Henry Miller’s Parisian Adventures, Leading him to write
Tropic of Cancer and
Tropic of Capricorn

MILLER, HENRY. (1891-1980). American author. Simply superb, early Autograph Letter Signed, “June and Henry.” Six full pages, quarto. Paris, “Monday,” no date [1930]. Very fine condition. To “Dear Rhoda and Bruce” [Elkus]. Miller writes:

“...You see I am answering you together as letters take time to write and our days in Europe are shortening fast. First of all, let me say that it was a most pleasant surprise to receive those two fat epistles, larded with all your characteristic raillery, your spicy Americanisms, and breathing still that eternal spirit of good-natured warfare which I presume always exists in families, especially when the sister is as good at repartee as the brother. If I had a sister who was preparing for the grand role of surgeon I should be afraid to arouse her antagonisms too much. Someday Rhoda may be called upon to remove Master Bruce’s appendix, and quite unconsciously she may forget to remove all the sponges and instruments from Master Bruce’s interior. I certainly enjoyed reading about the cookbook incident and trust that no permanent injury has been done to Bruce’s strong moral nature. The cookbook was the last place in the world that I expected your father to secrete his pornographic collection. Of course, over here youngsters see a great many things that they are not permitted to see in the States. Whether it is wise or injurious I haven’t yet determined. For one thing, there aren’t many youngsters floating around in the streets of Paris — or France for that matter. God only knows where they hide themselves all day...

...Imagine stepping into a car at Marseilles crowded with sailors, soldiers, Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Senegalese, etc. etc. In a few minutes you would have seen more extraordinary figures and costumes than you will see in New York in six months. The Arabs are the most picturesque, and the filthiest. They dress like rag-pickers and smell at twenty yards. Like Mazundar and his friends they wear turbans, only the Arabs’ turbans look more like soiled handkerchiefs. As soon as they get in the train they make themselves comfortable and remove their shoes or slippers, or whatever they happen to [have] on their feet. Some of them go about in wooden clogs which are nothing more than a flat, thick piece of board with a thong to hold it to the foot. When the rest of the passengers are beginning to snore they trot out what looks like a long opium pipe and begin to produce weird music, music that sends shivers up and down your spine. For fifty centimes (two cents) you can persuade one of these beggars to play all night — or, if it suits you better, to commit murder...

...Today we have been looking around in shops, galleries and museums. I am scouting particularly for a unique chess set, but haven’t discovered any. However, on Sunday we expect to visit the ‘Flea Market’, which is supposed to be the last word in markets for bric-a-brac, and perhaps then we will see what we are looking for. In Europe, you must know, the markets are great affairs. Certain ones are held on certain days, and often the place for display is changed from day to day. There are special markets for birds, dogs, horses, bicycles, food, flowers, books, etc. etc. They say that it is still possible for a shrewd Parisian to go to a market and clothe himself from head to foot for the price of a dollar. Of course he couldn’t take dinner at the ‘Waldorf’ in such a costume, but then who wants to eat at the Waldorf when one can get a meal in Paris, wine included, for as little as 18 cents...

...If we had about $500.00 extra to spend we could bring back some of the most wonderful curios and art objects, paintings and statues. It is tough to walk around Paris and not be rich. There seem to be ever so many more shops in Paris than in New York. In fact, we often look around us and wonder just where the inhabitants live. Hotels, shops, beauty parlors, theatres, galleries, museums, cafes, bars, restaurants — that’s Paris. You don’t have to walk a mile to get a drink here. And what an assortment! We simply gaze at the variety of bottles in absolute amazement. Even now we are really unfamiliar with 9/10 of them. The great thing for a Parisian is his ‘aperitif’ — a drink that goes well (with him) before meals or between meals. There are about 125 different ‘aperitifs’ — but to me they taste like Sloan’s Liniment...A connoisseur knows just which wine goes with which food, but my taste isn’t so well developed. In fact, the less I pay for the wine the better I like it...Sincerely, June and Henry.”

Henry Miller was able to realize his lifelong dream of being a writer when he met his second wife, June Edith Smith Mansfield. Miller, working at Western Union, quit his job and let June, a taxi driver, support him and his writing endeavors. By 1928, June had saved enough money for Henry and her to travel to Europe. The subsequent years Miller spent in France became the basis for his Tropic of Cancer (1934) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939), both of which chronicle Miller's lives and loves as an expatriate in Paris. Originally published in France by Obelisk Press, the novels spawned a thirty year censorship debate in the United States. Long banned for their sexual themes and explicit language, the novels were perhaps Miller’s most famous works, gaining a large underground following. In the end, Miller won, and the case became the first “forced acceptance of banned books in the United States” (Wickes, Henry Miler: Down and Out in Paris 170-192). In addition to inspiring these two controversial and groundbreaking novels, Miller’s days in Paris led to many lasting friendships as well as other literary endeavors. On his first visit to Europe, Miller met Alfred Perles, and a long friendship, documented by Miller in his Quiet Days in Clichy, ensued. During this same period, Miller also befriended Michael Fraenkel, with whom he co-authored the book Hamlet, a work based on the two men’s letters. While in Paris, Miller also met a woman who was to be a long time lover and occasional benefactor, fellow writer Anais Nin (it was she who funded the first printing of his Tropic of Cancer in France). Miller finally departed Paris in 1939 after the publication of Tropic of Capricorn, having embarked on a literary journey that led to worldwide fame.

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