Reflections on the 199th Anniversary of Emily Brontë’s Birth

When my mother was fourteen a book was given to her appetite for reading and need to escape her own complicated narrative. Published by Random House, New York, it was wider and “taller” than it was thick, bound in dark blue-green with a slightly gullied joint and gold lettering on a strong spine, front and back boards illustrated by the work of Fritz Eichenberg, more of his moodily magnificent wood engravings within. Monotype Bodoni with long descenders and double-columns presented its text, chapters running on without pause, like the brave and breathless mind and spirit that filled it with one of the most mercilessly compelling, passionate, earthy unearthly stories ever told.

Over twenty years later this classic hardcover edition of Wuthering Heights was re-gifted to me and my reading the Brontës began with Emily. She immediately and irrevocably enticed me out of 1960s suburban America, away from fenced-in yards, narrow sidewalks, and managed nature, into the wilderness of her West Yorkshire world, inexhaustible imagination and uncompromising soul. I had never before read a novel as descriptive and dramatic, bold and mesmerizing, as validating of my own mystic inclinations. Of course, I hadn’t. I was twelve.

Fritz Eichenberg Illustration for 1943 Edition of Wuthering Heights

It was never easy to tell what was stirring in Emily’s heart. That afternoon her touch and words felt like pleading, as much as she could ever be suppliant. It might change Anne’s view of her nearest and dearest sibling. Even walking physically tall and strong across the moors, Emily seemed smaller, as if her influence was shrinking.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

Today, July 30, 2017 marks the 199th anniversary of the birth of Emily Brontë.

As many of you are already aware, my novel about her youngest sister, Anne – Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit – is finished and awaiting publication by All Things That Matter Press later this year.

Emily was an important presence in Anne’s life as Anne was in hers. In 1833, when Emily was fifteen and Anne thirteen, friend of the family Ellen Nussey noted, on a visit to Haworth, they were “like twins – inseparable companions … in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.” A few years earlier, in the interval between Charlotte going away to school and Emily joining her, Anne and Emily had liberated themselves from their older sister and brother Branwell, especially in their writings, to create their own fantasy world.  Set in the North Pacific, it consisted of at least four kingdoms: Gondal (how their juvenilia is usually referenced), Angora, Exina and Alcona.  (“None of the prose fiction now survives but poetry still exists, mostly in the form of a manuscript donated to the British Museum in 1933; as do diary entries and scraps of lists” – Wikipedia).

“I must have your opinion, Anne.” Emily abruptly moved Tiger from her lap, swung her feet off the sofa and slipped them into her shoes before she began to recite, “‘In the dungeon-crypts idly did I stray, reckless of the lives wasting there away; Draw the ponderous bars! open, Warder stern!’” She stood and stamped. “‘He dared not say me nay—the hinges harshly turn.’”
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

The first known reference to the Gondal Saga is in their also joint diary paper of 1834 (below as originally written):

Anne and I have been peeling apples for Charlotte to make an apple pudding . . .  Taby said just now come Anne pillopuate a potato  Aunt has come into the kitchen just now and said where are you feet Anne  Anne answered on the on the floor Aunt papa opened the parlour Door and said B gave Branwell a Letter saying here Branwell read this and show it to your Aunt and Charlotte – The Gondals are discovering the interior of Gaaldine. Sally mosley is washing in the back kitchin.

In her biography of Anne, Winifred Gerin writes “Unlike Charlotte’s and Branwell’s Angria … the permanence of Gondal lay in the fact that it was not a world at several removes from reality but only a slightly blurred print of the landscape of home.”

It was the Haworth moors that inspired the poetry of Gondal. Gerin writes: “To Emily, nature became an end in itself; to Anne, a pathway to God; to both of them a necessity.”

Anne, in one of her Gondal poems (Z ———‘s Dream), surely expressed the experience and essence of both their spirits:

I loved free air and open sky
Better than books and tutors grim,
And we had wandered far that day
O’er that forbidden ground away –
Ground, to our rebel feet how dear;
Danger and freedom both were there! —
Had climbed the steep and coursed the dale …

Ellen Nussey was not altogether correct when she claimed Emily and Anne’s closeness “never had any interruption”. Physical separations, caused by periods away at school and governess stints, especially Anne’s briefly at Blake Hall and then for five years at Thorpe Green forty miles from Haworth, were bound to test their unity. As they left their childhood behind and stumbled into womanhood, Anne’s maturing sense of duty, hope for self-sufficiency, not always pleasant experience of “the world” and literary insistence for speaking truth over indulging in fantasy left less time and inclination for the Gondal prose and poetry Emily continued to feel enthusiastic about.

Why should Anne be guided by Emily, differences in temperament, experiences, and responsibilities challenging their cohesion? How could she not? Even when her closest sister was miles away she was present in spirit. The phantom bliss, as Emily called her imagination, had once cast a spell on Anne, but the clingy little sister had become self-reliant and more rooted in reality. If Anne was truthful, she did envy Emily settled at Haworth, never having to apologize for withdrawing from the world and into her writing.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

In 1842, returning home from Brussels for the Christmas holiday, Emily exerted her independence in the opposite way Anne did and was more adamant than ever to stay humbly domestic and wildly imaginative in her own isolated piece of the planet at and around Haworth. She remained there for the rest of her life, never going further away than nearby Keighley, Bradford or Manchester or for longer than a few days as in early summer 1845.

Anne and I went our first long journey by ourselves together–leaving Home on the 30th of June-monday sleeping at York–returning to Keighley Tuesday evening sleeping there and walking home on Wednesday morning–though the weather was broken, we enjoyed ourselves very much except during a few hours at Bradford and during our excursion we were Ronald Macelgin, Henry Angora, Juliet Augusteena, Rosobelle Esualdar, Ella and Julian Egramont Catherine Navarre and Cordelia Fitzaphnold escaping from the palaces of Instruction to join the Royalists who are hard driven at present by the victorious Republicans–The Gondals still flourish bright as ever I am at present writing a work on the First Wars–Anne has been writing some articles on this and a book by Henry Sophona–We intend sticking firm by the rascals as long as they delight us which I am glad to say they do at present.
~from Emily’s diary paper, written on her birthday, July 30, 1845.

Anne drifted in and out of obliging Emily’s desire to spend most of the journey pretending to be Gondal princes and princesses fleeing the palaces of instructions to join the Royalists.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

In her paper written on the same date, Anne didn’t mention the York trip and her reflection on Gondal hints, I think, of her trying to hold onto the past mostly for Emily’s sake.

How will it be when we open this paper and the one Emily has written? I wonder whether the Gondalian will still be flourishing, and what will be their condition. I am now engaged in writing the fourth volume of Solala Vernon’s Life.

Emily might argue imaginative escapes were a good defense. One day Anne might return to being as Emily wished her to be, in part if not entirely. For now, Anne needed to concentrate on the practicalities of duty and endurance, and the long-term benefits of maintaining her integrity.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

When, in September 1845, Charlotte, whether by accident or design, happened upon the magnificent poems Emily had written and, up until then, kept from her sisters, it was Anne who understood Emily’s anger at having her sacred privacy broken into.

“You robbed me!”

Emily took her tirade to the kitchen, slamming doors, yelling at the dogs, and rattling pots. It was fortunate their father was out and Tabby was almost deaf and knew how to soothe her. Martha was prudent enough not to try.

Anne was exhausted, in part due to the long blustery walk she shared with Emily before they discovered Charlotte’s discovery, not least because she felt the pain of every verbal blow her sisters thrust at each other.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

It was also Anne who mediated the battle that ensued between her sisters, a task not made easier by Charlotte’s insistence that Emily’s poetry be published. Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell – and, subsequently, Wuthering Heights – might never have made it into print if Anne hadn’t offered Charlotte a look at her own verses and somehow softened Emily’s resistance to sharing herself, even under a pseudonym, so publically.

“If you must, publish the poems. But I’ll not be revealed.”

“You mean, your name?” Charlotte took off her glasses, unmasking the strain in her eyes.

“Not any part of me.”

“Noms de plume,” Anne realized with a mixture of relief and regret.

“Hmm.” Charlotte nodded. “As much for hiding our sex as our Emily’s obsession with being invisible.”

“All Gondal references must be removed.” Emily knocked off her shoes. “Yours, too, Annie.”

“Yes, I realize that.”

Emily put her feet on the sofa and her head back. “You need something to do. Both of you. I’m sick of seeing you mope around, one wondering whether she’s loved and the other what God wants her to do.”

“You might try, Em, but you won’t irritate me.” Charlotte returned her poetry to her. “Not while I’m so glad we’re finally all in agreement.”

“I’m submitting, not agreeing, Lotte dear.”
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

Emily Brontë, from a painting by Branwell Brontë

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree —
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
~ from Mild the Mist Upon the Hill by Emily Brontë

For a few moments a full reconciliation between them seemed viable. They stood arm in arm looking into the shrubby, mossy gully washed by winter’s thaw and spring rain streaming off the moors, blue light casting it as fantastical as their imaginations had once been. If they were to continue on, there wasn’t any choice but to follow each other precariously down an uneven and slippery path, water rushing, splashing, and, eventually, falling steeply and musically towards the beck it was destined to join, song birds adding their voices and the rhythm of their wings.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

Portrait of the Brontë Sisters, c.1834 (oil on canvas) by Patrick Branwell Brontë, National Portrait Gallery, London,

©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.

 

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Branwell Brontë Birth Bicentennial

June 26, 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Branwell Brontë in Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire.

Branwell was sullenly histrionic. To Anne he was a quivering fledgling bird: humped over, swaying, biting his lips, adjusting his glasses or picking at his chin when he wasn’t rubbing his hands. To his own satisfaction, he looked every bit the doomed artistic type. With Mr. Robinson there he became more nervous with any attention Mrs. Robinson showed him, and struggled to contain his anger when her husband was less than civil to her. More than once Anne hooked her brother’s arm and held him back from acting as wasn’t his place to. © 2017 by DM Denton

Of course, he makes many appearances and is an integral character in my upcoming novel focusing on and from the viewpoint of his youngest sister, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

(As) Anne … weaves her gentle spirit into dealing with the dissolution of her brother, her father’s loving distraction, and her two sisters’ determination to overcome the limitations of their sex in Victorian society, the reader gets a sense of how genius rose out of the tensions, love, and straining within the family itself.  ~ from pre-publication review by Thomas Davis, Four Window Press, author of The Weirding Storm, an epic poem

Here’s another Branwell-related excerpt from Without the Veil Between (yet to go through its final edits):

“I thought you would have gone to the Greenhows,” Branwell called out.
He caught Anne turning away from Monk’s lodge, changing her mind about calling on him. “No. It never came up.”
“Did the beast stay behind?”
“Flossy? I didn’t want to deal with him running off, constantly tugging if I kept him on a lead, or having to clean him of mud and, worse, burrs.”
“I didn’t mean Flossy.”
“Then I don’t know whom you’re referring to.”
“Yes, you do. You don’t like the lord of this manor any more than I do.”
“You mustn’t be uncharitable, Branny. Mr. Robinson hasn’t been well.”
Branwell laughed. “Glad to hear it. Will you come in for tea?” He stepped out of the doorway to give her access to it. “Of course, you’ll have to do the honors.”
Anne felt her moralizing rising to the surface while the summer-like mildness and autumn colors begged her to see the calmer, brighter side of the day. “Why don’t you come for a walk? If just around the grounds.” She wasn’t prepared for his agreement, but wasn’t displeased by it either.
“I don’t even need a coat.”
“I’m too warm in this lightweight one. It’s like early September.” Anne involuntarily regressed, small and vulnerable walking beside him, waiting for him to take her hand as he had when she was the youngest of six. Of course, he didn’t.
“Look at all of this—the rolled lawns, trim borders, flourishing trees, picturesque approach to a mansion high and all its comforts inside—that might be mine”
Another kind of hold on Anne allowed her brother to lead her through his misguided expectations: the hope she might yet prevent his thorough downfall.
“It’s not home for us, Branny. It never can be.”
“So what ails the mister now? Perhaps the complimentary letter I received from Macaulay has sickened him again.”
“Anne Marshall said he blames it on last Sunday’s dinner.”
Branwell clapped his hands. “Twasn’t me. Although, I have good reason.”
Anne trembled in silence, because of what she should say.
“Miss Marshall is an annoying fly buzzing around my dear Lydia.”
“She’s doing her job.”
“And some. She sees enough to hang me.”
Anne could no longer refrain from preaching, stopping and forcing herself to grab his arm to prevent him from moving on. “Only because you provide the rope.”
Branwell patted her hand before he pushed it away. “You can do better than such a cliché, my little nothing. Don’t pout. You know I only chide you with affection.”
Anne tried to ignore his condescendence. “I know Miss Marshall. She’s discreet and loyal to her mistress.”
“A mistress so deserving of loyalty as well as more return in kind of her unselfish sincerity, sweet temper, and unwearied care for others.”
Was Anne really almost to the point of giving her brother up to his emotional weakness and ultimate moral decline? “I’ll leave you here. I’m feeling tired. Also, I’d be wise to prepare a German lesson for Misses Mary and Elizabeth in case I’m expected to teach them later, as you might be with Edmund. I don’t like to go in through the front door.”
“Well, you should like it. You will like it when—” Branwell sounded determined until he saw Anne was more so, standing straighter and folding her arms. He raised his voice to ignore her resistance and further his delusion, “—when I’m the master here.”
© 2017 by DM Denton

More about Without the Veil Between here on my blog and/ my website

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Read about Branwell and his bicentennial on the Bronte Parsonage Museum Page

Fortune, how fickle and how vain thou art
~ Patrick Branwell 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.

Happy 378th Birthday, Alessandro Stradella!

April 3rd is the 378th anniversary of the birth of the Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella: inspiration for and subject of my novel, A House Near Luccoli, and haunting figure in its sequel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled

If you’re interested in knowing more about this once famed, talented, legendary, long neglected Baroque Music figure, I hope you will read on. Also check out the page on this blog devoted to the novel and Stradella … and on my website.

Alessandro Stradella, April 3, 1639 – February 25, 1682

 

When and how was I first introduced to Alessandro Stradella?

I first heard Stradella’s story and—knowingly—his music while driving to work in 2002 and listening to a Canadian classical music radio station show called In the Shadows. By the time I arrived at work, I could only remember his first name. Later I googled composers named Alessandro, scrolling down all the entries for Scarlatti to finally find a very few mentions of … Alessandro … Stradella!

In time I found out why Stradella, a celebrity in his time who produced a body of work that set him alongside the greatest Baroque masters, was, at best, a footnote in music history. Unfortunately, in the decades and centuries after his death, Stradella’s alluring story took on an almost exclusively cloak-and-dagger slant in novels and operas, eclipsing his importance as a composer until his music was rarely performed. Only recently, thanks to a dedicated biographer and cataloger and some enlightened musicians, that has begun to change.

One of the most beautiful distinctions of the sun is to disburse the mine of its golden splendors not only over the nearest countries but also to the most remote lands.
~Alessandro Stradella, from his dedication of La forza dell’amor paterno, Genoa 1678

How did my interest in Alessandro Stradella grow to the point of wanting to write about him?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

From the first I was drawn to him because of the contradiction between the discipline of his work and recklessness of his behavior. It evoked a special connection for me, for I had personally seen the potential of talent and purpose sabotaged by incautious, even self-destructive behavior. The more I learned about Stradella’s triumphs and failures, and all the hard work and missteps in-between, the more I became fascinated by a personality at once charming and creative, intelligent and indulgent, cultivated and itinerant—an adventurer who made a few messes but also many masterpieces along the way.

Finally, in the summer of 2005, I really met Stradella in the intimacy my imagination created: observing him behind the scenes in great and small ways, surrendering to his charisma, and enjoying his self-determination while exploring why he so often put his career and life at risk. I often thought how much easier it would have been if there were more details available about his appearance, personality and the events of his life, but I also realized his obscurity offered an opportunity to discover him in less public ways: through his letters, even his handwriting, and especially his music that knew the rules but pushed the boundaries.

Before her was a gracious creature, especially his hands composing in mid-air and his eyes shifting slowly in observation and expression … without music’s influence he might not wander like a prince among his subjects, though who could think that was all there was to him?
~from A House Near Luccoli

Is the house near Luccoli of the novel’s title an actual residence?

There is the possibility that the last place Stradella lived in Genoa was a house near the Luccoli district. The house was most likely owned by Guiseppe Maria Garibaldi, one of the Genoese noblemen who supported Stradella. I couldn’t find any specific details regarding this house—such as its exact location or whether it still existed—but for the purpose of the novel I put it on the map and set to ‘building it’ based on what my research and imagination came up with. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a domestic setting for the developing relationship between Donatella, my fictional female protagonist, and Stradella; one that allowed the reader behind the scenes of his career and persona. The novel does, at times, escape such close quarters into the magnificence and mayhem of Genoa, but essentially remains an interior study of character and circumstance.

Their landlord, one of the Falcone’s managers, announced that Signor Stradella would be moving into their quiet world … It was assumed Signor Stradella would use the apartment for composing as well as sleep and light refreshments. Otherwise he would be out for tutoring and rehearsals during the day and church performances on Sundays, his evenings planned and unplanned with meals and diversions in more and less respectable settings.
~from A House Near Luccoli

What surprised me the most in my research for the novel?

One of the most surprising things was discovering Genoa as a fascinating place and perfect setting for the story I wanted to write. Up until then I knew it as Christopher Columbus’ birthplace, otherwise—if most travelogues of Italy were anything to go by—for passing through on the way to somewhere else or avoiding altogether. La Superba (The Superb One) is a vertical city, back-dropped by the Apennine Mountains, surrounding a bay looking out past its famous Lanterna (lighthouse) and the Ligurian Sea towards the eastern Mediterranean. It has splendid churches, palaces and villas. Also, in its medieval center, there’s a labyrinth of narrow caruggi (alleyways) full of poverty, danger and sudden beautiful entrances to half-hidden palazzi. It’s a conflicted place with, as Stradella’s chief biographer, Carolyn Gianturco, wrote, “a climate of public puritanism and private crime.” The novel is about human contradictions, too: Stradella’s, of course, but also Donatella’s. Genoa has been called “the most English city in Italy”, and so proved an apt location, as Donatella is a ‘daughter’ of both countries.

Of course Genova had a conceit she couldn’t have, knowing its purpose and hiding or flaunting its features of beauty. Once she saw all its wonders and woes from the esplanade of Castelletto, the mountains closer and the Lanterna further away. Perhaps she made out her house; if not its signature portal of Saint George and the Dragon, then a signifying shine on its roof’s slant. It was a prestigious place to live depending on how she looked at it, whether connected up to a parade of palaces, across divides or down crooked stairways to the port.
~from A House Near Luccoli

Was I tempted to write myself into any of the characters?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

I knew I was there from the opening lines, disguised and revealed in the character of Donatella. Like me, she is Italian and English, a writer and artist, gardener, companioned by cats, wrapped up in solitude, contradictions, moods, and memories, and addicted to music’s presence in her life. Certainly, I could understand her struggle with surrendering to Stradella’s charm, talent and impetuosity; how it felt to be amazed, flattered and bewildered by such an attraction; and that in the end so much and so little changed for her through knowing him. This was a very personal story for me to write. Even more so once it was published, life imitating art when Donatella’s quiet grief and onward journey became my reality, too.

There was no unloving him as he was, available and irresistible, artful yet authentic, larger than life but vulnerable. Making his acquaintance was unforgettable, seduction unavoidable, consequences bestowed like blessings.

She was an artist, seeing him gracefully off balance like the orchid she was painting, bending left and then right, one arm behind a hip and the other lifting and falling at the same time, neck slightly turned, head back, and face flowering into a smile and wink.
~from A House Near Luccoli

How did I write about music and am I a musician myself?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

I knew the most important thing to do was listen—constantly listen, Stradella’s music a soundtrack to the conceptualizing, researching, and writing of the novel until I was living with and even haunted by it like an invisible presence. Of course, I did refer to academic sources, and the notes on CD sleeves were also a great help. I used some musical terminology as it offered imagery the poet in me found too lovely to resist!

I have played the piano, guitar and Celtic harp, and sung a little. The pleasure I find in trying to translate music into words might come from my regret at not having pursued a musical career. I suppose writing about music is another way of participating in it. I found it very satisfying. I never set out to try to imitate, explain or even describe music, but somehow convey its elusive existence in the heart and spirit.

This question makes me think of the 1991 French movie about the 17th century composers Marin Marais and Sainte-Colombe, Tous les Matin du Monde that asks: “What is music?” Sainte-Colombe insists words cannot describe it—that it is the sound of the wind, a painter’s brush, wine pouring into a cup, or just the tear on a cheek. I agree that it is impossible to express the essence or the effect of music in words, but I hope my readers experience something of its beauty and power through what I have written, especially as it is inexpressible.

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

“… I am glad to have had the opportunity of spending these many years uncovering the actual Stradella, a fascinating and lively man, who wrote excellent music of a personal stamp. Had circumstances given him the possiblity, he would surely have been surprised by my continued refusal to give up the often discouraging and elusive task; I like to think that he would have been pleased that I did not.”​
~Caroline Gianturco, Alessandro Stradella, 1639-1682: His Life and Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994):

A House Near Luccoli and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled, are available on amazon.com in paperback, Kindle and Audio Book editions; and at barnesandnoble.com in paperback and NOOK Book editions.

Read the first chapters in these Kindle previews:

A House Near Luccoli

To A Strange Somewhere Fled (Scroll past the first chapter of A House Near Luccoli)

Since I wrote and published A House Near Luccoli, there has been increasing interest in his music.

Alberto Sanna is “a musicologist and violinist from Sardinia, Italy, who specialises in early modern Italian music. ​He recently released the first-ever complete period-instrument recording of Alessandro Stradella’s beautiful yet neglected Two-Part Sinfonias.

​Please visit his website for more information on and samples of his work, which as well as Stradella also shine light on Corelli. Dr. Alberto has served as the Director of Music on the BBC 4 Drama How To Flee From Sorrow.

©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.

In Memory of a Happy Day in January

Today I’m commemorating the birth of Anne Brontë
January 17, 1820
youngest sister of Charlotte, Emily, and Branwell Brontë
and subject of my upcoming novel,
very near completion:
Without the Veil Between ©

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after) engraving Private Collection The Stapleton Collection English, out of copyright

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after)
engraving
Private Collection
The Stapleton Collection
English, out of copyright

This is a revamp of a post I did last January. Since that time, not only has my novel developed and grown well past my initial expectations (as has my admiration and affection for the youngest of the Brontë sisters), but a new biography about Anne by Nick Holland, In Search of Anne Brontë, has been released in the both the UK and US in hardback and Kindle editions (it’s due to be published in paperback in May 2017)

My review of In Search of Anne Brontë

My first encounter with the Brontës began at the age of ten or eleven when my mother gave me her beautiful 1946 editions of “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” with columned text and exquisite engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. Eventually, I discovered there was another author-sister in the family, the youngest, Anne. From the multitude of documentaries about the Brontës, movies based on Charlotte’s and Emily’s books, and even, as an English major, classic literature courses in school, it was all too easy to overlook Anne’s presence in and influence on literature and the Brontë story.

A travesty, indeed!

Quietly enduring, persevering, unpretentious people often don’t come across as accomplished or potentially so. As a writer myself, I’m constantly drawn to creative figures in history that somehow and for whatever reasons have been set aside as less important and appealing than others. In researching my own Anne Brontë project, I’ve been surprised and delighted to discover so many others motivated to make Anne’s more intimate acquaintance. Following in the footsteps of Winifred Gerin and Edward Chitham, Nick Holland, an active member of the Brontë Society, has turned his fascination with Anne into an eloquent, informative, affecting, and perceptive biography that like his blog, annebronte.org, is another important step in bringing her out of disregard and misconception.

There will always remain secrets about Anne Brontë. All of her childhood writings and most of her letters have been lost. Mr. Holland has drawn from documented facts, the interpretations of other biographers, diary papers Anne and Emily wrote, Charlotte’s letters and recorded remembrances, but, also, essentially, Anne’s verse and prose writing that offer many clues to who she was, why she wrote as she did, and how she lived and died.

“In Search of Anne Brontë” is a sensitively formed account of her life, the book’s slow, reflective, and conscientiously investigative style apropos to Anne’s character, intellect, and spirit. There is clarity and affection in its pages, an engaging examination of how her surroundings and relationships shaped, challenged and inspired her, a confirmation of her gentle, introspective, spiritual, mediating character. Anyone who gets to know Anne Brontë as thoroughly as Mr. Holland has, realizes there was so much more to her, including a strength and individualism that took her away from Haworth and family to do her duty; which resulted in the channeling of her expanded awareness and experience into the honesty, prowess, and courage of her poetry and novels.

As Mr. Holland and other Anne Brontë aficionados appreciate, she was endearing for her quiet, sweet, kind manner, but going in deeper lifts her out of the shadows cast by her more well-known and dramatic sisters and brother and the often over-emphasized isolation and tragedy of their lives. Yes, Anne’s life was brief and at times difficult, a struggle with loneliness, self-doubt and loss, but also full of imagination, love, music, nature, friendship, freedom and discovery. It was, after all, fully lived. If you haven’t read any other biography about Anne Brontë, this one is a perfect way to be introduced to her. If you have, you will, as I did, find Mr. Holland’s fresh perspective, devoted understanding and intense respect for his subject make you even more appreciative of what a remarkably intelligent, caring, brave, and beyond-her-time woman and writer she was.

Another new biography Take Courage, Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis has been just released in the UK in hardback and Kindle. A copy is on its way across the pond to me!

Of course, I’m not the only one noting the importance to Brontë aficionados of this day in January. Nick Holland has once again put together a lovely post on his blog devoted to Anne and all things Brontë. Please follow the link to: Happy Birthday Anne Brontë – 197 Today!

In Search of Anne Bronte by Nick Holland - Cover for Paperback edition to be released in May 2017

In Search of Anne Bronte by Nick Holland – Cover for Paperback edition to be released in May 2017

#Bronte200 is the Bronte Society‘s five-year programme celebrating the bicentenaries of the births of each of the Brontë siblings (who lived beyond childhood): Charlotte in 2016 (of course just completed and a resounding success), Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020.

Long-suffering, self-denying, reflective, and intelligent, a constitutional reserve and taciturnity placed and kept her in the shade, and covered her mind, and especially her feelings, with a sort of nun-like veil, which was rarely lifted.

I came across the above quote from Charlotte Brontë (whose view of her youngest sister is probably not always the most reliable source for a true understanding of Anne) long after I had already settled on the title Without the Veil Between, which I actually took from the last verse of Anne’s poem:

In Memory of a Happy Day in February by Anne Brontë

Blessed be Thou for all the joy
My soul has felt today!
O let its memory stay with me
And never pass away!

I was alone, for those I loved
Were far away from me,
The sun shone on the withered grass,
The wind blew fresh and free.

Was it the smile of early spring
That made my bosom glow?
‘Twas sweet, but neither sun nor wind
Could raise my spirit so.

Was it some feeling of delight,
All vague and undefined?
No, ’twas a rapture deep and strong,
Expanding in the mind!

Was it a sanguine view of life
And all its transient bliss
A hope of bright prosperity?
O no, it was not this!

It was a glimpse of truth divine
Unto my spirit given
Illumined by a ray of light
That shone direct from heaven!

I felt there was a God on high
By whom all things were made.
I saw His wisdom and his power
In all his works displayed.

But most throughout the moral world
I saw his glory shine;
I saw His wisdom infinite,
His mercy all divine.

Deep secrets of his providence
In darkness long concealed
Unto the vision of my soul
Were graciously revealed.

But while I wondered and adored
His wisdom so divine,
I did not tremble at his power,
I felt that God was mine.

I knew that my Redeemer lived,
I did not fear to die;
Full sure that I should rise again
To immortality.

I longed to view that bliss divine
  Which eye hath never seen,
Like Moses, I would see His face
  Without the veil between.

200px-AnneBronte

To continue the celebration of Anne’s birth day …

I offer you a couple of excerpts containing my interpretation of a journey to London Anne took with her sister Charlotte in July 1848 to see – surprise – their (well, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’s) publishers:

From Chapter Nineteen of Without the Veil Between ©

What a journey they had undertaken with only a few hours preparation and no time for planning around wet weather if such a thing was possible in the West Yorkshire climate. John Brown was able to find a lad with a cart who for one and six was willing to take their small trunk to Keighley station ahead of them. They had something to eat and drink before they set out with their father’s blessing despite his concerns about them walking into the threat of rain and traveling to and being in London alone.

“We’ve done it all before, Papa,” Charlotte reminded him with a squeeze of his hand, while forgetting Anne had never been to London or even out of her home county, except on long Pennine-rolling walks that lured her into Lancashire.

Anne almost backed out when her father bowed down for her to kiss him on the cheek and she realized Emily, who had been standing behind him, no longer was. Another opinion of Anne’s leaving came from Flossy who sat on her feet, leaned against her legs and looked up with begging eyes. Keeper could be heard barking in the back yard the way he did when Emily played fetch with him, possibly an explanation of where she had gone. Anne caught a glimpse of Branwell on the stairs.

By then Charlotte was adamant they must be on their way. “Even now I’m not sure we’ll avoid a soaking or catch the six-twenty train from Keighley to Leeds. If we don’t we’ll miss the overnight to London and our plans will be in disarray.”

Impulses not plans, Anne thought but knew better than to remark, already preparing herself to be understated during the days ahead. The last time Anne had been en route with Charlotte, she was a sickly, uncertain, inexperienced school girl. Of course, much had changed, but Charlotte still thought she knew better and expected Anne’s compliance.

As the parsonage door closed, Anne could hear their father telling them to take care and Flossy whining. They walked as quickly as they could holding hooded cloaks over their bonneted heads and around their bodies, not for warmth as the air was hot and heavy, but to prevent their hair and clothes from being messed by the wind that blew in spotty showers before they were half-an-hour towards Keighley. At first Anne pretended not to mind the rain. She was, however, uneasy when lightning branched through the sky over Oakworth down, flashing more frequently as it came closer, eventually in a vivid cloud-to-ground strike no more than half a mile ahead.

***

Anne wished the trip was less of a “mission” and more of an adventure for her sister. At least Charlotte gave into extravagance as Anne on her own probably wouldn’t have, purchasing first class tickets from Leeds to London. Even in a plush upholstered and carpeted carriage that was private much of the way, Anne couldn’t sleep, nor did they talk more than was necessary, so she might assume Charlotte dozed on and off. There wasn’t enough light for reading or air for breathing; it was an express train, no stops for exercise other than standing up and pulling down the window to be no wiser about where they were. Hour after hour, through dusk and darkness, Anne occupied herself by remembering passages from the bible and enjoying the idleness, composing scenarios for her living and writing to come. Eventually, weariness prompted her to close her eyes and try to nap. It seemed she did, until Charlotte’s voice disturbed her dreamy traveling with William, a loving and lawful companion, his hand holding hers, her head on his shoulder.

“I’m getting a headache. It’s the humidity. No doubt both will get worse in London.”

Just as it seemed the night and train journey would never end, they were headed into the sunrise, mist and steam screening the passing countryside that, from what they could see of it, was fairly flat and distantly forested. The dawn wasn’t yet fully realized when they arrived at Euston Station. At barely four-thirty in the morning it was, as they expected, lonely and hardly safe, and the same must be true of the streets beyond the depot’s Doric arch. They were glad the promise made at the Leeds ticket booth allowing them to remain on the train when it was pulled off the main track for cleaning and reloading with coal, at least until seven, was honored.

Finally there was enough daylight to read—or write, Anne deciding to make a little progress on her response to the critical complaints and utter misrepresentation of Tenant since its publication in late June.

“What’s that?” Charlotte asked.

“Oh, nothing of consequence.”

Charlotte didn’t inquire further, Anne considerately and selfishly submitting to her sister’s need to stay quiet and nurse her head while she could.

Entrance to Euston Station, London, c 1840s

Entrance to Euston Station, London, c 1840s

 

I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.
~ Anne Brontë, from her introduction to the second edition of
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Happy Birthday, Anne Brontë
and
thank you
for one of the most extraordinary, if exhausting,

writing experiences of my life!

 

donatellasmallest© 2017 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 Very Closest Sympathy

On July 30th, 198 years ago, Emily Jane Brontë was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England.

emily_bronte_quote_2

I know you love to play Mendelson.” Anne grasped Emily’s hand, hoping she wouldn’t mind.

Emily endorsed Anne’s effort with a quick squeeze of her fingers. “I have to catch up with his Songs without Words volumes. I believe there are eight now. I only have five.”

Now she knew what it should be, Anne was glad there was just enough time to send away for Emily’s birthday present.
© 2016 DM Denton

 

Although my current work in progress is a novel focusing on her younger sister, Anne, Emily is essential to the narrative, whether they are together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or separated for long periods of time.

Emily was an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her little 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, especially as mother earth beckoned her to.

For nature is constant still
For when the heart is free from care
Whatever meets the eye
Is bright, and every sound we hear
Is full of melody …
~
Anne Brontë, from Verses for Lady Geralda, 1836

Long after 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.”

What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by reliving their childhood habit of wandering daily to meet only earth and sky, now with Keeper and Flossy, their dogs like themselves, despite contrasting physiques and personalities, discovering intrinsic similarities, especially the need to often escape the stuffiness and lack of possibilities indoors. For the dogs, too, the companionship of walks that took them west past tilting, spindly conifers and thorn bushes into the wind-swept vastness behind the parsonage, acknowledged the basic wildness of their natures and left no doubt they were more alike than different.
© 2016 DM Denton

Emily and Anne Bronte cropped

From Pillar Portrait by Branwell Brontë

As children they formed an alliance apart from Charlotte, brother Branwell and the fictional world of Angria to invent their own imaginary kingdom of Gondal. The departure of Charlotte to Roe Head School meant they became even closer, but something more powerful than circumstance cemented their devotion: the innate ability to understand, unconditionally love, lighten, consolingly burden and so strengthen each other, to speak in silence as much as conversation, and, perhaps, most significantly, to create “the very closest sympathy” through the infinite sisterhood of their imaginations.

To Imagination by Emily Brontë

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
O my true friend, I am not lone
While thou canst speak with such a tone!

So hopeless is the world without,
The world within I doubly prize;
Thy world where guile and hate and doubt
And cold suspicion never rise;
Where thou and I and Liberty
Have undisputed sovereignty.

What matters it that all around
Danger and grief and darkness lie,
If but within our bosom’s bound
We hold a bright unsullied sky,
Warm with ten thousand mingled rays
Of suns that know no winter days?

Reason indeed may oft complain
For Nature’s sad reality,
And tell the suffering heart how vain
Its cherished dreams must always be;
And Truth may rudely trample down
The flowers of Fancy newly blown.

But thou art ever there to bring
The hovering visions back and breathe
New glories o’er the blighted spring
And call a lovelier life from death,
And whisper with a voice divine
Of real worlds as bright as thine.

I trust not to thy phantom bliss,
Yet still in evening’s quiet hour
With never-failing thankfulness I
welcome thee, benignant power,
Sure solacer of human cares
And brighter hope when hope despairs.

Emily Bronte Desk

Emily Brontë’s fold-up writing desk and contents

 

Anne was less hesitant to being drawn into Emily’s simply lived yet creatively complex orbit; then Anne had grown up in it, been sustained by it, and found true friendship in it. She knew, welcoming the hope in that knowledge, that even as Emily seemed unsentimental, letting them go to their beds and disappointments and fears and useless efforts to change what couldn’t be changed, she was keeping a place for them by the fire of her imagination and fidelity.
© 2016 DM Denton

 

Haworth Parsonage

Haworth Parsonage, painted in the 1970s by DM Denton©

What was complicated for her sisters and brother was simple for Emily: there was no going back to working for little profit that left her essentially impoverished. Instead, she settled once and for all into the confinement that unleashed her fantasies, escaping change except as she grew taller and stronger and unapologetically herself. “I am as God made me,” Charlotte reported Emily’s answer to the “silly” girls at the Pensionnat who ridiculed her clothes, walk, thoughts, and habits. Anne couldn’t decide if such certainty made Emily saintly or blasphemous. According to Charlotte it did the trick in stopping the harassment, so it would seem an enlightened declaration after all.

Emily knew her place and stuck with it without being stuck, like a solitary tree on the moor, as violently content, shaped by the wind yet unyielding, in motion without leaving the spot she was rooted in.
© 2016 DM Denton

 

bronte_moors_by_wandereringsoul

©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.

In Memory of a Happy Day in January

Today I’m commemorating the birth of Anne Brontë,
youngest sister of Charlotte, Emily, and Branwell Brontë:

January 17, 1820

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after) engraving Private Collection The Stapleton Collection English, out of copyright

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after)
engraving
Private Collection
The Stapleton Collection
English, out of copyright

Of course I’m not the only one noting the importance to Brontë aficionados of this day in January. Let me point you to a wonderful blog dedicated to Anne, created by Nick Holland, an author and active member of the Bronte Society. His biography of Anne, In Search of Anne Brontë, is due for release in the UK in early March, and is available for preorder! (It will be released in the US in June)

Anne Brontë, the youngest and most enigmatic of the Brontë sisters, remains a bestselling author nearly two centuries after her death. The brilliance of her two novels – Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – and her poetry belies the quiet, yet courageous girl who often lived in the shadows of her more celebrated sisters. Yet her writing was the most revolutionary of all the Brontës, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. This revealing new biography opens Anne’s most private life to a new audience and shows the true nature of her relationship with her sister Charlotte.

The Birth Of Anne Brontë

birthplacesm

The Bronte birthplace, Thornton

As I post this latest Anne Brontë blog, I’m sitting in a beautiful café drinking a latte and eating a delightful artisan scone, but it’s not just the home made food that makes this place special, and it’s not only the coffee that’s drawn me in.

This is a Yorkshire café like no other, for it was on this very spot that Anne Brontë was born 196 years ago today – the 17th of January, 1820.

 Go annebronte.org to read the entire post …

 

#Bronte200 is the Bronte Society‘s five-year programme celebrating the bicentenaries of the births of each of the Brontë siblings (who lived beyond childhood): Charlotte in 2016, Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020.

I wasn’t aware of Bronte200 until after I had begun to write about Anne Brontë myself: a fiction that started out as a novelette and part of a one book collection of stories featuring women writers.

However, as my research has offered more and more possibilities for lengthening the story, it has evolved into a novella/short novel I now plan to publish on its own as part of a series. I have settled on the title Without the Veil Between taken from the last verse of Anne’s poem:

In Memory of a Happy Day in February (read full poem).

I longed to view that bliss divine
Which eye hath never seen,
Like Moses, I would see His face
Without the veil between.

200px-AnneBronte

And to continue the celebration of Anne’s birth day, I offer …

An excerpt from the work-in-progress,
Without the Veil Between © 2016
A novella about Anne Brontë
by DM Denton

From Chapter Two

Anne took a low wooden stool, her portable desk and sketchbook outside, managing to carry them all at once across the lawn to settle within the shade of some current bushes that Emily called their bit of a fruit garden. After half an hour, she felt chilled and relocated further away from the high stone wall and elder and lilac shrubs that divided the Parsonage’s yard from the church’s. At first she couldn’t write or draw, trying to restrict herself to practical thoughts, like the need to weed in the flower patch of lupines and cornflowers underneath the house’s front windows, and missing the Sicilian sweet peas that by now should have shown some attachment to a trellis by the front door, except Martha Brown had forgotten her promise to plant the seeds Emily had collected from last year’s blooms. Anne wondered if it was too late.

She pulled out a drawing begun some months before, Little Ouseburn Church most picturesque viewed from the other side of Ouse Gill Beck, its chancel encased by shrubby trees, a grassy bank sloping towards the stream, the mausoleum just out of sight. The Robinsons’ bonneted phaeton was commandeered every Sunday to transport the family the nearly two miles to the church, immediately afterwards waiting to take them back to the Hall for dinner by half-past noon. Anne was included in and yet irrelevant to the Sunday ritual, the latter demonstrated by no one questioning her leather folder tucked under her arm or even thinking to refuse, as the Inghams would have, her request to stay behind to draw a while before returning on foot.

“You may do what you please, Miss Brontë,” Mrs. Robinson was famous for saying, “and I will tell Cook to put your dinner aside for later.”

“Aren’t you afraid to walk back alone?” Mary might wonder before her mother insisted she get into the carriage.

Anne was relieved she didn’t have to answer, for any explanation of her need for bucolic solitude would have implied dissatisfaction with the confines of her room at Thorpe Green, the subdued light through one slanted window waking her very early, but by late afternoon or in the evening providing inadequate illumination for reading, writing or artwork. She took whatever time she could to be on her own out-of-doors, freed from capricious children and their equally unpredictable parents, the dissatisfaction of servants and repetitive duties, and, especially, the dreariness back stairs and dark corridors made almost unendurable. In contrast it was easy to put up with feeling too warm in the sun and too cool in the shade, watch for rain, hold her paper from curling in the wind, wave away thirsty gnats, and be distracted by birdsong and any of the creatures she could hear but not see or see without seeing, like the fish making little whirlpools of bubbles in the stream between her and the church that months later, having to resort to memory and imagination, she hoped to finish her detailed impression of.

Anne had her head down for over an hour, the shade chilling her again, St. Michael’s and All Angels’ tower, her dry mouth and stomach telling her it was time for tea and biscuits in the dining room with her aunt and father, a chance that either or both would prefer to keep to their bedroom or study respectively. In that case the kitchen, although too warm with the range stoked for heating water, would be a pleasant substitution, as would Martha and her chitchat, much of it about the residents of Haworth that Anne was too prudent to comment on. Of course, if Branwell joined them, he wouldn’t hesitate to express his cynical opinion and even add some tavern gossip.

“Yes, it is that time, isn’t it?”

Anne wasn’t so much startled by William sneaking up on her, as embarrassed by him witnessing her graceless act of picking up the stool, while she held onto her desk and sketchpad. She left the stool on the ground and stood straight to see him sitting on the edge of a horizontal gravestone nearly as high as the wall he was leaning over.

“May I see?” He reached out for her sketchbook, so sure she would hand it to him she could hardly refuse to. This time he interpreted her expression. “I don’t wish to burden you with any sort of critique. I hardly have the qualification for that.”

“It’s not a burden to show you, just to do the drawing in the first place.”

“Surely not.” William was already looking at her work and not just her imitation of Little Ouseburn Church, but flipping through pages of landscapes, animal studies, and portraits. “You must find such satisfaction in being able to capture those moments the rest of us let slip away, and sometimes aren’t aware of to begin with.”

“Except I can’t easily enjoy them as others do, always troubling myself with whether I can really reproduce what I see, what I feel, especially of nature’s beauty. I fear vanity and a weak spirit urge me to try to do so.”

“Well, even if you haven’t satisfied yourself,” William carefully closed the folder, standing and hesitating before giving it up, “you have succeeded in impressing and delighting another.”

“Hey, you two,” Branwell called down from an open window on the second floor of the parsonage, “what scheme are you leaving me out of?”

Anne expected William to quip back, but instead he hopped over the wall, picked up the stool, and followed her to the house, putting it just inside the front door she had slowly opened. With her back to him for longer than was necessary, she was afraid he must think her cold, dull, awkward, and even ill-tempered.

It was his hand that turned her around, lightly but sincerely pressing the fingertips of her left one with a wordless promise of “Trust me.”

 

donatellasmallest© 2016 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.