Research leads to local connections with classic author

Normajean MacLeod of Nashville has written an essay that appears in Volume 11 of “Nexus: The Henry Miller Literary Journal.” Her work grew out of research into Brown County art icon Onya LaTour.

MacLeod visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art to see what LaTour, a friend of her parents, Norman and Gertrude Ulery, might have written about them in her diaries.

LaTour and Norman Ulery shared a passion for modern art, which was strange to Brown Countians who loved their impressionist landscapes.

While reading LaTour’s diaries, MacLeod also learned about a connection to Miller, the author of “Tropic of Cancer” and other books which were banned in the U.S. for obscenity until the mid-’60s.

MacLeod’s parents were friends of Daphne Moschos Gillam Fraenkel and of Michael Fraenkel, Daphne’s eventual husband. They were also close with Karl and Becky Brown Martz, notable Brown County potters.

The Fraenkels lived in a school-turned-farmhouse near Unionville before moving to Chicago, New York and London.

A biography of Michael Fraenkel on the Yale University Library website calls him “an early yet important influence on Miller.” The character “Boris” in “Tropic of Cancer” is based on him.

When Michael Fraenkel died in the late 1950s, Daphne inherited his publishing company Carrefour Press, and years’ worth of correspondence between Miller and Fraenkel. Those letters were published in a book, “Hamlet.”

Not much is known about Daphne in Miller’s literary circles other than the fact that Miller didn’t like her, MacLeod said.

“Everybody had nasty things to say about her because I think she kept Michael from giving him (Miller) too much money,” she said.

MacLeod’s primary goal in researching Daphne was to shed more light on who she was as a person.

Though MacLeod’s mother was an “ardent Evangelical Christian” with an eighth-grade education, and Daphne was entwined with people in literary circles whose work was considered scandalous, “my personal feeling is that my mother and Daphne understood each other,” MacLeod wrote. “They were each devoted to men they believed to be geniuses, whom others, with less talent, resented.”

MacLeod was also delighted to find that her father was a witness to Daphne’s divorce in Bloomington from her Australian husband so that she could marry Michael. These were things her parents never told her about, MacLeod said.

“I know that there’s very little in the literary world about her (Daphne), so I thought this was really enlightening,” MacLeod said. “That’s what the Miller anthology thought about it, too; it was an insight into the things they write about.”

“Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal” publishes annually to help more readers understand his work and his circle of influence. It can be ordered at nexusmiller.org.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.