Clichy (ave. Anatole France)
A plaque on the wall of number 4 avenue Anatole France in Clichy marks Henry Miller’s stay here between 1932 and 1934. This apartment was Miller’s first fixed address in Paris. After living on the bum for two years, shuttling between cheap hotels and the hospitality of friends, he moved in 1932 with his friend Alfred Perlès to the flat in Clichy. Here, he worked voraciously on his writing, completing his first published book, Tropic of Cancer and began writing Black Spring and Tropic of Capricorn. Miller later wrote extensively of his experiences in this working class suburb of Paris in Quiet Days in Clichy.
It is strange that I always think of this period as “quiet days.” They were anything but quiet, those days. Yet never did I accomplish more. I worked on three or four books at once. I was seething with ideas. The Avenue Anatole France on which we lived was anything but picturesque; it resembled a monotonous stretch of upper Park Avenue, New York. Perhaps our ebullience was due to the fact that for the first time in many a year we were enjoying what might be called a relative security. For the first time in ages I had a permanent address, for about a year.
—Henry Miller, Remember to Remember
Miller and Perlès moved here primarily to save money. They split the rent (about 300 francs per month each), which was much cheaper than the rates of the cheap hotels they were accustomed to paying. The flat was equipped with a small kitchen, allowing them to further economize by cooking their own meals. Miller became an accomplished cook, often preparing his favorite dish, the French classic pot-au feu, for which he acquired a special cauldron.
Perlès described the apartment in My Friend Henry Miller:
Our flat consisted of two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The hall separated Henry’s room from mine, so that we could come and go and receive our visitors without inconveniencing each other. We only had to share the bathroom and the kitchen. This was no drawback, for we usually cooked and ate our meals together in the kitchen.
Part of Miller’s daily routine at the Clichy apartment was to strip down, climb into his pajamas and take an afternoon nap. These naps, he said, put “velvet in his vertebrae”. Miller believed that dreaming was an important part of his work—things would happen to him when he slept,—and his creativity was refreshed. He began keeping a dream diary at this time and many passages in Tropic of Cancer have a surreal, dreamlike quality. In the afternoons he would take a bike ride or long walk, exploring the neighboring districts of Paris:
I can’t remember any period of my life when the time flew more quickly than it did at Clichy. The acquisition of two bicycles worked a complete metamorphosis in our routine. Everything was planned so as not to interfere with our afternoon rides.
—Henry Miller, Remember to Remember
Anaïs Nin visited frequently, as she wrote to Miller, “I love to go to Clichy, and I love sitting in the kitchen with you and Fred, and all the books on the table.” Nin and Miller were lovers at this time and having a stable residence removed from her husband’s view allowed the couple to explore their sexual passions freely. The two referred to the apartment as their “black-lace laboratory.” After sharing dinner with Fred, they would retire to Miller’s bedroom for a session of what Nin described as “acute core-reaching fucking.”
Miller’s creativity was at its most fecund in the Clichy apartment. He covered the walls of his room with large sheets of brown wrapping paper on which were scribbled notes and diagrams of his plans for novels, as well as photographs, pages torn from his favorite books and lists of exotic words he wished to incorporate in his writing. He could often be heard clattering away at his typewriter while he chain-smoked Gauloise Bleues. At his height, Miller was producing twenty pages a day of the manuscript of Tropic of Cancer, which reached a total of approximately 900 pages before being trimmed down for publication.
Miller left Clichy in early 1934, staying briefly with Anaïs Nin in Passy, followed by several months back on the hotel circuit before settling in to the Villa Seurat in September 1934.
|Henry Miller’s apartment in Clichy||Miller and Perlès in the Clichy apartment|
Around the corner from Miller’s apartment is a cemetery (Cimetière Sud de Clichy, beginning at the corner of the rue des Cailloux and rue Chance Milly) that Miller and Perlès visited frequently: “There was a cemetery a few blocks from the house to which we repaired in the evenings, always with one eye open for an agent.” (Henry Miller, Remember to Remember, 354)
4 avenue Anatole France