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Henry Miller



  Black Spring

  Quiet Days in Clichy




  Tropic of Cancer

  Tropic of Capricorn

  Under the Roofs of Paris

  Crazy Cock





  Copyright © 1992 by Estate of Henry Miller Introduction copyright © 1992 by Mary V. Dearborn

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher.

  Grove Press

  841 Broadway

  New York, NY 10003

  Published in Canada by General Publishing Company, Ltd.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Miller, Henry, 1891-1980

  Moloch / Henry Miller ; introduction by Mary V. Dearborn.—1st


  I. Title.

  PS3525.I5454M57 1992

  813’.52—dc20 92-10327 CIP

  eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4693-0

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  Designed by Kathy Kikkert


  And the Lord Spake unto Moses, saying, Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Moloch; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones… I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Moloch, from among their people.

  —LEVITICUS 20:1-5

  The dawn of 1927, perhaps the most tempestuous year of his long and tempestuous life, found Henry Miller sharing a cellar on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights with his second wife, June, and her Lesbian lover, Jean. June had convinced Henry to quit his job in order to fulfill his destiny and become a writer, but he did little else but hang about the gloomy apartment, he later wrote, “like a stranger.” Thanks to Jean’s artistic efforts, the dingy basement apartment walls were decorated with murals, and the ceiling was painted purple. In the middle of the kitchen they set up “the gut table,” around which they gathered for marathons of talk. Miller, the son of an obsessively fastidious mother, later described the conditions in which he lived:

  Bed unmade all day; climbing into it with shoes frequently; sheets a mess. Using soiled shirts for towels . . . washing dishes in the bathtub, which was greasy and black rimmed. Bathroom always cold as an icebox. . . . Shades always down, windows never washed, atmosphere sepulchral. Floor constantly strewn with plaster of Paris, tools, paints, books, cigarette butts, garbage, soiled dishes, pots. Jean running around all day in coveralls. June always half-naked and complaining of the cold.

  That winter they burned chairs and other furniture in the fireplace for warmth.

  Money was in short supply. Jean, who wore men’s clothing and two left shoes, took to the manufacture of puppets and later expanded her line to include death masks. When these items failed to bring in the needed cash, she attempted to hire her body out for medical experiments. Jean and June then seized eagerly on Henry’s idea of selling blood, but were disappointed when they were turned away for being anemic.

  Above and beyond these entrepreneurial activities, the two women provided for household expenses primarily through gold digging on a grand scale, frequenting what Miller called “nothing but dives and joints, nothing but pederasts, Lesbians, pimps, tarts, fakes and phonies of all description.” June brought men back to the tiny apartment and entertained them while Henry sat in a little shed behind the house, freezing, listening to the gay sounds that penetrated the thin walls. June’s behavior had always been erratic, and her days and nights disordered, but she seemed to become quite mad as her involvement with a decidedly seamy bohemia and the underworld grew more intense. Then one night, after days of vomiting, June confessed to using drugs.

  Trapped in this lurid and unsanitary universe, broke and tormented by the cold, torn between love and jealousy, his manhood under assault from all quarters, Henry, unsurprisingly, showed little inclination to write. He spent his days hanging around in the streets and panhandling in pool halls, speakeasies, and burlesque parlors. In April an old acquaintance and nemesis, Jimmy Pasta, got Miller a job with the Parks Department, and it had a tonic effect on him, restoring a small measure of order and respectability to his otherwise tumultuous and degraded life. One week later, however, his temporary peace of mind was shattered when he returned home to find June and Jean had run away together to Paris. In a howling fit he smashed up what little furniture was left in the apartment.

  Destitute and humbled, Miller moved back in with his domineering mother and ineffectual father. Within two months, however, June had returned without her lover, and the Millers were back in business as husband and wife. June insisted on moving to an elegant apartment on Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn—one they could ill afford—in a neighborhood of luxurious mansions and brownstones. She also insisted that Henry immediately quit his job—to write. It was from a writing table in the comfortable Clinton Avenue apartment, looking out over a pleasant garden with two trees, that Henry began work on Moloch. The peculiar circumstances surrounding the genesis of the book made for anything but ideal working conditions.

  June had scraped together enough money to open a “cellar dive” called the Roman Tavern in Greenwich Village. It was not the Millers’ first foray into the nightclub business. Two years earlier, building on June’s extensive experience as a “hostess,” they had run a small subterranean establishment on Perry Street where bootleg gin and the company of June were the only commodities for sale. The Roman Tavern operated along similar lines with similar meager profit margins. It was here that June met a man in the fur business who would identify himself only as “Pop.” And it was under Pop’s patronage that Moloch would be written.

  June had managed to convince Pop she was an aspiring literary talent, and he agreed to pay her a weekly stipend so that she could write a novel. The only stipulations were that she should show him a few pages every week and make herself available to discuss the intricacies of the creative process with him.

  The actual writing of this novel would, of course, be undertaken by Miller, with June acting as liaison. The unusual arrangement had its literary and emotional difficulties. Writing to order was not Miller’s forte, and he had already experienced problems in trying to produce stories for magazines with names like Breezy Stories, Droll Stories, True Story, and True Confessions. Then too, for a writer who would one day elevate “manly writing” to the status of a personal crusade, sustaining a voice that was supposed to be June’s for the length of an entire novel would be no simple matter. In fact, Miller wrote later, “Every time I sat down to write a page for (Pop), I readjusted my skirt, primped my hairdo, and powdered my nose.” Further complicating matters, Miller was not blind to the obvious possibilities of the relationship between June and her patron and suspected all along that his wife was giving Pop “value for value, and had been from the very beginning.”

  Nevertheless, Miller took on the project. The writing was fitful, and the weekly quota of pages hung heavily over him. But the regularity of the grind instilled a new sense of discipline in the budding author, and he was pleased to discover the finished manuscript came to nearly four hundred typed pages. What is more, Pop, the audience of one, liked it so much that he threw in a bonus trip to Paris for
purported authoress June, along with enough money for nine months’ expenses.

  We can only speculate as to the refinement of Pop’s literary tastes and the wisdom of his judgment, but the novel Miller produced at his behest, to today’s critical eye, leaves much to be desired. Moloch is intriguing as a piece of Miller juvenilia and as a first attempt at autobiographical fiction by an extremely autobiographical writer. But its prose is spotty and uneven, almost uniformly stilted and awkward, and the narrative voice is inconsistent and frequently obtrusive. Yet Moloch offers some tantalizing rewards.

  The story Miller sets out to tell in Moloch is based on his years at Western Union and the disintegration of his first marriage. Some of the more interesting parts of the novel are concerned with the day-to-day operations of the telegraph company. Miller held a position of modest importance at the Park Row branch office in Lower Manhattan. (In his later novels and in statements about his life he would represent his job as that of “employment manager,” but we should remember that Western Union was a personnel company, and that every Western Union worker who was not a messenger was in some sense in the business of managing employees.) His duties consisted of hiring and firing messengers at a time when the company was experiencing enormous turnover problems, and the pace of his day was hectic.

  Dion Moloch, the protagonist and autobiographical hero of the novel, is presented as the idol of everyone with whom he comes in contact—messengers adore him, subordinates seek his company and advice, ex-employees write him long and admiring letters, women lust after him. In reality, Miller’s performance on the job was a little on the shady side—he shamelessly confiscated messengers’ car fare for his own lunch money and preyed endlessly on the secretaries and female messengers under his supervision. (One of his colleagues, Mike Rivese, who appears as O’Rourke in Tropic of Capricorn, later wrote a little-known book called Inside Western Union, reporting that Miller was lazy and shoddy in his work habits.)

  Moloch’s philandering, chronicled at length in the novel, does nothing for his floundering marriage to Blanche, a character modeled on Miller’s first wife, Beatrice. He describes the couple’s situation as “stranded on the mudflats of matrimony.” Their life together is presented as an extended brawl.

  But by far the most prominent thematic feature of Moloch is its ubiquitous and often virulent anti-Semitism. In his late twenties, Miller systematically went about developing an anti-Semitic “philosophy,” taking as his mentors Nietzsche, Herbert Spencer, Spengler, and Hilaire Belloc. He did “field work” on the Lower East Side and in his old Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, which he saw as spoiled, dirty, and overrun by Jews.

  Yet like many of Miller’s obsessions, his feelings toward the Jews were fraught with ambivalence. In the book, Dion Moloch scolds Blanche and his friend Stanley for their anti-Semitism. And there are many passages in which Miller speaks of Jews with open admiration, as when he commends the intellect and independence of Jewish women and proclaims their clear superiority as wives over Gentile women. We must also remember that June, the love of Miller’s life, his obsession, his tormentor, was Jewish, and it is not unlikely that some of the anti-Semitic diatribe in Moloch was inserted expressly to annoy and torment her.

  Of course, Jews are not the only objects of Miller’s ire in Moloch, and with little effort one can find abundant evidence of explicitly offensive sentiments: references that are sexist (“bimbos” and “sluts”), racist (“niggers” and “tar babies”), homophobic (“faggots”), anti-Italian, anti-Irish, anti-Dutch, anti-Polish, anti-Catholic. Moloch is, furthermore, not above making fun of an epileptic or justifying beating his wife. And— most tellingly, perhaps—he comes off as unrepentantly anti-family, anti-American, and even anti-Western civilization.

  There is something almost adolescent in Miller’s desire to shock, to épater le bourgeois at every conceivable twist and turn, with anything at his disposal, at any price. In fact, the blatant flaunting of his multiple prejudices is only part of a larger strategy that includes a realism carried to the point of ugliness and brutality, a style that will eventually be expressed by the “mature” Miller through a plethora of four-letter words and shocking sexual explicitness.

  In Moloch, Miller is only warming up, practicing; it is Tropic of Cancer, generally agreed to be his first fully realized work, that he introduces to the world as follows: “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. ...”

  The choice of the title, Moloch; or, This Gentile World, reflects Miller’s larger and more systematic rejection of any and all orthodoxies. In turn, it reveals his own somewhat bizarre “orthodoxies” and at the same time dramatizes his own profound alienation. On the literal level, Moloch, “the abomination of the Ammonites,” a deity who demands child sacrifice of his adherents, is an implacable and demonic power arrayed against the people of Israel. As such, one enlisted in the service of Moloch is, by definition, an enemy of Israel, the Jewish people.

  But for Miller, as it was for the apostolic fathers and the medieval theologians before him, and most probably for the Lutheran ministers whose sermons he was subjected to as a child, “Israel” is also a symbol and figure of something more: of the new chosen people in the new Jerusalem, of the church, of an entire civilization and way of life predicated upon Christianity. With respect to these institutions and values, Moloch/Miller will always style himself the quintessential “Gentile,” the ultimate outsider. And Miller’s work, above and beyond its strident iconoclasm, becomes, among other things, an extended exploration of the writer’s own misanthropy in the face of his (often somewhat desperate) belief in human possibility. In Moloch, that lifelong project is only just beginning.

  Moloch is Miller’s first completed, extant novel. It was preceded by a collection of sketches of twelve Western Union messengers called Clipped Wings, which survives only in fragments. Much of the material from this earlier effort, however, finds its way into Moloch, including the anti-Semitic orientation and the vaguely repellent portraits of messengers.

  In fact, nothing Miller ever wrote was wasted. Everything could be recycled. The ground covered in Moloch would be gone over again, more thoroughly in Tropic of Capricorn and Sexus, where it would receive a typically fantastic, Millerian amplification. For example, what in Moloch is characterized somewhat modestly and nondescriptly as the Great American Telegraph Company is transmogrified in the later works into the infamous Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company of North America. The original manuscript of Moloch even bears explicit instructions penciled in the margins in his own hand to indicate that chapter 13 is destined “for Tropic of Capricorn.”

  The reworking of these bits of life and text is consistent with Miller’s early definition of his mission as a writer. Before embarking on Moloch, he had committed to paper, in one manic, hallucinatory session, some thirty pages of notes that would constitute a complete plan for his life’s work. He would write the story of his life with June and Jean—a colossal tale of love and betrayal, of suffering and violent emotional upheaval. Moloch is only a first and very tentative chapter in that story.

  Still, glimpses of the later Miller are there to be seen. The preoccupation with sex is already in evidence, although we are spared the accumulation of biological detail. Sex scenes in Moloch have a way of either dissolving into fuzzy lyricism or being interrupted or postponed. The reliance on four-letter words and the explicit description of sex acts that would earn him his later reputation as a “dirty book writer” have not yet become part of his technique.

  What Miller does discover in Moloch, however, is his genre, which is best understood as autobiographical fantasy. He uses himself and his friends as the main characters, and the story that he tells is his own, or at least his own as his psyche remembers it. But if he discovers his form, he has not yet found the voice he ne
eds to sing his song. Both Moloch and his subsequent attempt to write about his marriage with June, Crazy Cock (originally titled “Lovely Lesbians”), are cast as third-person narratives. It was not until he began to write in the first person that Miller’s writing swelled to the epic proportions of his mature style. It is a style based on the willfully extravagant, on the magnificent, the hyperbolic, the overblown, and the outré.

  It is the liberation of this voice and its boundless energy that are Miller’s most significant artistic achievements. In an epiphany described near the end of Moloch, he gives us a glimpse of what is to come:

  “This world is my world, my stamping-ground. I must run free, mad-hearted, bellowing with pain and ecstasy, charging with lowered horns, ripping up the barricades that hem me in and stifle me. I must have room to expand . . . vast, silent spaces to charge in so that my voice may be heard to the outermost limits and shake the unseen walls of this cruel universe.”

  Whatever one thinks of Miller’s later work, we can agree with a line from Dion Moloch: “It was written in the first person spectacular. Some of it was in high fettle.”

  —Mary V. Dearborn


  THE PUBLISHING OF POSTHUMOUS FICTION NATURALLY presents special problems, and the reader is entitled to know what, if any, editing has taken place. We have earnestly sought to present this novel in as untrammeled a form as possible, correcting only misspellings, obvious inconsistencies, and verb disagreements where no rewriting was entailed. With these minor exceptions, this first publication of this Henry Miller novel is exactly as he wrote it.



  DION MOLOCH WALKED WITH THE DREAMY STRIDE OF A noctambulo among the apparitions on the Bowery. I say “apparitions” because, as every sophisticated New Yorker knows, the Bowery is a thoroughfare where blasted souls are repaired for the price of a free lunch.