Jump to content, Jump to navigation.

Amber Paulen

Henry Miller, Madame Bovary and Women

13 March 2012


Yesterday I came across this article by Jeanette Winterson on Henry Miller and a new book that has just been published called Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of Tropic of Cancer. It wasn’t until I had read a few lines that I turned back to check the author, thinking, it must be a woman, and I was surprised to see Winterson’s name. Or not surprised as I read on. She makes many poignant points that kept me thinking long after I walked away from the computer. Namely, how is it that I, a woman, find Henry Miller so inspiring?

And as I thought about it, I brought up scenes in Miller’s books, namely out of The Rosy Crucifixion series, but also from The Tropics, which I can’t remember as clearly because it has been years since I read those. Mostly I thought about my reactions to his sex scenes, his degradation of women as “a half-witted piece of tail.” And I can only think that my identification with Miller comes from beyond any division of gender; not so oddly, I never identify myself with the women he is fucking, but rather with his defiance of norms and his passion for writing. It has never occurred to me to put myself in the shoes of the prostitutes, a denial that may be as harmful as it is helpful.

Then I started to think about Madame Bovary and my recent reaction to Emma. If she is a heroine, with her shopping addiction and romantic longings, with her inability to release herself from her situation, through positive action, it seems completely natural that I would feel closer to Miller than to most of the female characters literature offers. It is only natural that I more often identify with men than with women in literature. Maybe that’s why I’m not as dismayed by Miller’s crass objectifications? I’ve just gotten used to it? And that is a depressing thought.

I haven’t read Tropic of Cancer in nearly seven years and I wonder if I read it now, what my thoughts would be. I’m sure they’ve changed. But even then, I wouldn’t be able to disregard the author for the influence that he’s had in my life and writing.

If we judged what is and isn’t a work, an author or artist, that objectifies women, we would be left with very little. If we were so worried about it, we wouldn’t leave the house. The body of woman is a symbol that is as old as literature itself. Maybe because Winterson is a lesbian it’s easier for her to separate herself from men’s sexual impulses, the sexualization that occurs all around me on a daily basis. I don’t have sympathy for men who buy women or prostitution; but I’m way too mixed up in the system to have much objectiveness.

I would like to come across more women in literature who embody the human strengths that I admire: the rebel, the poet, the confidently sexual, the introspective, women of deliberate action. As there are more and more women writing books, I imagine a future full of them, or at least enough to balance out, winnowing out all the good stuff, from the Millers.



Submit a Comment


·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·