The Staircase

A new short story
written and illustrated by DM Denton
author of
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

The Staircase
is based on true events
surrounding a haunting by Anne Brontë
and is included in the recently released anthology
I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered the Earth

     Who?
     At first, I didn’t think the question was directed at me. I didn’t want to be seen. If by some unintended wish I was, I didn’t feel inclined to answer, to reveal more than I had already.
     I didn’t want to be rude, either, the manners Aunt Elizabeth had instilled in me continuing to influence my judgment.
     It was the staircase I meant to be present for as I moved out of the shadows and onto its wide bottom step, Queen Anne in its demeanor and mine. Would there be the smell of polish and creaking on certain steps, its handrail smooth, cold, and substantial beneath my small hand? It was a miracle that I had found it again, and myself as eager and expectant as when the journey to my independent future packed more illusions—especially of the juvenile variety—than clothes.
     The staircase had darkened with age but in its afterlife had been restored for a brighter environment. Gone was the eighteenth-century oak paneling of its first home that eclipsed the rare beauty of its burred yew unless a candle was held near. Now surrounded by white-washed walls and ceilings, and light-fixtures with flames that didn’t flicker, the imperfections of the staircase’s wood glowed.
     Once again it seemed I was alone, or, at least, without anyone realizing my presence pretending to be other than it was. The first time I stepped onto the staircase I was still in awe of Blake Hall’s magnificence and certain I was at the threshold of an exciting time in my young life. In terms of my own actions, maintenance, faculties, and possibilities, I was just beginning.
     I intended to make the most of an opportunity for refinement and worthiness.
     It was April 1839. I was taken up a back way to a small but comfortable bedroom to briefly revive with refreshment and rest, leaving little time to tidy my appearance before I emerged less than an hour later. I walked along a paneled and papered hallway to a grander way down to meet new responsibilities, convinced the society below would put my shyness and insecurities at ease and improve and cultivate me. Lifting the mud-splattered hem of my skirt, I wished it clean and my petticoats, too, although I was wearing only one. I saw skimpy slippers on my feet rather than sensible boots. Somewhere, probably the drawing room, a piano was being played and there was singing, the latter much less in tune, but, as a young female child’s voice often was, sweet and pretty.
     My optimism in being entrusted with the care and education of children was enthused until I heard mockery and crying.
     A door slammed.
     A rude boy, no more than six or seven, bounded up past me, while the same stately woman who had met my arrival earlier with nothing more than was necessary to say, stood at the bottom of the stairs expressionless.
     I could go no further in that disagreeable direction.
     I hadn’t followed the fate of the staircase to revisit the pomposity, unpleasantness, and worse of the Inghams, or my own wickedness that I wasn’t proud of but seemed necessary at the time. I closed my eyes, counted to ten, opened them, and all that remained was my flight of fancy on those stairs.

     My faith had prepared me to settle in heavenly peace where I was reunited with those I loved, one in particular even more agreeable in the hereafter. I was rarely nostalgic for the life I had abandoned too soon, especially once Charlotte and Flossy were with me again. I have to—affectionately—blame Emily, who was still into haunting, for alerting me to the demolition of Blake Hall after what was salvaged of its character and worth had been auctioned off. That was as far as Emily was willing to go with the news, while Charlotte had long ago grown disillusioned with London, so I made a second trip there on my own.
     Of course, I could do nothing but watch the dealings that started at a Kensington antiques fair, continued miles away in a damp, dusty warehouse, and culminated in the staircase’s sale and a plan to send it to be reassembled even farther away from fitting in.
     By then, I was curious about the couple who had crossed the Atlantic to flaunt their money and steal a little of the old world to the new. Giving into the temptation to eavesdrop on Allen and Gladys Topping during their return voyage, I meant to limit my spying to their discussions about “the English treasures” purchased for their new house on a “long island”. Instead, my fascination with their engaging if sometimes vulgar speech and mannerisms and Gladys’ spontaneous operatic singing, which made her husband’s eyes shine, became an inexcusable intrusion upon their privacy.
     No sooner I returned to time without measure than Allen Topping was there. I wanted to ask him about the staircase but decided not to because he didn’t know me. He was greeted by a crowd of condolences for the loss of his wife. I often wondered if William ever felt bereaved over what might have been between us, but I was still too shy to ask him. Heaven, like earth, was full of unfinished love stories. I knew Allen would be all right.
     Gladys would be, too, for, as my dearest Flossy told me, Allen had left her with a special gift.    

    “Mr. Wyk, what is it?”
     Mr. Wyk reminded me of Emily’s Keeper, intimidating until he wagged his tail and nuzzled my hand for a treat he wasn’t supposed to have. I was sure he was a comfort to his mistress who, unlike Emily, had no rules that kept him off her bed or from roaming anywhere in the house. Not that Emily and Keeper were less devoted to each other, their reunion as intensely emotional as mine had been with Flossy.
      “Mr. Wyk?”
     The young Doberman Pincher ran up the stairs to the first landing, his snout down on his front paws and his spine rising as he resumed growling.
     I began to ascend, thinking to put him at ease again, but he backed away whining and turned to Gladys. She had one hand over her mouth while the other lifted a chamber stick that illuminated the fear and curiosity in her eyes.
     I waited for the question I didn’t want to answer.
     Who? it came, although it wasn’t spoken.
     Quickly, once and for all, in a whisper meant to be an impression, I told her.
     I was surprised she had heard of me, also of my sisters and brother, and had even seen the lovely moors.
     “Ah, she’s gone.” Gladys stroked Mr. Wyk’s ears and went down the stairs. I moved aside, forgetting I didn’t need to. The faithful dog wanted to follow her but waited for me to gesture him to.
     “You must be hungry, Mr. Wyk. Will anyone believe we saw her? I wonder if she’ll be back.”
     I have been, but not so Gladys has actually observed me again. It’s hard to be sure about Mr. Wyk; perhaps he no longer sees anything unusual in my visits.
     I often make a detour to catch a sunrise over the ocean from one of Quoque’s beaches, before returning to Sanderling where I like to go up and down the staircase, rather like a madwoman, which I would never have done in life, or, hopefully, put in a novel. Sometimes, I offer little noises and other signs that get Gladys’ attention but don’t disturb her too much or give away more than I have already.

Copyright © 2020 by DM Denton

Read about the actual events that inspired The Staircase:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2890155/Grand-wooden-staircase-linked-Bront-sisters-tracked-house-Long-Island-60-years-sold-auction.html

https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/spooky-tale-haunted-anne-bronte-8350862

https://hamptons.curbed.com/2014/12/30/10007170/did-the-ghost-of-anne-bronte-haunt-a-quogue-staircase

I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered The Earth
is available on Amazon
in paperback and for kindle devices and app:
US
UK
Profits go to the Brontë Parsonage Museum,
which like so many cultural institutions is struggling financially
during the pandemic.

A collection of illustrated stories and poetry
by members of the Facebook Page
A Walk Around the Bronte Table
compiled by Kay Fairhurst Adkins

More than 200 years since their births, the ghosts of the famous Bronte family – Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne – haunt their eager fans through novels, poetry, and the fascinating true story of genius tucked into unlikely spaces. It is all here waiting for you in this collection of spine-tingling Bronte-Inspired Ghost Stories, Local Legends, Paranormal Experiences, and Channelings. As one of our authors, Danette Camponeschi, says in her story Keepers of the Truth, “When shut inside during our own time of horror – while the world sleeps and waits and holds its collective breath – we continue the tradition of storytelling in our own way, keeping the truth alive and the imagination flourishing.” Open the cover of this book and enjoy a moonlit ramble on the moors. You never know what you’ll find…or what will find you…

Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine And Subtle Spirit
is available on Amazon
in paperback and for kindle devices and app:
US
UK

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




Guest Post: The Women in Berthe Morisot’s Life

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

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Barnes and Noble

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

 

The Women In Berthe Morisot’s Life by Paula Butterfield

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

http://www.paula-butterfield.com

@pbutterwriter

https://www.pinterest.com/luministe

https://www.instagram.com/paulabutterfield2018

Thank you, Paula, for such an interesting post

and eloquent, gentle, inspiring novel!

Guest Post: Song of Paper by Cynthia Jobin

Today I am pleased to host Deborah Bennison regarding the latest publication from her independent press. This volume was truly a labor of love, exhibiting the excellence of content and presentation always representative of Bennison Books.

 

Readers of Diane’s blog may already be familiar with the New England poet Cynthia Jobin, whose blog attracted many followers worldwide. Admirers of her work will be delighted to learn that a collection of her poetry, Song of Paper, has just been published by Bennison Books.

 

Amazon.com (https://amzn.to/2A8Pq3d)

Amazon UK (https://amzn.to/2NFTF9M)

 

With a fine intelligence and shining poetic sensibility, Cynthia documents the joys and griefs that mark the common humanity of our everyday lives. She explores the inexplicable exhilaration and longing that love brings and courageously delineates the crushing desolation she felt at losing her lifelong partner.

The magnificent sequence of poems which close the collection trace the journey towards her own impending death and the deeply moving acceptance with which she finally faced it.

 

Excerpt from the introduction

Shortly before her death in late 2016, Cynthia entrusted her poetic legacy to the UK poet John Looker who had long admired her work. The following is an excerpt from John’s introduction to Song of Paper:

Cynthia Jobin’s poetry is skillfully crafted and both erudite and accessible. She wrote about the mysteries of life, her grief following the death of her partner of 43 years, love and friendship, the joy of pets and the landscape of New England. She also translated French poetry. There was a depth of feeling and an unobtrusive intellect at work, but equally a lightness of touch and humour. The poems in this collection show that variety of theme and equally her range of tone; she would write just for fun as well as with serious intent.

When reading a new poem from Cynthia Jobin I have always had that comfortable feeling of being in good hands: we know that the verses are going to be impeccably crafted but we can’t predict what path they will take.

I am sure that new readers and old friends alike will discover this for themselves on reading this collection. The title, Song of Paper, comes from the opening poem and feels so apposite. The closing poem, which was also the last she ever posted in life, and which shows humour even in the midst of wisdom and courage, is an immensely moving reflection from someone who knew herself to be very close to death.

The late Cynthia Jobin

Below are extracts from two poems included in this collection
and the full version of ‘To a Tulip’.

Extract from ‘The Palpable Obscure’:

Once a day, at least, I stop to wonder

where you are.  I do not think of

you as being here.  Except, tonight

 

a heightening of powers in the darkness

wants to break November from October

with a cold slap and a small wail in the wind.

Something more than me, something much

more sure that you abide, this night, brings

you, in ways that I can almost touch.

****

Extract from ‘Riviera Reverie’:

The boy cat, all noblesse oblige,

takes his reserved, tacitly acknowledged place.

 

Drawn to their warm, imaginary blankets

spread upon the floor, these beloved creatures

 

bring to mind the worshipful habitués

of Côte d’Azur, Côte d’Or.  As the sun reaches

 

they respond, grab on, luxuriate

and, for this brief moment, even teach.

 

Should a phone call come for any one of them

I’ll say they are away, gone to the beach.

****

To a Tulip 

You,

yellow flower

standing in a cobalt vase,

unfurling blades,

stemmed sacramental cup –

winter was hard

but now your simple grace

is green announcement:

things are looking up.

There by the window you

to sunlight are the antiphon,

beauty new as beauties past,

spring’s insistence

life should carry on.

Yet you become

most beautiful at last,

when age and death are

what you must fulfill:

come that night

you can no longer

close against the dark,

you open wide until

you are all heart,

and every petal knows

translucence as it falls.

You could be hinting

how to do it, for us all.

Copyright Cynthia Jobin estate; Bennison Books.

 

Song of Paper is available from:

Amazon.com

Amazon UK

Please check out all the excellent publications from Bennison Books!

Meet Martin Shone, Sublime Poet and Thinker …

… who settles upon all things.

In my budding effort to open my blog to host others, today I am featuring Martin Shone, intuitive writer of poetry and prose, profound observationalist and thinker.

Martin lives in the UK and has three grown-up children and a four-year-old granddaughter. By day he works as a school cleaner where his mop and bucket are his tools, but in the evening he swaps those for his keyboard. He’s had various other jobs including Postman, Egg Packer, Security Guard, Soldier, Painter & Decorator, Retail Assistant, and General Dog’s Body, amongst other things. Fun fact: Considering he doesn’t own a TV or listen to the radio very often, he once applied to have a go at reading his poetry on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent. He didn’t get very far though, not even passing the first stage; nerves got the better of him and he fluffed his lines.

I’ve been following Martin’s blog, taken pleasure, been reassured and inspired by his poetry and reflections for many years. I keep his first two collections close by and often pick them up to randomly open and be guided by as I might my Little Zen Companion.

He has published three poetry collections: Silence Happens: Little Thoughts of Life, Nature, Peace, Freedom & Love;  Being Human: Little Thoughts of Life, Nature, Peace, Freedom & Love; and, his most recent, After the Rain, (in his own words) over 100 poems of Love, Nature and Humanity with an essence of Romance & Passion running through their veins.

I expected Martin’s latest collection to be companionably soothing, sensory, and enlightening. And so it was, inhaling and exhaling poetry in caressing arrangements of words, light as a feather while defying gravity, rising out of Martin’s intuitive observations and perceptive reflections, as well as his experience, imagination, and belief that, as I wrote in my review of Silence Happens, “beauty, peace and love are always available”.

Just a few pages into After the Rain, I had to stop and take a deep breath before reading further—for the best of reasons. I realized I was witnessing a favorite poet’s maturing, strengthening, and deepening. He was still offering the music of his soul for me to “sing along”, but, also, a new complexity of rhythms, sounds and understanding. Without losing any of his writing’s freshness and delicacy, his lyrical musings had become more inspired and inspiring, confident and courageous, distinct and layered.

Martin’s poetry often reminds me of that of the Victorian poetess Christina Rossetti, because of its inclination to let nature—weather, birds, insects, flowers, trees—direct its metaphors and meaning. There are so many poems in this collection that stood out as favorites for me, but the one I return to more than any other is As Bluebells Distract My Mind (Page 57), too long to quote in full here, so I offer its last two lines:

How can I write anything to compare with this magic
therefore I regard the distractions around me and put down my pen.

After the Rain offers a sublime invitation to live and breathe through all the senses, contemplation, conscience, the heart’s joys and sorrows, spiritual reflection, and, especially, magical distraction, which is, after all, the poet’s best muse and his audience’s best reason for attending to what he creates.
Read my full review of After the Rain on Goodreads or on Amazon.

I’m thrilled that Martin took me up on participating in a little interview!

DMD: Why/when did you begin writing poetry? Was there something that made you feel you needed to express yourself in this way?

MS: I wish to start by saying thank you to Diane, for your continued support of my work over the years, for your help with getting my first book Silence Happens off the ground, and for choosing to interview me. It is an honour.

DMD: You’re so welcome! It’s my pleasure.

MS: I always have a poetry book on the go and nearly always fail to understand what it is I’m reading, although some poems hit the spot, hit that thing inside which then opens and breathes. Mostly, poetry for me is a thing I do not understand, something I can’t get to grips with when reading it. I don’t remember any from my school days or even if I was taught poetry, but school was a bit of a blank. August 2011 was when I began writing poetry in earnest, with maybe a few here and there beforehand. I created my WordPress blog and out it came, pouring from me and most of it, to be honest, was not worth the digital ink it was written with. Slowly I began to see changes and the poetry began to attract more followers ’till at some point the poems became more than the poetry I’d written. Something changed inside me and these poems needed to come out as if it wasn’t me expressing myself but the poetry.

DMD: What has been the greatest influence on and/inspiration for your poetry? How would you describe your poetic voice?

MS: Inspiration comes when the mind is empty of requests for inspiration. Having said that I know nature inspires me, humanity inspires me, death, silence, candle flame, and any number of things, ordinary daily things, conversations, off the cuff comments, life, spirituality and our ongoing quests to find answers to things already here within us. Sometimes I get asked to write a poem there and then, but I say it doesn’t work like that, not for me anyhow, and, yet, on the odd occasion I can. Generally, the poems turn up at my door needing to be watered. I don’t have a single main thing which inspires me to write and, as for an influence, I’m not really sure unless it’s those demons inside. As for my poetic voice? It took me a long time to accept what others were telling me. I was asking myself: how can I be a poet when I don’t particularly like poetry and my grasp of English grammar and punctuation is, to say the least, pretty bad? I refused to accept it. I wrote poems about how I wasn’t a poet—how could I be when I wasn’t the one “writing” them? It was difficult to understand and, at one point, I stopped and closed the site, but with encouragement I started again and out they came: ants from a nest. I don’t know what my poetic voice is and, besides, I don’t think it’s up to me to say or think about.

DMD: In my review of After the Rain I state that, because of its romantic melancholy and its inclination to let nature direct its metaphors and meaning, your poetry reminds me of that of the Victorian poetess Christina Rossetti. It is said that Christina didn’t do a lot of revision to her poetry. Do you do much with yours?

MS: I forget, that’s my problem, I forget. I have a form of Aphantasia, which means my mind’s eye doesn’t see, or in my case doesn’t quite see. I have, what I called in some of my poems, before I knew or even heard of Aphantasia, my darkness, because I can’t see, in my mind, the words I type. I can’t visualize the scenes, the poetry, any colours or voices etc., but occasionally I “see” shadows or glimpses of silvery images and less occasionally a video busts upon me so colourful and violent it makes me shudder. When I’m writing I don’t have the poem just a vagueness of something, sometimes it sits in my stomach—a feeling, a warmth—and so I write and when the poem is finished I have forgotten how it started, so I have to go back and read it. Sometimes I’m shocked at how the ending seems to fit with the theme or the balance of the poem. They still need a bit of editing and revising, and my thesaurus and OED are always at hand. They don’t always appear like this, sometimes I have to stop because the meaning is there but I don’t have the word in me (as I say, school was a blank). And, you know, a poem is never finished; there’s always something in it which needs a change.

DMD: How do you find/make time for writing? Can you write anywhere or do you need a certain space and quietude to do it?

MS: In the weekdays, I write in the evenings if I’m not too tired from work, but falling asleep, reading, or a lack of motivation sometimes gets in the way. I guess I can write anywhere within reason. My laptop is the main place and on the village green at the weekends with my notebook is a favourite, with a coffee, but I’ve written on trains and planes, too. On the whole, I write in silence but sometimes I need a distraction, something loud. I remember writing a spiritual poem a few years ago while listening to a quite loud thrashing piece of heavy metal type stuff—I guess I needed to blank everything else out.

DMD: Does writing energize or exhaust you?

MS: I’m happy when I’m in the flow; I can’t say I’m energized by it, just happy. Occasionally, when something comes to me, I could be writing it and the world is not here; nothing is here but the poem and when it’s finished doing its thing it feels like I’ve been unplugged from whatever or whoever is controlling the poem and I’m exhausted. I need water and silence.

DMD: Do you write anything other than poetry? What writing projects, poetry, and otherwise, are you working on now.

MS: Apart from poetry and the second collection which I’m working on now, I write short stories, not many though. I’ve written a short Young Adult novel of 30,000 words about bullying in school and how the two main characters go about their days with chess as their friend. One is the bully and a genius level chess player, the other is the bullied and thoroughly loves chess. The school tournament is where they find themselves. I have a couple of starts of other novels, one is a fantasy story where I’ve written about 3,000 words and has not been touched for a few years. Amongst other things, it involves an otter who finds an egg and this is no ordinary egg for what comes out of it will change the world. The other novel or maybe novella is a kind of elemental spiritual love story and I have no idea where the words came from; they appeared while watching a spider as I was drinking coffee outside my local café. They came as 12 separate paragraphs, which I originally assumed were going to be the beginnings of 12 chapters but they have since sort of melded into one thing. I think I’ve written about 6,000 words of this and again not touched it for over a year or so and I seem to have lost the thread. I am an idle writer; the times I look at the pile of poems for my next book and turn away!

DMD: What, besides writing, do you do that taps into your creativity and helps you to relax and enjoy yourself?

MS: I’ve dabbled with painting but that came upon me in a burst too, just like the poetry; then it went away and I can’t seem to find it again. I enjoy walking through nature, along the towpaths, forest tracks etc. Photography is another thing that takes me away from stuff and reading too, I always have a couple of books on the go. I enjoy silence, chess, and, I reckon. I’m a bit of a solitary creature by habit. Maybe I should be a monk! I have a nice collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with books by and about him and his creations, which pleases me. I’ve been collecting him for over 30 years now. I must say though, I don’t think I’m all that creative especially with the poetry. I just write the things and I like the things I write.

Thanks so much to Martin
for such an open and honest and fascinating interview.
And I beg to differ: he certainly is “all that creative”!

 

 

I encourage you to treat yourself to all of Martin’s publications.

And they make beautiful, heartwarming, soul enriching gifts!

 

Available at amazon.com

amazon.uk

and

lulu.com

Follow Martin on

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Watch and listen to Martin’s poetry readings on YouTube

If you are interested in guest posting on my blog in interview or other format, please contact me.

Two Writers’ “Wandering Glances” on Bluebells

For most, bluebells have come and gone, although in cooler areas they may linger. As they may in poetry.

The subtitle of my latest novel, Without the Veil between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit was taken—on the suggestion of my friend Deborah Bennison (Bennison Books)—from one of Anne’s poems inspired by the “little trembling flower”. It was written in August 1840, during her first year as governess for the Robinsons at Thorpe Green.

 

In his biography of Anne, Edward Chitham gives this account of the poem:

The sea lies behind the poet and a range of hills ahead. She is walking “all carelessly” along a sunny lane. She laughs and talks with “those around” – presumably her pupils – and does not feel as harassed as usual. The sudden sight of a blue harebell on the bank by the road recalls her own childhood. She had then been dwelling ‘with kindred hearts’ and did not have to spend her life looking after others, as she now had to. 

The Blue Bell by Anne Brontë

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.

‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

 

In 2012, I also reflected poetically on the delight and memories that the “lovely floweret” brought to me.

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Clearing for Bluebells by DM Denton

I am long gone
from that small coppice
where one man’s purpose
was all I had.

His saw, his scythe
cut through the clutter
to shed some light where
the ground was soft.

Fires were set
to burn away brash
and warm us at last
on such cold days.

We’d stop for lunch
and speak of nothing
except the birdsong
leaving winter.

He loved my hair
and constant silence
and woman’s promise
to stay for hope.

My hands, my heart
wanted to be his
working with nature’s
way of growing.

Clearing the way
for sunshine and rain
growing love not blame
from what was past.

Bluebells, bluebells
in sight and fragrance
I have come back since
just as he thought

I would.

 

 

In folklore, some believed that wearing a wreath of bluebell flowers made you tell the truth. Anne Brontë, would have approved, having written:

“I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.” ~ The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

This is the most beautiful novel about Anne Brontë and her sisters that I’ve read in a very long time.
Read entire review by
Kimberly Eve, Victorian Musings

Go to the novel’s booklaunch page for more reviews, synopsis, book trailer, and buy links.

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

Guest Post: New Novel about Hildegard of Bingen

Thrilled to host author P.K. Adams, who “talks” about her upcoming release The Greenest Branch, A Novel of Germany’s First Female Physician (Hildegard of Bingen Book 1)

I first heard about Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098-1178) in a history of music class in college. Her chants are sublime and, as I fell in love with them, I started to read more about their composer – the first woman in the Western world to do so.

It turns out Hildegard did much more than that – she was a pioneer in many fields thus far reserved as a man’s domain. One such field was medicine. She was a skilled herbalist who applied treatments in a way most medieval physicians did not, namely by observing the outcomes of the cures rather than relying on ancient texts for guidance, irrespective of whether they worked or not.

As I researched Hildegard’s life, two things began to puzzle me in the (admittedly sparse) historical accounts. One is that she was enclosed at a young age (possibly as young as eight or ten) at a very strict women’s convent, where the residents lived in enforced poverty and isolation from the world. In such a place, historians tell us, she lived for the next three decades.

This, to me, is hard to believe. The psychological and intellectual toll such privations would exact on a child would be extremely damaging. Yet Hildegard re-emerges in contemporary chronicles, around the age of forty, as an accomplished physician, writer, and composer, and a diligent student of nature. She is already well-known in the Rhineland, and her theological writings are about to catch the attention of Pope Eugenius III. She is also preparing to leave the abbey of St. Disibod, where she had been enclosed, and start her own foundation.

Sculpture of Hildegard of Bingen by Karlheinz Oswald, 1998, in front of Eibingen Abbey near Rüdesheim in Hesse, Germany

Clearly, something happened during those decades that allowed her curiosity to be fostered, her intellect to develop, and her creativity to flourish. There is no reliable record of her early life beyond the few basic facts of her provenance and enclosure, and that is what inspired me to imagine what that life may have been like.

The Greenest Branch is a fictionalized account of the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, but it is rooted in what we know about her and the world she inhabited. It is a world, needless to say, that is not conducive to female empowerment. That she managed to accomplish so much is a testament to her fierce intelligence, strength, and determination.

The second book in the series, titled The Column of Burning Spices, traces the second half of Hildegard’s long and eventful life. It will be released in early 2019.

The Greenest Branch is available on pre-order on Amazon US  and Amazon UK  and will be released on June 18, 2018.

 

P.K. Adams is a Boston-based historical fiction author, whose debut novel The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a master’s degree in European Studies from Yale. When not reading or writing, she can be found hiking, doing yoga, and drinking tea (though usually not at the same time).

 

Please check out her website: p.k.adams that includes history, writing and guest blogs, and more information about her and The Greenest Branch.

Thank you to Patrycja for this fascinating look into Hildegard of Bingen and for bringing this extraordinary woman to life in The Greenest Branch. I have pre-ordered my copy and I hope you will do the same!

I also thank her for hosting me on her blog to promote my latest publications.

Please note: I would like to open my blog to more guest posts (at least one per month) by but not limited to authors of quality historical and literary fiction, as well as poetry anthologies. Perhaps you are an avid reader who has a blog, does reviews, or has thoughts on literary or historical persons, periods, or events. Not necessary, but I would appreciate if I could do a guest post on your blog in exchange. I reserve the right to refuse anything I deem not in keeping with the intent, spirit, ethics, and quality of this blog and my own work.

If you are interested in guest posting, please contact me.

 

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.

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.

Without The Veil Between: Anne Brontë – Book Review

While I ponder and process a new blog post, I will be sharing some reviews of my new novel, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

Here is one that, besides being eloquently written, displays such intelligent and sensitive engagement with the novel. It is from fine author, Mary Clark. I hope, if this review takes you over to her blog, you will check out her publications listed on the side bar: “My Books” and “Poetry”.

Mary Clark, Writer

Without The Veil BetweenWithout The Veil Between Paperback

Without The Veil Between Kindle

Early in Diane Denton’s book the young curate, William Weightman, says to Anne Brontë: “You must find such satisfaction in being able to capture those moments the rest of us let slip away and sometimes aren’t aware of to begin with.” This is an essential part of Denton’s own gift. With this ability she is able to enter the world of a shy artist who lived in the shadows of her father, brother, and sisters, and in the light of a determined and insightful intellect. Anne Brontë set herself a more difficult task than her famous sisters, Charlotte and Emily. She was on a course of an artist whose subject was her life. Making this even more difficult, she sought to achieve emotional and mental stability.

Denton shows us the tensions in the austere home of the Reverend Brontë, the…

View original post 556 more words

Farewell to thee! but not farewell

December 19, 1848 was a tragic day at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, for Anne, Charlotte, and their father, Patrick, only a few months after brother Branwell met his inevitable end during which beloved sister Emily sickened beyond repair. One can only imagine the grief of losing two siblings and children so soon one after the other – not the first time this had happened for the Brontë family and not made easier by being just before Christmas, a time when the family usually found themselves come together from various endeavors that took them away from home.

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

Writing the scenes of Emily’s death in my newly released novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit happened to correspond to a time last winter (December 2016 – January 2017) when I was losing my beloved Gabey-kitty (his brother Darcy passed a few months later).

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

Or, as in my case at the time, prose … well, poetic prose, for I needed the melancholy music of the words I was using to express the inexpressible.

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

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

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

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

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

One of the illustrations I did for “Without the Veil Between”

Farewell
by Anne Brontë

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available in Print:

amazon.com

barnesandnoble.com

And for

Kindle

Anne and Emily from a painting by their brother, Branwell

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

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