Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller


Chosen by Rachel

The Trophic of Cancer was published in 1934 and was widely banned for its explicit sexual content, including for a 27 year period in the US. Its protagonist is a struggling writer living in Paris and is named for the author. The book is considered more than a novel, rather autobiographical fiction written as a collection of essays, anecdotes, poems and notations.

At the time, Henry Miller, both author and protagonist, is married to an American woman who lives in the US and of whom he thinks of only occasionally. Instead he ogles and makes reference to many other women,  often in an objectifying manner. Instead of returning to his wife, Miller decides to remain in Paris, because the Parisian culture of the day and his attitude towards sexuality meshed well, as opposed to the American culture which would attempt to suppress his behaviour.

In Paris, Miller lives on the good will of others, taking advantage of people by begging for enough food and shelter to enable him to keep writing. Yet he manages to accumulate bohemian and beatnik friends, women of all walks of life, plenty of alcohol and fancy French food with ease. He is constantly writing about, thinking about or having sex, balancing the fine line of freedoms and restraint.

You can forgive a young c**t anything. A young c**t doesn’t have to have brains. They’re better without brains. But an old c**t , even if she’s brilliant, even if she’s the most charming woman in the world, nothing makes any difference. A young c**t is an investment; an old c**t is a dead loss. All they can do for you is buy you things. But that doesn’t put meat on their arms or juice between their legs.

Individual liberties and freedom of expression are thematic constructs but because his emphasis is an erotic expression his book has had a wide range of reactions. This includes how the four of us felt about it too. Some of the comments that flowed at bookclub were “narcissistic”, “tornado of destruction”, “revolutionary”, “controversial”, “anti-hero”, “offensive”, “rule-breaking”, “arsehole”. While the presentation and content could be appreciated as unique, it was hard to like Henry Miller the character when he was so clearly Henry Miller the person who treated people like this.


Published 1934
Obelisk Press
318 pages

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