Tropic of Capricorn

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Overview


Banned in America for almost thirty years because of its explicit sexual content, this companion volume to Miller’s Tropic of Cancer chronicles his life in 1920s New York City. Famous for its frank portrayal of life in Brooklyn’s ethnic neighborhoods and Miller’s outrageous sexual exploits, The Tropic of Capricorn is now considered a cornerstone of modern literature.
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Overview


Banned in America for almost thirty years because of its explicit sexual content, this companion volume to Miller’s Tropic of Cancer chronicles his life in 1920s New York City. Famous for its frank portrayal of life in Brooklyn’s ethnic neighborhoods and Miller’s outrageous sexual exploits, The Tropic of Capricorn is now considered a cornerstone of modern literature.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"There is nothing like Henry Miller when he gets rolling. . . . One has to take the language back to Marlowe and Shakespeare before encountering a wealth of imagery equal in intensity.” –Norman Mailer

“There is an eager vitality and exuberance to the writing . . . we watchfully hear the language skip, whoop and wheel across Miller’s pages.” —William H. Gass

“The most enthralling and hilarious explosions are the sexual ones.” —Newsweek

“A superb entertainment that brings in jeremiads, casual lyrics, and sudden reaches toward the spiritual core of life . . .” —The New York Times Book Review

“Miller has once and for all blasted away the very foundation of human hypocrisy—moral, social, and political. . . . The grandest passages are the scenes of lovemaking. They join in a grand paean to all that is still joyous, healthy, happy, and affirmative.” —The Nation

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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802151827
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Series: Miller, Henry Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 348
  • Sales rank: 190,510
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Henry Valentine Miller was born in 1891 in New York City and spent most of his life in Brooklyn, Paris, and Big Sur, California. His books include Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy (Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus), Black Spring, and Crazy Cock. He died in 1980.

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Read an Excerpt

In the beginning I was enthusiastic, despite the damper above and the clamps below. I had ideas and I executed them, whether it pleased the vice-president or not. Every ten days or so I was put on the carpet and lectured for having "too big a heart". I never had any money in my pocket but I used other people's money freely. As long as I was the boss I had credit. I gave money away right and left; I gave my clothes away and my linen, my books, everything that was superfluous. If I had had the power I would have given the company away to the poor buggers who pestered me. If I was asked for a dime I gave a half dollar, if I was asked for a dollar I gave five. I didn't give a fuck how much I gave away, because it was easier to borrow and give than to refuse the poor devils. I never saw such an aggregation of misery in my life, and I hope I'll never see it again. Men are poor everywhere--they always have been and they always will be. And beneath the terrible poverty there is a flame, usually so low that it is almost invisible. But it is there and if one has the courage to blow on it it can become a conflagration. I was constantly urged not to be too lenient, not to be too sentimental, not to be too charitable. Be firm! Be hard! they cautioned me. Fuck that! I said to myself, I'll be generous, pliant, forgiving, tolerant, tender. In the beginning I heard every man to the end; if I couldn't give him a job I gave him money, and if I had no money I gave him cigarettes or I gave him courage. But I gave! The effect was dizzying. Nobody can estimate the results of a good deed, of a kind word. I was swamped with gratitude, with good wishes, with invitations, with pathetic, tender little gifts. If Ihad had real power, instead of being the fifth wheel on a wagon. God knows what I might have accomplished. I could have used the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company of North America as a base to bring all humanity to God; I could have transformed North and South America alike, and the Dominion of Canada too. I had the secret in my hand: it was to be generous, to be kind, to be patient. I did the work of five men. I hardly slept for three years. I didn't own a whole shirt and often I was so ashamed of borrowing from my wife, or robbing the kid's bank, that to get the car fare to go to work in the morning I would swindle the blind newspaperman at the subway station. I owed so much money all around that if I were to work for twenty years I would not have been able to pay it back. I took from those who had and I gave to those who needed, and it was the right thing to do, and I would do it all over again if I were in the same position.

I even accomplished the miracle of stopping the crazy turnover, something that nobody had dared to hope for. Instead of supporting my efforts they undermined me. According to the logic of the higher-ups the turnover had ceased because the wages were too high. So they cut the wages. It was like kicking the bottom out of a bucket. The whole edifice tumbled, collapsed on my hands. And, just as though nothing had happened they insisted that the gaps be plugged up immediately. To soften the blow a bit they intimated that I might even increase the percentage of Jews, I might take on a cripple now and then, if he were capable, I might do this and that, all of which they had informed me previously was against the code. I was so furious that I took on anything and everything; I would have taken on broncos and gorillas if I could have imbued them with the modicum of intelligence which was necessary to deliver messages. A few days previously there had been only five or six vacancies at dosing time. Now there were three hundred, four hundred, five hundred--they were running out like sand. It was marvellous. I sat there and without asking a question I took them on in carload lots--niggers, Jews, paralytics, cripples, ex-convicts, whores, maniacs, perverts, idiots, any fucking bastard who could stand on two legs and hold a telegram in his hand. The managers of the hundred and one offices were frightened to death. I laughed. I laughed all day long thinking what a fine stinking mess I was making of it Complaints were pouring in from all parts of the city. The service was crippled, constipated, strangulated. A mule could have gotten there faster than some of the idiots I put into harness.

The best thing about the new day was the introduction of female messengers. It changed the whole atmosphere of the joint. For Hymie especially it was a godsend. He moved his switchboard around so that he could watch me while juggling the waybills back and forth. Despite the added work he had a permanent erection. He came to work with a smile and he smiled all day long. He was in heaven. At the end of the day I always had a list of five or six who were worth trying out. The game was to keep them on the string, to promise them a job but to get a free fuck first. Usually it was only necessary to throw a feed into them in order to bring them back to the office at night and lay them out on the zinc-covered table in the dressing room. If they had a cosy apartment, as they sometimes did, we took them home and finished it in bed. If they liked to drink Hymie would bring a bottle along. If they were any good and really needed some dough Hymie would flash his roll and peel off a five spot or a ten spot as the case might be. It makes my mouth water when I think of that roll he carried about with him. Where he got it from I never knew, because he was the lowest paid man in the joint. But it was always there, and no matter what I asked for I got. And once it happened that we did get a bonus and I paid Hymie back to the last penny--which so amazed him that he took me out that night to Delmonico's and spent a fortune on me. Not only that, but the next day he insisted on buying me hat and shirts and gloves. He even insinuated that I might come home and fuck his wife, if I liked, though he warned me that she was having a little trouble at present with her ovaries. In addition to Hymie and McGovem I had as assistants a pair of beautiful blondes who often accompanied us to dinner in the evening. And there was O'Mara, an old friend of mine who had just returned from the Philippines and whom I made my chief assistant. There was also Steve Romero, a prize bull whom I kept around in case of trouble. And O'Rourke, the company detective, who reported to me at the dose of day when he began his work. Finally I added another man to the staff--Kronski, a young medical student, who was diabolically interested in the pathological cases of which we had plenty. We were a merry crew, united in our desire to fuck the company at all costs. And while fucking the company we fucked everything in sight that we could get hold of, O'Rourke excepted, as he had a certain dignity to maintain, and besides he had trouble with his prostate and had lost all interest in fucking. But O'Rourke was a prince of a man, and generous beyond words. It was O'Rourke who often invited us to dinner in the evening and it was O'Rourke we went to when we were in trouble.

That was how it stood at Sunset Place after a couple of years had rolled by. I was saturated with humanity, with experiences of one kind and another. In my sober moments I made notes which I intended to make use of later if ever I should have a chance to record my experiences. I was waiting for a breathing spell. And then by chance one day, when I had been put on the carpet for some wanton piece of negligence, the vice-president let drop a phrase which stuck in my crop. He had said that he would like to see some one write a sort of Horatio Alger book about the messengers; he hinted that perhaps I might be the one to do such a job. I was furious to think what a ninny he was and delighted at the same time because secretly I was itching to get the thing off my chest. I thought to myself- you poor old futzer, you, just wait until I get it off my chest... I'll give you an Horatio Alger book .. . just you wait! My head was in a whirl leaving his office. I saw the army of men, women and children that had passed through my hands, saw them weeping, begging, beseeching, imploring, cursing, spitting, fuming, threatening. I saw the tracks they left on the highways, the freight trains lying on the floor, the parents in rags, the coal box empty, the sink running over, the walls sweating and between the cold beads of sweat the cockroaches running like mad; I saw them hobbling along like twisted gnomes or falling backwards in the epileptic frenzy, the mouth twitching, thesaliva pouring from the lips, the limbs writhing; I saw the walls giving way and the pest pouring out like a winged fluid, and the men higher up with their ironclad logic, waiting for it to blow over, waiting for everything to be patched up, waiting, waiting contentedly, smugly, with big cigars in their mouths and their feet on the desk, saying things were temporarily out of order. I saw the Horatio Alger hero, the dream of a sick American, mounting higher and--higher, first messenger, then operator, then manager, then chief, then superintendent, then vice-president, then president, then trust magnate, then beer baron, then Lord of all the Americas, the money god, the god of gods, the clay of clay, nullity on high, zero with ninety-seven thousand decimals fore and aft. You shits, I said to myself, I will give you the picture of twelve little men, zeros without decimals, ciphers, digits, the twelve uncrushable worms who are hollowing out the base of your rotten edifice. I will give you Horatio Alger as he looks the day after the Apocalypse, when all the stink has cleared away.

From all over the earth they had come to me to be succoured. Except for the primitives there was scarcely a race which wasn't represented on the force. Except for the Ainus, the Maoris, the Papuans, the Veddas, the Lapps, the Zulus, the Patagonians, the Igorotes, the Hottentots, the Touaregs, except for the lost Tasmanians, the lost Grimaldi men, the lost Atianteans, I had a representative of almost every species under the sun. I had two brothers who were still sun-worshippers, two Nestorians from the old Assyrian world; I had two Maltese twins from Malta and a descendant of the Mayas from Yucatan; I had a few of our little brown brothers from the Philippines and some Ethiopians from Abyssinia; I had men from the pampas of Argentina and stranded cowboys from Montana; I had Greeks, Letts, Poles, Croats, Slovenes, Ruthenians, Czechs, Spaniards, Welshmen, Finns, Swedes, Russians, Danes, Mexicans, Porto Ricans, Cubans, Uruguayans, Brazilians, Australians, Persians, Japs, Chinese, Javanese, Egyptians, Africans from the Gold Coast and the Ivory Coast, Hindus, Armenians, Turks, Arabs, Germans, Irish, English, Canadians--and plenty of Italians and plenty of Jews. I had only one Frenchman that I can recall and he lasted about three hours. I had a few American Indians, Cherokees mostly, but no Tibetans, and no Eskimos: I saw names I could never have imagined and handwriting which ranged from cuneiform to the sophisticated and astoundingly beautiful calligraphy of the Chinese. I heard men beg for work who had been Egyptologists, botanists, surgeons, gold-miners, professors of Oriental languages, musicians, engineers, physicians, astronomers, anthropologists, chemists, mathematicians, mayors of cities and governors of states, prison warders, cow-punchers, lumberjacks, sailors, oyster pirates, stevedores, riveters, dentists, surgeons, painters, sculptors, plumbers, architects, dope peddlers, abortionists, white slavers, sea divers, steeplejacks, farmers, cloak and suit salesmen, trappers, lighthouse keepers, pimps, aldermen, senators, every bloody thing under the sun, and all of them down and out, begging for work for cigarettes, for carfare, for a chance, Christ Almighty, just another chance! I saw and got to know men who were saints, if there are saints in this world; I saw and spoke to savants, crapulous and uncrapulous ones; I listened to men who had the divine fire in their bowels who could have convinced God Almighty that they were worthy of another chance, but not the vice-president of the Cosmococcus Telegraph Company. I sat riveted to my desk and I travelled around the world at lightning speed, and I learned that everywhere it is the same--hunger, humiliation, ignorance, vice, greed, extortion, chicanery, torture, despotism: the inhumanity of man to man: the fetters, the harness, the halter, the bridle, the whip, the spurs. The finer the calibre the worse off the man. Men were walking the streets of New York in that bloody, degrading outfit, the despised, the lowest of the low, walking around like auks, like penguins, like oxen, like trained seals, like patient donkeys, like big jackasses, like crazy gorillas, like docile maniacs nibbling at the dangling bait, like waltzing mice, like guinea pigs, like squirrels, like rabbits, and many and many a one was fit to govern the world, to write tile greatest book ever written. When I think of some of the Persians, the Hindus, the Arabs I knew, when I think of the character they revealed, their grace, their tenderness, their intelligence, their holiness, I spit on the white conquerors of the world, the degenerate British, the pigheaded Germans, the smug self-satisfied French. The earth is one great sentient being, a planet saturated through and through with man, a live planet expressing itself falteringly and stutteringly;

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2005

    Flambe' a la Cynicism

    Stream of consciousness? Yes. And a plethora of redundant reflections on the sad plight of the lost American dream. Going beyond that theme proves the rub for at least the first two hundred pages of this book. Illusions, futility, absurdity, mendacity and the entire hodge-podge bewilderment experienced in city life is well related in this 'sequel'. However, the author devolves into a one note critic as he fails to propel the protagonist into alternative mind sets. Perhaps beating the proverbial dead horse is necessary to jar the consciousness of stubborn, one track minds. Miller unwittingly becomes one and the same on perhaps a slightly more informed, introspective level. Rare emotional insights are offered in extremely evocative and colorful language.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2002

    Put Down the Book to Get Up and Live

    This book moved me to ecstasy. If you are one of those poor souls at the end of their rope, that have lost all hope and faith in life, then read Henry Miller. Through his words, he has the power to instill in the reader a fierce desire to live fully--to truly live, meaning not going through the paces of dead men sun up sun down from cradle to grave, but to break the chains of idiocy and trust in the flow of things. If you feel the need to put down the book to get up and live, then you're catching Miller's drift.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2001

    Incredibly honest and entertaining

    By combining his insightful commentaries with his bizzare life, Miller makes you examine humanity and hypocrisy without blinders. Hilarious, provocative, and dark, it's very hard to put down once you have picked it up.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 1999

    henry's most incredible book

    read my review of tropic of cancer.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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