This slender building tucked into the the side of rue Princesse in Saint-Germain was once a “charming little hotel” that became June Mansfield’s preferred residence in Paris. Over the years, it’s cramped rooms and lurid red wallpaper bore witness to the final, passionate scenes of her marriage to Henry Miller.
Henry and June’s marriage had been in a tailspin since the arrival in their lives of a mysterious woman known as “Jean Kronski” in 1926. Jean moved into the Miller’s home and soon began to explore a sexual relationship with June. In April 1927, the women bolted for Europe, leaving a distraught Henry behind in New York. Over the coming months Henry would receive scant news of his wife’s whereabouts. It was through June’s telegraphic letters that he first learned of the Hôtel Princesse: “A month had passed and all I had had from Mona [June] were two brief letters. They were living on the rue Princesse in a charming little hotel, very clean, very cheap. The Hotel Princesse. If only I could see it, how I would love it!”1 How long June and Jean remained at the hotel before seeking other quarters is not known. They eventually separated in Paris and June returned to Henry in July.
1928 found Henry and June suddenly flush with cash through the combined efforts of June’s gold-digging and Henry’s early attempts at writing. Now they set off together for a year-long ramble through Europe. Their first stop was Paris. Here Henry and June made a circuit of the cheap hotels of the Left Bank, before settling in to a room at the Hôtel Princesse. They remained at the hotel only briefly before launching a bicycle tour through the south of France.
After returning to New York, the Miller’s financial position began to deteriorate. Having a husband around greatly hindered June’s gold-digging ventures and now she encouraged Henry to strike out again for Paris without her, this time to remain on a permanent basis. June vaguely promised to follow him to France when their finances improved.
In 1930 Henry set out for Paris to begin a new life. Alone and anxious for June to join him, he soon discovered an opportunity to draw her in. A screening of the film La Souriante Madame Beudet inspired Henry to write a letter to Germaine Dulac, the film’s director, requesting an interview. Would she be interested in casting the beautiful American actress June Mansfield in her movies?
Henry somehow secured the promise of a role for June in a film Dulac planned to begin shooting in January.2 By September, June arrived filled with dreams of stardom and the couple spent a few weeks in the Hôtel Princesse at the end of October. Henry was unable to arrange a second meeting with Dulac however, and it soon became apparent that the promised film role was not to materialize. In fact, Dulac never did produce the movie she had described to Henry. Without enough money to support them both in Paris, June retreated to New York in early November.3
|Henry Miller poses in the doorway of the Hôtel Princesse in 1969
© Photos by Louis Goldman
A year later, June made a second attempt to join Henry in Paris. She arrived in October 1931 and settled in with him at the Hôtel Princesse for an extended stay. Henry would later recall this period in the Hôtel Princesse with great fondness, particularly the moments he spent reading to June from a book about Proust while she sat on the bed painting her nails: “Let me say that these moments when I read to June have a special flavor—they belong to the happiest moments we have shared”.4
With June now returned to his life, the tiny room they shared began to take on a pleasant aura for Henry: “I began to discover a charm about the room. I could think there. Ideas commenced to stir, I would make plans for the morrow, or I would sink with deep absorption into a book. It was very small, the room, and our life seemed to overflow it.”5 The size of the room compelled a physical intimacy that brought Henry and June together by alternate turns in tenderness and bitter argument:
Alternately we had sat on the edge of the bed in dumb grief while one or the other spilled his guts, We had devoured crumbs of food like wild animals; we had gone to bed without clothes on and the windows locked and remained in bed forty-eight hours. The room was very small and we needed more room. But when I lay in bed with eyes wide open, waiting for her to return, then the room seemed deliciously small. I knew when I would hear her turn the knob that I had only to put my hand out and I could touch her and no matter where she retreated in that room I could see her, I could smell her fragrance, could feel the draught which she stirred about restlessly. I began to appreciate the room for that: it demanded intimacy.6
The feelings of intimacy gave way to vitriol on Christmas Eve when June furiously confronted Henry with her discovery of his affair with Bertha Schrank (Tania in Tropic of Cancer). She would be leaving in a few days, she informed Henry, and planned to divorce him in New York. “I’ll never marry any one again,” she screamed at him. “No one is good enough for me, no one appreciates all the sacrifices I’m willing to make,” she continued. “No I won’t go near a man even, except when I get so hot I can’t hold back. And then I’ll fuck anyone and everyone!”7
June returned in October 1932 for what would be the Millers’ final rendezvous at the Hôtel Princesse. The couple were still married at this time and Henry eagerly anticipated June’s appearance. Now he was prepared to play the proper host, having finally secured a permanent residence in the suburb of Clichy. He began collecting June’s favorite liquors and small gifts for her to place around the apartment. When she arrived, however, June proceeded directly to the rue Princess and notified Henry that she had taken a room at the hotel. It was late evening when he received her message and Henry immediately set out to see her. Crossing Paris by bicycle, he appeared at the hotel only to discover June already fast asleep and angry to be awoken at such an hour. To Henry’s surprise, she had reserved her room for ten days and had no intention of returning to Clichy with him that night.8 There would be no more tender moments at the Hôtel Princesse.
As with their previous meeting, the 1932 trip ended badly. In December, June discovered the manuscripts of Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn which Henry had carefully hidden away in his apartment. Outraged by her unsympathetic portrayal in these books, she lashed out, raging variously against Henry’s distortions and his inability to appreciate her sacrifices—declaring that she now considered him her greatest enemy in the world.9 On the day after Christmas—Henry’s birthday—June left Paris, telling Alfred Perlès only, “I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Tell Henry to send me a divorce as quick as possible.”10
The Hôtel Princesse Today
Today, the Hôtel Princesse no longer exists. Its former site is occupied by Coffee Parisien, a unique restaurant serving an array of American diner food. Stop in to discover a Parisian take on such American classics as cheeseburgers, tuna melts, pancakes and pecan pie.
4 rue Princesse
- Henry Miller, Nexus, 161
- Henry Miller, Letters to Emil, 63
- Jay Martin, Always Merry and Bright, 213-215
- Henry Miller, From Tropic of Cancer, ed. Roger Jackson, 36-39
- Martin, 243
- Martin, 269
- Martin, 273
- Martin, 277