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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)


I'm a 17 year old Senior in high school. Although I don't claim to be an expert on literature or even be proficient in understanding complex writers such as Miller, I do admire his work and realize that this book is an absolute masterpiece. I believe you two need to open your minds to books other than "the good book" and realize that this is humanity in its rawest form: primal, carnal and chock full o' lust. Sure, it has excessive vulgarity and sexual references... but hey guys, welcome to humanity.

For both your sakes, I hope you grow out of this whole "religion" thing and learn to think for yourselves.

I'm sorry if I've offended you; it is never my intention to bash others' beliefs.

Thanks, Alex

- Alex Hrusko

- Dec-05-2006, 23:08


sweet jeezus, these guys are the most literate retards that i have ever encountered. they gave Faulkners sound and the fury an f and stephen kings pet cemetary a c+. keep reading guys, but stick to judy bloom, she has a straight foreward reading style and a moral compass that you can stake your christian souls on. ciao dumbasses

- brothers dumb

- Dec-04-2006, 15:12


You're wasting your time - just as I've wasted mine. Take a stab at another language.

- Alex Varel

- Nov-23-2004, 16:05


A failure to understand one of the acknowledged great works of 20th century literature, coupled with a critique of the narrator's moral compass rather than the writing or storytelling. Deeply flawed, without any redeeming qualities.


See me after class, we're transferring you to Remedial Reading.

- Pearce

- Nov-17-2004, 19:56


All of us.

- oj

- Apr-23-2004, 11:17


I find it somewhat frightening that you need to be told by an almighty god what is right and wrong. What kind of a person needs constant supervision from a higher being to behave?

- Camilo Diaz Pino

- Apr-23-2004, 11:12


Are you guys for real? You can't be. This web site has to be for shock value only. You give Neil Gaiman a B+, yet ignore, condemn, or damn serious authors like Miller, Kerouac, Hemingway, and Joyce.

I hope you two tools have real jobs, I can only imagine something on the level of trashmen, or janitors, because you know nothing about literature.

I haven't gone into your movie section, but I'm sure to get a good laugh. Thanks for the entertainment fellas, you guys are a riot.

Go back to reading comic books Judd brothers.

- A Writer

- Jul-19-2003, 19:47


"There is nothing more dangerous to humankind than those who reject God and Western Judeo-Christian morality."

Profound, but a little flabby. Try it again, without "those who reject" and I think you've stumbled upon something quite like the truth.

James Joyce had more comprehensive knowledge of western society and all of it's implications under his belt when he was 20 than you could ever hope to understand two of your lifetimes. Seriously, try Ulysses with the companion book "The Annotated Ulysses" and maybe you'll begin to have a glimpse of the world you claim to know. Regards, Mike

- Mike Lee

- Apr-11-2003, 18:40