A Book You Always Meant to Read: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

by |June 9, 2010

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Miller’s groundbreaking first novel, banned in Britain for almost thirty years, now reinvigorated in a new Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition.

A penniless and as yet unpublished writer, Henry Miller arrived in Paris in 1930. Leaving behind a disintegrating marriage and an unhappy career in America, he threw himself into the low-life of bohemian Paris with unwavering gusto. A fictional account of Miller’s adventures amongst the prostitutes and pimps, the penniless painters and writers of Montparnasse, Tropic of Cancer is an extravagant and rhapsodic hymn to a world of unrivalled eroticism and freedom.

Tropic of Cancer’s 1934 publication in France was hailed by Samuel Beckett as “a momentous event in the history of modern writing”. The novel was subsequently banned in the UK and the USA and not released for publication for a further thirty years.

A Taste:

Page one of Tropic of Cancer

I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.

Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy. I had to shave his armpits and even then the itching did not stop. How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this? But no matter. We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice.

Boris has just given me a summary of his views. He is a weather prophet. The weather will continue bad, he says. There will be more calamities, more death, more despair. Not the slightest indication of a change anywhere. The cancer of time is eating us away. Our heroes have killed themselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, then is not Time but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change.

It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom.

Henry Miller

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was and artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

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…what you will. I am going to sing to you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse…

To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.

Henry Miller reading his work…

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About the Contributor

John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Head of Product and Chief Buyer at booktopia.com.au.

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