Black Spring

Black Spring Study Guide

American author Henry Miller’s Black Spring was written between 1932 and 1933 while he was living in a suburb of Paris. However, the book was not released in the United States until 1963 due to strict obscenity laws. Nevertheless, it covers the author’s childhood in New York, his time in Paris, and innumerable topics such as disease, Roquefort, and Rabelais.

Written in a vibrant, stream-of-consciousness style and separated into multiple vignettes, there is no central plot or characters; it is often seen more as a memoir or an autobiography than a novel (in fact, it was originally titled Self-Portrait). Miller worked his dream notebooks into the text, particularly in the section “Into the Night Life…”

The ten sections of the text are: “The Fourteenth Ward,” “Third or Fourth Day of Spring,” “A Saturday Afternoon,” “The Angel is My Watermark!” “The Tailor Shop,” “Jabberwhorl Cronstadt,” “Into the Night Life…,” “Walking Up and Down in China,” “Burlesk,” and “Megalopolitan Maniac.” “The Tailor Shop” is often considered the best piece, and is most often excerpted.

Miller himself had a very high opinion of his novel, saying: “During the ten years I spent in Paris, I must have written seven or eight books. This one, Black Spring, I like the best of all I wrote during that period. It was a wonderful period of my life.” He described the genesis of the work by means “of the dream technique he peels off the outer layers of his geologic mortality and comes to grips with his true mantic self.”

The New York Times Book Review stated, “In Black Spring the old charmer is back at work, charming again. ‘This man, this skull, this music’ have good things in them, like a honeycomb. Henry Miller... reflects the light of joy and writes most sweetly.” Miller’s friend and book reviewer Raymond Queneau considered the work “an advance on Tropic of Cancer: now the verbal mastery of Henry Miller affirms itself without weakness, his language has again grown in beauty, precise and strong, powerful.” Norman Miler extolled the work as a “wildwater of prose, a cataract, a volcano, a torrent, an earthquake.”