If we stop to analyze the vast literature field of the last two centuries we will find novels that leave us a languid and gloomy trace. An intense trace that is difficult to erase. Some names that spring to mind swiftly are Fedor Dostokvesky, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, Charles Bukowski, Walt Withman, John Fante or J.D Salinger among many others. Writers marked by a war, post-war epoch or a social-political change. The last names will make us think about the Beat Generation. That trend led by a group of young American people that proclaimed a social change and was sick of the reactionary legacies that their country was still bearing. “Dirty realism”. That is what their work is called. Dirty or not, it is clear that their way of redacting is direct, accurate and free of too many ornamentations. Their literature plunge us into a brutal realism. The characters usually present a lack of affect and illusion and their actions are doused with a listless feeling.
In that way, This autobiographical novel depict the shortages and adventures of the American writer’s stay in the French capital during the late 1930’s. Economical scarcities seasoned with a lot of sex, and within this juicy plot we discover the idiosyncrasy of the writer, his value judgements of the French and American society, his fears and aversions and their different relationships, all oozing lust and lacking love. In a word, we discover his innermost thoughts He arrives at Paris, dragging his apathy and frustration and trying to make a living in that new, romantical, bohemian and inspirational European city. He gets a job, and he loses it. He meets some male friends, some are are lost on his way, others do not. He shares his heat with different prostitutes. Never mind if these ones are lost too. Henry tells us his goings and comings in the city of love , which he describes: “Paris is like a whore. From a distance she seems ravishing, you can’t wait until you have her in your arms. And five-minutes later you feel empty, disgusted with yourself. You feel tricked”. This Paris of attractive wrapping but cruel intentions is depicted in an honest, graphic and explicit way, which sometimes is near to the gross end of the spectrum, being that one of the reasons of its banning in America for many years. The miseries of the city and the own miseries of the Henry Miller’s alter ego are jumbled in those times of depression.
Henry Miller was born to German parents in New York in 1891. When he was young he took part in the Socialist Party of America and he attended the City College of New York. He had five wives. The second one acomppanied him for several months in Paris, the protagonist scenery of this novel. And it was there, where he met his third wife Anaïs Nin, who financed the first printing of “Tropic of Cancer” in 1934. Miller’s idiosyncrasy, sexual escapades and philosophical issues did not help in their several marriages. By that time he combined his work as a writer with his collaboration in the Chicago Tribune Paris edition. The vivid account of his sexual experiences caused the banning of “Tropic Cancer” in America for years. But this did not only happen with this particular book, others like “Tropic of Capricorn” or “Black Spring” were forbidden too.
In 1940 he returned to America. He settled down in Big Sur (California) and continued writing meanwhile his books were still prohibited in his country but were experiencing great success in places like France. Finally and after some trials, “Tropic of Cancer” was published in 1961 in the United States. He died in 1980 after some circulation problems, and during his elderness he maintained a correspondence relationship with a Playboy actress called Brenda Venus and filmed with Warren Beatty the film “Reds” directed by the aforementioned.
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”
– Henry Miller