Henry Miller was a big name in the world of American literature and he was also a painter. He was known for breaking all social norms and developed a new sort of ‘novel’, which contained a mixture of social criticism, autobiography, philosophical reflection and mysticism. His most distinctive works are ‘Tropic Cancer’, ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ and ‘Black Spring’. He also wrote many travel memoirs and essays of literary analysis and criticism. One of the most influential writers of the 20th century, Miller’s obscene and explicit content paved way to a new generation of American writers and literary styles. From a very young age, he was an exceptionally bright student and developed an early passion for literature from adventure stories to the literary classics. He worked a number of odd jobs before he decided to pursue a career in writing. On the professional front, Miller became one of the most controversial and influential writers of his time. However, his personal life was a turbulent one. The inspiration behind most of his works was drawn from his boy-hood and disturbing personal experiences, resulting in the finest works contributed to American literature. If you would like to learn more about his works, achievements and personal life, scroll further.
Childhood & Early Life
Henry Miller was born Henry Valentine Miller on December 26, 1891 in Manhattan, New York City.
He was raised in a working class environment in Brooklyn and often accompanied his father, Heinrich, a tailor from Bavaria, to his shop.
He was an exceptionally bright student and developed an early passion for reading, particularly classics and adventure stories.
He studied at the City College of New York, but quit after he realized that he despised the college system of education. Right after he left college, he worked in a number of odd jobs, during which time, he also focused on writing.
After changing quite a few jobs, he travelled to France in the hope of fulfilling his dream as a writer. He had very little money from 1930 to 1940, but spent most of this time, writing his well-known works.
In 1934, he authored ‘Tropic of Cancer’, an account of his experiences in Paris.
This followed with a sequel, the ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ in 1936. However, since both the books contained explicit erotic passages, both the books were banned in the United States for the next three decades.
He also authored ‘Black Spring’ in 1936.
This sort of quarantined publicity helped him catapult to fame and his books became best-sellers around the world. He also authored ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’ (1941), based on his life experiences.
Following his return to America, he authored ‘The Air-Conditioned Nightmare’ in 1945, ‘Remember to Remember’ in 1947 and ‘Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch’ in 1958, which were critically acclaimed.
His trilogy, ‘The Rosy Crucifixion’, which was published in 1965, recounted the struggles of an American writer trying to find success. Throughout his career, he was unafraid to use explicit words, which paved the way for the ‘Beat Generation’.
Just before his career ended, he worked on the film, ‘Reds’ starring Warren Beaty. In the movie, he played a witness during World War I.
He spent the last few years of his painting with watercolors. It is estimated that throughout his life, he painted a total of 2000 watercolor canvases, 50 of which, exist today.
The ‘Tropic of Cancer’ was published in 1934 and was banned in the U.S. because it was sexually explicit and set in France, narrating the authors own experiences. The book, although banned, was ranked 50th on the list of the ‘100 best English-language novels of the 20th century’ and was even adapted for a film in 1970, ‘Tropic of Cancer’.
‘Black Spring’ was his second novel and earned immense critical acclaim in 1936. The book sold over 1.4 million copies around the world.
The ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ (1938) was also banned in the U.S., which was a loosely constructed autobiography describing a writer’s struggles and his sexual encounters. After the court-bans were lifted, it became a best-seller and sold 3.3 million copies.
Personal Life & Legacy
Henry Miller married the first of his five wives, Sylvas Wickens in 1917 and had a daughter with her. However, he often indulged in sexual escapades while he was married, which led to the couple’s divorce.
He married four other women after Wickens and married his last wife, Hoki Tokuda in 1967.
In the last few years of his life, he kept in touch with a Playboy playmate, Brenda Venus, with whom he exchanged over 2000 correspondence letters.
He passed away of circulatory complications on June 7, 1980.
Following his death, a number of his papers and manuscripts were published in many universities.
The Henry Miller Museum also displays many of his artworks today and so does the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
A number of movies such as ‘Tropic of Cancer’ and ‘The Room of Words’ have been based on his life.
He has appeared as himself in several docu-films, one of them being ‘Reds’.
He was believed to be one of the fastest typists of his time.
Being an American writer, he was more appreciated in Europe than in America in the 1930s.