My Friend Henry Miller Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of My Friend Henry Miller

This book is about the life and growth of the writer and water colorist Henry Miller. My Friend Henry Miller begins with introducing the now famous artist before he was known in the States and abroad as a writer, painter and a social critic. Perles starts the book with a nod to Miller, also explaining how the two became friends. Before he could make his journey to Paris, there was a great number of ordeals for Mr. Miller.
Click here to see the rest of this review...

He was born to German parents, grew up in New York City -- specifically Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- and worked as a youth in his father's tailor shop. This would be the first arena for Miller's material of expansionary imaginative writings.

Eventually, Miller married in his middle twenties, to his first of five wives. Perles doesn't describe this first wife so much as he attempts to study and portray Miller's second wife, who is also referred to as Mona in this book. Beginning with this affair with Mona, Perles describes the period of Miller's life where he was slowly breaking free of the workaday world and entering into his own as a writer. At the time, he was working for the "Cosmococcic Telegraph Company". Mona uprooted everything, leading him to split with his first wife, quit his job and focus solely on his writing.

Throughout the book it is made clear just how much Miller drew from this section of his life, living in New York City, married to Mona, struggling to be a writer. His first few attempts at writing were under his belt; and although they were mostly failures, he was learning how to function his artistic and expressive mind.

Miller and Mona finally decide to take a trip to Paris. Mona had been peddling Miller's water colors and prose poems at her place of employment, where she accompanied men and women alike as a mysterious dancer slash waitress. There was one benefactor who had stipulated a fee to Mona, if she were to write a book. The real author of those pages was Henry Miller. At the completion of that "project" the man awarded Mona enough money to travel overseas, which the Millers did, together, for an entire year in 1928. They returned for a brief spurt. Then Miller was sent again across the Atlantic, nearly in the same borrowed beggar fashion, "accidentally" ending up in Paris, France.

This is the period of Miller's life on which Alfred Perles focuses the most. Perhaps this is true because the first person Miller met seems to have been Perles. Miller was drinking at a cafe, and Perles noticed the piling up of saucers on the table where he was sitting. Soon he discovered that the reason Henry was drinking so much was that he had been too afraid to admit to the garcon that he hadn't any money. Perles picked up the tab, after listening to Henry Miller brilliantly go on talking about America, his life, why and how he'd come to Paris. Perles also paid in advance a week's rent at the same hotel where he had been staying. Miller now had his first place to flop.

With this began Miller's life in Paris. For the first few years, Perles writes that Miller was bouncing from hotel to hotel, sleeping where he could, hunting for meals and handouts. He even was a proofreader for a short while, with Perles, at a Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. Much of this is documented in the manuscript Miller began working on, at the time -- Tropic of Cancer.

At this juncture of My Friend Henry Miller, Perles proceeds to write about all of the people Henry was meeting -- including Michael Fraenkel and Anais Nin. Miller was having no problem with finding friends and confidants. His life in Paris was blossoming, just as he was entering into his stride as a writer. He stayed in the Villa Seurat. His voice was found here, Perles intimates. Tropic of Cancer was then published in 1934 by Jack Kahane's Obelisk Press. The book was immediately banned in the U.K., and also in the United States, setting the stage for the rest of Miller's literary career.

In this period, it seemed that not even having his books banned in his home country could stop Henry Miller from writing. He worked on multiple books, simultaneously. He published Black Spring in 1936, and Tropic of Capricorn in 1939. Additionally, Miller published smaller titles in Paris, through his publisher, most of which were also banned in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Henry moved forward, onward to Greeze, unconcerned with how his literary output was or wasn't accepted. There he had a friend in Lawrence Durrell, a young English writer. The two spent time together in the Mediterranean, relaxing and meeting with friends. It was here that Miller found the subject for his next book, The Colossus of Maroussi, published in 1941. By then, Miller had been sent back to the states due to the eruption of World War Two. Miller and Perles would not see each other again for quite a while.

Perles writes with a great fondness for Miller. He even writes a bit like Miller, in some sense, as the story progresses with the telling of the rest of Miller's life in America. He travels the country, staying where he can, in order to write more books. And he also begins to paint water colors at the rate of a possessed man. Miller ends up in Big Sur, California, where he spends a great portion of his life, marrying two more times. His marital troubles are discussed, by the point of view of a great friend and admirer, which Perles undoubtedly is, and nothing is left unspoken. Perles is continually fascinated by the subject of his friend, Henry Miller, and through this book, that endearment becomes quite contagious.

With the end of the book, Perles documents a visit to Miller at his home on the coast of the Pacific. He finds that Miller is the man he always has been. Working on his art, living his life, meeting people, visiting friends, traveling to his old haunts, trekking to new places, taking in his new found celebrity. In 1961, his Cancer books are finally allowed to be published in America ... and Alfred Perles has transcribed perfectly Henry Miller's rising star at becoming one of the Western world's most outspoken and widely read writers of the 20th century.
Best part of story, including ending: I specifically enjoyed the subject-matter. I'm a big Henry Miller fan.

Best scene in story: The period of Miller's life which is most interesting are his early years in Paris. He was fully blossoming as a writer, and his literary output was astounding and profound. What he was writing was unlike most of what was found in other books of the time. To have a light shined on where and how he was living left a great impression on me, as a writer and a fan.

Opinion about the main character: One of Henry Miller's greatest attributes is his unflinching ability to stay productive and upbeat, no matter the calamity or lack of food and shelter.

The review of this Book prepared by Bryan William Myers a Level 1 Blue Jay scholar

Chapter Analysis of My Friend Henry Miller

Click on a plot link to find similar books!

Plot & Themes

job/profession:    -   artist Job/profession/poverty story    -   Yes Kind of living:    -   general poverty story Period of greatest activity?    -   1900+

Subject of Biography

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   artist Ethnicity    -   White Nationality    -   American Unusual characteristics:    -   Genius


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   8 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   France Century:    -   1930's-1950's

Writing Style

Book makes you feel?    -   thoughtful Pictures/Illustrations?    -   None How much dialogue in bio?    -   little dialog How much of bio focuses on most famous period of life?    -   51%-75% of book

Books with storylines, themes & endings like My Friend Henry Miller

Alfred Perles Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
2 Ways to Search!

Our Chief Librarian