How is Henry Milleer's novel Black Spring a "city novel"?  

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry Miller’s novel Black Spring can be classified as a “city novel” for a number of different reasons, including the following:

  • It opens by emphasizing that the narrator was born in a large city (Brooklyn, New York), and it immediately stresses the importance of this urban setting:

. . . I was born in the street and raised in the street.

  • It continually emphasizes urban settings, especially different parts of New York City.
  • It emphasizes a number of other cities besides New York, as when the narrator mentions being dragged

through far streets in far places, . . . Quebec, Chula Vista, Brownsville, Suresnes, Monte Carlo, Czernewitz, Darmstadt [and many other cities – 84 in all – and including some of the largest cities in the world].

  • Much of the novel is set in Paris. As the reviewer cited below notes,

Much of this book is set in Paris and Miller seems to transform this busy, commercial capital into an almost mystical place.  Never more so in fact than in the chapter, “Walking Up and Down in China,” where Miller experiences Paris as China, with its Great Wall of streets and boulevards which he wanders through and lives out a Chinese life, an incomprehensible opium-inspired dream of “a man who wakes from a long sleep to find he is dreaming.”

  • Miller’s publisher (cited below) also stresses the heavily urban aspects of the book:

he sucks us along at his mad, free-associating pace as he reverberates between America and Paris, transporting us from the damp grime of his Brooklyn youth to sun-splashed French cafés and squalid Paris flats; from a winter night, pure as ammonia, to a dream where a woman’s body has the strong white aroma of sorrow. Miller writes with an incomparable hard glee, shifting effortlessly from Vergil to venereal disease, from Rabelais to Roquefort, to the beauty of a statue defaced during a carnival. He captures like no one else the blending of people and the cities they inhabit, and Black Spring coheres in a seductive technicolor swirl of Paris and New York.”

In short, Black Spring is a “city novel” not only in its settings but also in its fundamental concerns. It does not simply take place in two of the largest cities in the world but also emphasizes the kinds of lives lived in those places. Its narrator isn’t simply a resident of those places; he is an active participant in, and explorer of, those places.




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