Friday, December 31, 2010

A Book For Emil

Henry’s wife, June, had not see her husband for seven months, until she surprised him in Paris with a visit at the end of September 1930 [1]. They were both broke, and drifted from hotel to hotel (five in all) as financial circumstances dictated [2]. Finally, with no prospects for June to make money in Paris, it was apparent that she had no choice but to return to New York.

On October 17th, the day before June was to leave, Henry thought about his old friend Emil Schnellock, to whom he’d been writing diligently since his arrival in Paris. He wanted to send back a gift that was within his means: a book from his own collection. He and Emil used to discuss literature, back in Brooklyn. “… [O]ur tastes were quite divergent,” wrote Miller, years later. “[He] had a most lovable way of deprecating his knowledge and understanding of books … [but] he not only knew a lot more than he pretended but [he] sometimes knew much more than I did myself. If he read far less than I, he read with much greater attention and, as a result, he retained much more than I ever did” (The Books In My Life, p.172).

Henry decided upon his 1924 Paris edition of Rodolphe Bringer’s Trente Ans D’Humour (Thirty Years Of Humour), a book of literary criticism [3]. French writer Rodolphe Bringer was primarily a journalist who wrote, it seems, mostly non-fiction [4]. Although Bringer appears to have had little future influence, his Trente Ans book was absorbed at the time by Miller, who had underlined certain passages and written notes in the margins.

Opening the book to its title page, Henry wrote: “Dear Emil: Here’s one fairly easy to read and quite entertaining. Try it! Henry, 10/17/30.” Miller also added a postscript: The day previous, he had been strolling down the Boulevard Raspail, when he “[s]aw a peach of a Huysmans […] called 'Croquis de Paris.' So much to buy -- so much -- if one only had the dough!” [in 1951, Miller would list Huysmans’ Against The Grain (A Rebours, 1884) as one of the 100 books that influenced him most] [5].

The next morning, Saturday, October 18th, Henry saw June off at the train station. “Believe me, it was hard to put her on the train. Seemed like the end of the world,” he would write Emil a few days later. June had arrived in Paris with nothing, but left with Henry's copy of Trente Ans D’Humour. Five days later, Henry wrote to Emil and let him know to expect the book.

Above: The actual inscription page from the Bringer book. From the Ken Lopez Bokseller website.

“I gave June a book by a humorist, Rudolf Bringer, for you. Be sure you get it! But don’t ask for June at the Pot. She doesn’t want them to know yet that she has returned. Sorry I couldn’t send you anything more than that, but I just couldn’t. June arrived without a cent and left the same way. I had 50 fr. when we parted.”

80 years later, this book still exists, with Henry’s original handwritten note on the title page, even if the cover wrappers are missing and the pages have become brittle. Ken Lopez Bookseller is/was offering it for $1,000 [6]. But the provenance of this book is not clear. Considering the fact that other books from June’s collection have been available for sale on the antique book market, but none from Emil that I’ve noticed, I wonder if June had actually delivered this book to Emil as planned.

[1] Jay Martin's Always Merry And Bright, pp.211-212; [2] ibid pp. 212-214, plus Miller's own quote in Letters To Emil, p.63; [3] I couldn't find any online summaries about this book, but a few French book websites have categorized it as being "journalist and literary crticism"; [4] I make this assumption based on my interpretation of the bibliography and biography on French Wikipedia; maybe I'm wrong; [5] Miller's The Books In My Life, Appendix I; [6] The book is listed on their website, with a price, implying that it is available. FYI, I have no relationship with this bookseller; this posting is neither an advertisement nor an endorsement. Do your own purchasing research.


Blogger Eric D. Lehman said...

Any handwriting experts also Miller fans? Maybe they can figure it out from the inscription.

3:45 pm  
Anonymous Michael Jones said...

After reading Croquis Parisien last year I immediately wondered if Miller had read it, and now I know. For anyone that hasn't read it its English title is Parisian Sketches, and whose first story The Folies Bergere has certain similarities to Miller's account of a visit to the Salle Gaveau in TC.

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Hi RC, I am fascinated by your blog. I am currently working on a story on Henry MIller's Brooklyn for an online magazine and would love to have your input in it. Do you have an email where you can be reached?

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