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Tropic of Cancer ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (50)

    This then?  This is not a book.  This is a libel, slander, defamation of character.  This is not a book,
    in the ordinary sense of the word.  No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a
    kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty...
            -Henry Miller

Well, that's a pleasant sentiment, eh?  This completely autobiographical (with bragging thrown in) novel concerns Miller's carousing around Paris in the early 30's, a milieu which produced so much awful fiction, from most of Hemingway to the worst of Fitzgerald.  It was banned here in the States for a long time because it was considered pornographic, which it is; but, worse than that is the fact that it sucks.

Like DH Lawrence, Miller thought that there was something profound lurking in the sexual act.  He narrates his libidinous exploits in great detail in the mistaken belief that our petty bourgeois morality needed to be assaulted and broken down before man could be truly free.

There is nothing more dangerous to humankind than those who reject God and Western Judeo-Christian morality.  The 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule are a simple enough formulation for a thorough moral code which has served us well for thousands of years.  The problem with concocting your own moral code, or with everyone concocting his/her own, is how do you know which part's the other guy kept and which he threw out.  I'm not all that worried that Ed down the street worships six different Gods, but if he's decided that coveting his neighbor's wife is okay, I want to know about it.  In a world where each man got to create his own morality, all men would demand government control of all aspects of life as a simple matter of protecting themselves from one another; otherwise, life, in Hobbes' memorable phrase, would be "nasty, brutish and short.".

Miller has confused carnality with liberty.   In fact, there can be no liberty, no freedom,  without morality, no morality without God.  God, an absolute, provides a single standard upon which to base the moral code.  The moral code makes your and your fellow man's actions relatively predictable in the most important spheres of life and allows you to be free in all others.

One other thing about the book.  I doubt that it has ever entered anyone's mind that I might harbor any feminist sensibilities.  But I was simply appalled at the treatment of, and attitudes towards, women in this book.  Memo to Mr. Miller: continually referring to women by using a slang term for genitalia degrades you, not them.

It is the ultimate in Romantic Age hubris to think that God needs a kick in the pants from a seedy little degenerate like Henry Miller.  In fact, Miller could have used a good bitch slapping himself.


Grade: (F)


Henry Miller Links:

    -ESSAY: George Orwell, Henry Miller, and the ‘Dirty-Handkerchief Side of Life’ (Matt Johnson, 10/05/20, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: George Orwell outside the whale: What the writer teaches us about politics and the imagination in a time of crisis. (Ian McEwan, 12/09/21, Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Tropic of Cancer (Lucy Sweeney Byrne, Irish Times)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Henry Miller Library
    -Henry Miller
    -Henry Miller, American Author
    -Links to Henry Miller
    -Anais Nin Web Site
    -ESSAY: Henry Miller: Exhibitionist of the Soul (Steve Erickson, Conjunctions)
    -Dry Dreams (DENIS DONOGHUE, NY Review of Books)0
    -A Feminist Response to Miller's ëMisogynyí(Holly Hofmann)
    -Imps of the Perverse: Miller and Lawrence
    -Henry Miller: The Life and Literature of Obscenity
    -REVIEW: of A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller 1932-1953 (Arete Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of two bios of Miller 2 Views of Henry Miller, One Harsh and One Not (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW:  of HENRY MILLER: The Paris Years by Brassai Ghost at the Banquet (Michelle Green, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE DEVIL AT LARGE Erica Jong on Henry Miller  Her Master's Voice (Walter Kendrick; NY Times)