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.

Anne Brontë is 200!

If she were more perfect, she would be less interesting

 

Finally

it’s Anne’s own Brontë200:

Today is the 200th Anniversary
of Anne Brontë’s birth, January 17, 1820!

A very special day as

she is subject of my novel …

Above all, through the well-measured words of Denton, a young Anne emerges more and more. She frees from the web of religiosity with which she traditionally is painted, [and] tries to leave something good in the world through her measured but deliberately targeted writing. A different Anne at the beginning of the book, timidly in love; then resigned to accept her own death with dignity and fortitude. A meaningful homage to the memory of Anne Brontë.

~ Maddalena De Leo, Italian Representative of The Bronte Society

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

Thanks to her dear sister Emily, who is reported to have been a wonderful baker, Anne celebrates her birthday in Chapter Nine of Without the Veil Between.

It was years since Anne was home on her birthday. Emily baked an oatmeal and treacle cake a couple of days ahead of the teatime designated for its consumption to soften it in a tin.

“I’ll allow no one to refuse a piece of Annie’s parkin.” Emily, unusually, looked very pleased with herself. “I mean to give my bet’r sen some happy thoughts.” She even sang some lines from an old ballad supposedly from the time of Robin Hood. “‘Now the guests well satisfied, the fragments were laid on one side when Arthur, to make hearts merry, brought ales and parkins and perry.’”

“‘When Timothy Twig stept in, with his pipe and a pipkin of gin,’” Branwell followed on singing.

“Always the spoiler.” Emily didn’t look at him.

“Well, part of a song doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Anne briefly escaped their argument to take a piece of cake out to Tabby in the back kitchen. Easily wearied and hard-of-hearing, the old servant was trying to nap in a straight-backed chair positioned in the draft from the back door.

“Where’s your shawl?” Almost as soon as she wondered, Anne found it draped over the handle of a broom leaning against a wall.

“Eh? What yer fuss?”

Anne gently laid the loosely-knit shawl around Tabby’s shoulders and gave her the plate of cake.

“Dear angel-lass.”

Later, as the sisters spent a final parlor-cozy evening before Anne returned to Thorpe Green, Branwell off to take advantage of his last chance for a while to “stept in” at the Black Bull, even Charlotte admitted the liability he presented to their progress.

“The way it’s going with him, it’s better our school scheme comes to nothing. No doubt he’ll soon be home again, unemployable, even less able to provide decent company. Certainly not an example of manhood young girls should witness.”

Anne never told Charlotte as much as she did Emily, but there was no way to prevent the disturbance of her and Branwell returning home for the holidays together but estranged. As soon as they arrived, Anne fled the hours of traveling with him as though nothing ever disgusted her more. Over the weeks Branwell tried to converse with her beyond yes and no and maybe. Normally, her forbearing nature wouldn’t allow her to slight anyone, but with agitated busyness she dismissed him—to comb Flossy or clean Dick’s cage or help in the kitchen, which she rarely did, or beg Charlotte to let her read to their father who didn’t know of his son’s latest sin but might notice his guilt, so Branwell kept out of his way.

For a while Anne was as cowardly avoiding her brother, even if it meant staying in her room when he was in the house.

She wasn’t proud of her behavior. Gradually she felt more ashamed of her own choices and failings than Branwell’s, blaming her intransigence and righteousness for her failure to persuade him to stand stronger against temptation. Love was what she was made for, understanding, forgiveness and faith at the heart of her, good memories soothing the bad. Flashes of the gentle brother with his little sister on his knee, proving his talent for telling stories too entertaining to question and drawing pretty pictures he inscribed for Anne, tempted her to once more hope he might yet chose rationale and, especially, what was right, over ruin.

“Let’s expect he’ll be better and do better.” It was as if Emily had read Anne’s thoughts. “Speak no more of it tonight. Are you still working on the same poem, Annie?”

“Still wrangling with it. You know how it is, thinking it might be better with a different word or different order of words, more metaphors or less. That it might benefit from leaving some sentiments out altogether.”

“I hope it isn’t gloomy.” Charlotte was sitting across the parlor table from Anne, the paper she was fingering easily in view as the beginnings of a letter in French.

Emily’s lounging took on the look of someone double-jointed with her right leg slid off the sofa and her left one lifted and bent, its stockinged foot pressed against the back of the couch. She made a feeble effort of controlling her skirt for modesty’s sake. “It’s rather pleading.”

“Entreating,” Anne corrected as she knew Emily would appreciate.

Emily winked. “If you say so.”

“Let’s hear it entreat then,” Charlotte challenged.

Anne didn’t want to read the poem out loud and spoil the evening with dread of what she was going back to the next day. For a moment, she considered sharing a little of Passages instead, an excerpt that was well-worked and entertaining. Sensing her sister’s impatience, she stood with one of her journals, opening it to its middle and flipping a few pages further. With a slow, almost tiptoeing stride, she recited as she moved around the table, because of the limited space brushing Charlotte’s back with each passing by.

“‘God. If this indeed be all that Life can show to me; if on my aching brow may fall no freshening dew from Thee; if no brighter light than this the lamp of hope may glow, and I may only dream of bliss and wake to weary woe—’”

Emily sighed as dramatically as she never naturally did.

“You always cheer us so.”

“I’m sorry, Charlotte. I won’t continue.” Anne had reached her chair after a second circling.

“No, go on. The writing itself is lovely.”

“‘If friendship’s solace must decay, when other joys are gone, and love must keep so far away—’”

“Enough.” Charlotte groaned.

“Not for me.” Emily threw her head back and closed her eyes.

Anne continued, realizing the poem was quite good and nearly as she intended. However, she hesitated when she reached the fourth verse, mustering up the courage to take a risk.

“Vice and sin?” Emily echoed. “Nothing to do with anyone we know, of course.”

“That’s it for now. I have yet to perfect the rest of it.”

Illustration by DM Denton from “Without the Veil Between”

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

I allow she has small claims to perfection; but then, I maintain that, if she were more perfect, she would be less interesting.
~ Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Happy Birthday, Anne Brontë
and
thank you

for taking me on
an extraordinary and transformational
 writing experience!

 

This is the most beautiful novel about Anne Brontë and her sisters that I’ve read in a very long time. I couldn’t put it down once I’d started. I fell into the author’s languid writing style and was captivated by her research and depth of scope of the life of the sisters. The novel is beautifully illustrated by the author herself. It is a book to be savored and enjoyed.

~ Kimberly Eve, Victorian Musings

Don’t forget that, in honor of Anne’s bicentennial,
I’m running a giveaway contest!
Deadline to enter is January 31, 2020

Find out more …

donatellasmallest© 2020 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.

Celebrate Anne Brontë’s Bicentennial: Enter to Win!

2020 is the Bicentennial of Anne Brontë’s Birth!

This coming Friday is the actual 200th anniversary of her birth on January 17, 1820.

To mark this special occasion, I’m running two giveaway contests of Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit: one for those haven’t yet read the novel and one for those who have. The deadline to enter is January 31, 2020.

 

To be eligible to win a signed copy of Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, please put you name in the comments to this post or the one on the novel’s Facebook page.

To be eligible to win the five illustrations as limited edition signed prints, please leave a recommendation on the Facebook Page of Without the Veil Between. (If instead or in addition, you post a review on Amazon and/Goodreads you will be eligible to also win a signed print of the novel’s back cover illustration of the Brontë Parsonage. In that case, let me know with a link to the review you have posted.)

Winners will be determined by random drawing.

Good Luck!

 

Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit – Bicentennial Book Trailer from Diane M Denton on Vimeo.

 

©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: Celebrating Her Natal Day

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:

“A Vision of Fiammetta (detail)” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In April 1842, the English poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, at the age of eleven, penned those opening lines to a poem actually written for her mother’s birthday.

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

 

Christina is the subject of my work-in-progress next novel and today is the 189th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830. It is an immense undertaking, satisfying, if very challenging, writing about her. Especially as I am very much occupied and often exhausted by the care of my elderly mom these days. (Hence my infrequency posting lately)

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. You can read a brief bio I did of her for The Literary Ladies Guide.

I’m going to share a different excerpt than I did last year when I originally created this post. This one depicts Christina and her mother posing for Dante Gabriel’s first completed oil painting: The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin 1849 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

On the second visit, a few days later, Christina didn’t notice the shadiness and shabbiness of the location and look of Gabriel’s lodging and studio, her mother’s hand holding hers rather than the other way around. Her ascent into a holy scene, where she would inspire the painting of purity, felt like the best thing she had ever done. The light from the east—why Gabriel wanted them there early in the morning—miraculously broke through the rain and fog intent on spoiling that October. This time everything was ready for Christina to pose at the needlework frame Gabriel had convinced Aunt Eliza to part with for a few days, which he counted over a few weeks. No sooner Christina had, as she thought, perfected her leaning, her brother decided he wanted his Mary to sit upright, “in duty circumspect”, to the attention of her actual and acting mother, who was stiffly seated adjacent to her.

Gabriel came over and delicately adjusted their hand positions to be close but not touching. “There must be no doubt you are pious, humble, devoted to, and, yet, distinct from each other.”

“There won’t be, son, if you portray us as we are.”

He had requested his sister wear a modest dress, no bright colors, not black or grey, and with very little lace or other adornment. Christina had one she thought would do: beige, like the beach where she had last worn it, the summer sun had faded it, and splashing algae had stained its hem, its removable collar no longer crisp or undoubtedly white. He loosened her hair and, after putting the pins in his pocket, pushed it behind her shoulders “so it might seem longer than it was”. Fiddling with the folds of her skirt, he ordered her not to move from “how he sculpted” her, asking the same of their mother whose favorite shawl functioned as a wimple, while a large, musty blanket, definitely not favored by her, served as a mantle.

“Don’t close your eyes, Mama,” Gabriel gave yet another command.

“I thought it might be appropriate to pray.”

“Not in the Art Catholic’s church.”

“May we blink?” Christina hoped she might ease the seriousness that overcame Gabriel once he was behind his easel. His refusal to humor her made her say rather harshly, “May we even breathe?”

He grunted and, when he dropped his brush, swore.

“At least, until he makes you immortal,” quipped Mr. Hunt from his own creative corner of the League of Sincerity.

from The Dove Upon Her Branch Copyright © 2019 by DM Denton

Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti from a photograph by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carol)

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

 

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.

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

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

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

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

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

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

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

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

~ From O Come With Me by Emily Brontë

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Flossy. Bad boy, bad boy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I insist on taking care of you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Better than I have done without you.”

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

 

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

~ From To Imagination by Emily Brontë

Continue reading

The Blessed Moon Arose on High and Shone Serenely There

Today, January 17, 2019, marks 199 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. Anyone who has visited this page in the last couple of years knows I have written a novel about her, which was published by All Things That Matter Press at the end of 2017.

Anne’s unfinished ‘Portrait of a girl with a dog’

This will be a anticipatory year as it leads up to Anne’s bicentennial celebrations in 2020, especially those planned by The Brontë Society at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth. (I continue to live in hope that the society and Museum will recognize my novel Without the Veil, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle SpiritSo far, other than the Society’s Italian Representative, Maddalena De Leo, who read the novel and wrote a lovely review, I haven’t had any luck in getting a response from the society about it).

For the past week I’ve been thinking about how I would commemorate this day this year. By yesterday, perhaps because of the physical and mental exhaustion of taking care of my mother along with everything else, I realized there isn’t anything I can express about Anne that reveals my understanding, affinity, respect, and, yes, love of her better than what I’ve already written in Without the Veil Between.

Drawing of Anne Brontë by Charlotte Brontë

So an excerpt it will be (with a few omissions … to account for it being presented out of context). One I haven’t share before, but I think encapsulates much of what I personally, as a writer and an artist who wanted to present a well-researched and thought-out intimate portrait of Anne, discovered of her intellect and resilience, faith and spirit, hopes and heart.

 

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

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.

“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.

 

Illustration (from Without the Veil Between) by DM Denton

 

Just a reminder that today is the last day to enter a contest I have been running since early November. So if you’ve read Without the Veil Between and haven’t posted a review of it yet, by doing so, today, January 17, 2019 by midnight EST, you still have a chance to win a limited addition signed print from the novel and signed copies of my first two novels.

 

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.

 

Christina Rossetti: Celebrating Her Natal Day

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:

“A Vision of Fiammetta (detail)” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In April 1842, the English poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, at the age of eleven, penned those opening lines to a poem actually written for her mother’s birthday.

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

 

Christina is the subject of my work-in-progress next novel and today is the 188th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830.

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 thought I’d share a little excerpt from my novel that’s in its very early stages of creation. The following is from the first chapter, describing the intimacy between brother and sister, who, as children, were very similar in temperament and interests. They were called “the two storms”, while their sister Maria and brother William were called ‘the two calms”.

From a photograph by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carol)

In adulthood Gabriel’s hand revered and mocked her, in childhood it held hers on their long walks through the park and zoo, and sometimes even farther to the poor folks’ heights of London named prettily and nostalgically Primrose Hill. For children who didn’t mind being blown about, the broad meadowed mound was a welcome contrast to the grime and gridlock of the city. It offered the chase, not for wolves or boars or deer, but, as a Tutor King must have also enjoyed, the benefits of fresh air, exercise, escape, and a sense of being on top of the world.
Copyright © 2018 by DM Denton

 

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

 

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.

The Phantom Bliss: A Storyboard for Emily Brontë’s 200th Birthday

To celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of the poet and novelist Emily Brontë (July 30,1818 – December 19, 1848), I have created a storyboard that portrays Emily through excerpts from my novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

I hope you enjoy it!

A Storyboard for Emily Brontës 200th Birthday from Diane M Denton on Vimeo.

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).

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, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit © 2017 DM Denton

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

 

Fortune How Fickle Thou Art – Marking Birth Day of Branwell Brontë

June 26, 2018 marks the 201st anniversary of the birth of Branwell Brontë in Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire.

Fortune, how fickle

and how vain thou art

~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

When writing about him, his self-destructive tenancies cannot be ignored.

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. Not for the first time, he struggled to contain his anger when Mr. Robinson was less than civil to his wife, Anne hooking her brother’s arm and holding him back from behaving as wasn’t his place to.
~ from Without the Veil Between

 

In Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, I wanted to do a more complex portrait of him than the bad boy image. After all, he was a much beloved son, brother, and friend right through to the end. There was vanity but, also, a generosity of spirit in him. And a tendency to fall deeply into his emotions, that sometimes caused him to care more for others than himself ...

Her mourning needed companionship, the kind only Branwell, a dear friend to her dearest, could offer. She already knew her brother had devoted himself to William’s care and, in the end, kept vigil by his bedside, just as he had with Aunt Elizabeth.
~ from Without the Veil Between

… which, as well as manifesting in his willingness to nurse others in sickness, in turn caused his downfall and much distress to those that loved him.

      They were all three brimming with anticipation and accomplishment, certain even Branwell stumbling in on them before he went out to damage himself more wouldn’t spoil the pleasantness of those hours.

     “I know I’ve been left out of something. In turn, when my fortune changes, I may do the same to you.”

     Charlotte didn’t look up from writing, as she had announced earlier, to Mary Taylor, who, unlike Ellen, was her confidant on literary matters.

     Emily spoke to Anne instead. “Is that Flossy barking?”

     “No.” Anne’s confusion caused her to stand up.

     “Not Keeper either.”

     Branwell crossed his arms. “You’re all so smug in your sudden togetherness. I’ve heard your disagreements. I’ll wager there’s more to come.”

      “Now it’s a growling.” Charlotte put down her pen.

     Branwell cried out incoherently and left.

     “No. Let him go.” Emily tried to stop Anne from acting on her conscience.

     In hindsight, although Branwell refused to hear her and she returned to the parlor within moments, Anne might blame herself for disrupting the cheerfulness and camaraderie of that evening, and days and nights to come. Charlotte and Emily had fallen into a despondent silence Anne replicated as she looked out the window again. The moon, although shifted, was still pure and calm. The hearth was brighter and warmer. No literal death, sickness or pain entered there. However, where was any balm to soothe their thoughts, mirth to lift their mood, all those looks and smiles of fellowship? The evening’s conviviality had gone astray with Branwell, no words to console the mourning for their endeavors never to include him again.

 

Drawing by Branwell Brontë, included in letter to Joseph Bentley Leyland Copyright University of Leeds

     “He has a heart that welcomes pain.” Anne was more emotional than she wanted to be. “He walks into temptation like a storm he hopes will blow him away.”
~ from Without the Veil Between

 

Read about Branwell on the Bronte Parsonage Museum Page

I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,
And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago.

Unwelcome cares, unthought-of fears,
Around my room arise;
I seek for suns of former years
But clouds o’ercast my skies.

Yes—Memory, wherefore does thy voice
Bring old times back to view,
As thou wouldst bid me not rejoice
In thoughts and prospects new?

I’ll thank thee, Memory, in the hour
When troubled thoughts are mine—
For thou, like suns in April’s shower,
On shadowy scenes wilt shine.

I’ll thank thee when approaching death
Would quench life’s feeble ember,
For thou wouldst even renew my breath
With thy sweet word ‘Remember’!
~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

Flashes of the gentle brother with his little sister on his knee, proving his talent for telling stories too entertaining to question and drawing pretty pictures he inscribed for Anne …
from Without the Veil Between

Branwell Bronte’s earliest surviving sketch of a cat done when he was 11 years old

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

For Charlotte Brontë’s Birthday: A Journey with Anne

Charlotte Brontë was born April 21, 1816 in Thornton, West Yorkshire, 202 years ago today.

Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond chalk, 1850

To mark the occasion, I offer an excerpt from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit: Chapter Nineteen, when Charlotte and Anne make a spur-of-the moment journey to London and the publisher of Jane Eyre, Smith, Elder & Company. Although the novel’s focus is Anne, it also offers intimate portraits of Charlotte and Emily and – as reviewer Deborah Bennison of Bennison Books wrote – “explores the tensions that existed between the sisters as well as their mutual love and support.”

The dynamics among these three gifted women sizzles on the page. Descriptions of Charlotte and Emily are haunting in their excellence. Each woman changed literature and the way in which women were viewed in society.
~ author Mary Clark (Tally: An Intuitive Life, Miami Morning, Racing the Sun, and more …)

The story of the Brontë family told through the thoughts and emotions of Anne Brontë, the sister who did not become the powerful force in English literature her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, did, explores how genius interplays with everyday frustrations, sensations, and tragedies of life, transmuting the imagination and observations of three brilliant sisters into the tapestry of stories and poetry still relevant to our contemporary lives.
~
author Thomas Davis (The Weirding Storm)

Without the Veil Between isn’t simply a biography, it is a journey back into the day to day lives of one of history’s most famous literary families.
~ author Stephen Lindahl (Motherless Soul, Whitehorse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, Under a Warped Cross)

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

London, July 1848

Anne reached the last step up, turned and looked at how far she had come. She hadn’t made a grand entrance, although the staircase was one: three-to-four-people-wide with crimson carpeting, bordered by smooth porphyry columns, and glowingly lit by suspended Grecian lamps.

Her expectations for the evening had been to simply enjoy the relief of a crisis averted and, by no later than nine, try to settle in a strange bed after going almost two days without real sleep. There was the possibility of visitors to be entertained in a remote corner of the Chapter Coffee House lobby. She and Charlotte made themselves ready just in case. Charlotte resorted to a dose of sal volatile for her headache before they fixed each other’s hair and changed to appear less limp and crumpled if still provincial in high-necked, dreary dresses.

They had nothing better to wear, not in their luggage or the world. When had it ever been necessary for them to have large-skirted, off-the-shoulder gowns, gloves more than half the length of their arms, and jewelry other than a small cameo pin or locket necklace? At least, as they ever admitted to each other.

Their evening was redesigned by Mr. Smith and his sisters’ insistence the Misses Brontë attend The Royal Italian Opera in Covent Garden with them. Charlotte decided to dismiss her headache and accept.

The stylishly outfitted and graciously mannered Smiths never made Charlotte or Anne feel unequal to their company or the excursion, and continued generous and amiable in their carriage where Mr. Smith Williams had been waiting. Even disembarking off of Bow Street in full view of London society promenading across the theater’s main plaza and through its front portico didn’t alter the kind demeanor of the Smiths and Mr. Smith Williams. They did their best to shield their guests from scrutiny and, especially, unfavorable opinion. No matter, Anne couldn’t help feeling travel-worn, awkward, and poor. It was difficult to read Charlotte’s reaction. She was probably reminded of Brussels and uppity girls who thought, because their clothes and lineage and prospects were finer, they were superior to her, and how in intellect, resourcefulness and resilience she had proven they were not.

When it came to society’s segregation according to birth and wealth, Anne, as in many other issues, erred on the side of humility and restraint. Charlotte, like Emily, tended to jump to indignation without considering where she might land. Even badly bruised, it was unusual for her to wish she hadn’t. These days Anne didn’t always regret her oldest sister’s impulses. After all, they wouldn’t be about to step into a box of a grand opera house if Charlotte’s rage at Newby’s lying and manipulations hadn’t sent them off to London on the spur of the moment.

London Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden

It’s been Excerpt Week on the novel’s Facebook page, so I invite you to go on over for some more, hopefully, enticing samples from Without the Veil Between.

A reminder, if you have read the novel, how grateful I would be to know your thoughts on it and for you to share them with others. Thank you to those who have already read and reviewed it.

©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.