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.

Happy Birthday, Alessandro Stradella!

Reposting … a day late. Forgive me Maestro!

April 3rd was the 379th anniversary of the birth of the Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella: inspiration for and subject of my novel, A House Near Luccoli, and haunting 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)

I am happy to report that there is an ever-increasing interest in Stradella’s music.

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

 

©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.

If she were more perfect, she would be less interesting

Counting down to Anne Brontë’s own Brontë200,
the bicentennial
of her birth on January 17, 1820,
today is the 198th birthday
of the youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë.

She is subject of my new novel

Anne Brontë comes through as a leading character in her own right, not as an understudy. Diane has written an exceptional history of a hidden jewel in the family Brontë and imbued her with a strength, a tenderness, and a will to animate and to shine.

Literary fiction has another distinctive voice in Diane Denton.

~ Martin Shone, author of three beautiful poetry collections: Being Human, Silence Happens, and After the Rain.

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

To mark Anne’s birth day, I am sharing an excerpt from Chapter Nine of Without the Veil Between, that includes an Emily initiated celebration.

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

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

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 one of the most extraordinary and transformational
 writing experiences of my life!

 

donatellasmallest© 2018 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.

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.

 

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.