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This review is taken from PN Review 80, Volume 17 Number 6, July - August 1991.

STREET-ROOTS Robert Ferguson, Henry Miller: A Life (Hutchinson) £18.99

After his ground-breaking biography of Knut Hamsun, Robert Ferguson has now tackled a life far less Herculean and less grating on the nerve-ends of 20th-century Western civilization. For, viewed eleven years after his death, Henry Miller seems a playful figure as against the Nordic titan whose very empathy with the life of his people - to the excruciating embarrassment of early admirers like the ostensibly liberal Thomas Mann - took him into league with Adolf Hitler. Yet Miller was a disciple (though in a strictly literary sense) of Hamsun, hailing him as a master after being galvanized by Hunger during his years of manic self-tutelage back in his native Brooklyn.

Although slighter in subject, Ferguson's new book is stylistically more assured than his Hamsun work, a symptom of maturing that prompts speculation as to his future interests - a biography of John Cowper Powys, possibly? The link is here in Miller since Powys was joyfully admitted to Henry's Pantheon after the exuberant youth heard him lecture on the Russian novelists at a New York theatre in 1916. And Ferguson, with a quotation from the intriguing 'America' chapter of Powys's Autobiography, justly imparts social significance to the burlesque shows young Miller frequented and demonstrates how they influenced Tropic of Cancer. (The quotation, typical of Ferguson's deftness in allusion, also adds Powys's name to those of other notable writers of the century - Eliot, for instance - much taken by low-life theatre.)

From his conditioning in this ...

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