Monday, 2 April 2018

Henry Miller in Full Frontal Meeting with the Durrells

Henry Miller as depicted in London in The Durrells.

In episode three of the third series of The Durrells, broadcast last night, Louisa and Larry go to London where they meet Henry Miller. It is true that Louisa went to London but with Gerry and Margo to see about a hormone problem that was making Margo fat.  Gerry tells the story in My Family and Other Animals.

That was in 1937, and no sooner had Louisa, Margo and Gerry returned than Larry and his wife Nancy left Corfu for Paris where they met Henry Miller.  But there is no account if him being naked at the time.

But Miller and Louisa never met in London.
Miller naked in London is an invention of Simon Nye, The Durrells' scriptwriter.  Miller never lived there, naked or otherwise. Instead he lived in Paris throughout the 1930s where he wrote and published Tropic of Cancer, his ebullient and erotic depiction of underground life in the city.  The  novel was banned for obscenity in Britain and America, but Larry managed to get hold of a copy in Corfu and shot off an admiring and enthusiastic letter to Miller who replied 'Your letter is so vivid, so keen, that I am curious to know if you are not a writer yourself'. This exchange, in 1935, marked the beginning of a lifetime friendship between the two.

Louisa had left Corfu by the time Miller, shown here
in a future episode, arrived there.
In 1939, just before the outbreak of the war, Miller did come to Corfu where he joined Nancy and Larry in their habit of stripping off.  'I hadn't been in the water for twenty years', said Miller, in contrast to Larry and his wife who were 'like a couple of dolphins'.  At the nearby shrine of St Arsenius overlooking the crystal blue Ionian, 'We baptised ourselves in the raw'.  By that time Louisa had returned to England; she never did meet Henry Miller.

First edition Colt Press 1941.
Miller goes unmentioned in Gerry's Corfu books and in Larry's Prospero's Cell.  But you will find something about his time in Corfu in The Colossus of Maroussi, the best book Miller ever wrote, which was published in 1941 after his return to America from Greece.

And then there is Margo's recollection of Henry as reported in The Durrells of Corfu.  This was after the family had left the island but Margo had impulsively returned from England to face the approaching war shoulder to shoulder with her Corfiot friends.  Henry was also there, enjoying the last moments of peace. 'A wonderful period of solitude set in', Miller recalled. 'It was the first time in my life that I was truly alone.’
Not quite alone, according to Margo. ‘Lawrence asked me to look after him, and he said, “Don’t let anybody swindle him”, which I thought was a typical Lawrence remark at that point. I did look after Henry, and I found him very charming. He did use a lot of bad language, but then, you know, I was used to that language. He just was very genial. He came swimming, and was absolutely like a grandfather. Lawrence said I was safe because I was one of the family.’