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Moloch: Or, This Gentile World

Henry Miller

  Henry Miller

  was born in 1891 in Brooklyn, New York. He had a variety of jobs as a young man, including several years working as an employment manager for the Western Union Telegraph Company. During this time, encouraged by June Mansfield Smith, the second of his five wives. Miller began to write. Aside from articles, stories for pulp magazines and prose poems. Miller worked on his first novels, Crazy Cock and Moloch, and on the copious notes which would eventually transmute into the notorious ‘Tropics’ books.

  In 1930, Miller went to live in Paris. For the next ten years he mingled with impoverished expatriates and bohemian Parisians, including Brassai, Artaud and Anai’s Nin, with whom he had a much-documented affair. His first published book, Tropic of Cancer, appeared in 1934 from the Obelisk Press in Paris. It was followed five years later by its sister volume, Tropic of Capricorn. Sexually explicit, unashamedly candid, these books electrified the European literary avant-garde, received praise from Eliot, Pound, Beckett and Durrell, but were almost universally banned outside France.

  Miller returned to America in 1940, settling in Big Sur, California. Here, he wrote the ‘Rosy Crucifixion’ trilogy -Sexus (1949), Plexus (1953) and Nexus (1959) - but, regarded by many as a writer of ‘dirty books’, was unable to get his major works published in America. In 1961, after an epic legal battle. Tropic of Cancer was finally published in the States (in England in 1963). Miller became a household name, hailed by the Sixties counterculture as a prophet of freedom and sexual revolution. With the subsequent un-banning of the rest of his books, Miller’s work was finally available in his own country.

  He died on June 7 1980.


  Tropic of Cancer

  Tropic of Capricorn

  Black Spring

  Aller Retour New York

  The Cosmological Eye

  The Colossus of Maroussi

  The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

  Quiet Days in Clichy




  Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

  The Books in My Life

  A Devil in Paradise

  The Wisdom of the Heart

  My Life and Times

  The World of Sex

  Crazy Cock


  An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers

  77-85 Fulham Palace Road,

  Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

  A Flamingo Modern Classic 1994


  First published in Great Britain by

  HarperCollinsPublishers 1993

  Copyright © Estate of Henry Miller 1992

  Introduction copyright © Mary V. Dearborn

  ISBN 0 00 654581 5

  Set in Times Roman

  Printed in Great Britain by

  HarperCollinsManufacturing Glasgow

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

  This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


  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 lie 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 jot)—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.