Book Club Travel, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch

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Connecting the Dots

I know he’s dead, but I have a big crush on Henry Miller so I can’t think of anything better than a book club weekend dedicated to everything about the guy.  So, I would try to rent the house up on Partington Ridge and get up there above the ocean to see what he saw every day that inspired him so much.  I would work with Magnus Toren at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur and try to set up dinner and a movie at the library, I’d eat and drink at Napenthe, I would get in as much hiking as possible and I would not miss the Esalan baths from one to three in the morning.   I’ve laid all that our for you here including some activities that will help you see Miller’s Big Sur.

Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

Sample Itinerary


Check in

Henry Miller Library

Book Discussion and Dinner

Nightcap at Nepenthe


Magic Hour Morning Coffee

Breakfast at Deetjen’s

Partington Ridge or Beach Hike

Picnic Lunch

Magic Hour Cocktails

Dinner at Nepenthe


Breakfast at Deetjen’s


Getting Around

Big Sur is not easy to get to.  The fastest way would be to fly into Monterey and rent a car and drive but that might not be the cheapest route.  San Jose Mineta Airport is about two hour drive from Big Sur and San Francisco Airport clocks in at three hours.  You will definitely need a car for this adventure. You be able to get along without one like Henry Miller did for a spell.

Building the Excitement

Explore the magic hours of the day!  Henry Miller takes a lot of time beautifully describing what he sees around him in Big Sur, “There are two magic hours of the day which I have only really come to know and wait for, bathe in, I might say, since living here.  One is dawn, the other sunset. In both we have what I like to think of as “the true light”:  one cold the other warm, but both creating the ambiance of super reality, or the reality behind reality.” Page 92

Big Sur at Dawn

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“…that range the coast, ever entranced by the way the light of dawn licks and warms the “backs of the drugged rhinoceros.”  Page 92

What to do:

Get up early one morning.  While you are enjoying coffee, walk out and see what Miller saw in the dawn hours.

Big Sur at Sunset

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“Toward sunset when the hills in back of us are flushed with that other “true light,” the trees and scrub in the canyon take on a wholly different aspect.  Everything is brush and cones, umbrellas of light—the leaves, boughs, stalks, trunks standing out separate and defined as if etched by the Creator Himself.”  Page 92

What to do:

Have cocktails outside.  Discuss Miller’s “magic hour.” By the time your cocktail mixes with the beauty of Big Sur you will want to take out a canvass and start painting.

Redwood Trees

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“Here the redwoods made its last stand.  At dawn its majesty is almost painful to behold.  That same prehistoric look.  The look of always. Nature smiling at herself in the mirror of eternity.” Page 8

What to do:

Stop and look at the Redwoods. There are a million around Big Sur but there is one Redwood grove right at Deetjen’s that you can enjoy and there is a beautiful grove right on Partington Ridge hike, not too far in where you can sit and enjoy the “look of always.”

Talking it Over

Henry Miller had a big life before he came to Big Sur. And then he traveled across the United States to find a place to settle.  Why do you think he choose Big Sur?

What was Miller searching for?

What was happening in Big Sur when Miller arrived?

It’s said that Henry Miller played a role in the sexual revolution. Discuss the role his book Tropic of Cancer might have played in that.  Henry is also credited with planting the seeds that led to the Beatnik Movement in Northern California.  What was it?  And how do you think he played a role.

Discuss Miller as a husband.  And what kind of father do you think he was?

A nice portion of Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch is the story of Moricand’s three month visit in Big Sur.  Why do you think Miller wrote so much about him?

If this book were to come out today it might be describe  as “laugh out loud, funny.” What is it about Miller that is so funny?

Moricand is the butt of many of Miller’s jokes.  What makes his character so funny?

Talk about Henry Miller as a painter.

Literary Loot

 The Oranges of Hieronyous Bosch takes you into the world of Big Sur, of nature and its impact on literature and art.  Here are some ideas for presents and prizes.

My Nepenthe, Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

Looking up the coast toward Nepenthe where I first stayed (then only a long cabin), the sun rising behind be rows an enlarged shadow of me into the iridescent fog below.”  Page 95

What to do:

This memoir and cookbook written by the grand daughter of Lolly and Bill Fossett is a beautiful read that recounts the history of the restaurant but also provides a snapshot of Henry Miller’s social life in Big Sur.  He’s mentioned in the book.  The one recipe I tried was completely fantastic, a Gorgonzola butter for steak.  You could give this book out as a prize.

Blueprints for Living by Jean Wharton

What to do:

Henry Miller says of Jean Page Wharton that she had a great influence on his thinking.  Buy her book, Blueprints for Living.  It was out of print for a time and the cost of a copy of her book skyrocketed.   But a new reprinted version of it seems to be for sale.  Give it away as a prize and find out if her writing can still can influence the way people think.


Big Sur is the home of new age thinking.

What to do:

Get some crystals and give them away as part of a gift bag.

Water Colors

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“Every now and then, especially if there are no visitors for a spell, the water color mania comes over me.  The “mania” as I call it, began in the 1929, just a year before I left for France.  Over the years I must have made about two thousand, most of which I have given away.”  Page 88

What to do:

Buy some water color kit to give out in a gift bag and encourage your book club members to use the paints especially while listening to some of the music listed below that Miller listened to while he painted.

Stage and Screen

Henry and June

It is 1931, thirteen years before Henry Miller arrives in Big Sur.  Miller is living in Paris with his wife June and they meet Anais Nin.  The three become intertwined in many ways.  This movie, which was released in 1990, would be a great movie to watch at the Henry Miller Library, if you can arrange a viewing there, or at any time during the weekend.

Tropic of Cancer

This 1970’s movie captures the same period.  The character Mona is actually June.

Grandpa Deetjen

Order a CD about Grandpa Deetjen of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn.


Music plays a big role in Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.  Miller mentions all kinds of music, from the work of the wildly popular British singing sensation at the time, Harry Lauder to classical composers like Mozart as he weaves his tales.  I’ve listed them here along with a youtube link. You could send out some of these links to your book club members with the page numbers of where the artists are mentioned in the book to provide an extra layer of understanding of Miller’s life and times in Big Sur. You could also put together a CD to play during your book club weekend.

Edgard Varese

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“When I would question him about the music, what kind of music, he would answer, ‘It’s that Varese record.’  Whether he meant, Ionization, Density 21.5, Octandre or Intergrales, I never knew.”  Page 70

Edgard Varese compositions are very interesting.  It’s not surprising that these sounds would seem to be wafting around the artist colony at Anderson Creek.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“Gilbert had good taste in music, adored Mozart, and in moments of repose and serenity enjoyed listening to Varese.”  Page 70

This is a little of the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that Neiman Gilbert the American writer and friend of Miller’s might have listened to.

Gaspard de la nuit by Gerhardt Muench

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“Would he (an art customer) believe me, I wonder, if I told him that I did it one-two-three,  just like that, and five more to boot, while Gerhardt Muench was playing on my broken down piano.  Would he have the least inkling that is was Ravel who inspired it.  Ravel of Gaspard de la nuit.”  Page 100

Incredibly, I found Gaspard de la nuit by Gerhardt Muench on youtube.  This will give you an idea of what Miller was listening on his broken down piano which inspired those paintings he’s talking about.

Ludwig von Beethoven

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“When they’re (the Fassett children at Nepenthe) weary, they retire to listen in quiet to a Beethoven quartet, Sebelius or an album of Shankar.”  114

The Fassett children might have listened to this most viewed Beethoven quartet on youtube, of course not from youtube.

Jean Sebilius

This Jean Sebelius link is a violin concert the children might have listened to:

Ananda Shankur

Here’s a sampling of Shankur.

Peer Gynt by Edvard Greig

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“He (Moricand) asked if we had any of Greig’s Music, Peer Gynt particularly.  Said he used to play the piano long ago. Then he added that he thought Greig was s very great composer; liked him best of all.  That knocked me for a loop.”  Page 343

Amazingly, I found Greig playing Peer Gynt on youtube.

Viennse Waltz

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“My wife put on a Viennese Waltz.   Now he really became animated.  All of a sudden he (Moricand) went up to my wife and asked her if she would dance with him.  I almost fell off my chair.”  Page 343

Here’s what it might have looked like as Moricand danced with Miller’s wife in a Viennese Waltz.

Roaming in the Gloaming by Harold Lauder

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“I put on Roaming in the Gloaming.  Page 344

Alexander Scriabin by Gerhard Muench

On this link you can listen to Muench play works by the Russian Composer Alexander Scriabin which Mangus Toren of the Henry Miller Library told me was one of Miller’s favorites.

 Literary Links

Henry Miller

Henry Miller Online is a fantastic collection of information about Miller, his works and his life.  Find the embedded videos inside.  They reveal a charming and delightful Henry Miller.

Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company also went to town on Henry Miller.

Big Sur

This article, Big Sur’s California Dreamin’ by writer James Conaway on is a great primer on Big Sur. It covers all the bases and could be printed up and given out in a folder of information for your travelers.

Jean Varda

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“This was February 1944.  I stayed with Varda in his Red Barn, for several weeks and then, at his suggestion went to Big Sur to meet Lynda Sargent.”  Page 1

This link offers other information about the artist Jean Varda who Miller lived with for a short time in Montery in his Red Barn.  Varda went on to live on a boat in Sausalito where he became a key character in the Beat Movement.  This website is a history of the boat he lived on but includes great information about him and a little blurb about Henry Miller.

Lynda Sargent

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“Lnyda was then living in the log cabin around which the celebrated ‘Nepenthe was built.”   Page 1

This link offers a little more information about the Napenthe cabin and Lynda Sargent.

Anais Nin

In Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

While Anais Nin is not a major player in Henry Miller’s life in Big Sur, she is still a key figure in his life.  This is a nice write up about her.

Flying Saucers

Yes.  There is a lot of that talk in Big Sur.  There is a fascinating account of a rocket launch at Vandenberg in the 1960’s.  It was captured by a military photographer who was positioned at Anderson Creek.  Guess what else he captured in his film?




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