Bertha and Joseph Schrank
During the spring and summer of 1931 Miller was a weekly visitor to the apartment of Bertha and Joseph Schrank at 7 rue Huysmans. The Schranks, who are caricatured in Tropic of Cancer as Tania and Sylvester, provided Miller a free meal each Monday night. However, Miller’s principle interest in these visits was not food. Rather, he was smitten with Bertha, largely due to the uncanny physical resemblance she bore to his estranged wife June. The two had a brief but torrid affair and Miller’s passion for Bertha (Tania) sparked some of the most visceral passages in Tropic of Cancer:
O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. […] After me you can take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards. You can stuff toads, bats, lizards up your rectum. You can shit arpeggios if you like, or string a zither across your navel. I am fucking you, Tania, so that you’ll stay fucked. And if you are afraid of being fucked publicly I will fuck you privately. […] I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces….
All went well until Bertha encountered a photograph of June in Miller’s room at the Hôtel Central. Realizing his affections for her were only skin deep, Bertha broke off the affair and destroyed all of the letters he had written to her, — an act which infuriated Miller as he was intending to use portions of the letters in Tropic of Cancer.
Joseph Schrank was an established playwright who had several productions on Broadway and later became a Hollywood screenwriter. Miller had no respect for this sort of writing, noting in Tropic of Cancer that “though his name blaze in 50,000-candle-power red lights” Joseph (Sylvester) would never be a writer.
The Schranks fell out of Miller’s life when, enamored with communist theory, they left Paris for the Soviet Union in the fall of 1931.
That wraps up this tour of Montparnasse. If you need to find a metro, the nearest station is “Notre Dame des Champs”, which is just ahead on the corner of the boulevard Raspail (line 12).
7 rue Huysmans