Tropic of Cancer

Tropic of Cancer

3.6 68
by Henry Miller

View All Available Formats & Editions

Now hailed as an American classic, Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller’s masterpiece, was banned as obscene in this country for twenty-seven years after its first publication in Paris in 1934. Only a historic court ruling that changed American censorship standards, ushering in a new era of freedom and frankness in modern literature, permitted the…  See more details below


Now hailed as an American classic, Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller’s masterpiece, was banned as obscene in this country for twenty-seven years after its first publication in Paris in 1934. Only a historic court ruling that changed American censorship standards, ushering in a new era of freedom and frankness in modern literature, permitted the publication of this first volume of Miller’s famed mixture of memoir and fiction, which chronicles with unapologetic gusto the bawdy adventures of a young expatriate writer, his friends, and the characters they meet in Paris in the 1930s. Tropic of Cancer is now considered, as Norman Mailer said, “one of the ten or twenty great novels of our century.”

Editorial Reviews

It is still something of a shock to realize that it was only a few decades ago that a publisher could face prosecution for print runs of books by D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller. Contrary to the blue-state view, it was in places like Boston, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia that DAs and local law enforcement lined up to throw the book at anyone who dared to cross the "obscenity" line. Yet in case after case, and with tremendous financial and civic courage, Grove Press pushed the cops and the courts to win freedom for writers to write what they wanted to write and for publishers to publish what readers were able to read. The gap between now and then makes it all the more difficult to appreciate just what Barney Rosset did in his time with Grove, the publishing house he purchased for $3,000 in 1951, when he was a restive 29-year-old trying to figure out what to do with his life. With Rosset's death last week at age 89, it makes that appreciation all the more necessary.

The history that Rosset's Grove Press and its literary-magazine offshoot Evergreen made is a testament to the power that publishing could exert within the culture at large — a kind of muscle that we may never see the likes of again. That fact speaks less to the relative decline in prestige of print than to the fact that Grove and Rosset, like any great publisher, were perfectly attuned products of their moment. And what a moment it was, an upsweep in what could be said and published and thought like no other that America has ever experienced. Plenty of publishing houses were equally happy to get a piece of the zeitgeist and snag its eager, youthful consumers. What separated Rosset though from the others during Grove and Evergreen's great run in the late '50s and into the '60s was that he got there first — and furiously — with an unfailing trust in his own instincts and the audacity to build a publishing program around it.

It started famously with Waiting for Godot, which Rosset published in 1954 and saw through initial sales numbers of 200 copies. Beckett, as De Kooning famously said about Jackson Pollock, broke the ice for a good bit of what gave Grove its noticeably avant-garde tang — Genet, Ionesco, Robbe-Grillet. It's important to remember what a model Grove was for the idea of a truly international literary culture — an example one now can only yearn to see rejuvenated when it comes to the dispiriting state of American publishers' commitment to literature in translation today. Offering a vision of the American bookstore as a gateway to the news of the world, Grove managed to combine this Francophone enthusiasm with an eye and ear for the literature just beginning to flower in the States. In retrospect, it was a far-seeing feat of imagination to couple European absurdist literature and the resolutely unaloof languages of Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Kerouac, and others — not to mention the "erotica" that brought in more business to Grove. It was even more visionary to publish alongside them Malcolm X, whose autobiography had been dropped by Doubleday, and Che Guevara.

But in addition to having a sixth sense about the possibilities in publishing the overlooked and the underrepresented, Rosset was an eager promoter who not only knew how to sell tickets to the show but took unabashed glee in running the tills. "We did almost a yearly bombshell," Richard Seaver, whom he hired in 1959, told Newsweek in an excellent 2008 profile of Rosset. "Barney loved — I won't say he loved the litigation, but he loved everything that went with it."

By the time Seaver left, in 1971, the tight Grove formula was starting slowly to come loose. Rosset bitterly resisted a unionization drive in 1970 and the blockade of his offices by women who were beginning to look differently on the whole idea of a sexual revolution. After expanding his staff in the wake of his successful launch of the Swedish soft-core flick I Am Curious (Yellow) — his foray into producing film, a passion that stuck with him since he wrote and produced the anti-racism documentary Strange Justice in his early 20s — he disastrously overspent on new offices and, as they like to say now, growing the brand. (As the '70s went on, Grove did a steady but hardly spectacular business on the strength of its backlist. Rosset sold the company in 1985 and was fired a year later.) You can hardly fault him in hindsight for his business optimism, though. He'd successfully figured out that with a combination of conviction and a knack for marketing, Grove could be not just a brand but an identity that the converging countercultural currents would embrace. Rosset helped change the course of more than just publishing in the process. As if that weren't enough, no one seems to have had more fun in doing so.

Eric Banks is the former editor of Bookforum. He has contributed to The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, and the Financial Times and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle board of directors.

Reviewer: Eric Banks

Read More

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Miller, Henry
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.

Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy. I had to shave his armpits and even then the itching did not stop. How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this? But no matter. We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I , had it not been for the lice.

Boris has just given me a summary of his views. He is a weather prophet. The weather will continue bad, he says. There will be more calamities, more death, more despair. Not the slightest indication of a change anywhere. The cancer of time is eating us away. Our heroes have killed themselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, then, is not Time, but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change.

It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom.

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolongeo insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirtycorpse....

To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.

It is to you, Tania, that I am singing. I wish that I could sing better, more melodiously, but then perhaps you would never have consented to listen to me. You have heard the others sing and they have left you cold. They sang too beautifully, or not beautifully enough.

It is the twenty-somethingth of October. I no longer keep track of the date. Would you say--my dream of the I 4th November last? There are intervals, but they are between dreams, and there is no consciousness of them left. The world around me is dissolving, leaving here and there spots of time. The world is a cancer eating itself away.... I am thinking that when the great silence descends upon all and everywhere music will at last triumph. When into the womb of time everything is again withdrawn chaos will be restored and chaos is the score upon which reality is written. You, Tania, are my chaos. It is why I sing. It is not even I, it is the world dying. shedding the skin of time. I am still alive, kicking in your womb, a reality to write upon.

Dozing off. The physiology of love. The whale with his six foot penis, in repose. The bat--penis libre. Animals with a bone in the penis. Hence, a bone on ... "Happily," says Gourmont, "the bony structure is lost in man." Happily? Yes, happily. Think of the human race walking around with a bone on. The kangaroo has a double penis--one for weekdays and one for holidays. Dozing. A letter from a female asking if I have found a title for my book. Title? To be sure: "Lovely Lesbians."

Your anecdotal life! A phrase of M. Borowski's. It is on Wednesdays that I have lunch with Borowski. His wife, who is a dried-up cow, officiates. She is studying English now--her favourite word is "filthy." You can see immediately what a pain in the ass the Borowskis are. But wait....

Read More

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“There is an eager vitality and exuberance to the writing which is exhilarating; a rush of spirit into the world as though all the sparkling wines have been uncorked at once; we watchfully hear the language skip, whoop and wheel across Miller’s page.” —William H. Gass, The New York Times Book Review

“Here is a book which, if such a thing were possible, might restore our appetite for the fundamental realities.” —Anais Nin

“American literature today begins and ends with the meaning of what Miller has done.” –Lawrence Durrell

“One of the most remarkable, most truly original authors of this or any age.” –Saturday Review

“Undeniably salacious but nevertheless serious and important literature, Miller’s novel with its ribald sexuality still provokes (and makes feminist hairs stand on end.)” —Victoria A. Brownworth, The Baltimore Sun

Anais Nin
Here is a book which, if such a thing were possible, might restore our appetite for the fundamental realities.

--Anais Nin

Norman Mailer
" of the ten or twenty great novels of our century."

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Tropic of Cancer 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
alivalentine More than 1 year ago
Henry Miller's passion for Passion (redundant, yet true) is inspiring. The raw, uncensored, stream-of-consciousness quality to this book is truly fantastic. Having dog-eared certain pages in which I found his writing to be particularly visually brilliant, I noticed that, by the end of the book, nearly half of it was intricately folded, a constant reminder of the brilliance of Miller's writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes, I agree with the the reviewer above, that Miller basically says whatever it is that comes in to his mind. It's is easier to write a diary rather then sit down and write a novel. Diaries rarely have structures.:) But on so many occasions he says things that are so touching, yet raw and real and that makes parts of the book wonderful and human. Many brilliant remarks and obsevations and views. The thing it lacks most is form. I suppose that's what makes him great, his style and the fact that he didn't care for form and polishing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
provoking different thoughts on madness. began to think about controlling unconsiousness.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rambling on and on about everything that came in to the author's mind. Very few coherent paragraphs. Only in the last 50 pages a story started to develop. Terrible book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read Tropic of Cancer a couple of months after Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, also a semi-autobiographical novel of its expatriate author in Paris. The time periods are different (AMF set 13 years earlier) but the major difference is in the authors' lives and perceptions. Diametrically opposed to Hemingway's burnished and cerebral Paris, TOC's is as sordid and squalid as imaginable. The story follows its protagonist on a seemingly unending filth ridden bacchnal: decit, disease, whores, purulence, weevils and lice suppurate the novel. Viscerally evocative and initally compeelling, after a while these seemy tales simply become tiresome. The prose is jarring and, while at times elegantly lyric in its depiction of the authors sordid affairs, tedious and diffuse. The narrative is a meandering tale, unintelligble and incoherent at times; and for the majority of the book, I was totally unengaged in any of the characters. However, by the conclusion, the protagonist's actions do coalesce to embody a personality, the events become coherent, and some of the fire and vitality other critics have spoken of is transmitted. Additonally, TOC is fascinating in its coarseness and vulgarity chronologically speaking. That Hemmingway and Miller could participate in the same Paris so differently, intriguingly bespeaks of the disconnect between public writing and private living. Bottom line: TOC is a chaotic and jarring book that for its majority reads like the methamphetamine-induced stream of conscious of a contemporary frat boy. One has long become disenchanted by the time its characters communicate their message.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i can't believe noone has reviewed this book on here yet. the book is great. nobody writes quite like henry. the words just pile up. u start to think, 'my god, how long can he keep this up?' it's like watching a sports player that's 'in the zone.' i think both rabelais and celine have better literary reputations, but i enjoy henry more than either. he seems to combine the best of both.
Author_DB_Pacini More than 1 year ago
This "not really a book" plot-less, stream-of-consciousness, anti-everything, self-indulgent, crudely-rudely-gimme-some-boody, was one of the novels in the 1960s that tested USA laws about pornography. It is also regarded as a masterpiece of 20th century literature. Time magazine lists it in their 100 Best English-language novels from 1923-2005. The preface is supposed to have been written by Anais Nin, but many believe Miller wrote it. I've never been as impressed with Henry Miller and Henry Miller is impressed with Henry Miller, but I do appreciate his staggering (specifically chosen word) literary talent, his abrupt/curt one-liners, and some of his intoxicated poetic rantings/ramblings. I first read Tropic of Cancer in a teen reading club. One boy in our group insisted that it is "an awesome read" if you are falling down drunk. One girl said she got a sexually transmitted disease from reading it---and she announced that she was going to stop engaging in one night stands, even with cute guys. One girl reviewed the book with her own curt one-liner, saying that "Tropic of Cancer was confetti of seediness" in her opinion. Three of us became even more determined to become "real" writers. Jerry Seinfeld had a successful TV show about nothing. Maybe Jerry got his "nothing" idea from Miller. In a Seinfeld episode Jerry is accused of not returning Tropic of Cancer to the library after checking it out when he was in high school. I admit, I'm no Miller scholar, but I think I can say anything I damn well please about this novel---Henry Miller couldn't care less.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Henry Miller's 'Tropic of Cancer' is easily one of the best books written by any American author in this century. Written with a refreshing honesty and a realistic outlook, 'Tropic of Cancer' is a fine example of the autobiographical-novel form (so autobiographical that Miller says its not really a book at all and that he is referred to as Henry Miller in the book). It is sad to realize that this book was banned from 1934, when it was published, to 1961, when it finally got published in America (although the legal battles did not end until 1963). For nearly thirty years Americans were denied this fabulous book, and it makes me wonder why this was allowed to happen. But perhaps all the hoopla got more people interested in the book and therefore helped the exposure of it. What more is there to say? 'Tropic of Cancer' is an outstanding work and I personally will be reading more of Miller's books very soon. I bought this book along with Jackson McCrae¿s ¿Katzenjammer¿ as it was said that it too should be banned, but for different reasons. The McCrae book is funny---hysterical in fact, but nowhere near as off-color as ¿Cancer.¿ Still, it was a great read. Also try Miller¿s ¿Tropic of Capricorn.¿
Guest More than 1 year ago
Miller's look at life in Paris in the thirties is stories and insight fused together with a vivid and poetic style. This work truly did restore a sense of wonder in me about the world around us. At a time when we are surrounded by fear, Miller's words bring an acceptance of the natural flow of the universe and puts emphasis on the importance of living in the instant...because it's all we have.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The rich, undiluted candor of Miller's writing fills me with a hunger for life. This, to me, is the highest measure of any writer. That said, he probably isn't for everyone. It took me a while to warm up to him (his language can be a bit shocking at times). Well worth it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The miracle of life explored in Depression era Paris. If this book doesn't want to make you get up and live, I fear you are dead already--best check the pulse.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is all of these and more. A carnival of ideas and a new way of looking of life introduced almost 70 years ago. Still, most people haven't caught on. This writer opened more doors than any other American writer and let loose all that was contraband in a land that preached freedom but practiced much of the opposite. Get this book in your hands right now and while you're at it, grab Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion Trilogy.
MargoH More than 1 year ago
Probably worth reading if you’ve got the stomach for it This novel was on the “no-no” list when I was in school, so now that I’m grown up, I decided to read this book to see what I missed.  There is a weak story line to the novel, but that story line is nearly lost among Miller’s frequent, extended, seemingly-unrelated, almost psychedelic rants on different aspects – mostly negative - of life and society in general.  These interludes reminded me in a way of abstract modern art that features splotches of color with little apparent meaning or that depicts, Picasso-like, the bizarre -  arms protruding from heads, etc. The story is set among the lowest dregs of early 20th-century Paris life as experienced by a group of expatriated American writers.  To me, the tone of the novel expresses a point of view that was common in the existentialist, nihilistic literary culture of the 1960’s, i.e., that life is largely sordid, meaningless, hopeless, and absurd.  Although that ship has largely sailed, vis-à-vis today’s literary culture, this novel does represent a mindset that today’s students of American literature would be expected to know about. Much of the dialogue is coarse.  Sexual references are plentiful and graphic, although they are most often so crude as to be largely non-erotic.  Frequent use of the “c-word” is bound to offend many readers. It is apparent that the author is (was) intellectually brilliant and a highly talented writer.  He frequently soars from the crudest of the crude in his commentaries on life and society, to something approaching the noble and poetic.  On the basis of one of his statements in the novel, I suspect that he regarded his writing as accomplishing what that of Proust and Matisse accomplished:  “transforming the negative reality of life into the substantial and significant outlines of art.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He knew, we knew. This was THE book we all wanted to get our hands on, & I graduated high school in 1994, so it was rather easy. But my friends & I, who dreamt of becoming writers (& only I achieved that goal) still felt oddly dirty, like maybe we were doing something wrong when one of us finally did attain Tropic of Cancer & we sat in my basement behind my parent's pool table ooo'ing & aah'ing over Miller's amazing words. One of the Top 5 Best Written Works ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Henry Miller is one of the best American writers, fresh and honest, a good person and a real person, unafraid to be and say so.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago