Tropic of Cancer (novel)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "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 prolonged 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." --opening page
Tropic of Cancer is a novel by Henry Miller, first published in 1934 by Obelisk Press in Paris and still in print (Grove Press 1987 paperback: ISBN 0-8021-3178-6). Its publication in 1961 in the United States by Grove Press led to an obscenity trial that was one of several that tested American laws on pornography in the 1960s. While famous for its frank and often graphic depiction of sex, the book is also widely regarded as an important masterpiece of 20th century literature.
The novel is set in 1930s France, primarily Paris. It is written in the first person, as are many of Miller's other novels, and often fluctuates between past and present tense. Some chapters follow a strict narrative and refer to Miller's actual friends, colleagues, and workplaces; others are written as stream-of-consciousness reflections. There are many passages explicitly describing the narrator's sexual encounters, but the book does not solely focus on this subject.
The novel included a preface credited to Anaïs Nin (although allegedly penned by Miller himself).
A copyright infringing "Medusa" edition of the novel was published in New York City in 1940 by Jacob Brussel; its title page claimed its place of publication to be Mexico. Brussel was eventually sent to jail for ten years for the edition, a copy of which is in the Library of Congress under call number PS3525.I5454 T7 1940.
The Tropic of Cancer case
Henry Miller's 1934 novel, Tropic of Cancer, had explicit sexual passages and could not be published in the United States; an edition was printed by the Obelisk Press in Paris and copies were smuggled into the United States. (As of 2003, used book dealers asked $7500 and up for copies of this edition.) In 1961, Grove Press issued a copy of the work and lawsuits were brought against dozens of individual booksellers in many states for selling it. The issue was ultimately settled by the U. S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Miller v. California. In this decision, the court defined obscenity by what is now called the Miller test.
George Orwell called this novel "the most important book of the mid-1930's," and Miller "the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past." Samuel Beckett hailed it as "a momentous event in the history of modern writing". Norman Mailer, in his book on Miller, Genius and Lust, called it "one of the ten or twenty greatest novels of the century". The Modern Library named it the 50th greatest book of the 20th century.
Tom Lehrer, after singing the song "New Math", says that he wants to write a math textbook because he "knows it will sell a million copies" by calling it "Tropic of Calculus".
Several prominent lyrics from Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album are taken from the novel, most noticeably in the song "Ashes of American Flags". This fact is self-acknowledged later in the album during "Poor Places" when Jeff Tweedy sings "he takes all his words from the books that you don't read anyways."
A quote from the novel ("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... We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change.") precedes Thomas Pynchon's short story, "Entropy."
In the movie 1991 version of "Cape Fear" the characters of Max Cady and Danielle Bowden discuss the book briefly.
In the novel, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" by Kurt Vonnegut, the book is mentioned several times.
In the novel, "Factotum" by Charles Bukowski, the character Henry Chinaski reads it on a long bus ride.