Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

ISBN: 0811201074
ISBN 13: 9780811201070
By: Henry Miller

Check Price Now


Classics Currently Reading Essays Favorites Fiction Literature Memoir Memoirs Non Fiction To Read

About this book

Whence Henry Miller's title for this, one of his most appealing books; first published in 1957, it tells the story of Miller's life on the Big Sur, a section of California coast where he lived for fifteen years.Big Sur is the portrait of a place one of the most colorful in the U.S. and of the extraordinary people Miller knew there: writers (and writers who didn't write), mystics seeking truth in meditation (and the not-so-saintly looking for sex-cults or celebrity), sophisticated children and adult innocents; geniuses, cranks and the unclassifiable.Henry Miller writes with a buoyancy and brimming energy that are infectious. He has a fine touch for comedy. But this is also a serious book the testament of a free spirit who has broken through the restraints and cliches of modern life to find within himself his own kind of paradise.

Reader's Thoughts


Big Sur is one of my favorite places. I was excited to find this book in a wonderful English-language bookstore in Budapest, but it is a crazy book. I'm not sure I would have managed to finish it were it not for the paucity of books available to me at the time. Unlike the many books that fade into distant memory within months of reading, this book - a stream-of-consciousness ramble - has stuck with me. He writes about the stories he made up for his kids, his relationship with a neighbor who has an interminable itch (literally), his views on "progress" (=not positive) and what makes a life well-lived (=vivid, like the oranges in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.)


So-so, though I'm not much of a Henry Miller fan. There's some generous and pleasant accounts of the land and people of Big Sur (some great pull quotes for tourist brochures). But the better part of this book is given over to Miller's philosophical musings, which are here meandering, muddled and silly. And boring.


This was the first book of Henry Miller's that I have read (kind of the only one so far), and it made me really appreciate him as a person and as an artist. It is basically written in journal format during the time in his life when he was living in Big Sur (I believe around the time of WWII). Often times I don't care for people's diaristic writing, but Miller is an exception, as is Anais Nin. Reading Henry and June was what finally got me to read anything at all by Henry Miller.


A favorite. I think it may have been the time of year- being trapped in a coffee shop, being called a barista- one who spent all of her tips on the used books- shelved three feet from the tip jar itself- but once again, a favorite. There is this part- Miller's wife leaves him and takes the children- he is lost. In reading those lines- I first considered my fathers heart. It was the first time it seemed to me a possibility that he might be lonely. This was big- obviously. And so was big sur- only a few months before- when I stood on the beach- collecting sea-bits. There was sand in the brie and cork in the wine. I swam. I got climbed cliffs to dunes.


Doesn't everyone go through a Beats phrase? Not knocking it, but it really does grab hold a with a few people and the other 99.9% of us get on with our lives. But you can say that about almost anything right? I'm sure there are exceptions to this generalization, but for me, Beats are worthwhile reading at least once, but usually not much more than that. Granted, a lot of it was written to be read out loud more than anything else. But for every passage that is well-written and beautiful there's just as much writing that's (to me at least) superfluous or just plain dull. But there's enough gold in them thar hills to keep me coming back every now and then...

Spencer Scott

I wrote a sort of review that will be easier to link to than to paste here. The full review can be found here: book loaded with wisdom, introspection, hypocrisy, and vivid, personal anecdotes. Henry Miller comes through as an outstandingly honest human with a warm heart, a deep intelligence, and a searching soul. What I take away from this book is that Miller strives for peace and arguably achieves it by being unashamedly honest with himself and with the world.

Leile Brittan

Henry, you old rascal, you finally figured out the whole deal. If this is what it's like to get old, I'm not scared at all. Helluva nice little collection here. Always merry and bright! You've helped me figure it out, time and time again. Right now I'm in my thirties so I'm kinda on that "Tropic" and "Rosy Crucifixion" mode. But the "Big Sur" stage is something I now look forward to, should I be lucky enough to make my way there. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. In my best moments I'm already there now, usually when I'm smoking a cigarette by myself and looking at a sunset, or eating a good meal with my wife. Stand Still Like the Hummingbird...Remember to Remember. Thanks, homie.


Though it was quickly approaching a year of reading this book. I finally finished it. Having never read Henry Miller, I often found myself forced to put the book down for long periods of time. Not because it was bad, it just had a strange way of relating to my life at various moments. His ending proved that this indeed was his point, I guess I'm just crazy enough to relate.


This book, about Henry Miller's life at Big Sur, is a mixed bag. Some of the character sketches are very good, and some are not at all. When Miller wrote about his benefactor Jean Wharton, for instance, I nearly put down the book because of how barf-y and supplicating it was. Miller is always good for a few poignant thoughts though, and consistently does a great job when raking someone over the coals.Here was one passage I underlined:"The most difficult thing to adjust to, apparently, is peace and contentment. As long as there is something to fight, people seem able to brave all manner of hardships. Remove the element of struggle, and they are like fish out of water. Those who no longer have anything to worry about will, in desperation, often take on the burdens of the world. This not through idealism but because they must have something to do, or at least something to talk about."

Joshua Buhs

This is the way The Air-Conditioned should have ended: Miller free, transcendent.Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch is about where Miller went after he settled in California: to Big Sur, which was a wild, and open area at the time, inhabited by only a few hundred hardy souls. Miller, a city boy all his life, surprisingly took to this new mode of existence, and flourished. The book is a paean to his neighbors, a kiss of to his old life, and—as is usually the case with him—a plea.As usual, the book is loosely structured. The orange motif only recurs for the first hundred pages or so, maybe less—although the contrasts of paradise, purgatory, and hell remain throughout. Miller is good at detailing the burdens of paradise-the constant visitors, the unending stream of mail—but also that hardship is baked into paradise: paradise requires work, and the warm acceptance of work. So he strips down to a jock strap, and pulls a cart through the forest to gather wood. So he goes out into a rainstorm and sticks his hand into the septic tank to pull out roots that had clogged it. So he goes on a walk on the days when he wakes early to write—because the place is so beautiful, and calls to him.At times the prose can become . . . well, prosaic. But at other times it is gorgeous. Listen: “Though young, geologically speaking, the land has a hoary look. From the ocean depths there issued strange formations, contours unique and seductive. As if the Titans of the deep had labored for aeons to shape and mold the earth. Even millennia ago the great land birds were startled by the abrupt aspect of these risen shapes.”The first few chapters set the scene—quite literally. He then moves on to discussing his eccentric neighbors. Although this can be digressive—in Miller’s usual manner—it is fairly disciplined. Largely the structure is provided by the sheer abundance of neighbors. Unlike other essays, when he trying to sell the reader on the greatness of one particular person, he never strains for effect, never rarely substitutes cant for description.The book, too, reads quicker because of the abundant use of dialogue—at least compared to his other works—a deadpan humor, and the presence of his children. Listening to him trying to balance work and child-rearing, listening to his thoughts on child-rearing, listening to his attempts to play Mr. Mom after his wife leaves him—these are great comic moments. And it is no wonder he ran off nannies as he did—his children would have been hard to keep up with: they were raised to be completely free, liberated from birth.Eventually, the book, moves on to consider a visit from French acquaintance, Conrad Moricand, who was more Anais Nín’s friend than Miller’s. Moricand pulls a Henry Miller on Miller: he cons Miller into raising funds for him to leave war-ravaged Europe, has Miller put him up in a small shack, and becomes an eternal bum. He fulfills Miller’s prophesy that if you’re patient, everything you need will come to you.But he is not a hero. He comes to represent the decadence of the old world—in such a way one wonders how Miller could have let him anywhere near his own daughter. And he, unlike Miller, cannot be happy with what he has: he cannot give up needing, desiring, demanding. He always wants more and more. (And not the good kind of want: the craving for excellence. Rather what Miller would term the needless desiring.) In other books, given Miller’s expansive acceptance of humanity and its foibles, one can imagine that it was the desiring that marked Moricand as a Satan, rather than the child rape. But here, hates both—which violates his mystical commitments but humanizes him. Indeed, that may be what makes the book so much better than Miller’s late output: he is drawn way from his own narcissism, constant reflections on his own childhood or the love he lost in June, and is forced to be more oriented toward the world, even if rarely politically aware.The book ends with a short, bemused—in the ancient and more contemporary sense of that term—section that returns again to the problem of mail for Miller: how much he gets, how hard it is to cart up the mountain, how little of it he can respond to. This is his narcissism again—poor, poor me—but the piece is more than that, too. He uses the second person perspective brilliantly here to bring the reader into his experiences. And, given what has come before—this is a good use of his spiraling organization—it is again about the burdens of paradise and the difficulty one has in balancing both his or her own needs with the need to connect with the world.

Paul Galea

What, on the surface, seem to be the rantings and ravings of an old man giving endless lists of things and observations on everything and nothing, is actually a fun and pleasant read.


After Colossus of Maroussi this was my second favorite book Miller. If you are looking for a story that begins at point A and ends somewhere around Z (in other words that has a plot), this isn't the book for you. If you love Big Sur, can enjoy the ranting of a man who i believe can weave any experience into a fascinating story then pick up this book.


I found out when I finished this that it was basically Henry Miller writing a book to definitively and finally answer all of the people from all over the world that were constantly writing him letters. He is quite funny and seems like a very generous person, even though he has been highly demonized for writing books that are graphic- some even compare him to Marquis de Sade (sp?). This one was nothing but description of his family life and ruminations on God and nature, etc. Ok, but not emblematic Miller, probably. Oh yeah, it has virtually nothing to do with H.B.- he used oranges to describe paradise and Big Sur was a paradise for H.M. evidently.

Fred Poisson

Henry Miller is the reason I read as much as I do and this is the book that started it all for me, I have read everything the man has written and there is profundity even in the most profane of his works, there is not one piece of his writing that I would rate below five stars.


"Often, when following the trail which meanders over the hills, I pull myself up in an effort to encompass the glory and the grandeur which envelops the whole horizon. Often, when the clouds pile up in the north and the sea is churned with white caps, I say to myself: "This is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked out on from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look." "

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *