Academic journal article Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal

Letters from June Corbett to Henry Miller 1965-1972, Part 1

Academic journal article Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal

Letters from June Corbett to Henry Miller 1965-1972, Part 1

Article excerpt

The Beinecke Library at Yale University has acquired a number of letters to Henry Miller from June Corbett, his renowned second wife and subject of many of his books. (1) Though the first dated letter is 1965, they stretch beyond the 1972 date listed by the library. There are also a number of letters that are not datable. However, with the help of Kreg Wallace and James Decker I have placed some of them in the larger narrative.

Not much is known about June's later life. James Decker summarized the fragments previously available in Nexus Volume 3 in the article "June Miller: Remnants of a Life." These Yale letters shed new light on her life and relationship with Miller during the 1960s and 1970s. Also, the letters call into question some of Kenneth Dick's portrait of June in his book Henry Miller: Colossus of One (1967). (2) June apparently told Dick that she did not receive money from Miller, but these letters show this claim to be false--she was receiving money at least as early as 1965, and this already substantial regular outlay increased when she retired. (3)

This collection of letters was written after Miller's disastrous visit to June in Forest Hills in 1961, when startled by her appearance and behavior, he fled after a brief conversation. (4) June had been broken mentally and physically since her experience with shock treatment at Pilgrim State Hospital in 1956 and she remains obsessed with health in these letters, both Henry's and her own. (5) In fact, the letters tell a very sad tale, of a woman who had once been a vital source of energy and passion, but who now lives a sort of provisional half-life. Throughout the correspondence she seems wounded and mentally blunted, though this could simply be her discomfort with the letter format. Her friends the Baxters do write that "her voice is still dark green velvet, her memory and perceptions astonishing, her enigmas deeper and her confidence more defiant." However, the letters here certainly do not seem the work of the confident, perceptive woman we know she was in her younger days.

Her feelings toward Miller himself vary between sympathy for his problems and outright hero-worship, tainted perhaps by the fact he is providing her with money. That fact seems to preclude any real friendship between them, though perhaps that would have been impossible regardless. However, there is never any sense of ill will from June, and Kenneth Dick's assessment that she would never blame Henry for the way he wrote about her seems to be accurate. She also never seems to entertain the idea of suing him for her portrayal, something we know that Miller worried about. The letters contain no passive-aggressive comments, and their only fault might be a morbid self-pity.

There are numerous misspellings, format inconsistencies, and word choice errors, which I have left intact. I have left the dates and spacing as near the original as possible, rather than regularizing. There are also several words throughout the letters that are unreadable or incomprehensible, and I have noted them. June's handwriting in these letters does not begin well, and gets worse as time goes by. She also occasionally used felt-tip pens; her strokes often bleed into each other, making transliteration difficult.

This issue of Nexus includes June's letters from the mid- 1960s to 1970. The subsequent letters will be published in the next issue; they include a letter from their mutual friend Bill Allen and several letters from Jim and Annette Baxter, as well as more from June herself. They illuminate June's deteriorating situation, and how much the increasingly successful Henry Miller helped her during her final heartbreaking years.

April 7, 1965

Dear Henry:

I recall that three years ago, when you came to Forest Hills--I had the feeling that a sixteen year old would have given much to have your vigor, litheness, your appearance of readiness to take on anything. …

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