Our Notes & References
First Russian edition, initiated by Miller himself, of one of the most transgressive books by “the most famous banned author in American history” (American National Biography). Published at the request of the author by Barney Rosset, “the flamboyant, provocative publisher who helped change the course of publishing in the United States” (Douglas Martin).
Limited to 200 copies, banned in Soviet Union, and now very rare on the market: we could not find any copy at auction or in libraries in Russia, no copy traced at Western auctions either. The American institutional holdings are good though, with 14 copies traced in Worldcat.
Tropic of Cancer was published in Paris in 1934 in an edition limited to 1000 copies at the Obelisk Press, immediately attracting considerable interest. Miller famously described it as “a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty.” The Russian poet and literary critic Georgii Adamovich wrote: “There are hardly two other books that are more widely discussed and debated than Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn”. Ezra Pound, noting that “this is an obscene book, deserving to be read,” highlighted that it was one of only a few modern books that could be set beside James Joyce’s Ulysses.
In 1938, the United States government banned the novel from being imported into the US as it “challenged models of sexual morality”, and then prohibited the printing of all of Miller’s works. A little more than two decades later, Barney Rosset and his Grove Press, specialising in the publication of avant-garde and transgressive works, challenged US obscenity laws in a landmark trial against the censorship of another provocative novel of the 20th century, D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. As a result, Rosset won the case and published it in 1959, a year before its first publication in the UK. In his interview with The Paris Review in 1997, Rosset admitted that he took on the fight to publish Lawrence’s work “in order to make the publication of Henry Miller’s novel possible”. In 1961, the US ban on Henry Miller’s novels was indeed lifted and the novel was finally published, although booksellers immediately received more than 60 obscenity lawsuits seeking to ban the book in over 21 states. Rosset again took legal action and went all the way to the US Supreme Court to assist every bookseller prosecuted; in 1964, by a one-vote majority, the Court overturned all bans as unconstitutional.
A few months following the decision, the conclusion to “one of the most significant censorship battles in U.S. history” (Friedman), Henry Miller persuaded Rosset to publish his novel in Russian. The Russian translation was thus published with the same lovely blue wrappers that graced the first American edition. The print run was limited to only two hundred copies, more than half of which Rosset tried to export to the Soviet Union—unsuccessfully, as the customs intercepted and destroyed them for being pornographic. Supposedly, many of the remaining copies in New York were destroyed in a fire (Abarinov).
The translation was made in 1962 by the émigré Georgii (George) Egorov, whose identity remains unclear. Writer Andrei Astvatsaturov suggests that the translator’s name could have been “a pseudonym of someone, possibly famous, because the translation is actually brilliant”. It is known that Egorov came to New York shortly after the war, studied at New York University and was friends with the young Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson, who took him to Hollywood, where he wrote Russian dialogues for American films. Further traces of Egorov are lost: apparently he changed his name and dissolved into American society (Abarinov).
Soviet critics tackled Miller’s controversial persona in their anti-Western propaganda, calling the writer a “decadent gangster” and an author of “tabloid reading” and “Freudian pornography”. The novel, of course, still appeared in Russian samizdat in the early 1970s and was officially published only in 1990.
Serbian collection, Vladimir Krull (ink stamp to lower fly-leaf; V. Krull was a late 20th-c. NY-based bookseller of Serbian origin; we were contacted by his son, who informed us about this, but did not know that his father had a stamp, nor a ‘collection’).
Aleksandr Genis, Andrei Astvatsaturov, Vladimir Abarinov, Genri Miller: saga samopoznaniia. Radio svoboda, 2019.
Ken Jordan, Barney Rosset, The Art of Publishing No. 2, The Paris Review, Issue 145, Winter 1997.
Joshua Friedman, Defender of the “Obscene” // Columbia Magazine, FALL 2010.
Douglas Martin, Barney Rosset Dies at 89; Defied Censors, Making Racy a Literary Staple, The New York Times, Feb 2012.