Anne Brontë’s First Girl, Agnes

In December 1847 (possibly the 13th),  a triple-book set of novels was published. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights made up the first two volumes and Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey, the third.

It was appropriate that Anne and Emily, who were so close to each other in affection and understanding, should have their novels make their first public appearance together. Although accepted for publication by Thomas Newby before Jane Eyre was by Smith, Elder & Co, Charlotte’s novel beat her sisters’ to the presses by a couple of months.

First edition Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey

Anne had made many corrections in her proofing of Agnes Grey, but Newby neglected to follow through on them.

After months of being upset by Newby’s negligence, Anne could finally smile a little at all the red marks in her personal copy of Agnes Grey.

The long delay in the release of her and Emily’s novels had been exasperating. Then Newby rushed them into print and, although Anne carefully labored over final corrections, overdue Agnes was born with defects that couldn’t be hidden. The results of Emily’s expectancy weren’t much better.
~ from Without the Veil Between

 

A review in the Atlas, January 22, 1848, must have been disappointing to Anne:

It leaves no painful impression on the mind – some may think it leaves no impression at all. There is a want of distinctness in the character of Agnes, which prevents the reader from taking much interest in her fate.

Much later, long after Anne was gone, the Irish novelist George Moore (1852 – 1933) couldn’t have disagreed more, praising Agnes Grey as the most perfect prose narrative in English letters.

An article by Samantha Ellis, author of Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life, reflects on Agnes Grey from the present, but, surely, touches upon how Anne set out to maintain her life, integrity, and purpose in the world of her time.

Agnes is a quieter heroine than Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights’s Cathy Earnshaw, but she burns with her own anger. Agnes Grey is often a furious novel, and a feminist novel. Its main concern is how a woman can do what Agnes wants to do at the start: “to go out into the world; to act for myself; to exercise my unused faculties; to try my own unknown powers”.
~ from Anne Brontë: the sister who got there first

 

 

The beginning of summer ended the pursuit of a publisher for Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, if less than satisfactorily with Thomas Cautley Newby’s request for fifty pounds to produce them.

“We resolved not to pay to see our novels in print. And here we are about to do so.”

“Sometimes resolve must be adjusted, Anne.”

How could Anne not think of her first “girl” and wonder whether she would be clothed more elegantly than Jane or as plain in cloth-backed gray-boards with little trim. As the months since proofing dragged on without a sign from Newby other than him giving his word to break it, would Agnes make a public appearance at all?

Anne continued to have faith, although she was more prepared for betrayal than before she knew its look, how it spoke and maneuvered. She had written Agnes Grey as a reaction to her inaugural governess experience with the Ingrams, but, also, as an instructional reflection. She had meant to bring less naiveté to Thorpe Green and the writing she did in the limited free time allowed her there. She had soon discovered—or rediscovered—it was easier to live with wit and wisdom, to maintain a pensive cheerfulness or, at least, a philosophical viewpoint, through imaginary encounters rather than actual ones.

The passages of Agnes had brought Anne through insecurity, loneliness, worry, wavering, weariness, and grief. Agnes’ story had helped Anne navigate a life that wasn’t hers but needed to be traveled with enough involvement for learning and growing towards the best purpose of the one that was. The challenge was not to lose sight of the destination she hoped was ahead of her: to do the most good she could in the world before she left it.

The journey of someone who never existed was at times more real than Anne’s own, its importance to her not diminished by how few knew of it. Even if the book never made it to the presses and fifty pounds was lost or required legal action to retrieve, nothing would change Anne having conceived it and carried it full term. No matter if Agnes was stillborn, lived for a few years or many, she was the offspring of Anne’s desire to write with more purpose than being clever with words and entertaining. Instead, to produce a calm, undistracted, useful, and benevolent child who, if anyone did encounter her, would whisper a few wholesome truths to make them wiser and kinder, and open their minds and hearts.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

 

Miniature edition of Agnes Grey that my mom found in a secondhand bookstore in Oxford in the 1980s.

The human heart is like india-rubber; a little swells it, but a great deal will not burst it. If “little more than nothing will disturb it, little less than all things will suffice” to break it. As in the outer members of our frame, there is a vital power inherent in itself that strengthens it against external violence. Every blow that shakes it will serve to harden it against a future stroke; as constant labour thickens the skin of the hand, and strengthens its muscles instead of wasting them away: so that a day of arduous toil, that might excoriate a lady’s palm, would make no sensible impression on that of a hardy ploughman.
Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

 

©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.

#Blogmas Day 10: An Interview With the Celebrated Bronte Author – Diane M Denton.

#Blogmas Day 10: An Interview With the Celebrated Bronte Author – Diane M Denton.

Thank you so much to Elisabeth Basford for hosting and interviewing me on her blog Write On Ejaleigh! Here’s a snippet of her own story:

I am a writer, a teacher and an examiner.

I write everything from non-fiction articles on educational issues, autism and gardening to social media strategies and fictional writing. I recently completed my first novel; Control. Alt. Delete. It’s an inspirational story of a woman who becomes a victim of coercion and control and how she manages to escape and survive.

I believe that education is a lifelong process and so I am a voracious reader… 

I love English literature and I have loved the Brontes since I was three years old.

I’m married and I live with my husband, two children and two cats, Barbara and Mittens in South Yorkshire … I love teaching and if I can pass on my love of literature and writing then I am happy!

Write On Ejaleigh!

 It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.
~ Vincent van Gogh

Image result for diane m denton

One of the great advantages of social media is that we have the opportunity to get to know people who share the same interests as us. Many of these people come from places or backgrounds that we would not necessarily have chance to encounter in real life.

I am a member of several Facebook groups that celebrate The Bronte Sisters. From this I have been able to have some great discussions with fellow Bronte lovers and writers. I have also been fortunate to discover new interpretations of the Brontes’ works. 

Recently, I wrote a review of Rita Maria Martinez and her poetry inspired by Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre. You can read about her work

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Without The Veil Between, An Interview With DM Denton — Anne Brontë

Thank you to Brontë scholar and biographer Nick Holland for interviewing me on his blog.

Loved Nick’s questions! Please go over to annebronte.org for my answers to:
♦“You’ve become noted for your historical fiction, but what made you pick Anne Brontë for a subject?”
♦The book’s title is ‘Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit’. What was the inspiration for the title?
♦The book features your own illustrations. Did Anne Brontë’s drawing skills inspire you, as well as her writing skills?
♦Your book looks at Anne Brontë’s time at Thorp Green Hall and at her relationship with William Weightman. Do you think she loved Weightman and did he love her?
♦What is your favourite Anne Brontë poem and why?
♦What message does Anne have for people today?
♦Your book has, quite rightly, had some great reviews – do you think you’ll return to the Brontë family for future books?
♦What do you think Anne and her sisters would have thought of the worldwide fame they’ve achieved two hundred years after their births?
♦What are you working on at the moment?

 

Without The Veil Between, An Interview With DM Denton — Anne Brontë

Earlier in the week I marked World Sight Day by looking at Patrick Brontë’s sight saving operation, and the impact it had on the Brontës, but today’s post is something different – an interview with DM Denton, the American author of acclaimed novel ‘Without The Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine And Subtle Spirit’.

There have been several attempts down the years to portray members of the Brontë family in a fictional form, and it can be a dangerous undertaking as I feel you really have to have a love of the family to be able to pull it off. Thankfully, Diane Denton certainly has that…

Read entire interview
via Without The Veil Between, An Interview With DM Denton — Anne Brontë

Saturday – Sunday Shorts: Colette’s Taste for Life

“Everything that astonished me when I was young astonishes me even more today. The time will never come for me when there are no more discoveries to make. Every morning the world is as new again and I will not cease to flower except through death.”
Colette

With a new movie out about a writer I have long idolized, the French author and actress Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, 1873–1954, I thought I would offer some quotes from this unique, witty, courageous, sensual realist who undoubtedly had—to echo the title of a book about Colette by Yvonne Mitchell—”a taste for life”.

Colette in her dance hall days

Colette is most famous for her novella Gigi, (1944), but to fully appreciate her talent, personality, heart, and spirit, you must be adventurous and delve further into her repertoire to truly discover the delicacy, humor, and wisdom of her narrative and poetic voice, which, besides being “largely concerned with the pains and pleasures of love, [is] remarkable for [its] command of sensual description.” To quote further from the online Encyclopedia Britannica entry by Kathleen Kuiper: “Her greatest strength as a writer is an exact sensory evocation of sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colours of her world.”

I actually got the idea for the illustration included in my kindle short The Library Next Door from this photograph of Colette as a young woman.

“It is the image in the mind that links us to our lost treasures; but it is the loss that shapes the image, gathers the flowers, weaves the garland.”
Colette, My Mother’s House & Sido

Illustration for Kindle Short Story: The Library Next Door

“I went to collect the few personal belongings which…I held to be invaluable: my cat, my resolve to travel, and my solitude.”
Colette

“By associating with the cat, one only risks becoming richer.”
Colette

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

 

Branwell Brontë: as Broken as all Their Hearts Were

This is a repost from last year, with a few changes.

Patrick Branwell Brontë, brother to Charlotte, Emily and Anne, died on September 24, 1848 around 9am, most likely from tuberculosis aggravated by delirium tremens, alcoholism, and addiction to laudanum and opium. It was a Sunday. He was thirty-one.

 

Branwell Brontë, Self-Portrait

How could any of them know the extent of his weaknesses before they manifested in such a way as to irreversibly ruin him and torture them all, and, in Anne’s case, prove she had done more harm than good by trying to help him?

Anne pushed her thoughts in a higher direction. “There might be joy and fulfillment for him yet, if he’ll try to receive it.”

“Even our father seems to have given up on his eternal salvation.”

“I don’t think so.”

Anne wanted to feel as sympathetically close to Charlotte as they were in the flesh while they sat on the bed they shared, both in their nightgowns and caps but neither making a motion to get under the covers.

Emily walked up and down the hallway, it seemed for hours, to the drone of her father praying, which was a little comfort to Anne. Even covered with blankets Charlotte complained she felt cold. She said she was going to throw up, but never needed the chamber pot for that purpose and finally fell asleep. Anne couldn’t and, needing something to do, assumed her father hadn’t interrupted his vigil at Branwell’s bedside to wind the long-cased clock.

Emily was leaning against the door frame of the room where, Anne hoped, father and son might bond in dying as they hadn’t in living. Emily’s eyes were closed, her mouth moving, her words muffled, Anne making them out in their repetition.

“You’ve killed yourself … you’ve killed yourself … you’ve killed yourself …”

“Oh, Emily,” Anne reacted softly, walking towards her sister, knowing she wouldn’t be able to comfort her. She had to try. “He may yet recover.”

“You don’t believe such nonsense.”

The expectation of another skeptical reaction sent Anne to the clock, the action she could take to keep it going, and the struggle with her own faith she didn’t want anyone, especially not Emily, to witness.

“Oh, luv.” Tabby startled her into dropping the winding key, but immediately relieved her of holding back her tears.

They hugged. Tabby was grown more bosomy in a frill-less, high-necked nightgown, her face becoming redder. The old woman wiped a billowing sleeve across her face, allowed herself a few more sniffles, and walked up to Branwell’s room, stroking Emily’s arm before she went in.

“He sleeps quiet,” she reported, touching Emily’s shoulder this time, reaching out to take Anne’s hand. “Rev’r’end be restin’, too. Y’uns shuld get sum sleep.”

Emily shook her head and went downstairs.

Tabby noticed Martha was in the hallway and waved her back to their little room. “Need tha up early, Missy.”

Charlotte was also awake, sitting in bed with the covers pulled to her chin, questioning Anne, panic in her eyes.

“No change.” Anne slid in alongside her, lying on her back, which wasn’t comfortable. She needed to listen for what she hoped she wouldn’t hear.

It was the unexpected Charlotte responded to first. “What’s that? It’s not—”

“It is.”

Emily usually performed the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata nimbly with soft dynamics and reflective expression, letting it rise and fall like a singer’s perfect breathing and articulation.

That night, just past the new moon, too far from old joys, too close to last wishes, one of the darkest nights of the month and their lives, her playing was labored, hesitant, even harsh, as broken as all their hearts were.

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

Branwell Brontë’s caricature (1847) of himself lying in bed and being summoned by death.

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

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

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

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

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

~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

“In the next world I could not be worse than I am in this.”
~ Branwell Brontë

 

 

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

William Weightman Barely Breathed and was Gone September 6, 1842

In 1839, a young curate breezed into the lives of the Brontë family. This young man was like a breath of fresh air, quite unlike any curate that the Brontë girls had previously encountered. For three short years, as well as being a diligent worker in his parish duties, he brought gaiety, romance, and humour into their lives, and an almost brotherly friendship with Branwell.
~ from The Brontë Studies, Volume 29, 2004 – Issue 1

. . . He sits opposite Anne at church sighing softly and looking out of the corners of his eyes to win her attention – and Anne is so quiet, her look so downcast – they are a picture . . .
~ Charlotte Brontë

William Weight by Charlotte Brontë

Anne could hear William’s lively chatter just outside the church, reminding he was gregarious, generous with his time and joyousness, and happiest when he was lifting others out of sighing and sadness. She chided herself for minding he didn’t observe her passing by, his occupation requiring him to be available to everyone, even silly young ladies who shouldn’t be denied a little of his sparkling company.

Anne wasn’t prepared for him walking beside her before she caught up with her aunt and brother.

“What will you do with the rest of your day?” he asked, sliding his hands down his long white cravat and folding them around its ends against the front of his heavily-buttoned frock coat.

She looked up for the sunshine that might yet peek through the dark and light clouds, a skylark singing frantically and flying as if looking for a way through them in the opposite direction the sun was. William was patient while she considered what to say, one answer in her heart and another in her head, someone else calling his name with an urgency she doubted she could ever express. The perfect afternoon activity would be a walk beyond Penistone Hill, across the high-ground, gray-green heath where curlews, golden plover peregrines, and merlins nested and by now would have some young. Even unintentional intruders might flush a few grouse out of the bracken and delight at them taking off to glide over the hair grass, cotton sedge, fern, and heather. There was always time to dally for such sights and talk to curly-horned sheep crowding for scraps of bread before continuing to the top of a steep slope, catching a glimmer here and there of the stream in the gully below. As the journey neared its end, hands would clasp to carefully descend the uneven stone steps to the waterfall weakened but its appeal not diminished by early summer. Emily’s chair would offer rest; other large stones also shaped, if not quite so perfectly, for sitting. What a pleasant diversion if the rain held off, invigorating if the wind was brisk, and respectable if Branwell came along, leaving little doubt how, as avowed in Psalm 104:24, the Lord had given them an earth full of riches.

“I hope you will excuse me.” William barely breathed and was gone.

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

 

One of the interior illustrations by DM Denton in Without the Veil Between

William died within three weeks of contracting cholera on his visits to the sick in the parish. Anne was informed of his death by a letter from her brother Branwell, which arrived after his burial had taken place.

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy it!

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

Emily was an important presence in Anne’s life as Anne was in hers. In 1833, when Emily was fifteen and Anne thirteen, friend of the family Ellen Nussey noted, on a visit to Haworth, they were “like twins – inseparable companions … in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.” A few years earlier, in the interval between Charlotte going away to school and Emily joining her, Anne and Emily had liberated themselves from their older sister and brother Branwell, especially in their writings, to create their own fantasy world.  Set in the North Pacific, it consisted of at least four kingdoms: Gondal (how their juvenilia is usually referenced), Angora, Exina and Alcona.  (“None of the prose fiction now survives but poetry still exists, mostly in the form of a manuscript donated to the British Museum in 1933; as do diary entries and scraps of lists” – Wikipedia).

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree —
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
~ from Mild the Mist Upon the Hill by Emily Brontë

For a few moments a full reconciliation between them seemed viable. They stood arm in arm looking into the shrubby, mossy gully washed by winter’s thaw and spring rain streaming off the moors, blue light casting it as fantastical as their imaginations had once been. If they were to continue on, there wasn’t any choice but to follow each other precariously down an uneven and slippery path, water rushing, splashing, and, eventually, falling steeply and musically towards the beck it was destined to join, song birds adding their voices and the rhythm of their wings.
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit © 2017 DM Denton

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