by Robert Nye
Henry Miller’s first book. Tropic of Cancer, was published in Paris in 1934 and was immediately banned in all English-speaking countries. With its sequel. Tropic of Capricorn (1939), which actually covers an earlier period in Miller’s life, it makes up a running fictional autobiography remarkable for its candour, gusto, and completeness. The two books have in common a plain-spoken truthfulness, a good-hearted comedy, and a quality of joy discovered somewhere on the far side of despair, things that their author was seldom to match and never to surpass in later self-unravellings.
When the ‘Tropics’ were at last made generally available in Britain and America in the Sixties, they were praised as works of sexual liberation. Since then they have sometimes been attacked as works of sexual misogyny. All this seems to me rather to miss the point, as does criticism of the two books for their verbal extravagance and their lack of art. Probably it is no accident that nobody was ever indifferent concerning Henry Miller. There are those who love him and there are those who hate him. His work does not allow of the mild alternatives of liking or disliking. A case could be made that this itself constitutes a fault, but I prefer to find a virtue in such passion, and an important one. The Miller that emerges from the books is, to my mind, an honest and lovable person, splendidly undefeated by experience, a man with an unquenchable appetite for the fundamental realities, and an infinite capacity for being surprised by his own innocence. If there is any message extractable from his work it is that of someone who