In an interview, Henry Miller once described himself as one part a writer of tales and one part a man electrified by ideas. This simple dichotomy provides a way to classify Miller’s work, but, in truth, his wholecanon is autobiographical. The many collections of his shorter pieces—portraits, essays, stories, travel sketches, reviews, letters—are all of value in ascertaining the truth of his life, his admitted literary goal. For example, The Colossus of Maroussi: Or, The Spirit of Greece (1941), Miller’s first book about Greece, is ostensibly about George Katsimbalis, a leading figure in modern Greek letters. Katsimbalis, however, turns out to be Miller’s alter ego, a fascinating monologuist, and the book becomes the record of Miller’s attaining peace of heart through the elemental beauty of Greece. The Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud (1956) is less about Arthur Rimbaud than about the romantic affinities between Miller’s and Rimbaud’s lives. In Miller’s books, all things become translated into images of his own mental landscape.
When Henry Miller repatriated in 1940, only The Cosmological Eye (1939), a collection of short pieces drawn from Max and the White Phagocytes (1938), had been published in the United States; all of his fiction was deemed too obscene for publication. In France, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn had been seized in 1946, and Miller was convicted as a pornographer. After an outcry of French writers, this conviction was reversed, but in 1950, Sexus was banned in France, and in 1957, it was condemned as obscene in Norway. When Tropic of Cancer was finally published in the United States, in 1961, by Barney Rosset of Grove Press, more than sixty lawsuits were instituted against Miller and the book. Miller became the most litigated-against author in history, and the book was allowed to circulate only after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1965.
The furor over Miller’s books’ alleged obscenity prevented dispassionate evaluation of his literary merit for many years, and Miller feared that he would be dismissed as the king of smut. He was, however, inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1957, and he received a citation from the Formentor Prize Committee, in France, in 1961 and the French Legion of Honor in 1975.
These memberships and citations, however, do not mark Miller’s true achievement. His true quest and calling was to narrow the gap between art and life. That...
Brown, J. D. Henry Miller. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1986. A concise assessment of Miller’s work in relation to the events of his life, with a particularly good summary chapter entitled “Autobiography in America.” Brown writes with clarity and knows the material well. Includes a chronology of the events of Miller’s life, a bibliography of his writing through 1980, and useful sections listing interviews, bibliographical collections, biographies, and selected criticism.
Dearborn, Mary V. The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.
Ferguson, Robert. Henry Miller: A Life. New York: Norton, 1991. A full and sensitive treatment of Miller’s life and work. See especially the first chapter for the problems involved in interpreting Miller, the response of feminist critics, and the difficulties of evaluating Miller’s memoirs. Includes notes and bibliography.
Gottesman, Ronald, ed. Critical Essays on Henry Miller. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. Divided into sections on the early Miller (includes biographical material and book reviews); the “phallic” Miller (including conflicting interpretations by Norman Mailer and Kate Millett); the “orphic” Miller; the “American” Miller; and various retrospectives of his life and career, including memoirs....