Henry Miller Remembered

Elmer Gertz and Henry Miller

  For many years, the late Henry Miller was considered the "Bad Boy" of American literature. His novel, The Tropic of Cancer, first published in France, dealt with the ribald exploits of expatriate writers in Paris during the 1930s. For over twenty years, the book was banned in the USA. Elmer Gertz successfully defended the book's publication in Illinois. After the ban was lifted, Gertz and Miller became friends--a friendship that was reflected in a collection of their letters: Henry Miller: Years of Trial and Triumph (1962-1964), Southern Illinois Press, 1978. This intervew was posted on American Legends in February 1998. Elmer Gertz died in 2000 at age 93. American Legends also interviewed Gertz about his long friendship with Harry Truman.


AL: Why was Miller considered a "dirty" writer?



Because he wrote Tropic of Cancer and several other books which used the so-called "four letter" words and were very explicit sexually.



Some critics, like Gore Vidal, have claimed that Miller was self-indulgent.



Henry Miller wrote exactly as he lived and felt. He tried to avoid all literary devices such as verbal inhibitions.


AL: Miller has been criticized by some feminists.

EG: Actually, Miller was many-sided about women. On the one hand, he looked upon them as nature's great handiwork. On the other hand, he felt that they were to be used for personal indulgence and literary material.



Will books like Tropic of Cancer or Nexus survive into the 21st century?



Most assuredly. There seems to be no diminution in his popularity. He fits the pattern of the times of doing everything without inhibition and writing about it in that fashion.


Some consider Miller anti-Semitic. Others believe that he was that rarity: a true proletarian writer.



True, Miller's parents were anti-Semitic Germans, but Miller outgrew their prejudices. In time many of his friends and associates were Jewish, and he came to love Jewish cantoral music. He admired Isaac Bashevis Singer more than any other American writer, and they were close friends. Even when he was a very poor man, Miller was not a proletarian. He disliked all political and social labels.


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