Thursday, July 5, 2007

Beauty and Squalor Compared (Annotation G2-1/Goddard)

As cliché as it may be Henry Miller’s Quiet Days in Clichy cannot be judged by its title, because days filled with sex and prostitutes, booze and crowded cafes hardly qualify as quiet. In the opening pages of the novel Miller makes beautiful the squalid conditions of his Paris. Since Miller was living in New York during the writing of this novel, the richness of his Paris is the comparison of the two cities.
“Montmortre is sluggish, lazy, indifferent, somewhat shabby and seedy-looking, not glamorous so much as seductive, not scintillating but glowing with a smoldering flame” (Miller 7). The description here in itself gives the reader an idea of life along his walking route from the Place Clichy to Aubervilliers. Montmarte when compared to his description of New York’s Broadway between 42nd and 53rd streets become even more squalid. “Broadway looks exciting, even magical at times, but there is no fire, no heat- it is a brilliantly illuminated asbestos display, the paradise of advertising agents” (Miller 7). Elements in these two descriptions are not subtle: Montmarte is lazy, Broadway looks exciting; Montmarte is glowing with smoldering flame, Broadway is asbestos. These two streets may serve the same function for their respective cities, but the feeling is completely different: Paris becomes his setting: “It is, if anything, repellent rather than attractive, but insidiously repellent, like life itself” (Miller 7). Broadway is the paradise for advertising agents. In the comparison Miller, also point out differences in culture of their respective locations.
A far more subtle comparison is in the color gray. “and yet even the word gray, which brought about the association, has little in common with that gris which, to the ears of a Frenchmen, is capable of evoking a world of thought and feeling” (Miller 5). The position on gray for Miller simply stated: in Paris gray is definable in too many ways, in moods, in thought, and in passion. “In the realm of watercolor, American painters use this made-to-order gray excessively and obsessively. In France the range of grays is seemingly infinite; here the very effect is lost” (Miller 6).
In these opening pages, Miller has set the scene for both where he writes and comparing that to the place he intends to write: the Place Clichy, Paris. Though this comparison is a small part of the novel, it’s very clear the adventures of Quiet Days in Clichy have to happen in the squalor and beauty of Paris.

Miller, Henry. Quiet Days in Clichy. New York: Grove Press, INC, 1965.

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