Autumnal Sisterhood

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

~ Emily Brontë

Copyright 2014 by DM Denton

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In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams Released!

I was privileged to be asked to read Thomas Davis’ new novel In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams pre-publication. It has just been released by my own publisher, All Things That Matter Press. Here is my review of this affecting, edifying, important novel:

While putting my thoughts together to write this review, I came across a quote by Mahatma Gandhi I immediately felt encapsulated the journey and destination of Thomas Davis’ compelling new novel: “The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters fall.”

In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams, its title taken from a Pablo Neruda poem, begins painfully, cruelly, despairingly, throwing the reader into the brutality plantation slaves were regularly subjected to. Yet, from the first encounter with fourteen-year-old Joshua, his shirt and flesh cut through, his stubbornness and resentment riled, his resilience tested from a particularly vicious whipping, we also meet the central theme of the novel: slavery might seem to succeed in owning the bodies of men, women, and children, but only because it unconscionably misjudges the power of resistance in their hearts, minds, and souls, and the risk they are willing to take for freedom and life as it is meant to be lived.

This meticulously researched historical fiction is set before the Civil War, based on actual people and events. Originally, as is noted at the back-end of the novel, it was a sonnet sequence. Thankfully, as Mr. Davis is a master of poetic language and form, a sonnet, whether Shakespearean, Miltonian, Spenserian, Italian, French, or Terza Rima, heads each chapter. In contrast, his prose is appropriately and effectively folksy, clearly conveying the perspective, experiences, and emotions of the story’s characters, especially the young Joshua, who travels both literal and metaphoric miles in his odyssey from rebellious, enslaved child to responsible, unfettered adult.

The story follows a group of Missouri slaves that includes families, some reunited after years of separation, the elderly, young children, and adolescents like Joshua. They are led by an imposing, determined, paternal preacher as they escape to the slave-free but not altogether safe north via the Underground Railway. Mr. Davis’ gripping narrative portrays the fear, hardship, starvation, exhaustion, and relief of these desperate travelers making their way for hundreds of miles on foot off the beaten path through thick woods, mud and otherwise rough terrain, or hidden in wagons, suffocating and cramped, here and there recuperating in safe houses and the kindness of abolitionists. Their flight is under constant threat due to Fugitive Slave Acts that makes capturing runaway slaves a lucrative business. Through Mr. Davis’ empathetic writing, the anxiety of knowing that in a moment their flight to freedom could be ended—their lives turned back to estrangement from those they love and enslavement by those who “care” for them only as chattel—is also the reader’s unsettling experience.

Fannie Barrie Williams, the author of “Black Women in Nineteenth Century American Life” wrote that the most savage thing about slavery was “its attempted destruction of the family instinct of the Negro race in America.” In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams gives this travesty real lives the reader becomes deeply invested in. This important and moving story of a black fishing community of West Harbor, Washington Island, Wisconsin, insists that the savagery of slavery can be—must be—obstructed. Mr. Davis speaks to the need for all human beings to live freely, individually, uniquely while forming families, friendships, and community; to be at liberty to compete and cooperate, to feel love returned and even unrequited, to know how life is naturally given and taken, to enjoy the refuge of home, to have work and leisure and an education, to make plans and pursue hopes and dreams.

fourwindowspress

My new novel, In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams, has just been put on the market by All Things That Matter Press.  It’s available at Independent Bookstores as well as on amazon, https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732723788/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=In+the+Unsettled+Homeland+of+Dreams&qid=1566256736&s=books&sr=1-1.

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For Emily Brontë’s 201st Birthday: Something Besides Her Own Fortitude and Segregation

Today, July 30, 2019, marks the 201st anniversary of the birth of Emily Brontë. Last year’s bicentennial was, of course, awash in commemorations and celebrations at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire and elsewhere, including all over the internet. But, as I’m sure many others feel, Emily’s natal day should always be marked with enthusiasm and gratefulness, for it gave us one of the most uniquely fearless, impassioned, enigmatic, and elusive poets and novelists of all time.

Long after all the Brontë sisters had died, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey wrote in Reminisces of Charlotte Brontë that “[Emily] and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”

This closeness became more and more palpable as I progressed along the path of research and writing Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

Emily was as essential to Anne as Anne was to Emily, whether she and Anne were together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or physically apart like when Emily was at school in Brussels or Anne was working as a governess. They invigorated each other’s imagination, offered a sense of belonging, and balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The ethereal essence of their connection was enough to overcome their growing apart when it came to the fantasy writing that had bonded them as children and adolescents.

Emily never stopped being an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her youngest sister to leave at least some of her spirit unfettered and even encouraged her to now and then step out of life’s responsibilities and live a little wildly.

O come with me, thus ran the song,
The moon is bright in Autumn’s sky,
And thou hast toiled and laboured long
With aching head and weary eye.

~ From O Come With Me by Emily Brontë

Anne’s influence on Emily was less obvious, easier to view Emily as more akin to nature and mystery than real people, floating untethered in her own self-created, solitary, independent, irreligious orbit. For me, all of that remains true while, at the same time, I feel Emily was deeply attached to Anne: that she admired her level-headedness and faith-filled, forgiving, moralistic, yielding yet strong nature, and valued her opinion, especially creatively.

Anne was a safe haven where Emily could rely on something besides her own fortitude and segregation. Anne was someone who understood her and had no wish to change her.

There was profound understanding and acceptance, truth and endurance in the love each had for the other.

 

What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by resuming their habit of wandering west to meet only earth and sky. Their dogs, like themselves, with contrasting physiques and personalities, were intrinsically similar, especially in their need to frequently escape the stuffiness and limited amusement of being indoors.

“Flossy, come back,” Anne tried to command the impulsive spaniel off once more to chase sheep.

Emily had no trouble getting Keeper to lie down with a firm annunciation of his name while she pointed to the ground, although his whimpering implied he was still thinking about following Flossy’s example.

“Flossy. Bad boy, bad boy.”

“If you control your little Robinsons like you do that sassy mutt, I fear they won’t live long.”

As if it heard Emily’s prediction, a large ewe turned on Flossy, which brought the dog running back up the steep slope to his forgiving mistress.

On second thought, Anne tried to be tougher with a disciplinary tap on Flossy’s nose, then embraced him again. “Good boy.”

“Methinks he’s exactly what you always wanted … to be.” Emily was walking again, her direction declaring her destination. Their ascent to Top Withens would be delayed an hour or more, if Emily’s mood was more for reclining and swirling her hand in the water to stir up tadpoles.

When Ellen Nussey was with them, from crossing the slabbed bridge over Sladen Beck to climbing a rugged bank, navigating greasy stones and not minding a little dampening, there was always an echo of “watch your step”. With just Anne and the dogs following her lead, Emily didn’t have anything to say until they were at the best seat in view of the waterfall.

“No, you take it, Annie. I relinquish my throne to you.”

“Any of the other stones would do for me.”

“I insist on taking care of you.”

Anne didn’t mind Emily acting more like an older brother than Branwell ever did, or even a gallant lover, reminiscent of childish acting-out. In truth, she depended on it. In that small oasis of time, standing still where they were hidden from the world, their faithful companions conspiring to find something to occupy themselves, there was so much to enjoy and be grateful for. The sky was open in sight of heaven, high ground around and beyond them, the sun warming and a breeze cooling, the sound of water calming, and faintly fragrant moss glistening on the rocks with tiny white stars appearing between some of them.

Yet, more as if she was on a stormy ocean than in a quiet cove, panic overwhelmed Anne until she could hardly breathe.

Emily lightly rubbed Anne’s back and twisted up a strand of her hair loosened from its simple arrangement.

Anne cleared her throat, choking, Flossy pawing at her knees, Keeper barking.

“Go ahead and spit.” Emily helped her sister lean over to do so. “Other than me, there’s only the dogs, flies, tadpoles and, perhaps, God to witness it.”

Anne laughed and spoke hoarsely, “What would I do without you?”

“Better than I have done without you.”

From Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

 

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While thou canst speak with such a tone!

~ From To Imagination by Emily Brontë

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A Feather in the Wind

 

“Please, take my hand,” Charlotte reached back to her sister, “or I’m afraid I’ll lose you like a feather in this wind.”

 

 

 

AFTERWORD from
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

Anne Brontë died in Scarborough on Monday, May 28, 1849 at about two in the afternoon. Charlotte and Ellen Nussey were at her bedside in Wood’s Lodgings where the Grand Hotel now stands.

Charlotte made the decision to have her youngest sister buried “where the flower had fallen” rather than transport her body back to Haworth. Besides Charlotte and Ellen, the only other mourner at Anne’s Christ Church funeral was their former Roe Head mistress, Miss Wooler, who owned a house on the North Bay. Anne was interred in St. Mary’s churchyard on Castle Hill overlooking the sea.

I longed to view that bliss divine,
Which eye hath never seen;
Like Moses, I would see his face
Without the veil between.
~ from Anne Brontë’s poem, A Happy Day in February

There is no doubt that Anne Brontë’s dying words – “Take courage” – to her sole surviving sister, Charlotte, present a moving finale to her earthly story.

On the Death of Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte

Well into writing Without the Veil Between, I decided to portray Anne’s death without the scene of her final moments. I wanted her last days to unfold on its pages as they did for Anne herself, not as a lament but with gratefulness for her fine and subtle, purposeful and poetic life without end.

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring and carried aloft on the wings of the breeze.
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

Anne’s insistence, a few days before she died, not only on taking a donkey ride on Scarborough’s south sands, but on doing so alone and driving the cart herself, because she didn’t want the donkey pulling it to be mistreated, begged to be expanded out of the footnotes of her history. Her actions and reasons exemplified her quiet determination and independence, kind heart, strong conscience, and desire to do some good even as her life was drawing to an end far too soon.

He picked up the reins. Anne noticed he also had a whip in his left hand.

“A gentle drive, please.” Anne couldn’t be sure of the lad’s compliance until he put the whip away. They began to move along at a pace that didn’t jolt her body or feel rushed.

After about five minutes the whip was in his hand again. “This ain’t a funeral, ole girl.” He cracked it across the donkey’s hind quarters.

The donkey stopped and kicked up her back legs. The lad lifted his arm to strike her a second time.

“Stop it.” Anne grabbed the reins, the blanket sliding to her feet. If she couldn’t be his equal in physical strength then in will. “Get off. I’ll drive myself.”

Anne was almost in tears, leaning perilously forward to stroke the donkey where the boy had hit her. “Don’t you know it’s wicked to beat her? How would you like it? What if it was done to you?”

His eyes told her it had been.

Imagining his story, she struggled with continuing to scold him, but, also, realized an opportunity to make him more empathetic. “Animals live and feel as we do. You must remember that in how you treat them.”

 

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

Anne didn’t feel guilty escaping. She had saved Millie and herself from the dominance of others for a while and thought driving the cart might show Charlotte the holiday was doing her good. In truth, Anne was moving away from the exhausting fight to survive towards surrendering to the precious time she had left. The curve of the bay was all hers. A beautiful sparkling headland lay ahead. The dip and lift of gulls and equally roguish clouds were almost indistinguishable as was the sea sounding near and far.

Anne wanted dying to be welcome and welcoming, releasing and promising, like driving along the shore that afternoon and how she had tried to steer her life, her hands on the reins but faith guiding her progress.

Graying Millie might be slow but she was wise, going gingerly one way and then the other, staying above the wettest sand that could swallow enough of the carriage’s wheels to necessitate a cry for help. When they did stop, it was because Millie decided to. What some called a dumb animal Anne appreciated as a special creature of God’s making, who sensed Anne’s need to pause and reflect in some semblance of solitude.

 

To regret the exchange of earthly pleasures for the joys of Heaven, is as if the groveling caterpillar should lament that it must one day quit the nibbled leaf to soar aloft and flutter through the air, roving at will from flower to flower, sipping sweet honey from their cups, or basking in their sunny petals. If these little creatures knew how great a change awaited them, no doubt they would regret it; but would not all such sorrow be misplaced?
~ Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

I’m thrilled to report that Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit has made it onto the shelves of the Brontë Parsonage Museum Shop! Thank you to The Brontë Society!

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Maiden May by Christina Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower,
In her blush rose bower in flower,
Sweet of scent;
Sat and dreamed away an hour,
Half content, half uncontent.

‘Why should rose blossoms be born,
Tender blossoms, on a thorn
Though so sweet?
Never a thorn besets the corn
Scentless in its strength complete.
‘Why are roses all so frail,
At the mercy of a gale,
Of a breath?
Yet so sweet and perfect pale,
Still so sweet in life and death.

“Mona Rosa” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower,
In her blush rose bower in flower,
Where a linnet
Made one bristling branch the tower
For her nest and young ones in it.

‘Gay and clear the linnet trills;
Yet the skylark only, thrills
Heaven and earth
When he breasts the height, and fills
Height and depth with song and mirth.

‘Nightingales which yield to night
Solitary strange delight,
Reign alone:
But the lark for all his height
Fills no solitary throne;

‘While he sings, a hundred sing;
Wing their flight below his wing
Yet in flight;
Each a lovely joyful thing
To the measure of its delight.

‘Why then should a lark be reckoned
One alone, without a second
Near his throne?
He in skyward flight unslackened,
In his music, not alone.’

“Veronica Veronese” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower;
Her own face was like a flower
Of the prime,
Half in sunshine, half in shower,
In the year’s most tender time.

Her own thoughts in silent song
Musically flowed along,
Wise, unwise,
Wistful, wondering, weak or strong:
As brook shallows sink or rise.

“The Shepherdess” by William Holman Hunt

Other thoughts another day,
Maiden May, will surge and sway
Round your heart;
Wake, and plead, and turn at bay,
Wisdom part, and folly part.

Time not far remote will borrow
Other joys, another sorrow,
All for you;
Not to-day, and yet to-morrow
Reasoning false and reasoning true.

Wherefore greatest? Wherefore least?
Hearts that starve and hearts that feast?
You and I?
Stammering Oracles have ceased,
And the whole earth stands at ‘why?’

“Women Reading in Garden” by Marie Spartali Stillman

Underneath all things that be
Lies an unsolved mystery;
Over all
Spreads a veil impenetrably,
Spreads a dense unlifted pall.

Mystery of mysteries:
This creation hears and sees
High and low –
Vanity of vanities:
This we test and this we know.

Maiden May, the days of flowering
Nurse you now in sweet embowering,
Sunny days;
Bright with rainbows all the showering,
Bright with blossoms all the ways.

“The Blind Girl” by John Everett Mallais

Close the inlet of your bower,
Close it close with thorn and flower,
Maiden May;
Lengthen out the shortening hour, –
Morrows are not as to-day.

Stay to-day which wanes too soon,
Stay the sun and stay the moon,
Stay your youth;
Bask you in the actual noon,
Rest you in the present truth.

Let to-day suffice to-day:
For itself to-morrow may
Fetch its loss,
Aim and stumble, say its say,
Watch and pray and bear its cross.
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti

“Fair Rosamund” by Arthur Hughes

Click here to read and view a previous year’s post celebrating May Day.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Christina Rossetti is the subject of my work-in-progress novel The Dove Upon Her Branch.

 

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

For Easter: Music by Stradella and Purcell, Words by Christina Rossetti and Anne Brontë

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

This is a revamped post from Easter past with music and words reflecting my three published novels: Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle SpiritA House Near Luccoli and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

This year I’ve added a poem by Christina Rossetti, subject of my work-in-progress novel portrait of her, The Dove Upon Her Branch.

An Easter Carol
by
Christina Rossetti

Spring bursts to-day,
For Christ is risen and all the earth’s at play.

Flash forth, thou Sun,
The rain is over and gone, its work is done.

Winter is past,
Sweet Spring is come at last, is come at last.

Bud, Fig and Vine,
Bud, Olive, fat with fruit and oil and wine.

Break forth this morn
In roses, thou but yesterday a Thorn.

Uplift thy head,
O pure white Lily through the Winter dead.

Beside your dams
Leap and rejoice, you merry-making Lambs.

All Herds and Flocks
Rejoice, all Beasts of thickets and of rocks.

Sing, Creatures, sing,
Angels and Men and Birds and everything.

All notes of Doves
Fill all our world: this is the time of loves.

 

Lucis Chamber Choir performing the world premiere of Russell Hepplewhite’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s Easter Carol in St Mary’s Church, Bathwick.

 

Here is Anne Brontë’s poem/hymn Believe Not Those Who Say/The Narrow Way, which was put to the tune Festal Song by William Henry Walter.

Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou should stumble in the way,
And faint before the truth.
To labor and to love,
To pardon and endure,
To lift thy heart to God above,
And keep thy conscience pure.
Be this thy constant aim,
Thy hope, thy chief delight,
What matter who should whisper blame
Or who should scorn or slight.

Read the full poem here
(it includes one of Anne’s most quoted lines:
But he, that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

 

 

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a recording of Anne’s words put to the music. I did find an organ instrumental of Festal Song and it’s easy to “hear” how her words fit in.

Anne wanted to make the music she loved compactly portable, even without access to a pianoforte, available for performances in her head, preferably so, for then her fingers were agile and her voice wasn’t weak.
~ Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

 

 

“My music began. A mixture of harmonious voices, poetry & fine instrumentalists.”
Alessandro Stradella ~ A House Near Luccoli

Alessandro Stradella’s sacred cantata for solo alto and instruments Crocifissione e morte di nostro signore Gesu Cristo – the Crucifixion and death of our savior Jesus Christ.
Performed by Baroque and Renaissance Choral

 

Purcell performed the music with his eyes & a delicate finger in the air.
~ To A Strange Somewhere Fled 

Choir of Clare College Cambridge singing Purcell’s Hear My Prayer

 

Blessings for Easter and Passover

 

Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

 

 

Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Guest Post: The Women in Berthe Morisot’s Life

Today I am hosting Paula Butterfield, whose new novel La Luministe, was just released by Regal House Publishing March 15th.

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This is an exquisitely imagined and written novel about the artist Berthe Morisot, her determined but, also, instinctive approach to art, life and love. This novel is a beautiful, seductive, linguistic dance, subtly expressive like Morisot’s art. I highly recommend it!

 

The Women In Berthe Morisot’s Life by Paula Butterfield

Berthe Morisot’s mother played an important role in Berthe’s life, encouraging her daughter’s artistic pursuits (most of the time), and holding weekly Tuesday “evenings” to which she invited the artists that Berthe could not socialize with at the popular cafes. But Maman Morisot had no idea how to prepare her daughter to integrate a career as an artist with a traditional woman’s life.   In La Luministe, Berthe looks to two other important women in her life to offer paths for her to follow.

Her sister, Edma, was Berthe’s earliest influence. Only one year older than Berthe, Edma seemed to effortlessly stay clean, follow the rules, and—quite literally—color inside the lines. When the two sisters had studied drawing and painting long enough to begin copying at the Louvre, it was Edma who was thought to be the better artist because she copied so precisely, while Berthe left out details if she felt they were unimportant.

The sisters were on parallel paths to success. They both had work accepted at the Salon, the influential annual art exhibition put on by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Then Edma turned thirty. The vow the sisters had made as girls, to pursue lives as artists, didn’t protect Edma from societal pressure to marry. What was worse, in Berthe’s view, was that Edma married a naval officer whose career required the couple to move from one location to another, each far from Paris. The sisters promised that they would visit often, and that they would keep painting. But running a household and taking care of a growing family precluded time for paintings, and Edma eventually gave up art altogether.

Edma’s path struck fear into Berthe’s heart. She couldn’t imagine living without her artistic outlet. But at the same time, she longed for a happy family like the one Edma created. There was much to envy about her sister’s new life. Berthe painted idyllic scenes of Edma and her little daughter playing hide-and-seek or chasing butterflies.

 

The other woman close to Berthe was the Duchess of Colonna, whom Berthe met when her family spent a summer amongst other artists in the Barbizon Forest. She idolized the Duchess, a sculptor who, as the young widow of an aristocrat, had status and money that afforded her the freedom to live as an artist. She even signed her work as “Marcello”, hoping that a man’s name would protect her identity. The Duchess won prizes at the Salon and commissions from titled patrons.

But even her beauty and unmarried status could not protect the Duchess. She had many admirers—from the artist Eugene Delacroix to Emperor Louis Napoleon—too many, society determined. As she reached middle age, her independence was no longer deemed acceptable.

Berthe, too, was financially comfortable and a beauty; how could she avoid the judgment that the Duchess endured?

Berthe faced a choice: to live as a single woman, and eventually an old maid, free to devote her entire life to her art. Or to enjoy a family of her own, and the approval of the Parisian haute-bourgeoise. When Edma married, Berthe complained to Edouard Manet that she had lost her companion and competitor. He challenged Berthe to tell him about one woman who had combined work and family, but she couldn’t think of any. In the end, Berthe Morisot became that woman. She had to create her own role, one as radical as her painting.

The Impressionists were concerned with depicting modern life. Combining work and love, art and family—THAT was Berthe’s modern life.

 

Author Paula Butterfield taught courses about women artists for twenty years before turning to writing about them. La Luministe, her debut novel, earned the Best Historical Fiction Chanticleer Award. Paula lives with her husband and daughter in Portland and on the Oregon coast.

http://www.paula-butterfield.com

@pbutterwriter

https://www.pinterest.com/luministe

https://www.instagram.com/paulabutterfield2018

Thank you, Paula, for such an interesting post

and eloquent, gentle, inspiring novel!