On the Threshold.

Patiently watch this space for more news regarding

The Dove Upon Her Branch
A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti
by DM Denton

to be published by
​ All Things That Matter Press

 Sign Up for Publication News​ from DM Denton

Illustration © Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

On the threshold of a test she might not pass, she opened the door of an area of the stable block converted into an artist’s studio. * 

Too late for love, too late for joy,
Too late, too late!
You loiter’d on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate;
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait.

from The Bride Song by Christina Rossetti

Christina began to believe she would, within a few years, be part of the statistic of girls who never made it to womanhood. She worked herself into a panic writing poems, obsessing over her failings of temperament and heart, and not having enough time to prepare herself for eternity. She might have given a passing thought to what she would miss of marriage and motherhood or the regret or relief of neither being granted her. Ambition to display her cleverness worried her more, not because she might never have a chance to fulfill it, but that she wanted to. So many things needed correcting before she was short-lived. For instance, she liked to hear her verses praised, but should not seek congratulations. Philippians 2:3: Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Did she think too much of herself? She wasn’t very tolerant of other people, too little time left to spend irritated or, worse, bored by them. And what about her resistance to what was required of her? She was far too rebellious, and when she was, or, at least, tried to be obedient, often was resentfully so.

*Excerpts from
The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti
© Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

Christina Rossetti photographed by Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll

Christina Rossetti comes to us
​ as one of those splendid stars that are so far away
they are seen only at rare intervals.


Christina Rossetti focused her thought
on the beautiful object and at the best angle,
so the picture she brings us
is nobly ordered and richly suggestive.

from Christina Rossetti by Elbert Hubbard

 Sign Up for Publication News​ from DM Denton

This is a new email list, so even if you signed up for notifications before, I would appreciate if you click the link above to do so again to ensure I have your up-to-date email address. Thank you!

©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.

Maiden May Revisited

My apologies for not posting for a while. I have been working furiously to finish my novel, five plus years in the making, about the poet Christina Rossetti (youngest sister of Pre-Raphaelite founder, painter and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti), The Dove Upon Her Branch. Within the week the 1st draft should be done! Then another month for me to self-edit it before I send it to the publisher of my previous three novels, All Things That Matter Press, in hopes they will accept it. After that, I look forward to some time to complete the cover art and interior illustrations.

Maiden May sat in her bower;
Her own face was like a flower
Of the prime,
Half in sunshine, half in shower,
In the year’s most tender time.

Her own thoughts in silent song
Musically flowed along,
Wise, unwise,
Wistful, wondering, weak or strong:
As brook shallows sink or rise.

From Maiden May by Christina Rossetti

(Marsh) Marigolds by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I’m acknowledging May Day in a less frolicsome manner than I have in the past, considering how the world continues to suffer evil and cowardice, but, also, is blessed with the beauty of spring that encourages generosity, open-hearted-and-mindedness, courage, and hope.

During her late twenties and thirties, Christina Rossetti volunteered at London’s Highgate Penitentiary for fallen girls and women. Besides supervising them and teaching Bible Studies, another of her responsibilities was to review letters the inmates wrote to family and friends before they were sent out, mainly to make sure they weren’t corresponding with anyone or in any way that had contributed to their fall in the past and might jeopardize their improvement for the future.

Detail from The Beloved by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

For the last few years, she had regularly gone to north London and the St. Mary Magdalene home in a mansion at the top of Highgate Hill. Spacious and airy, run by strict rules but kind intentions, kept meticulously clean by volunteers and residents, it could have been a most pleasant place. At times it was, its girls and young women encouraged to embrace decency in their leisure as well as training and work. *

Their letters were mainly to mothers, sisters, aunties, and cousins, now and then to brothers and fathers, some who undoubtedly cared for their sisters and daughters, others who needed convincing, which irritated Christina. She suspected they were culpable for the very transgressions they hesitated to forgive. *

She sat by one of the open windows, the scents and sounds of May just beyond, no time like Spring when life’s alive in everything, a good time to be married, if ever there was for Gabriel and Lizzie. A ten-year engagement had hardly made a difference to him, while Lizzie’s heart and health had suffered for it. The twelfth of May, Gabriel’s birthday, was supposed to be the day he gave into the commitment his illusions longed for and his behavior sabotaged.

Christina only had one letter left to read. After so many with nothing to report, she was not prepared for it to be disturbing and not just because the Warden would have to insist on changes before it could be sent. That morning, May twenty-fourth, eighteen-sixty, just as Christina was leaving home for the Penitentiary, the post delivered news that Miss Siddall had finally become Mrs. Rossetti at Hastings’ St. Clement’s Church, Gabriel and his new wife to travel to Boulogne and Paris and stay in France for the entire summer.

The letter by Helena—not her real name but one she was given at the Reformatory—was brief, obviously in response to news of an approaching marriage. I hope my brother will be happy, but I also hope I never have to meet his wife. I don’t know why I have such a prejudice against her, I just do.

Christina wanted to confidentially speak to Helena, to share something of her own similar situation and feelings. Instead, she complied with the limitations of her position and gave the offending correspondence to Reverend Oliver. *

*Excerpts from The Dove Upon Her Branch © by DM Denton

Christina Rossetti, photograph by Charles Dodgson AKA Lewis Carol

There is but one May in the year,
And sometimes May is wet and cold;
There is but one May in the year
Before the year grows old.
Yet though it be the chilliest May,
With least of sun and most of showers,
Its wind and dew, its night and day,
Bring up the flowers.

by Christina Rossetti

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

Come back, dear Liz

John Everett Millais
Ophelia (1851–52)
Model, Elizabeth Siddal

On February 11, 1862, the model, muse, and wife of Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal, an artist and poet in her own right, died at the age of 32 from an overdose of laudanum the night before.

Regina Cordium
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1860 marriage portrait of Siddal

With Valentine’s Day nearly here, I’ve decided to mark this sad anniversary with a poem Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote years earlier, possibly in 1855, in a much lighter spirit than he doubtlessly had on those fateful, sad days in February 160 years ago.

It was posthumously published in Ruskin, Rossetti, and Pre-Raphaelitism by Dante Gabriel’s younger brother, William Michael Rossetti (London, George Allen 1899).

I do not know which year this belongs to. It speaks of Miss Siddal as being absent, but (seemingly) as if she could enter any moment. This would exclude from count the year 1856, when she was away in Nice. The verses are amusing, and though they were not suited for Collected Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, they may come here.
[William Michael Rossetti 1899]

YESTERDAY was St. Valentine.

Thought you at all, dear dove divine,

Upon the beard in sorry trim

And rueful countenance of him,

That Orson who’s your Valentine?

He daubed, you know, as usual.

The stick would slip, the brush would fall:

Yet daubed he till the lamplighter

Set those two seedy flames astir;

But growled all day at slow St. Paul.

The bore was heard ere noon; the dun

Was at the door by half—past one:

At least ’tis thought so, but the clock—

No Lizzy there to help its stroke—

Struck work before the day begun.

At length he saw St. Paul’s bright orb

Flash back—the serried tide absorb

That burning West which it sucked up,

Like wine poured in a water cup;—

And one more twilight toned his daub.

Some time over the fire he sat,

So lonely that he missed his cat;

Then wildly rushed to dine on tick,—

Nine minutes swearing for his stick,

And thirteen minutes for his hat.

And now another day is gone:

Once more that intellectual one

Desists from high—minded pursuits,

And hungry, staring at his boots,

Has not the strength to pull them on.

Come back, dear Liz, and looking wise

In that arm—chair which suits your size

Through some fresh drawing scrape a hole.

Your Valentine & Orson’s soul

Is sad for those two friendly eyes.

Here is an excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, my upcoming novel portrait of the Victorian poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti, sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Christina did and didn’t want to meet Gabriel’s first true love “radiant with the tresses of Aurora”, his obsession with women’s hair often overlooking the unreliability of their virtue and intellect. Christina hoped Miss Siddall was a woman of moral repute, steady faith and, despite William’s assessment, interesting thoughts. She anticipated feeling dark and dumpy around her but was determined not to mind as long as Miss Siddall urged Gabriel into serious work and a settled life. Christina also expected to like her, not spontaneously or securely like with Amelia or Henrietta, but, protectively, forgivingly, sometimes resentfully.

     Years would go by before Christina and Miss Siddall met, despite Gabriel’s often expressed intention of introducing her to his mother and sisters. William explained it by Miss Siddall’s talent for coyly refusing invitations and avoiding introductions, disappearing at the announcement of an intrusion, or, if caught off-guard, escaping eye contact, a word, a nod, a smile at a kind greeting, even a compliment. That other William whose opinion Christina always welcomed confirmed Miss Siddall’s behavior with first-hand experience, when “in the romantic dusk of an apartment” he found Gabriel and a lady he didn’t know and could hardly see.

     “I waited for Gabriel to introduce her. He didn’t. She rose. I made a little bow. Without acknowledging my presence, let alone courtesy, she went into another room and never returned for the duration of my visit.”

     “How did you know who she was?”

     “I guessed. But, according to Gabriel’s silence, I might’ve imagined her. Later, William assured me I hadn’t.”

© 2022 DM Denton

Lizzie Siddal
at Chatham Place, Blackfriars London
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In the Artist’s Studio
by Christina Rossetti

One face looks out from all his canvases,

One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:

We found her hidden just behind those screens,

That mirror gave back all her loveliness.

A queen in opal or in ruby dress,

A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,

A saint, an angel — every canvas means

The same one meaning, neither more or less.

He feeds upon her face by day and night,

And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,

Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:

Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;

Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;

Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Photograph of Lizzie Siddal

©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.

Not the Birthday Planned

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

from To My Mother by Christina Rossetti

Today, December 5th, marks the 191st anniversary of the birth of Christina Rossetti, poet and subject of my upcoming novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch.

In 1853, just before Christina’s 23rd birthday, beloved Nonno, her 89 year old maternal grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, suffered a stroke at his home in London. At the time, Christina was living in Frome, Somerset with her parents, helping her mother run a girls day school and take care of her ailing father. Needless to say, it was not one of her happiest birthdays.

Poetry stone in Frome, Somerset to note Christina Rossetti’s connection to the area.

The inscription reads:

Love lights the sun: love through the dark

Lights the moon’s evanescent arc:

Same Love lights up the glow-worms spark …

from What Good Shall my Life Do me?

by Christina Rossetti

Fromefield’s peaking autumnal colors offered some consolation after Maria returned to London. November was dreary but, also, restorative, an adjustment and relief after months of visitors and daytrips. Once a week or every other Christina shopped in town, nature walks few and far between because of damp, chilly weather. As winter approached and came before it officially did, Christina morphed into an interior creature, knowing it was time to hide away and exist on what was stored within. School was winding down for the Christmas holiday, which promised four weeks of aristocratic leisure. Teaching was almost rewarding at times, as she had never expected it would be, the few girls still at the school quite comfortable with each other and their teacher, Mama, relinquishing that role more and more to her youngest.

     Christina finally had the opportunity to try out the new paint brushes William had sent along with Maria. Out of regret for complaining that two had split quills, she was determined to make good use of them—so far an inadequate portrait of Mama. Such a forgiving, if not forgetful, creature, William had given her a five-pound note for her birthday. She considered spending a few pounds on replacing worn items in her wardrobe, the remainder saved. When Mama returned, a trip to London might be considered good use of it; if after Boxing Day, at least to celebrate the New Year with her siblings. Another incentive was to show appreciation for Amelia’s gift of a pretty collar and sleeves by wearing them in her friend’s presence.

     Christina intended them to complement a frock other than black or gray, her azure-blue conservatively contrasting the crisp white of the butterfly-themed guipure lace.

     “I won’t stay until the twenty-fifth. Papa doesn’t want me to go at all, but there are things to be taken care of. Once they are, I’ll be back, and you can be on your way. ” Mama said wearily while they waited on the platform for her train.

     “I wish we could all live in London again.”

     “We will, dearest,” Mama squeezed Christina’s hand, “before too long.”

      How comforting it was to make plans in one’s head; in one’s heart, more foolish. A few days later Amelia’s present had gone from being impatiently draped over Christina’s vanity table mirror to storage in a deep drawer with a few other frivolous accessories.

from The Dove Upon Her Branch © 2021 by DM Denton

Christina Rossetti, sketch by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

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

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

from Maud by Christina Rossetti

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

Something Besides Her Own Fortitude and Segregation

July 30th marks the anniversary in 1818 in Thornton, Yorkshire of the birth of Emily Brontë, one of the most uniquely fearless, impassioned, enigmatic, and elusive poets and novelists of all time.

My novel Without the Veil Between, published in November 2017, focuses on Anne Bronte, but Emily is very present in it. Long after all the Brontë sisters had died, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey wrote in Reminisces of Charlotte Brontë that “[Emily] and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”

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

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

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

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

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

~ From O Come With Me by Emily Brontë

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Flossy. Bad boy, bad boy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I insist on taking care of you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Better than I have done without you.”

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

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

~ From To Imagination by Emily Brontë

Continue reading

Summer Days for Her

Illustration © by DM Denton

Summer
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Winter is cold-hearted,
  Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weathercock
  Blown every way:
Summer days for me
  When every leaf is on its tree;

When Robin’s not a beggar,
  And Jenny Wren’s a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing,
  Over the wheat-fields wide,
  And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
  Swings from side to side,

And blue-black beetles transact business,
  And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
  That no time be lost,
And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive.

Before green apples blush,
  Before green nuts embrown,
Why, one day in the country
  Is worth a month in town;
  Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
  That days drone elsewhere.

The Strawberry Thief by William Morris

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch

my work-in-progress novel portrait of Christina Rossetti

“No, not yet,” nine-year-old Maria had insisted. “We must wait.”

     “Why, Moony?” At six Christina had been compelled to question everything.

     “They shouldn’t be picked until ripe.”

     “How long?”

     “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after.”

     “What if I ate one now?”

     “It wouldn’t be juicy … or sweet.”

     “How do you know?”

     “Nonno says they should be fully red … and soft to—”

     Maria’s firm grip thwarted the sudden plan of her little sister’s outstretched arm.

     The following day, on the same edge of their grandfather’s garden, Christina again burst into tears, this time denied the fruity feast wildly cascading down a hedgerow bank because slugs had invaded and wounded every finally ripened strawberry. There was no doubt it was those shell-less mollusks that had done the damage, a few still clinging to their victims.

     “We weren’t meant to have any. As Mama says, it never hurts to practice patience and self-restraint.”

     “Yes, it does.” Unlike Maria, Christina didn’t always look for sensible instruction in disappointment; certainly not at the time of the snail marauding. She decided she would never forgive her sister. Until Maria reminded her of the current bushes that grew upright and, therefore, less prone to slimy invasions. They could provide an alternative snack and, also, berries for a pie Aunt Eliza might be persuaded to make.

     Later they would smile about it, and cry, reminiscing bringing them the joy but also the pain of what was associated with Holmer Green holidays. While in its midst, childhood seemed endless, even for a girl as advanced and sensible as Maria. Traveling—the anticipation, adventure, amusement, and even exhaustion—what then seemed a world away from London was always something to look forward to. Maria and, eventually, William with her help, wrote down observations and impressions along the way: first stagecoach to Uxbridge, second to High Wycombe, local transport halfway to Amersham letting them off at the crossroads to Holmer Green. There it became apparent why they packed light, a long walk for short legs down a pretty lane into the village and another to “Nonno’s Cottage”, actually, a fair-sized house of less interest to the Polidoris’ grandchildren than its gardens, orchards, and copses, a pond and pig-sty, spaniel named Delta, and promises of days for wandering and discovery.

      Eventually, Christina would accept the grounds were small and quite ordinary, but while they belonged to her beloved Nonno and her imagination’s infancy she found them vast and full of uncommon experiences. Being able to step outside to pure air, bird song, a look up to the sky, the shifting of sun and shadows, a honeysuckle-scented breeze, even a soot-less splash of rain was magical for a city child. Her hands swinging free of the fear others had for her and her legs exercising their purpose of running to watch cows going out to pasture, frisky lambs defying their mothers, a shepherd lad waving as though he was waiting to see her again, was better than Christmas or her birthday or even Papa saying she was like the moon risen at the full.

     One day in the country was worth a month in town; certainly, Christina made the most of each one …

Copyright © 2021 by DM Denton

John William Waterhouse

©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.

Maiden May by Christina Rossetti

I originally shared this post in 2018, when I had begun writing my fictional portrait of Christina Rossetti. It continues to be a work in progress, with an ever-changing finishing line – now in sight by the end of this summer. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day and in the last few years my novel building has come up against many challenges, mostly because of the care of my elderly mother. But somehow I have kept at it, brick by brick. (At the end of this post, I offer a little – very little – excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch.)

First, the ever beautiful poetry of a very special woman, accompanied by the exquisite artwork of her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and others in the style and/or spirit of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Maiden May sat in her bower,
In her blush rose bower in flower,
Sweet of scent;
Sat and dreamed away an hour,
Half content, half uncontent.

‘Why should rose blossoms be born,
Tender blossoms, on a thorn
Though so sweet?
Never a thorn besets the corn
Scentless in its strength complete.
‘Why are roses all so frail,
At the mercy of a gale,
Of a breath?
Yet so sweet and perfect pale,
Still so sweet in life and death.

“Mona Rosa” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower,
In her blush rose bower in flower,
Where a linnet
Made one bristling branch the tower
For her nest and young ones in it.

‘Gay and clear the linnet trills;
Yet the skylark only, thrills
Heaven and earth
When he breasts the height, and fills
Height and depth with song and mirth.

‘Nightingales which yield to night
Solitary strange delight,
Reign alone:
But the lark for all his height
Fills no solitary throne;

‘While he sings, a hundred sing;
Wing their flight below his wing
Yet in flight;
Each a lovely joyful thing
To the measure of its delight.

‘Why then should a lark be reckoned
One alone, without a second
Near his throne?
He in skyward flight unslackened,
In his music, not alone.’

“Veronica Veronese” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower;
Her own face was like a flower
Of the prime,
Half in sunshine, half in shower,
In the year’s most tender time.

Her own thoughts in silent song
Musically flowed along,
Wise, unwise,
Wistful, wondering, weak or strong:
As brook shallows sink or rise.

“The Shepherdess” by William Holman Hunt

Other thoughts another day,
Maiden May, will surge and sway
Round your heart;
Wake, and plead, and turn at bay,
Wisdom part, and folly part.

Time not far remote will borrow
Other joys, another sorrow,
All for you;
Not to-day, and yet to-morrow
Reasoning false and reasoning true.

Wherefore greatest? Wherefore least?
Hearts that starve and hearts that feast?
You and I?
Stammering Oracles have ceased,
And the whole earth stands at ‘why?’

“Women Reading in Garden” by Marie Spartali Stillman

Underneath all things that be
Lies an unsolved mystery;
Over all
Spreads a veil impenetrably,
Spreads a dense unlifted pall.

Mystery of mysteries:
This creation hears and sees
High and low –
Vanity of vanities:
This we test and this we know.

Maiden May, the days of flowering
Nurse you now in sweet embowering,
Sunny days;
Bright with rainbows all the showering,
Bright with blossoms all the ways.

“The Blind Girl” by John Everett Mallais

Close the inlet of your bower,
Close it close with thorn and flower,
Maiden May;
Lengthen out the shortening hour, –
Morrows are not as to-day.

Stay to-day which wanes too soon,
Stay the sun and stay the moon,
Stay your youth;
Bask you in the actual noon,
Rest you in the present truth.

Let to-day suffice to-day:
For itself to-morrow may
Fetch its loss,
Aim and stumble, say its say,
Watch and pray and bear its cross.
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti

“Fair Rosamund” by Arthur Hughes

 

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, my upcoming novel portrait of Christina Rossetti.

She sat by one of the open windows, the scents and sounds of May just beyond, no time like Spring when life’s alive in everything, a good time to be married, if ever there was for Gabriel and Lizzie. A ten-year engagement had hardly made a difference to him, while Lizzie’s heart and health had suffered for it. The twelfth of May, Gabriel’s birthday, was supposed to be the day he gave into the commitment his illusions longed for and his behavior sabotaged.

I wish we once were wedded – then I must be true; you should hold my will in yours to do or undo* … 

 

*from the poem Look on this picture and on this by Christina Rossetti

 

 

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

Christina Rossetti: The Birthday of Her Life

Christina Rossetti: The Birthday of Her Life

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

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

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

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

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

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

A Birthday
By Christina Rossetti


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

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

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

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch

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

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

Ecce Ancilla Domini, or The Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

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

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1877

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

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

Happy Birthday, Christina Rossetti

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

Beata Beatrix in the Artist’s Studio

One face looks out from all his canvases,

one selfsame figure sits or walks or leans …

~ Christina Rossetti from In The Artist’s Studio

Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1854

 

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

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti sitting to Elizabeth Siddal

 

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

Twelfth Night by Walter Deverell 1851

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

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

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal

 

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

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

 

Ophelia by John Everett Millais 1852

 

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

 

Lovers Listening to Music by Elizabeth Siddal 1854

 

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

Marriage Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1860

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

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

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

Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal

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

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

 

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

In the Artist’s Studio

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

 ~ Christina Rossetti

 

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

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

Farther on My Road Today, Farther on My Way

’Today is still the same as yesterday.’ Illustration by Florence Harrison (1877–1955) for ‘Poems by Christina Rossetti’

Continue reading