Today’s Her Natal Day

Today, March 10, 2020, is my mother’s 91st birthday!

My mom June at nineteen

 

It has been a tough week and a half, as we lost my brother Tom –  my mom’s only son, my only sibling – February 28th, but trying to make her birthday as nice as possible.

Here is an excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poetess, Christina Rossetti: The Dove Upon Her Branch.  Christina was extremely close to her mother, whom she lived with virtually all her life until her mother died at the age of 85. (One of the first poems Christina wrote was at the age of eleven to mark her mother’s birthday)

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

“Today’s your natal day, sweet flowers I bring …”

Christina would never deny her mother’s opinion was the one that haunted and pleased her most. Even as a willful child, getting her way wasn’t as gratifying as hearing her mother say, “Good girl”, and, even better, seeing the light of approval in her eyes. They were glowing and moist as Christina held out a forget-me-not posy and began reciting her first poem—well, the first she admitted to.

“Mother accept I pray, my offering …”

“Of course, my darling.” The flowers were in her mother’s hands. “Go on. I know the best is yet to come.”

How did she? Christina wondered if Gabriel had given the surprise away as he had threatened, not only that there was a poem but, also, the very words that comprised it. She went on anyway. “And may you happy live, and long us to bless …”

The flowers were in her mother’s lap as she pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve.

“Receiving as you give,” Christina’s own eyes teared up, as it happened and she remembered, “great happiness.”

Hopefully, her mother wiped hers for the best of reasons, Christina then as now needing her poetry to find its brightest point in Francis Polidori Rossetti’s appreciation of it.

“And the rhymes all your own. I heard you wouldn’t have any help with them.”

Christina turned her suspicion to William for spoiling the unexpectedness of her birthday gift to her mother. “Of course.”

“You don’t need to stamp your foot.”

“I’m sorry, Mama.”

“Instead, let poetry express your mood.”

Copyright © 2020 by DM Denton

Copyright © by June M DiGiacomo (from a card my mom painted for my birthday some years ago)

To My Mother
by Christina Rossetti, 1830 – 1894

To-day’s your natal day;
   Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
   My offering.

And may you happy live,
   And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
   Great happiness.

Copyright © by June M DiGiacomo

The secrets of your heart
are stacked against the wall,
canvases for your art
of hiding what you missed.
No mistaking your style,
a freedom out of hand
that kept you all the while
believing as you wished.
A world that long was yours
before it was revealed—
imagination soars
with courage its master.
Flowers filling a place
left bereft of your own,
a portrait in a vase
found by me, your daughter.
Landscapes take you afar,
cats and soup bring you home
to settle for who you are:
the author of this poem.
~ DM Denton

Copyright © by June M DiGiacomo

©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.

 

A Valentine for Anne

Before she closed her eyes on that day she would be tempted to hold and look at one of her most treasured possessions: a Valentine, a pretty thing of lace paper, satin ribbon, & embossed flowers with a little bird in an egg-filled nest, Anne, dear, sweet, Anne quickly written but not yet slowly spoken.

It was unto her spirit given.

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

 

In February 1840, a young man walked ten miles from Haworth to Bradford, West Yorkshire in order to anonymously post Valentines to four young women who he expected would be charmed by them. The flirtatious fellow was William Weightman, curate to Reverend Patrick Brontë.

 

Was William being capricious or compassionate or, perhaps, a bit of both? Sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne and their dear friend Ellen had never received a Valentine before. They may have been fooled by the sender’s motivation, but not by his identity. Charlotte probably told herself to view her Valentine cynically. Emily likely looked hers over quickly and put it aside. Possibly, Ellen enjoyed hers for vanity’s sake.

Anne might have hoped for a deeper meaning in hers, that sending four was William being discreet and inclusive, which, of course, her shy and generous nature would appreciate.

William wrote different verses in each. Well, three are known. The receiver of Fair Ellen, Fair Ellen is obvious. Away fond love and Soul divine could have been inscribed – to tease rather than ensnare – any of the Brontë sisters.

And that fourth Valentine? I like to think it was the most special, because it was …

 

Was William Weightman the love of Anne’s life? Who better than Anne herself to answer … in the way that beautiful poetry tells without saying.

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.
from Farewell by Anne Brontë

 

What had been hope at first sight, a stir of her heart, amiable reserve, foolish diffidence, a February keepsake, time standing still and looking forward with a gentle exchange of words and glances in a trusted parting, was, in a moment … all that was left of William, her William, never hers except as she imagined, always hers as she would forever know him.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit

Anne Brontë is 200!

If she were more perfect, she would be less interesting

 

Finally

it’s Anne’s own Brontë200:

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

A very special day as

she is subject of my novel …

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

~ Maddalena De Leo, Italian Representative of The Bronte Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eh? What yer fuss?”

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

“Dear angel-lass.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily winked. “If you say so.”

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

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

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

Emily sighed as dramatically as she never naturally did.

“You always cheer us so.”

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

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

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

“Enough.” Charlotte groaned.

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

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

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

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

Illustration by DM Denton from “Without the Veil Between”

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

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

Happy Birthday, Anne Brontë
and
thank you

for taking me on
an extraordinary and transformational
 writing experience!

 

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

~ Kimberly Eve, Victorian Musings

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

Find out more …

donatellasmallest© 2020 Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Celebrate Anne Brontë’s Bicentennial: Enter to Win!

2020 is the Bicentennial of Anne Brontë’s Birth!

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

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

 

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

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

Winners will be determined by random drawing.

Good Luck!

 

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

 

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

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

Repost: The Best Society, Our Little Society, the Safest Society

 

December 31, 1846, Haworth, West Yorkshire

No matter his fidgetiness, Anne experienced her usual pleasure in drawing because it calmed her and ordered her thoughts. She managed a decent depiction of Flossy before he left his window pose and the room. Setting her art box on the nightstand, she sat on the edge of the bed to use the sketching block on her lap, first draping the eiderdown over her legs and feet. Even fully dressed she was chilled to the bone. On the canvas Anne’s imagination and brush redesigned the window, adding a curtain hooked high to one side and a warmer outlook. Eventually Flossy returned to the room. Anne observed him stalking and scratching at overwintering bugs, rolling on the braid rug between the bed and the dresser, and briefly posing at the window again.

She spent the next hour on the painting, coloring in his darker curls and smooth cavalier face and the shadowing of his white underbelly.

“You’re right,” Anne said once the light and her impulse to be other than convalescing started to fail and Flossy had long since curled up on the bottom of the bed. “It can be finished another day.”

“And another year.” Emily entered the room with something wrapped in a serviette, tapping Flossy’s nose to let him know what she thought of his begging.

“It’s warm and smells sweet and of currants.” Anne accepted Emily’s gift. “You’ve made bannocks.”

“It’s New Year’s Eve, after all.”

“I haven’t even made an effort.”

“It appears you have.” Emily examined Anne’s painting without touching it. “A bold likeness.”

“Like trying to capture a fly.” Anne leaned over to stroke Flossy, who glanced at Emily sideways, his jowls slavering and a paw reaching up.

“You don’t fool me.” Emily folded her arms. “You’re more in love than frustrated with that little bugger of a mutt. Now, won’t you try the bannock?”

Anne unwrapped it in her lap, admiring it: a golden-brown, crusty hillock made of pastry and dried fruit that crumbled compactly as, not long out of the oven, it should. Finally, she broke off a piece.

“If you don’t smack your lips,” Emily winked, “how will I know you’re enjoying it?”

“Anne keeps us all wondering.” Charlotte was in the doorway. “Is the party up here? And with the best society, our little society.” She took a portion of what was left of the bannock. “The safest society.”

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

2020 is the Bicentennial of Anne Brontë’s birth!

 

 

May 2020 bring good health, many blessings and joys to you and yours.

May it bring sanity, healing,

and an emphasis on love and compassion

for the entire world.

 

 

 

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

Christina Rossetti: Celebrating Her Natal Day

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin 1849 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought it might be appropriate to pray.”

“Not in the Art Catholic’s church.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Maud by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti as a child, by William Bell

 

Happy Birthday, Christina Rossetti

 

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