Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview
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HENRY MILLER

(1891-1980)

William Wolf


BIOGRAPHY

Grandson of German immigrants, the son of a tailor and a tailor's wife, Henry Valentine Miller, one of the world's most exasperating and controversial writers, was born in Manhattan on December 26, 1891. The family soon moved to Brooklyn, New York, whose streets were flooded with new immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Syria, and elsewhere. This atmosphere helped to shape the nascent writer's gritty personality and infused in him a delightful acceptance of raw experience and an exuberant fascination for all strata of humanity.

Miller lived an American middle-class life with his domineering mother, his ineffectual but kindly father, and his disabled, feebleminded sister. After graduating from the Eastern District High School in 1909, he enrolled at City College in New York; disillusioned and dejected, he left after one semester. During the following years he fell in and out of love, discovered sex, toyed with writing, and worked part-time in his father's tailor shop. On June 17, 1917, he began his unhappy and disastrous marriage to Beatrice Wickens; from 1920 to 1924 he worked full-time for the “Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company” (Western Union); and in the summer of 1923 he met and fell head over heels in love with June Mansfield, a local taxi dancer. Divorcing Beatrice in 1923, he married June in 1924. His early years in America, his Western Union employment, and his divorce and remarriage are mythically recounted in Tropic of Capricorn (1939) and Sexus (1949). Tropic of Cancer (1934) and Quiet Days in Clichy (1956) recount his Paris years.

Miller and June took a brief trip to France in 1929. Soon after, June, insisting that he was to become a great writer and needed the experience of Europe to expand his outlook and grow as an artist, raised money for a second trip—but this time Miller would go alone. He set foot in Paris on March 4, 1930, where

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