If Henry Miller’s first novel, TROPIC OF CANCER, can be seen as a modern version of Dante’s INFERNO, then this novel is clearly Miller’s version of Dante’s PURGATORIO. The earlier book describes a world of sex and surreal violence without love. This novel opens in a similarly hellish environment, but the central character (a fictional version of the author) recognizes its nature, passes through a series of purgatorial punishments, and emerges possessed of an angelic or paradisiac vision.
The book opens with Miller living in New York and working as personnel manager of the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company. He describes himself as a clown living in an insane world, dominated by his deadly business life, violence at home in a loveless marriage, and crazy random sex. With the lesson of his father’s broken spirit before him, he dreams of the imaginative freedom he finds in books but sinks into a torpor of despair at the life around him.
The only force that keeps him from giving in to his despair is the sensuous power he finds in sex. The middle portion of the book is a catalog of sexual encounters, present and remembered, all explicitly described in Miller’s uniquely explosive language. This sexual landscape is purgatorial, filled with suffering and betrayal and loss, but ultimately liberating.
The book is dedicated to “Her,” a woman like Dante’s Beatrice who opens to him a vision of life beyond the wheel of destiny. He...
(The entire section is 474 words.)