The Cat and the Fiddle: In the Spirit of ‘Carnevale’ (for a second year despite Covid-19)

Italy cancels Venice Carnival 2021

VENICE, Italy — In another year, masks would be a sign of the gaiety in Venice, an accessory worn for games and parties as big crowds parade about to show off their frivolous, fanciful costumes, especially ones with decorative face coverings.

The Italian canal city’s Carnival festivities should have started Saturday (January 30 – February 16, 2021), but the covid-19 pandemic has made its annual appointment for more than two weeks of merry-making impossible. https://www.arkansasonline.com

So, celebrate virtually with this post (that I bring out every year anyway) including an excerpt from my novel A House Near Luccoli.

Today, February 16, 2021 is Martedí Grasso (Fat Tuesday) of Carnevalea final celebration before Ash Wednesday and Lent.

“Life will show you masks that are worth all your carnivals”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s the main day of Carnival … The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Ivrea has the characteristic “Battle of Oranges” that finds its roots in medieval times. Italy is the birthplace of Carnival celebrations, having its origins in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia~ Wikipedia

There are a few theories on where the name Carnevale originated, the most popular put to verse by Lord Bryon:

This feast is named the Carnival, which being
Interpreted, implies “farewell to flesh”:
So call’d, because the name and thing agreeing,
Through Lent they live on fish, both salt and fresh. 

With roots in the Latin phrase carnem levare, “put away flesh” (carnem: flesh – levare: put away), the name evolved into carnelevare in Old Italian, then carnelevale, then carnevale, and, finally, carne, vale!—“Farewell, meat!”— appropriately referencing the Catholic tradition of giving up meat-eating from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The Italian carnival that usually comes to mind has taken place in Venice since the eleventh century. In the seventeenth century these “Baroque celebrations” were “a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world” (Wikipedia), and it became even more popular and licentious in the 1700s until outlawed in 1797 when Venice was ruled by the King of Austria who also forbade the wearing of masks at any time. It reappeared during the nineteenth century, primarily for private celebrations and artistic expression. Carnevale di Venezia was revived in 1979 as an annual cultural event pronouncing Venice as even more magical and surreal with actors, acrobats, musicians, residents and visitors disguised in extravagant masks and costumes while enjoying themselves to the extreme.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Italian cities had a tradition of mask-wearing, enabling questionable behavior among those needing to protect their reputations, laws passed to restrict masquerading to certain times of the year like Carnevale. Besides serving as subterfuge for inquisitors, spies, high officials and nobility who couldn’t resist behaving badly, donning masks presented an opportunity for covert defiance by those on the lower levels of society.

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

For those of you who have read my historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, you will know that Martedi Grasso offers some pivotal scenes. Although the novel begins a few years after the 17th century composer Alessandro Stradella‘s arrival in Genoa, Carnevale was initially his reason for going (well, there might have been one or two other reasons …) and then he was encouraged to stay.

This week I go to Genoa, invited by some gentlemen of that city, where I will spend carnival …
~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel (one of his patrons), dated Turin, 16 December, 1677

I arrived in Genoa safe and sound already last week, where I was favored by many gentlemen who vied to have me in their homes … And from the moment of my arrival till now, I have always had to spend my time with ladies and gentlemen, all greatly interested in me, and actually they favour me with so many kindnesses and so much applause that I do not know what more I could desire, and in every way they show very great pleasure in my inadequate talent.
~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel, dated Genoa, 8 January 1678 

Read Chapter Twenty-three, one of the Carnevale Chapters of

 A House Near Luccoli in full HERE.

Wander through this brief moment in Italian Baroque musical history and let the author and Alessandro Stradella, Donatella, and a whole host of wonderful characters give you the “spirit of Carnevale“.
~  Martin Shone, author of the poetry collections Silence Happens, Being Human, and After the Rain.

Sleep well tonight. She wished she had taken his advice, but she couldn’t stop looking at the explicitly elegant gown hanging on the wardrobe. Nonna would have enjoyed the sight. It was silk and pearl buttoned, curving and billowing white, beribboned in sapphire and trimmed in bronze. Also warm and cold, tight and loose, depending on what the weather and outcome would be. A few hours later she was like a cat that had fallen from an open window, suddenly finding herself where she both longed and was afraid to be, feeling the hardness of pavement and softness of air.

Alessandro insisted she put on her mask again. “And practice on the way.”

“Practice what?”

“Walking like a cat, purring like a cat.”

“Really.” She wasn’t averse to doing so. “I’ve never seen a blue one.”

“You’ll see others turning green.”

Although her face was immovable and pale, she couldn’t hide her pleasure.

“All that’s left is for you to rub against my legs.”

Alessandro was all in white, as if he had absorbed winter from his hat like a boat with one wind-torn sail to frill topped hose and overly flapped boots. He was wimpled in lacy layers to his shoulders, tightly short coated and cavalier, out of fashion but not style, laddered rows of braid with buttons unfastened to the shine of his shirt also showing through gaping slashes on his sleeves. It would have been a perfect disguise but for the distinctiveness of his stride and attitude of his head exaggerated by a duckbill mask, the shine of his lower lip appearing when his expressive, unmistakable voice did.
~ Read full excerpt from A House Near Luccoli

It doesn’t end there!
The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets,
and an irrepressible spirit
stow away on Donatella’s journey

To A Strange Somewhere Fled (sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

donatellasmallest©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.

Fluctuations

Fluctuations

But as above that mist’s control
  She rose, and brighter shone …

from Fluctuations by Anne Brontë

January 17, 2021, marks 201 years since Anne Brontë was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England, youngest of the six children of Maria Branwell from Penzance and Irish clergyman Patrick Brontë.

My novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit is my love letter to Anne. Not Anne, the ‘less gifted’ sister of Charlotte and Emily … nor the Anne who ‘also wrote two novels’, but Anne herself, courageous, committed, daring and fiercely individual: a writer of remarkable insight, prescience and moral courage whose work can still astonish us today.
~ Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books

2020 was Anne’s bicentennial, celebrations unexpectedly and unfortunately curtailed by Covid-19 restrictions. Of course, honoring Anne can be done at any time by reading her poetry and prose and what others have been inspired to write about her; also, (perhaps, a way that would please her the most) by following her example of good and purposeful living achieved through resilience, faith, honesty, compassion and – invaluable during an isolating pandemic – self-containment, patience, and flexibility.

Anne’s two novels and unfinished ‘Portrait of a girl with a dog’

Anne thought of … a word, more than a word, a philosophy, simple but profound, out of the mouth of someone who spoke simply and succinctly, not unlike Tabby, or, in the old days, Nancy and Sarah Garrs, who sometimes shared wisdom with just a comment on the weather.

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

“Fluctuations.”

Now it was a title for a poem …

Anne stroked Flossy’s ears as she began to quietly read out loud, “‘Fluctuations. What though the Sun had left my sky—’” Her doe-eyed companion looked up, understanding nothing and everything, wagging his tail and letting it drop limply, whining because he didn’t like it when his mistress was upset. “Shh, shh. It’s all right, sweet pup. ‘To save me from despair the blessed Moon arose on high, and shone serenely there.’”

It was all right. It would be all right. Perhaps not every moment, not when she thought of who she must wait until she died to see again, or how there was less heartache but more frustration in believing she would never feel fully useful in society or even at home unless she accomplished something meaningful. Still, it could be worse if she was without the resolve to make her life fruitful, pursue a well-cultivated mind and well-disposed heart, have the strength to help others be strong, or, especially, the faith to endure and rise above endurance.

“‘I thought such wan and lifeless beams could ne’er my heart repay, for the bright sun’s most transient gleams that cheered me through the day. But as above that mist’s control she rose and brighter shone—’” Flossy looked up at her again. “‘I felt a light upon my soul!’”

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer. She also valued family and friendship, which, of course, could be one and the same. At times it was stifling back at the parsonage, as though all the windows and doors that held her to being the smallest, quietest, last and least likely to surprise were kept locked by those who loved her for their own conclusions. Anne could never think of home as a prison, but once she flew the nest and realized she had the wherewithal to, if not quite soar, make survivable landings, she knew it was restrictive. She had always suspected being overly protected was as dangerous as being unguarded, like enjoying the rose without noticing its thorns. It wasn’t as though her family was unaware of the world and its ways. Daily and weekly doses of newspapers and magazines initiated lively discussions, mostly between Branwell and Charlotte with Emily grunting, about religion and revolution and parliamentary reform, potato famine and, closer to home, the plight of the wool laborers and sick in their father’s parish.

Anne was afraid responding to political, social, and moral issues through the amusement of fantasy was more about outwitting these realities than addressing them. She even felt some shame at having gone along with the juvenilia that made believe the world was at her fingertips, its maneuverings entertaining, romantic, and escapist, although she could almost forgive the child she was then. Halfway through her twenties, having lived most of the last four years away from her family, she was finally fully-fledged, the nature she was born with at last standing up for itself, wanting its voice to be heard, with the courage to admit she was meant to wear truths not masks.

In or away from Haworth, the best companionship was often with herself alone: the best being the reflection that wouldn’t falsely flatter for the sake of avoiding hard feelings, wasn’t eager to congratulate in order to keep her friendship, and didn’t encourage self-pity because it was wanted in return. Anne had long since decided to be honest with herself even when it meant facing a harsh reality, like the prospect of never marrying and having children. Whatever God’s will, she hoped a few of the schemes in her head, humble and limited as they were, might come to something. She could hear Emily guffawing. Why shouldn’t they? You worry too much. Yes, she did, a correction that was one of the most difficult to make if she thought she must choose between passion and dispassion.

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

Illustration (from Without the Veil Between) by DM Denton

Fluctuations

What though the Sun had left my sky;
  To save me from despair
The blessed Moon arose on high,
  And shone serenely there.

I watched her, with a tearful gaze,
  Rise slowly o’er the hill,
While through the dim horizon’s haze
  Her light gleamed faint and chill.

I thought such wan and lifeless beams
  Could ne’er my heart repay,
For the bright sun’s most transient gleams
  That cheered me through the day:

But as above that mist’s control
  She rose, and brighter shone,
I felt her light upon my soul;
  But nowthat light is gone!

Thick vapours snatched her from my sight,
  And I was darkling left,
All in the cold and gloomy night,
  Of light and hope bereft:

Until, methought, a little star
  Shone forth with trembling ray,
To cheer me with its light afar
  But that, too, passed away.

Anon, an earthly meteor blazed
  The gloomy darkness through;
I smiled, yet trembled while I gazed
  But that soon vanished too!

And darker, drearier fell the night
  Upon my spirit then;
But what is that faint struggling light?
  Is it the Moon again?

Kind Heaven! increase that silvery gleam,
  And bid these clouds depart,
And let her soft celestial beam
  Restore my fainting heart!

~Acton Bell (Anne Brontë)

Happy birthday, dearest Anne!

©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.

Farther On My Road Today

On this New Year’s Day 2021, I was reminder by the first two stanzas of this poem by Christina Rossetti (Old and New Year Ditties) of why I was and continue to be compelled to write my current work-in-progress novel about her, and how in sync I am with her melancholic hope and sensibilities:

New Year met me somewhat sad:
Old Year leaves me tired,
Stripped of favourite things I had
Baulked of much desired:
Yet farther on my road to-day
God willing, farther on my way.

New Year coming on apace
What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.

Christina Rossetti and her Mother Frances Rossetti, 7th October 1863, by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll)

Here is the rest of the poem, no doubt more overtly religious than I am, but full of rich spiritual contemplation I cannot help but relate to:

Watch with me, men, women, and children dear,
You whom I love, for whom I hope and fear,
Watch with me this last vigil of the year.
Some hug their business, some their pleasure-scheme;
Some seize the vacant hour to sleep or dream;
Heart locked in heart some kneel and watch apart.

Watch with me blessed spirits, who delight
All through the holy night to walk in white,
Or take your ease after the long-drawn fight.
I know not if they watch with me: I know
They count this eve of resurrection slow,
And cry, ‘How long?’ with urgent utterance strong.

Watch with me Jesus, in my loneliness:
Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes;
Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless.
Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night;
To-night of pain, to-morrow of delight:
I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine.

Passing away, saith the World, passing away:
Chances, beauty and youth sapped day by day:
Thy life never continueth in one stay.
Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey
That hath won neither laurel nor bay?
I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May:
Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay
On my bosom for aye.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away:
With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play;
Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day
Lo, the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay:
Watch thou and pray.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my God, passing away:
Winter passeth after the long delay:
New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven’s May.
Though I tarry wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray:
Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day,
My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
Then I answered: Yea.

For me, this piece – Reminiscence – by Chopin fits the mood and reflection of Christina’s poem

Wishing you health, fulfillment,
love, and peace
for 2021 and beyond.

©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.

Music on Christmas Morning (Revisited Once Again)

Music on Christmas Morning (Revisited Once Again)

With a guest appearance and piano performance by Brontë aficionado Mick Armitage

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer.
from Without the Veil Between

Continue reading

Farewell to thee! but not farewell

Farewell
by Anne Brontë

Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.
O, beautiful, and full of grace!
If thou hadst never met mine eye,
I had not dreamed a living face
Could fancied charms so far outvie.

If I may ne’er behold again
That form and face so dear to me,
Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain
Preserve, for aye, their memory.

That voice, the magic of whose tone
Can wake an echo in my breast,
Creating feelings that, alone,
Can make my tranced spirit blest.

That laughing eye, whose sunny beam
My memory would not cherish less; —
And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam
Nor mortal language can express.

Adieu, but let me cherish, still,
The hope with which I cannot part.
Contempt may wound, and coldness chill,
But still it lingers in my heart.

And who can tell but Heaven, at last,
May answer all my thousand prayers,
And bid the future pay the past
With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between,Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

December 19, 1848 was a tragic day at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, for Anne, Charlotte, and their father, Patrick.

Bronte Parsonage Illustration.jpg adjusted

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

Only a few months after brother Branwell passed from their lives, beloved sister Emily followed him. One can only imagine the grief of losing two siblings and children so soon one after the other – not the first time this had happened for the Brontë family and not made easier by being just before Christmas, a time when they usually found themselves come together again after being away from home.

I wrote about the closeness (“like twins … inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption” ~ Ellen Nussey) of Anne and Emily Brontë in a previous post: The Very Closest Sympathy.

Writing the scenes of Emily’s death in my novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit happened to correspond to a time in 2017 when I was grieving the loss of my beloved Gabey-kitty (his brother Darcy passed a few months later).

‘When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which yet we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often naturally seek relief in poetry . . .’
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

Or, in my case, prose …

“‘Powerful’. ‘Interesting’. ‘Coarse’. ‘Brutal’. ‘Morbid’. Do we write with any such adjectives in mind?” Anne had been reading through the reviews of Tenant she had collected, portions aloud to Emily, especially those that might stir any fight left in her. “Or go through the tormenting process of writing a novel for ‘reveling in scenes of debauchery’?”

Emily was quiet lying sideways on the sofa in the parlor. Since Anne had repositioned the pillow borrowed from one or other of their beds, Emily’s head had slipped to bow against her frail neck. Her torso was curled so her length was contracted, no definition to her arms or bosom within the sleeves and bodice of her dress, no movement under its skirt since Anne had lifted her sister’s skeletal legs up more than an hour before.

Anne wondered if Emily was still pulled by the brutishness and beauty of the moors and the similar punishment and reward of writing. Did a look out a window or opening of a door remind her of what she was missing, and new Gondal rascals or Heathcliffs or Catherines find her imagination receptive? Anne longed for one more conversation with her, whether playful or intense, one more chance to agree, argue and confirm they were good for each other’s inspiration, intellects and souls. Anne ached for one more meeting with the Emily who was wiry but robust, strong like a man and simple like a child, her head full of logic and fantastic stories at the same time, her choices uncompromising, as were her passions. If only Emily’s life could return to being routine and yet so exceptional, filled with writing brilliantly while she was bread making or sewing or everyone else was asleep, making music like a perfect lady and rambling the Pennine way like a free and easy lad.

Instead, Anne had to helplessly watch as Emily continued to disappear through those December days and nights. On that Monday evening, a week before Christmas, her stillness, half-open eyes and mouth, and leaning towards resignation indicated there was only one way she would be released from consumption’s captivity.

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

Anne and Emily from a painting by their brother, Branwell

I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad!
~ from Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

©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.

Christina Rossetti: The Birthday of Her Life

Christina Rossetti: The Birthday of Her Life

The sun nor loiters nor speeds,
The rivers run as they ran,
Through clouds or through windy reeds
All run as when all began.

from
Time Flies, A Reading Diary
by Christina Rossetti
December 5th entry
(First published 1885)

Christina is the subject of my work-in-progress next novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch.

From left to right: Christina, Dante Gabriel, Frances (mother), William, and Maria Rossetti
Photograph by Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll
1863

She was part of a remarkable family of English-Italian scholars, artists, and poets, her older brother being Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I wrote a brief bio of her for The Literary Ladies Guide.

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Today is the 190th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830

A Birthday
By Christina Rossetti


My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.

from Ecce Ancilla Domini, or The Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch

Christina and William Rossetti posing
for the painting of Ecce Ancilla Domini
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
in November 1849

     Another painting to pose for offered an alternative, productive engagement, being the handmaiden of the Lord a worthy occupation. William’s participation, not only as someone to accompany Christina to and from where their brother now worked on Newman Street above a hop-shop, but also to portray the Angel Gabriel, made for a happy distraction of camaraderie and creation.
     “Why is the painting tall and narrow?” Christina wondered with her first glance at the work in progress.
     “It is one-half of a diptych. Its companion will depict the Virgin’s death.”
     “Will you have both finished by spring for the RA?” William slapped his arms around himself in an attempt to warm his sleeveless, sheeted body. “Any more coal for the grate?”
     “Doubt it.” Gabriel urgently picked through the pile of brushes on the small pedestal table next to his easel.
     Christina noticed they were all thin-handled and fine-bristled.
     “No wonder it will take so long.” She also looked at his pallet, noticing he wasn’t mixing colors but using fresh daubs of unadulterated white, blue, and red paint.
     “I hope you won’t get bronchitis again.” William repositioned the woolen shawl that had slipped off her shoulders.
     “I haven’t even caught a cold.” Christina had resigned herself to shivering in her flimsy nightgown for the sake of Gabriel’s vision and to prove as enduring as any of the other models who sat for him.
     “Interesting.” As he leaned forward, William put a hand on his brother’s back. “Even with as little as you’ve done, I see the perspective of Giotto. Yet, I also see Flemish primitive, what you and Hunt were so taken with in Bruges. Before you started, I noticed you had followed Van Eyck’s practice of preparing the canvas with white ground.”
     Gabriel smiled, probably more because of his own thoughts than William’s. “I’m sure it will all seem a confused mess to those, like Ruskin, who think their opinions matter.”
     “A risk worth taking. But you must enter both panels together.”
     “I don’t paint to exhibit.”
     “You have to make a name for yourself, Gabe, a living. Your work has to be seen. And critiqued.”
     “Says the would-be critic.”
     “Now I see why you want me contorted on a corner of that saggy cot.” Christina though it wise to change the subject. “And all crinkly and looking about to jump up and run away.”
     “I thank Collinson for your disquiet.”
     They had spoken of many things during the hours of posing and painting, breaking to eat and drink, and for Christina and William to wrap themselves in blankets long enough to feel their fingers and toes again. Not once, until that moment, considering Gabriel was still brooding over Mr. Hunt falling into arrears with the rent at the Cleveland Street studio and defecting to James’ in Brompton, had anyone mentioned the man Christina had, without good reason, agreed to marry. She was almost convinced the last year of his waxing and waning hadn’t happened; that somewhere out there was the face not seen, the voice not heard, the heart that had not yet—
      Or, maybe they had been and it would if only it could.
Copyright © DM Denton 2020

Ecce Ancilla Domini, or The Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Brief was the day of its power,
The day of its grace how brief:
As the fading of a flower,
As the falling of a leaf,
So brief its day and its hour …

from
Time Flies, A Reading Diary
by Christina Rossetti
December 5th entry
(First published 1885)

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1877

Sing, that in thy song I may
Dream myself once more a child

from Maud by Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti as a child, by William Bell Scott

Happy Birthday, Christina Rossetti

©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.

Traction

I have been delinquent in posting to this blog for the last few months, but with the care of my 91 year old bedridden, nearly blind mother and the house inside and out, a part-time job (working mostly from home), grocery shopping, etc. etc. all on my own, I can barely find the time and energy to write my next novel and try to get enough sleep, stay healthy – well, not completely disintegrate.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I don’t often write about my personal life, unless indirectly through my prose and poetry.

Today, I feel an overwhelming need to put down my guard and express how discouraged I feel when it comes to getting some traction as an author. I had a nasty blow in the spring in regards to a response by a Brontë Scholar to my third published novel, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A fine and Subtle Spirit, which knocked out the little wind I had in my writing sails. I thought I had gotten over it, but, I’m afraid, it and its author are still “living in my head rent free” – as someone I love and admire told me back when it first happened.

In thinking about my, at times, almost debilitating sense of discouragement, I felt that even if I might never achieve awards and best seller listings like other authors, I might hope for a few more readers who would find something entertaining, engaging, emotive, enlightening, and even enchanting in the novels and stories I’ve published thus far.

I didn’t intend for this post to seem like whining or begging for sympathy. I would rather it be a reminder to discerning, adventurous readers to discover choices outside and in the shadows of the obvious ones. I know I am not alone in my struggle to be a better known author.

In order to post more consistently in the near future, considering the time and energy constraints of my current personal situation, I will be sharing excerpts from my published novels and short stories – even a few from my current work-in-progress – hopefully, to offer pleasure and a little temptation.

Hope is like a harebell trembling from its birth.
~ Christina Rossetti

My first published novel was A House Near Luccoli
August, 2012, All Things That Matter Press

Visit the novel’s one-stop page for synopsis, reviews, trailer, buy links, and more!

Excerpt from Chapter Two

     The door opened. A harpsichord entered, hesitant, fragile, blushing and elegant with carved cheeks, perfect curves, and small feet. It was permanently adorned with sprays of roses and fern, lifted over the threshold by a lover who knew how to handle his passion.
     He wasn’t daunted by the heights to which it must yet be taken. “Bene, my spirito has ascended her to heaven.”
     “Now, my muscle, too.” A man of lesser age and quality took hold of the instrument’s narrowing end, swinging it around and walking backwards, resenting his position.
     Despina saw Donatella on the stairs. “Out of the way.”
     “Ah.” The new lodger widened his eyes, conducting the scene into civility. “Golone, let the maid pass.”
     The mistake might have been upsetting if he hadn’t smiled on Donatella’s self-conscious descent.
     Despina caught up with her sleeve. “See that breakfast is ready.”
     “I’m not hungry, just tired,” Signor Stradella defied reports of being troublesome.
     “Well, I could eat in my sleep.” Golone looked for any reaction, struggling sideways up stair by stair. Maestro’s eyes were down again, the harpsichord at his chest so with the sway of his head and posture of shoulders and arms he might play and carry it at the same time.
     “They brought it all the way from Modena?” Donatella found Nubesta in the breakfast room where hard boiled eggs, fresh anchovies, and chickpea polenta wouldn’t be wasted.
     “No. The Strata Nuova.”
     “Why wasn’t it delivered yesterday?”
     “Signor insisted he handle it himself.” Nubesta was thrilled with what she knew and Donatella didn’t. “So you were a thief in the night.”
     “I didn’t steal anything.”
     “That’s not what I meant. But you did what you said you wouldn’t.”
     “Well … yes … at his request.”
     “Bait.”
     “Ridiculous.”
     “You’ve never been hooked.”
     Donatella had been, then dangled and let go, almost before Nubesta was born.
     “Well, I don’t mind.” Nubesta was eating, slumped on the couch beside double doors opened onto an orchid filled conservatory.
     The young servant didn’t appreciate the limits of her life, hungry for experiences as for the breakfast not meant for her. It wasn’t that she was a bad girl—Despina wouldn’t have her in the house if she were—but her restlessness seemed more unfortunate than her circumstances.
     “We won’t see much of him.”
     “Will he invite his ladies?”
     Donatella didn’t want to think let alone talk about such things. She wouldn’t mind the continuo of a harpsichord stopping and starting as masterpieces were made, its vibrations inspiring the ornamentation of a violin. Soft sighs from a lute would be for the silence of the night when he couldn’t dream without a respondent in his arms. That was how it would be with him there, the sublime above their heads, any scandal somewhere else. Nothing would be seen of him but coming and going, or known of his needs except what the ladies of the household could respectably fulfill.
     “Should we take up a tray?” Donatella turned when Nubesta stood and swallowed.
     Despina had come into the room. “No. Don’t you listen? Signor is resting.”
     “Did he say anything about the apartment?”
     “He shouldn’t have any problem with it.”
     “Well, he seems easy to please.” Nubesta laughed like a woman twice her age.
     Despina stood at the sideboard to eat or not, waving away flies deciding for her. “Get some netting to cover this.”
     The maid was gone, her heavy steps as obvious as her scowl.
     “Close the shutters. The sun’s already hot and will fade the carpet.”
     Donatella plunged the beginnings of the day into night as perhaps the new lodger had done. No, his rooms were on the west side, with windows for viewing ships and sunsets.


©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.

The Bluebell Project (continued): In Which We End Where We Began

A few months ago my Anne Brontë bluebell path crossed with the talented composer and guitarist Charlie Rauh, who so generously allowed me to use a track from his soon-to-be released album inspired by the poetry of Anne and Emily Brontë on my book trailer for Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

Charlie’s equally talented sister Christina Rauh Fishburne adds her own creative and personal touch to this day when The Bluebell becomes available for pre-order.

Be amongst the first 30 to pre-order and receive a very special gift!

“We flatter ourselves that we know things about Emily and Anne because we’ve read their books and poems and letters and these diary papers never meant for us, but whatever we know can’t ever be in the right context.

“The representation of the sixth Diary Paper is Charles’s album, The Bluebell.

“Charlie Rauh’s album, The Bluebell, along with 30 sets of The Diary Papers Box, is available for preorder from Destiny Records HERE

Smile When You Say That

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“Why are you crushing those flowers?”
“I’m not crushing them–I’m pressing them. To try and preserve them.”
“Oh.” (the “whatever, Mom” was implied)
“They’re bluebells! Like Uncle Charlie’s album named after the Brontes’ poems! Remember the four kids who had great imaginations like you guys and wrote–”
“Can I play Minecraft now? I ate lunch.”
(gritting teeth) “Fine.”
“…and they’re actually purple.”
“I know. But they’re called bluebells. See! They look like little bells!”
“Ok.”

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Before the “DANGER DO NOT ENTER” sign warning of falling trees went up in the little woods, I’d go for walks alone. We’d go as a family sometimes. I’d take the kids after online-school destroyed us enough for the day. Sometimes we’d hear the train, but most of the time it was just birds. And leaves. And our own poetic feet on the dirt. One evening I went out after dinner because I was…

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Beata Beatrix in the Artist’s Studio

One face looks out from all his canvases,

one selfsame figure sits or walks or leans …

~ Christina Rossetti from In The Artist’s Studio

Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1854

 

Today marks the birthday of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal (July 25, 1849 – February 11, 1860), muse and eventual wife of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti sitting to Elizabeth Siddal

 

The story goes that, while working in a dressmakers and millinery shop in Cranberry Alley, London, she was noticed by the artist Walter Deverell, who with the help of his mother, persuaded her to pose as Viola for his painting Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night by Walter Deverell 1851

First, she was Twelfth Night’s Viola for Deverell, a Celt for Hunt, and a chilled Ophelia for Millais. She posed and was paid to supplement what she made as a milliner’s assistant, Mrs. Tozer allowing her time off from her normal hours at the shop. She, her family, even Mrs. Tozer must have been wary, knowing modeling threatened her respectability. Christina had been safeguarded by her sisterly relationship to the Brotherhood. Miss Siddall had no such protection from artist licentiousness. How could her head not be turned by these handsome,at least, interesting, and imaginative men? How could she not be flattered by their impression of her—in Deverell’s words—as “a queen, magnificently tall with a lovely figure, a face of the most delicate and finished modeling … like the carving of a Pheidean goddess … her hair like dazzling copper … as she waves it down”?

© 2020 DM Denton
~ from my work-in-progress novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch, Christina Rossetti: Songs Light as Hers, Deep and Strong

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal

 

By 1851, Lizzie was sitting for Dante Gabriel and became his primary model, the number of drawings and paintings he did of her in the thousands. Eventually, he prohibited her from posing for any other artist.

One of the most famous paintings she posed for was John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, floating on her back in a bathtub, oil lamps lit under the tub to keep the water warm. Unfortunately, during one session, the lamps went out. Millais was so engrossed in his work he didn’t notice and Lizzie didn’t complain. She became quite ill, with a cold or even pneumonia, her father threatening to sue Millais until he agreed to pay her medical bills.

 

Ophelia by John Everett Millais 1852

 

Even before she became a model for Dante Gabriel and other PRB artists, Lizzie was experimenting with art and poetry herself. Dante Gabriel encouraged her to pursue both and she made great strides, getting the attention of the prominent art critic John Ruskin who financially supported her artistic progress and efforts.  A little to the chagrin of Dante Gabriel as he struggled to sell paintings and be critically approved of?

 

Lovers Listening to Music by Elizabeth Siddal 1854

 

Lizzie and Dante Gabriel purportedly became engaged ten years before they actually married in 1860.

Marriage Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1860

Other than Dante Gabriel’s younger brother, William, Lizzie didn’t meet his family for years after their relationship intensified. Finally, in the spring of 1853, Dante Gabriel invited his youngest sister Christina to his studio and flat on Chatham Place in Blackfriars, London to be introduced to his “Sid”, his “Guggums”, his “Dove”.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal at Chatham Place (Blackfriars Bridge can be seen through the window in the background)

We found her hidden just behind those screens, that mirror gave back all her loveliness.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal

Miss Siddall was sitting slightly hunched, her arms reaching, resting between her knees, just below which her hands were clasped. Her waist, like the wicker chair she perched on was lost in the bunching of her skirt. Even with Lizzie’s torso swallowed in billowing grey and her shoulders slumped, her height was evident, her stretched neck, pointed chin uplifted, and thick, mahogany hair loosely ballooned on the nape of her neck elongating her.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress, a nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, a saint, an angel — every canvas means the same one meaning, neither more or less.
Christina saw what Gabriel did. Even simply, somberly gowned in cotton and shawled in wool, this woman was fascinating, not as she was but meant to be.
As Christina entered fully into her view, Lizzie stood up and took a few sliding steps towards her, greeting her visitor with heavy-lidded, kind if evasive grey-blue eyes, and extending her hand, warm in intention but cold in its flesh.
Oh, she is not well. I must be kind to her. I must … not jump to conclusions about her. I must … not mind Gabe loving her. Christina knew she acted more condescending than she felt, patting the other woman’s hand.
Gabriel rushed towards them, his arm around Lizzie to move her away from Christina. Taken by surprise, Lizzie was a ragdoll in his control; once she regained her will she shrugged him off.
“Well, what do you think, Chrissy?” Gabriel blurted, immediately clarifying his question. “Of the Blackfriars crib? The way the rooms are built out over the river, windows on all sides, there’s plenty of light and a magnificent view from the balcony of the Tower, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. ”
“If only there wasn’t such a stink from the river.”
“I hardly notice anymore. During the day it’s busy and interesting. At night there’s the shimmering reflection of gas lamps on the bridge and wharf side.”
“He notices. In words I won’t repeat.” William stood before an easel-supported canvas it was obvious, by its illuminated position and proximity to paints and brushes, Gabriel was currently working on. “You’ve made good progress.”
“Which one is it?” Christina moved to have a look. “Oh, a watercolor,” she tried not to sound disappointed.
Beatrice Meets Dante at a Marriage Feast.” William glanced between his brother and Miss Siddall.
“And denies him her salutation,” Gabriel added, not brave enough to look at Lizzie sitting and slumping again.
William leaned into the painting to examine it more closely. “He’s captured you for eternity.”
“Sitting for him certainly can seem an eternity.” Christina thought she saw Lizzie struggle not to smile.
“You didn’t refuse, even though Mama said you could.” Gabriel knew he was right. “I remember you begging to pose again.”
Christina did, too. “Well, your memory fails you. But one thing doesn’t.” She stepped back from the painting, looking around at all the other evidence of her brother’s vocation. “Having your muse constantly close.”
“I don’t live here,” Lizzie finally spoke, softly but emphatically.
According to William, it was true. She went home every night. Walking the short distance from his Somerset House office, he regularly dropped in on his brother after work, sometimes to stay the night. After all, it was his signature as co-owner and money that was keeping Gabriel at 14 Chatham Place. If Miss Siddall were still there, she would dine with them. Around nine or ten at the latest, one or the other of them would accompany her home about a mile and a half over the river to Old Kent Road, her father opening the door before she stepped up to it.
Gabriel and Lizzie were alone together at other times, their behavior left to the frailty of restraint. Word was she had practically lived there once, albeit while Gabriel was traveling, furtively coming and going as a woman so slim, faint, and quiet naturally could. I want to tell you that Lizzy is painting at Blackfriars while I am away. Gabriel wrote to William from Newcastle, assuming, as he often mocked the Rossetti siblings’ compulsion of “spilling the beans” to each other, Christina would know, too. Do not therefore encourage anyone to go near the place. I have told her to keep the doors locked. I’m assuming she’ll probably sleep there sometimes.
Gabriel included a caricature of himself thumbing his nose at his landlord.
Christina wondered what lie Lizzie told her family, obviously abetted by someone they trusted, regarding those nights her father didn’t wait for her to return home.
There was something other than the ambiguity and unconventionality of Gabriel’s relationship with Lizzie that, although it may have protected her honor, made Christina even more uneasy. It stemmed from his turning the Rossetti scholarly obsession with Dante Alighieri and his elusive Beatrice into a quest for an actualized perfect love: The Blessed Damozel. He thought he had found her, lean’d out from the golden bar of heaven, in a hat girl, whose grandfather was a Sheffield scissor-maker, her father a south-east London cutler, her distinctive tresses inherited from her mother and fondness for poetry beginning when she discovered Tennyson’s on a piece of paper wrapped around butter.
The legend of Lizzie was well underway.

© 2020 DM Denton
~ from my work-in-progress novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch, Christina Rossetti: Songs Light as Hers, Deep and Strong

 

Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (completed after Elizabeth Siddal’s death)

In the Artist’s Studio

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

 ~ Christina Rossetti

 

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

©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.

Today’s Her Natal Day

Today, March 10, 2020, is my mother’s 91st birthday!

My mom June at nineteen

 

It has been a tough week and a half, as we lost my brother Tom –  my mom’s only son, my only sibling – February 28th, but trying to make her birthday as nice as possible.

Here is an excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poetess, Christina Rossetti: The Dove Upon Her Branch.  Christina was extremely close to her mother, whom she lived with virtually all her life until her mother died at the age of 85. (One of the first poems Christina wrote was at the age of eleven to mark her mother’s birthday)

Christina Rossetti and her Mother Frances Rossetti, 7th October 1863, by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll)

“Today’s your natal day, sweet flowers I bring …”

Christina would never deny her mother’s opinion was the one that haunted and pleased her most. Even as a willful child, getting her way wasn’t as gratifying as hearing her mother say, “Good girl”, and, even better, seeing the light of approval in her eyes. They were glowing and moist as Christina held out a forget-me-not posy and began reciting her first poem—well, the first she admitted to.

“Mother accept I pray, my offering …”

“Of course, my darling.” The flowers were in her mother’s hands. “Go on. I know the best is yet to come.”

How did she? Christina wondered if Gabriel had given the surprise away as he had threatened, not only that there was a poem but, also, the very words that comprised it. She went on anyway. “And may you happy live, and long us to bless …”

The flowers were in her mother’s lap as she pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve.

“Receiving as you give,” Christina’s own eyes teared up, as it happened and she remembered, “great happiness.”

Hopefully, her mother wiped hers for the best of reasons, Christina then as now needing her poetry to find its brightest point in Francis Polidori Rossetti’s appreciation of it.

“And the rhymes all your own. I heard you wouldn’t have any help with them.”

Christina turned her suspicion to William for spoiling the unexpectedness of her birthday gift to her mother. “Of course.”

“You don’t need to stamp your foot.”

“I’m sorry, Mama.”

“Instead, let poetry express your mood.”

Copyright © 2020 by DM Denton

Copyright © by June M DiGiacomo (from a card my mom painted for my birthday some years ago)

To My Mother
by Christina Rossetti, 1830 – 1894

To-day’s your natal day;
   Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
   My offering.

And may you happy live,
   And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
   Great happiness.

Copyright © by June M DiGiacomo

The secrets of your heart
are stacked against the wall,
canvases for your art
of hiding what you missed.
No mistaking your style,
a freedom out of hand
that kept you all the while
believing as you wished.
A world that long was yours
before it was revealed—
imagination soars
with courage its master.
Flowers filling a place
left bereft of your own,
a portrait in a vase
found by me, your daughter.
Landscapes take you afar,
cats and soup bring you home
to settle for who you are:
the author of this poem.
~ DM Denton

Copyright © by June M DiGiacomo

©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.