TROPIC OF CANCER
Facsimile of a first edition of Tropic of Cancer from Morris Library Special Collections Research Center. Click on cover for limited preview of the text.
Grove Press Publishes & Defends T.O.C.
- Tropic of Cancer was originally published in Paris in 1934 by Obelisk Press, and was banned in the United States until Lady Chatterley’s Lover was determined not to be obscene. At that time, the Post Office and Customs lifted their bans, assuming that Tropic of Cancer would also be deemed acceptable in terms of community standards.
- Grove Press quickly brought out an American paperback edition of Tropic of Cancer in 1961. The appearance of a paperback edition of a book on which the ban had only recently been lifted caused an uproar in many communities. Because paperback editions are cheaper, they circulate more broadly, which caused concern that the corrupting influence of the novel might become more pervasive.
- Police in Chicago and other cities confiscated the books or attempted to intimidate booksellers to convince them to stop selling the novel. The result of these local actions was to force Grove Press to defend Tropic of Cancer in numerous lower courts, where no national determination of the book’s status as obscene or not could be made.
- Tropic of Cancer was defended for its literary merit by many leading scholars in the lower courts. Opponents of the book argued that the opinions of intellectuals did not consist of a “community standard,” and that the average person would react to the novel as pornography. For an example, see the District Court of Appeal of Florida [Third District] uphold the finding that Tropic of Cancer is obscene in Grove Press v. State of Florida, 156 So.2d 537 (Fla. 1963).
- One of the cases, Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein, 378 U.S. 577 (1964), eventually came before the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared that the book was not obscene using the Roth standard. Text by Melissa A. Hubbard, Assistant Professor, Morris Library Special Collections Research Center.
To learn more about the life of Henry Miller, click here
Major works: Tropic of Cancer (1934 in Paris); Tropic of Capricorn (1939); Sexus (1949);
Plexus (1953); Nexus (1960). Interesting note: Henry Miller is one of the main characters in the 1990 movie Henry & June, which was the first film to receive an NC-17 rating by MPAA.