The Real Biography of Henry Valentine Miller

Henry Valentine Miller was an American writer and artist. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new type of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, stream of consciousness, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism.

By Balthazar Malevolent

The Real Biography of Henry Valentine Miller

The formula "his major oeuvre was himself" is quite applicable to Henry Miller. The writer's books are a study of his own life, with all the events in them happening to Miller himself and his friends. Miller would always say that it was his true autobiography, but his acquaintances sometimes pointed out the distortion of the real facts.

Anais Nin initially saw Miller as a model of openness and sincerity. However, more than once she caught him in a lie as she was involved in the events he described. According to Nin, the image of June Mansfield in the books of the writer in no way resembled her in real life. In one of the stories, Miller described a quarrel and even a betrayal of his wife that did not actually happen. Nin knew for a fact that night the couple were drinking peacefully with each other.

Sometimes Miller confessed to a fabrication. A close friend said that all the dialogue in his books he had invented, not reproduced. Miller explained that in his system of art the boundaries of reality are extended to include memories, fantasies and dreams. The reality, according to Miller, does not fit into bare facts. It needs something more: a myth or a legend. That was the myth that Henry Miller built around his persona. In his books, Miller presented himself as an anarchist, uninhibited by morality and shame, at once cynical and touching, a mystic who continued to philosophise even on the doorstep of a brothel.

This image sold books perfectly, and it was also responsible for Miller's fame fading by the end of the twentieth century. In the late 1960s, at the height of his popularity, Miller began to be criticised by second-wave feminists. The former prophet of the sexual revolution was accused of sexism and misogyny. These accusations were both fair and controversial. Equally controversial was Miller's own attitude to women. It is surprising how, having barely managed to become a living classicist, the author of Tropic of Cancer became obscene again.

Henry Miller

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