"TANTE": THE DARING DECADES

By Frances Miller
Sag Harbor, NY: Sandbox Press, 1981.
144 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
March 2002

The Daring Decades is the third volume of TANTE, an autobiography of Frances Miller. This is an astonishing book about an astonishing woman, a model of courage, individualism, resolve and success.

Frances Miller having been a successful textile designer and mother of three, in 1948 at around the age of 50, takes off for the country of Haiti just to experience it. She had never been there before, knew no one, but was attracted to the country and its new emerging art movement. In reading of her earliest days there she reminded me of many newcomers to Haiti. However, within just a couple of days one begins to see she is going to be different from most other first time visitors.

First of all she is alone. Secondly, she is fluent in French and anxious to learn Haitian Creole. Soon, in just her first days, she arranges a trip out to the Pine Forest and rides in a huge truck. Next she is off to rural Haiti by horseback. And on it goes. She meets and parties with the elite of the art world, but enters deeply into Haiti culture and travels widely in the country.

Eventually her primary guide, Arsene Marius takes her on a lengthy trip to the Island of LaGonave and they end up falling in love. Arsene asks her to marry him and she is in a quandary as to what a racially mixed marriage would mean back in the U.S. in 1948. However, he is not only anxious to marry Frances, but to study in the U.S., so she takes on the difficulties and they go to the states, marry and begin their new life.

It isnít easy, and Arsene is accepted into a university in New Mexico where they experience tremendous disapproval of their being a couple and of his color. After he earns his masterís degree they head to Mexico where he plans to work on his PHD in a more friendly environment. However, on Millerís account, the racism he experienced in the U.S., and prior tendencies Arsene had lead him to begin drinking a great deal and his drinking was often accompanied by violence toward her. Eventually, after about four years together (it is extremely difficult to keep track of time in this work, she uses almost no dates), she returns to the U.S. and divorces him. Arsene soon after returns to Haiti.

Eventually she returns to Mexico and spends some quite successful years there and emerges as a modestly well-known painter. She comes back to the states and finally settles in New York City becoming part of that cityís active art community in the 1980s.

Frances Miller is a simply fascinating woman. I donít know what ever moved me to pick the book off the shelf and take a look at the first few pages, but soon I was hooked and read the book in just two days, hardly able to stop.

As one who has visited the country of Haiti many times and met dozens of foreigners, especially Americans going to Haiti both to ďhelpĒ the country and to experience it. I wish there were many more who could open themselves to Haiti with such vigor and excitement, accepting it on its own terms rather than taking all the baggage of foreign expectation to the Haitian scene.


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu