Tropic of Cancer

Posted on Dec 12, 2010 | 0 comments

By Henry Miller.

A fascinating essay called Inside The Whale by Orwell put me on to this novel.  Orwell argues that the arrival of Tropic of Cancer in 1935 signalled a new ethic in literature, a call to “give yourself over to the world-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control it; simply accept it, endure it, record it.”  He puts the book in context as it comes out between the great wars, after the Nature poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge) and the modernists (Joyce, Eliot).  He says, 

…he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses.

Intriguing.  Orwell also mentions A.E. Housman and describes him as a “country” poet, “his poems are full of the charm of buried villages, the nostalgia of place-names, Clunton and Clunbury, Knighton, Ludlow…”  I had to check that out too, and enjoyed reading Housman’s Shropshire Lad.  I can see why it is derided as simplistic, manly, and patriotic, but it’s a fun read.

Orwell says,

At bottom it is always a writer’s tendency, his “purpose,” his “message,”, that makes him liked or disliked.  The proof of this is the extreme difficulty of seeing any literary merit in a book that seriously damages your deepest beliefs.  And no book is ever truly neutral.

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