris galvanized his imagination. The result was Tropic of Cancer (1934), a loosely organized account of his life in Paris as well as an ecstatic record of self- discovery. The sexually explicit book establishes a distinction between Miller’s often romantic yearnings and the mechanical lustful adventures of his male friends. The novel was published by Obelisk Press, a French publisher specializing in experimental literature, and was followed by Tropic of Capricorn (1939), a savage evocation of Miller’s earlier years in Brooklyn. Both books drew critical praise, but were routinely seized by U.S. Customs agents because of their allegedly obscene content when tourists attempted to bring them home. As a result, Miller’s public reputation was distorted and his income remained negligible.
Obelisk Press went on to publish an even more sexually graphic Miller novel, Sexus, in 1949. The firm’s successor, Olympia Press, published this book’s sequel, Plexus (1953), as well as Quiet Days in Clichy (1956), an early work that represents one of Miller’s few attempts at turning out sexually explicit material for pay. Like most of Miller’s other writings, these...
(The entire section is 972 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Creator of a first-person style that deftly mixes fact, philosophy, and fantasy, Henry Valentine Miller was born in the Yorkville section of Manhattan. His father, Heinrich, drank heavily; his mother, Louise, was stern and domineering; his only sibling, Lauretta, was mentally retarded. Miller spent most of his youth in Brooklyn, living in Williamsburg from 1892 to 1900 and Bushwick from 1901 to 1907. An earnest reader, he enjoyed close friendships with neighborhood boys but felt inhibited among his female peers. In 1909 he entered the City College of New York but soon left. After beginning work as a cement company clerk, he embarked on a rigorous physical regimen that included pacing cyclists on their weekend races. In the years that followed Miller moved from job to job, meeting many people, including the anarchist Emma Goldman during a trip west. Upon his return to New York, he worked in his father’s tailor shop. In 1917 Miller married the pianist Beatrice Sylvas Wickens; their child Barbara was born two years later. In 1920 he began a four-year stint as the employment manager of Western Union.
Frustrated in an unhappy marriage, Miller became infatuated with June Edith Smith, whom he met in a dance hall in 1923; the following year he left Western Union, divorced Beatrice, married June, and tried to develop his literary skills. During the emotionally...
(The entire section is 787 words.)