Tropic of Cancer

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Tropic of Cancer is a novel by Henry Miller, noted for its candid descriptions of sexuality. It was first published in 1934 in Paris, France, but this edition was banned in the United States. Its publication in 1961 in the U.S. led to obscenity trials that tested American laws on pornography in the early 1960s. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the book non-obscene. It is widely regarded as an important masterpiece of 20th-century literature.

Set in France (primarily Paris) during the late 1920s and early 1930s, the novel centers on Miller's life as a struggling writer. Combining autobiography and fiction, some chapters follow a narrative of some kind and refer to Miller's actual friends, colleagues, and workplaces; others are written as stream-of-consciousness reflections that are occasionally epiphanic. The novel is written in the first person, as are many of Miller's other novels, and does not have a linear organization, but rather fluctuates frequently between the past and present.


  • I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.
  • On the meridian of time there is no injustice: there is only the poetry of motion creating the illusion of truth and drama. If at any moment anywhere one comes face to face with the absolute, that great sympathy which makes men like Gautama and Jesus seem divine freezes away; the monstrous thing is not that men have created roses out of this dung heap, but that, for some reason or other, they should want roses.
  • When you decide to give up the ghost, Everything else follows even in midst of wildest chaos.
  • 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 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.
  • For a hundred years or more the world, our world, has been dying. And not one man, in these last hundred years or so, has been crazy enough to put a bomb up the asshole of creation and set it off. The world is rotting away, dying piecemeal. But it needs the coup de grace, it needs to be blown to smithereens. Not one of us is intact, and yet we have in us all the continents and the seas between the continents and the birds of the air. We are going to put it down -- the evolution of this world which has died but which has not been buried.
  • I am crying for more and more disasters, for bigger calamities, for grander failures. I want the whole world to be out of whack, I want everyone to scratch himself to death.
  • Still prowling around. Mid-afternoon. Guts rattling. Beginning to rain now. Notre-Dame rises tomb-like from the water. The gargoyles lean far out over the lace facade. They hang there like an idea fixd in the mind of a monomaniac. An old man with yellow whiskers approaches me. Has some Jaworski nonsense in his hand. Comes up to me with his head thrown back and the rain splashing in his face turns the golden sands to mud.
  • Nothing will avail to offset this virus which is poisoning the whole world. America is the very incarnation of doom. She will drag the whole world down to the bottomless pit.
  • It is not difficult to be alone if you are poor and a failure. An artist is always alone - if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.
  • I've lived out my melancholy youth. I don't give a fuck anymore what's behind me, or what's ahead of me. I'm healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future. The present is enough for me. Day by day.
  • All the men she's been with and now you, just you, and the barges going by, masts and hulls, the whole damned current of life flowing through you, through her, through all the guys behind you and after you, the flowers and the birds and the sun streaming in and the fragrance of it choking you, annihilating you.
  • Nobody, so far as I can see, is making use of those elements in the air which give direction and motivation to our lives. Only the killers seem to be extracting from life some satisfactory measure of what they are putting into it. The age demands violence, but we are getting only abortive explosions. Revolutions are nipped in the bud or else succeed too quickly. Passion is quickly exhausted. Men fall back on ideas, comme d'habitude. Nothing is proposed that can last more than twenty four hours. We are living a million lives in the space of a generation. In the study of entomology, or deep sea life, or cellular activity, we derive more...
  • There was a touch of spring in the air, a poisonous, malefic spring that seemed to burst from the manholes. Night after night I had been coming back to this quarter, attracted by certain leprous streets which only revealed their sinister splendor when the light of day had oozed away and the whores commenced to take up their posts.

Quotes about[edit]

  • Henry Miller... was already in his forties when his first and most famous novel, Tropic of Cancer, appeared in 1934. It was not until many years later, when it came out as a paperback, that the book was banned in the United States. This made it more celebrated than ever. After decades of exclusion the first British edition hit this country soon after the Lady Chatterly’s Lover furore and the vindication of Lawrence’s novel in our courts, so that moral reactions were somewhat inhibited. We were well spared a second such cause célèbre. Though frankly obscene, Miller’s already widely-read book could hardly be thought dangerously corrupting. The vital sleaziness of the writing, with its unrestrained sexual adventures, meant more than one thing to many men. Some saw in it a fertilising compost heap. There were clergymen who found him religious. There were critics who judged him to be some kind of sage and even saint, Ezra Pound admired him. George Orwell praised him, Lawrence Durrell was his friend and brought out the best in him (The best of Henry Miller, which appeared in 1960).
    • Norman Shrapnel, Beat generation writer Henry Miller dies, The Guardian (9 June 1980)

External links[edit]

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