Literary Daybook, Feb. 15

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published February 15, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 15, Lola Hart writes in her new diary for the first time.
-- "Random Acts of Senseless Violence" (1993)
by Jack Womack

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1986, the original manuscript of Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer" was auctioned for $165,000. This is Miller's first novel, written during and about his penniless, bohemian years in Paris in the early '30s. The diaries of his friend and lover, Anaïs Nin, inspired Miller to rewrite his conventionally structured (and unsellable) autobiographical novel "Crazy Cock" in diary form. He typed his new novel on the back of the old manuscript at a madcap pace, sometimes up to 45 pages a day. After reading his rambling pastiche of sex, book quotations, dreams, sex, newspaper clippings, menus, descriptions of paintings, sex, random musings, etc., one editor commented, "Miller is so alive nothing else can exist. It is like being close to the sun." Some near him -- Nin, wife June, some of those companions to his picaresque adventures -- certainly felt burned by Miller's plagiarism, distortion or hyperbole. Many were outraged by the book's smirking hedonism, or its egotism -- "What enrages me about people today," wrote Miller in a letter at the time, "is their willingness to die for things" -- but even highbrows like T.S. Eliot were captivated by its raw energy. "Tropic of Cancer" was published in 1934 in Europe, but not in America until the early '60s, when the Supreme Court finally adjudged it not obscene. By this time Miller's "gob of spit in the face of art" was an underground classic, and he was well on his way to the Big Sur, stud-sage, five-wives, nude-ping-pong-with-Playboy bunnies persona that dominated his last two decades. And the autobiographical approach that proved successful in his first book was well on its way to credo: "I don't use 'heroes,' and I don't write novels. I am the hero, and the book is myself ..." If Hugh Hefner in lifestyle, he was Walt Whitman in prose: One title rejected for "Tropic of Cancer" was "I Sing the Equator."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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