HENRY MILLER by Robert Ferguson


A Life
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 Second life of Henry Miller reviewed this issue (see Mary V. Dearborn's ``The Happiest Man Alive'', above), this one longer, more richly detailed, with bigger critiques of Miller's works. As portrayed by Ferguson (Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun, 1987), Miller turns out to be a two-sided writer, showing himself in his autobiographical fiction to be ``the happiest man alive'' despite the depths of his lifelong suffering. A charismatic of superhuman generosity, with a great gathering of ``friends.'' Miller nonetheless drew these friends harshly in his novels, so much so that one old school friend from Brooklyn wrote his own ``honest and warm'' memoir of Miller and called him hard, unfeeling, vicious, and monstrously cruel. Dearborn and Ferguson split on whether or not Miller fathered Anais Nin's stillborn daughter (Dearborn says you can't tell, but Ferguson makes very dark assumptions). Once Tropic of Cancer was published (1934) and Miller as 45 began to become ``Henry Miller,'' he also drank more, became boisterous and boorish in mixed company in order to live up to his satyr image, and enjoyed ragging friends and stealing from them. This image also fostered his famous begging letters; he saw himself as a beggar 25 years later even after the riches flowed in f rom the Grove Press editions of his banned novels: begging showed who his friends were. Once Miller became ``Henry Miller,'' Ferguson says, ``the ability or the desire to ridicule his own pretensions was largely gone,'' and he became a guru to the Beats with a foggy grasp of cosmology and philosophy. His ``autobiographical fictions...do not profit from repeated reading. They are not like symphonies or great novels that offer more with each successive experience of them. Rather they offer less...'' Ferguson shows Miller full-tilt in violent rebellion against the puritanism and materialism of his era, deep in suffering one moment, a great prancing goat the next. The last years are quite sad.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-02978-6
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1991


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