Henry Miller’s autobiographical novel Tropic of Cancer describes the experiences of a down and out American writer (also named Henry Miller) in Paris. After it was published by Obelisk Press in Paris in 1934, its vigorous writing secured for it an underground reputation among readers and critics able to visit France. However, the book’s sexual content made its importation into the United States illegal. After U.S. Customs officials confiscated a copy the year of its publication, it was declared obscene in a federal district court.
In 1940 a pirated edition of Tropic of Cancer appeared in New York; however, it was not openly published in the United States until Grove Press issued it in 1961. Grove anticipated legal complications when it published the book; however, the process of legally defending it proved to be extraordinarily expensive and time-consuming. Grove was forced into court in state after state, and won decisively only in 1964, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the book not obscene.
In Tropic of Cancer Miller had declared himself “the happiest man alive.” He had defended his book as an expression of a life lived openly and honestly. Thus the Supreme Court’s decision represented not only a legal victory for Miller and Grove Press, but also a measure of personal vindication.