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

This post marks the 168th anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë (Born: Jan 17, 1820, Thornton, West Yorkshire, England; died: May 28, 1849, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England)

“Adieu! but let me cherish, still, The hope with which I cannot part.”

~Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Note: Inscription is incorrect. Anne was actually 29 at the time of her death.

I longed to view that bliss divine,
Which eye hath never seen;
Like Moses, I would see His face
Without the veil between.

~ from Anne Brontë’s poem, A Happy Day in February

Anne didn’t feel guilty escaping. She had saved a donkey and herself from the dominance of others for a while and thought driving the cart might show Charlotte the holiday was doing her good. In truth, Anne was moving away from the exhausting fight to survive towards surrendering to the precious time she had left. The curve of the bay was all hers. A beautiful sparkling headland lay ahead. The dip and lift of gulls and equally roguish clouds were almost indistinguishable as was the sea sounding near and far. She couldn’t stop thinking about what came next, mulling over questions soon to be answered. Was dying like closing her eyes without the choice to open them again? Would vision be gone or just different? If it was like falling asleep, would she be as unaware of the precise moment it happened, not knowing it had until she came to in another way of being? Or was the transfer between life and death like getting off one train and moving to a different platform to board another, not for a change in direction or destination, just to continue? Would she slip away from everything or everything slip away from her? Would nothing matter but the state of her soul? What if there wasn’t a consciousness she could still recognize as her own, or any at all? She couldn’t fathom extinction: to be without feelings or thoughts, to be nothing. Except as her brother had teased, as she hoped he had been teasing.
Would pain or peace see her out? She might have an idea of what it was like to be short of breath, but not without it completely. As she watched Branwell and Emily take their last, it seemed the hardest thing they had ever done.
~© 2017 by DM Denton

Excerpt from …

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

~a novel about the “other” Brontë sister~

coming in late 2017

For notification of its release, please add your name to my email list

Cover Art by DM Denton © 2017

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

~ from The Bluebell by Anne Brontë

Anne has always, and unfairly, been the least celebrated Brontë sister, her work considered less important than that of her siblings …

This book gives us Anne. Not Anne, the ‘less gifted’ sister of Charlotte and Emily (although we meet them too as convincingly drawn individuals); nor the Anne who ‘also wrote two novels’, but Anne herself, courageous, committed, daring and fiercely individual: a writer of remarkable insight, prescience and moral courage whose work can still astonish us today.
~ Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books

Without the Veil Between will be released by All Things That Matter Press, publisher of my first two novels.

When I set out, well over two years ago, to write a fiction about Anne Brontë, youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily, I doubted I would find enough material to produce something longer than a novella. I remember how Deborah Bennison, whose lovely words are quoted in this post, pushed me to take it further. Before the first part was finished, I was also convinced there was more than enough for a novel.

The pages are still blank, but there is the miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.
~ Vladimir Nabokov

My objective didn’t change as blank pages filled and multiplied. I wanted to present Anne as a vital person and writer in her own right, as crucial to the Brontë story and literary legacy as her more famous and—in her brother Branwell’s case—infamous siblings were. As anyone who ventures off the Brontë beaten path might, I soon realized Anne had a very independent, intelligent, inspiring story to explore, take to my heart and soul, and tell.

Denton’s emphasis on the thoughts and desires of the youngest Brontë sister brings color and life to the pages of her novel. She expresses Anne’s concerns in lavish prose that matches the 19th century Brontë style. Without the Veil Between  isn’t simply a biographical novel; it is a journey back into the day to day lives of one of history’s most famous literary families.
~ Steve Lindahl, author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, and Hopatcong Vision Quest, stevelindahl.com

Without the Veil Between follows Anne through the last seven years of her life. It begins in 1842 while she is still governess for the Robinson family of Thorpe Green, away from Haworth and her family most of the time, with opportunities to travel to York and Scarborough, places she develops deep affection for. Although, as with her siblings, circumstances eventually bring her back home, she is not deterred in her quest for individual purpose and integrity. She stands as firm in her ambitions as Charlotte does and is a powerful conciliator in light of Emily’s resistance to the publication of their poetry and novels.

Without the Veil Between catches both the triumph and the tragedy of Anne’s short but quietly courageous and determined life. Her disappointments and heartbreak patiently borne; her originality of thought in opposition to contemporary mores; her searing and unflinching insights into the experiences of women and the need for resistance and positive action that we now call feminism.
~Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books

Of course, Anne’s life and work intermingled with her sisters’, but should never have been for so long blended with theirs until nearly non-existent, her character, thoughts, emotions, spirituality and much of her experience independent from theirs—as she and, eventually, others grew to realize, imperatively and purposefully so.

Halfway through her twenties, having lived most of the last four years away from her family, she was finally fully-fledged, the nature she was born with at last standing up for itself, wanting its voice to be heard, with the courage to admit she was meant to wear truths not masks.
~© 2017 by DM Denton

This is no cosy account of three sisters living in harmony in their parsonage home while happily creating their masterpieces for posterity. DM Denton convincingly explores the tensions that existed between the sisters as well as their mutual love and support; and the security and emotional comfort Anne found within her family juxtaposed with the need to separate herself in some way. This is perfectly captured in the author’s precise description of both Charlotte and Anne being “torn between the calling to leave and the longing to stay”. Here, also, we see the author’s careful and measured examination of the different personalities at work within the Bronte family: Charlotte is driven to venture out more by “curiosity and enterprise”, while Anne’s purpose is a serious and morally driven desire to develop character and endurance, and demonstrate what she is capable of. And, indeed, it is she of all the sisters who does endure for longest in the world of work …
~Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books

I invite you to enter Anne Brontë’s world
through the places and people that influenced it.

Settings of Without the Veil Between

Watch video

Characters in Without the Veil Between

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The farther Anne went from the donkeys, huts, bathers and concerns for her giggling, argumentative charges, the sand was less and less disturbed and eventually almost perfectly smooth, so her footprints were the first that day, for many days, or, as she might pretend, ever. To the east was somewhere foreign and, therefore, appealing. Her gaze and steps traveled over low mossy rocks around rippling pools, and followed little streams down to the dazzling, daring expanse of the North Sea.
As indecisive as it seemed, the surf was coming closer, offering to wash her feet.
Anne should have scolded her girls if they had wetted just the hems of their skirts and petticoats. It would have been indefensible to allow them to remove their shoes and stockings and lift their dresses, let alone show them how to sink into the sand and feel it and slithery seaweed between their toes. What missteps they would all have taken if, on impulse, Anne led them further into the cold, frothy, toing and froing water.

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Illustration by DM Denton Copyright 2017

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

For Easter: Music by Stradella and Purcell, Words by Anne Brontë

“My music began. A mixture of harmonious voices, poetry & fine instrumentalists.”
Alessandro Stradella ~ A House Near Luccoli, a novel by DM Denton

Alessandro Stradella’s sacred cantata for solo alto and instruments Crocifissione e morte di nostro signore Gesu Cristo – the Crucifixion and death of our savior Jesus Christ. Performed by Baroque and Renaissance Choral

 

Purcell performed the music with his eyes & a delicate finger in the air.
~ To A Strange Somewhere Fled a novel by DM Denton (Sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

Henry Purcell’s Hear My Prayer · Sheffield Cathedral Choir · Neil Taylor · Peter Heginbotham
Crux Fidelis – Music for Passiontide and Easter

 

And as I have just completed my novel about Anne Brontë …

… here is Anne’s poem/hymn Believe Not Those Who Say, which was put to the tune Festal Song by William Henry Walter (unfortunately I couldn’t find a recording of Anne’s words put to the music. I did find an organ instrumental of Festal Song and it’s easy to “hear” how her words fit in.)

Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou should stumble in the way,
And faint before the truth.
To labor and to love,
To pardon and endure,
To lift thy heart to God above,
And keep thy conscience pure.
Be this thy constant aim,
Thy hope, thy chief delight,
What matter who should whisper blame
Or who should scorn or slight.

 

Anne wanted to make the music she loved compactly portable, even without access to a pianoforte, available for performances in her head, preferably so, for then her fingers were agile and her voice wasn’t weak.
~ Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit © 2017

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.

In Memory of a Happy Day in January

Today I’m commemorating the birth of Anne Brontë
January 17, 1820
youngest sister of Charlotte, Emily, and Branwell Brontë
and subject of my upcoming novel,
very near completion:
Without the Veil Between ©

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

This is a revamp of a post I did last January. Since that time, not only has my novel developed and grown well past my initial expectations (as has my admiration and affection for the youngest of the Brontë sisters), but a new biography about Anne by Nick Holland, In Search of Anne Brontë, has been released in the both the UK and US in hardback and Kindle editions (it’s due to be published in paperback in May 2017)

My review of In Search of Anne Brontë

My first encounter with the Brontës began at the age of ten or eleven when my mother gave me her beautiful 1946 editions of “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” with columned text and exquisite engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. Eventually, I discovered there was another author-sister in the family, the youngest, Anne. From the multitude of documentaries about the Brontës, movies based on Charlotte’s and Emily’s books, and even, as an English major, classic literature courses in school, it was all too easy to overlook Anne’s presence in and influence on literature and the Brontë story.

A travesty, indeed!

Quietly enduring, persevering, unpretentious people often don’t come across as accomplished or potentially so. As a writer myself, I’m constantly drawn to creative figures in history that somehow and for whatever reasons have been set aside as less important and appealing than others. In researching my own Anne Brontë project, I’ve been surprised and delighted to discover so many others motivated to make Anne’s more intimate acquaintance. Following in the footsteps of Winifred Gerin and Edward Chitham, Nick Holland, an active member of the Brontë Society, has turned his fascination with Anne into an eloquent, informative, affecting, and perceptive biography that like his blog, annebronte.org, is another important step in bringing her out of disregard and misconception.

There will always remain secrets about Anne Brontë. All of her childhood writings and most of her letters have been lost. Mr. Holland has drawn from documented facts, the interpretations of other biographers, diary papers Anne and Emily wrote, Charlotte’s letters and recorded remembrances, but, also, essentially, Anne’s verse and prose writing that offer many clues to who she was, why she wrote as she did, and how she lived and died.

“In Search of Anne Brontë” is a sensitively formed account of her life, the book’s slow, reflective, and conscientiously investigative style apropos to Anne’s character, intellect, and spirit. There is clarity and affection in its pages, an engaging examination of how her surroundings and relationships shaped, challenged and inspired her, a confirmation of her gentle, introspective, spiritual, mediating character. Anyone who gets to know Anne Brontë as thoroughly as Mr. Holland has, realizes there was so much more to her, including a strength and individualism that took her away from Haworth and family to do her duty; which resulted in the channeling of her expanded awareness and experience into the honesty, prowess, and courage of her poetry and novels.

As Mr. Holland and other Anne Brontë aficionados appreciate, she was endearing for her quiet, sweet, kind manner, but going in deeper lifts her out of the shadows cast by her more well-known and dramatic sisters and brother and the often over-emphasized isolation and tragedy of their lives. Yes, Anne’s life was brief and at times difficult, a struggle with loneliness, self-doubt and loss, but also full of imagination, love, music, nature, friendship, freedom and discovery. It was, after all, fully lived. If you haven’t read any other biography about Anne Brontë, this one is a perfect way to be introduced to her. If you have, you will, as I did, find Mr. Holland’s fresh perspective, devoted understanding and intense respect for his subject make you even more appreciative of what a remarkably intelligent, caring, brave, and beyond-her-time woman and writer she was.

Another new biography Take Courage, Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis has been just released in the UK in hardback and Kindle. A copy is on its way across the pond to me!

Of course, I’m not the only one noting the importance to Brontë aficionados of this day in January. Nick Holland has once again put together a lovely post on his blog devoted to Anne and all things Brontë. Please follow the link to: Happy Birthday Anne Brontë – 197 Today!

In Search of Anne Bronte by Nick Holland - Cover for Paperback edition to be released in May 2017

In Search of Anne Bronte by Nick Holland – Cover for Paperback edition to be released in May 2017

#Bronte200 is the Bronte Society‘s five-year programme celebrating the bicentenaries of the births of each of the Brontë siblings (who lived beyond childhood): Charlotte in 2016 (of course just completed and a resounding success), Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020.

Long-suffering, self-denying, reflective, and intelligent, a constitutional reserve and taciturnity placed and kept her in the shade, and covered her mind, and especially her feelings, with a sort of nun-like veil, which was rarely lifted.

I came across the above quote from Charlotte Brontë (whose view of her youngest sister is probably not always the most reliable source for a true understanding of Anne) long after I had already settled on the title Without the Veil Between, which I actually took from the last verse of Anne’s poem:

In Memory of a Happy Day in February by Anne Brontë

Blessed be Thou for all the joy
My soul has felt today!
O let its memory stay with me
And never pass away!

I was alone, for those I loved
Were far away from me,
The sun shone on the withered grass,
The wind blew fresh and free.

Was it the smile of early spring
That made my bosom glow?
‘Twas sweet, but neither sun nor wind
Could raise my spirit so.

Was it some feeling of delight,
All vague and undefined?
No, ’twas a rapture deep and strong,
Expanding in the mind!

Was it a sanguine view of life
And all its transient bliss
A hope of bright prosperity?
O no, it was not this!

It was a glimpse of truth divine
Unto my spirit given
Illumined by a ray of light
That shone direct from heaven!

I felt there was a God on high
By whom all things were made.
I saw His wisdom and his power
In all his works displayed.

But most throughout the moral world
I saw his glory shine;
I saw His wisdom infinite,
His mercy all divine.

Deep secrets of his providence
In darkness long concealed
Unto the vision of my soul
Were graciously revealed.

But while I wondered and adored
His wisdom so divine,
I did not tremble at his power,
I felt that God was mine.

I knew that my Redeemer lived,
I did not fear to die;
Full sure that I should rise again
To immortality.

I longed to view that bliss divine
  Which eye hath never seen,
Like Moses, I would see His face
  Without the veil between.

200px-AnneBronte

To continue the celebration of Anne’s birth day …

I offer you a couple of excerpts containing my interpretation of a journey to London Anne took with her sister Charlotte in July 1848 to see – surprise – their (well, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’s) publishers:

From Chapter Nineteen of Without the Veil Between ©

What a journey they had undertaken with only a few hours preparation and no time for planning around wet weather if such a thing was possible in the West Yorkshire climate. John Brown was able to find a lad with a cart who for one and six was willing to take their small trunk to Keighley station ahead of them. They had something to eat and drink before they set out with their father’s blessing despite his concerns about them walking into the threat of rain and traveling to and being in London alone.

“We’ve done it all before, Papa,” Charlotte reminded him with a squeeze of his hand, while forgetting Anne had never been to London or even out of her home county, except on long Pennine-rolling walks that lured her into Lancashire.

Anne almost backed out when her father bowed down for her to kiss him on the cheek and she realized Emily, who had been standing behind him, no longer was. Another opinion of Anne’s leaving came from Flossy who sat on her feet, leaned against her legs and looked up with begging eyes. Keeper could be heard barking in the back yard the way he did when Emily played fetch with him, possibly an explanation of where she had gone. Anne caught a glimpse of Branwell on the stairs.

By then Charlotte was adamant they must be on their way. “Even now I’m not sure we’ll avoid a soaking or catch the six-twenty train from Keighley to Leeds. If we don’t we’ll miss the overnight to London and our plans will be in disarray.”

Impulses not plans, Anne thought but knew better than to remark, already preparing herself to be understated during the days ahead. The last time Anne had been en route with Charlotte, she was a sickly, uncertain, inexperienced school girl. Of course, much had changed, but Charlotte still thought she knew better and expected Anne’s compliance.

As the parsonage door closed, Anne could hear their father telling them to take care and Flossy whining. They walked as quickly as they could holding hooded cloaks over their bonneted heads and around their bodies, not for warmth as the air was hot and heavy, but to prevent their hair and clothes from being messed by the wind that blew in spotty showers before they were half-an-hour towards Keighley. At first Anne pretended not to mind the rain. She was, however, uneasy when lightning branched through the sky over Oakworth down, flashing more frequently as it came closer, eventually in a vivid cloud-to-ground strike no more than half a mile ahead.

***

Anne wished the trip was less of a “mission” and more of an adventure for her sister. At least Charlotte gave into extravagance as Anne on her own probably wouldn’t have, purchasing first class tickets from Leeds to London. Even in a plush upholstered and carpeted carriage that was private much of the way, Anne couldn’t sleep, nor did they talk more than was necessary, so she might assume Charlotte dozed on and off. There wasn’t enough light for reading or air for breathing; it was an express train, no stops for exercise other than standing up and pulling down the window to be no wiser about where they were. Hour after hour, through dusk and darkness, Anne occupied herself by remembering passages from the bible and enjoying the idleness, composing scenarios for her living and writing to come. Eventually, weariness prompted her to close her eyes and try to nap. It seemed she did, until Charlotte’s voice disturbed her dreamy traveling with William, a loving and lawful companion, his hand holding hers, her head on his shoulder.

“I’m getting a headache. It’s the humidity. No doubt both will get worse in London.”

Just as it seemed the night and train journey would never end, they were headed into the sunrise, mist and steam screening the passing countryside that, from what they could see of it, was fairly flat and distantly forested. The dawn wasn’t yet fully realized when they arrived at Euston Station. At barely four-thirty in the morning it was, as they expected, lonely and hardly safe, and the same must be true of the streets beyond the depot’s Doric arch. They were glad the promise made at the Leeds ticket booth allowing them to remain on the train when it was pulled off the main track for cleaning and reloading with coal, at least until seven, was honored.

Finally there was enough daylight to read—or write, Anne deciding to make a little progress on her response to the critical complaints and utter misrepresentation of Tenant since its publication in late June.

“What’s that?” Charlotte asked.

“Oh, nothing of consequence.”

Charlotte didn’t inquire further, Anne considerately and selfishly submitting to her sister’s need to stay quiet and nurse her head while she could.

Entrance to Euston Station, London, c 1840s

Entrance to Euston Station, London, c 1840s

 

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

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Happy Birthday, Anne Brontë
and
thank you
for one of the most extraordinary, if exhausting,

writing experiences of my life!

 

donatellasmallest© 2017 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.

Music on Christmas Morning

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton

Those who have read my two novels (A House Near Luccoli and To A Strange Somewhere Fled) know how integral music is to their language, stories, rhythm, sensibilities and characters. My third historical fiction, which is nearing completion, focuses on another area of the arts: writing. However, I couldn’t avoid, nor did I want to, the importance of music in the life of its main protagonist, Anne Brontë, youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily.

My vision for Without the Veil Between was to explore and expand the “asides” of Anne’s life in and out of the context of the more familiar Brontë narrative: one being her love of music.

At an early age, along with her siblings, she was taken by her father to concerts performed by the Haworth Operatic Society and in nearby Keighley. In the mid-1830s Reverend Brontë surprised his children by purchasing an upright cabinet piano made by John Green of Soho Square, London.

Piano in Patrick Bronte's study in Haworth Parsonage

Piano in Patrick Bronte’s study in Haworth Parsonage

Their father arranged for them to have a few lessons at the parsonage, but mostly they were self-taught. Emily, whom Anne was extremely close to, is said to have been the most accomplished pianist in the family. Charlotte’s friend (and to them all) Ellen Nussey wrote of Emily playing “with brilliance and precision.”

“Come on.” Emily dropped the shoes she had seemed so desperate to find and, not allowing Anne to put on hers, pulled her sister out of the rocking chair.
“What?”
“It’s time for Mendelsohn.”
“On the piano? It’s almost eleven.”
“Who’s to mind?”
With their father and Charlotte away, Emily couldn’t be stopped from opening the windows in almost every room and occupying herself on the cottage piano in the Reverend’s study any time she pleased. Yet Anne, who rarely went out of the house without Emily and then only into the front garden or the church to refresh the flowers by the pulpit, hadn’t heard Emily playing, not even the music Anne had given her for her birthday.
“You’ve been practicing. But when?”
“In the wee hours, as lightly as I walk about.”
“Oh. That explains—” Anne didn’t reveal her entire thought, standing to the side and holding the flickering light that illuminated the sheets Emily hardly needed to look at. She wondered how in the dark of a new day with a candle placed precariously on the corner of the piano’s lid, Emily managed to follow the score well enough to commit it to memory as well as perfecting by heart how gracefully and unpretentiously it sang without words. Anne heard it then as she had in her dreams, something of William in its wordlessness, something of herself in its longings, something almost tender about Emily that except in her constant forgiveness of Keeper might otherwise never be revealed.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
auldlang

Auld Lang Sang as copied by Anne Bronte

Anne also played, as Ellen Nussey claimed, preferring “soft melodies and vocal music. She sang a little; her voice was weak, but very sweet in tone.” As a governess, Anne gave music and singing lessons, purchasing much of the music herself. At home, in June 1843, on a brief holiday from her position at Thorpe Green, she began copying her favorite music into a blank notebook she had probably purchased on a visit to York with her employers, the Robinsons, spending a fairly substantial sum in relation to her earnings.

Anne was on the second page of filling the music manuscript book she had only counted on costing her three shillings and six pence, not the favorable opinion of her favorite sister. Her last trip to York, longer than when she and Branwell had met their father there and this time sanctioned for shopping, allowed Anne almost two hours away from the Misses Robinsons. While they spent their time and money on dresses, hats, and confections, Anne browsed a bookstore newly opened in the cathedral city, considering any expenditure carefully. She finally settled on two purchases: a German dictionary and a prettily-bound book for music copying that would also aid in her teaching, if only to Mary who showed an interest in and some talent for singing—more of a justification than reason for buying it. Anne wanted to make the music she loved compactly portable, even without access to a pianoforte available for performances—in her head, preferably so, for then her fingers were agile and her voice wasn’t weak.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
The Shambles, York

The Shambles, York

Anne’s brother, Branwell, also had musical ability and played the organ from time to time for services in the Haworth Parish church. Unfortunately, none of his talents, including writing and painting, could override his self-pitying, self-destructive personality, which spiraled him into deadly addictions to drink and drugs.

(William’s) arm around her brother’s shoulder assured Branwell that his return to the organ wasn’t spoiled by him losing his place in the processional hymn All Praise to Our Redeeming Lord and struggling with uncertain pedaling and clumsy fingering in Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.
“In the end, my friend, you found your way,” William’s cheeks were almost crimson, little streaks of sweat on them, “with Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal.”
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Haworth Church and Parsonage

Haworth Church and Parsonage

I try not to project myself into any historical person I write about, hoping to understand and interpret him/her as objectively and historically accurate as possible. However, fiction (and even biographies) beg some subjectivity in order to go deeper than the facts and explore, for example, his/her motivations, hesitations, impulses and emotions. Although I chose to write about Anne, I never expected to feel such affinity with her on so many levels (actually, the more I researched and wrote on this novel that, of course, has among its cast of characters Charlotte and Emily, the more I connected to each of the Brontë sisters, but that is a post for another time).

One of the ways I related to Anne was in how her creative talents affected her life as she developed as a writer. Writing became her work, her vocation:  she knew it was her most significant means of expression if not her easiest. It involved much of her time, and, also, her mental, emotional and even physical energy, didn’t come easy, was often frustrating and misunderstood. She had to do it, no matter the trials it put her through, and it seems there were times, especially in the composing of her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, that she was nearly buried in it.

As her sister Charlotte wrote in a letter: ‘I would fain hope that (Anne’s) health is a little stronger than it was – and her spirits a little better, but she leads much too sedentary a life, and is continually sitting stooping either over a book or over her desk – it is with difficulty one can prevail on her to take a walk or induce her to converse.’

In contrast music and art and Anne’s bond to nature were truly enjoyment, allowing her times when she could look up from her weighty sense of purpose and view a lighter, more leisurely way of being.

Anne Bronte’s unfinished portrait of her dog, Flossy

Anne Bronte’s unfinished portrait of her dog, Flossy

Certainly, in difficult times, such as her years as governess at Blake Hall and then Thorpe Green, including Branwell’s disastrous stint as tutor at the latter location, music was a relaxing and pleasant pastime that interrupted Anne’s struggles with her health, duties, and worry and embarrassment over her brother’s behavior.

Like at the Spa in Scarborough, during one of her summer holidays there with her employers, the Robinson’s …

Nothing was more calming to her lungs than sitting among other reverent music lovers—which Elizabeth and Lydia were not—in the Spa’s turreted Saloon, melting into a Mozart symphony, an air by Weber, and a Rossini overture, her spirit warmed even more than her body. At least, as the music swelled and soothed and satisfied, she was unaware of any physical discomfort from the afternoon’s rising temperature let alone her earlier asthma episode.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
The Spa, Scarborough, Yorkshire

The Spa, Scarborough, Yorkshire

Or on a sultry first day of rush-bearing, a magnificent Oratorio concert right in Haworth and her own church, St. Michaels and All Angels …

The voice of Mendelssohn’s Christ in three-part chorus rose, not only creating a miraculous sound but also a haloed light.
Anne wanted to be in that moment. Such bountiful music, the church filled with contemplative commentary drawn from the New and Old Testaments, chorales in the manner of Bach, fanfares punctuating more tranquil instrumentals and vocals. It was quite a trick for the orchestra, even reduced as it was, to fit in-between the altar and audience, the violins arranged around the cellos and violas, the strings in front of the winds, and the brass elevated at the very back. The choir was in front of the instrumentalists, sopranos and tenors on the right, mezzo sopranos, altos and bases on the left.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Rushbearing 1821

Rush-bearing 1821

Or during an impulsive trip to London with Charlotte, which as unexpectedly found her at the opera in Covent Garden …

Enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about critics or how you must answer them, or Papa or Emily or Branwell … or anything to disturb the wonder of this unexpected adventure
She didn’t think Mr. Williams, as he glanced at her, was reading her thoughts but, instead, wanted to witness her enthusiastic participation in the custom of applauding for the conductor as he quickly stepped into the pit, took his place and a bow, and turned to prompt the orchestra’s tuning up.
There was some movement behind the curtain, the footlights seeming to burn brighter as Anne’s attention focused on the stage. “This is beyond my dreams. Beyond what I deserve.” She lifted her hands to her cheeks, afraid they were flushed, as Mr. Williams might assume, with pleasure and embarrassment, but, as couldn’t be helped, really just the warmth and closeness of the theater.
“Oh, Miss Brontë, you’re more than worthy to be here.” Mr. Williams was prompted by Anne’s admission to make one of his own. “I think you’re a perfect companion for attending the opera, for I suspect you understand how music—”
“Kindly bids us wake. It calls us, with an angel’s voice, to wake, worship, and rejoice.”
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Italian Opera House Covent Garden, London

Italian Opera House Covent Garden, London

Which brings me to Anne’s Music on Christmas Morning, which was included in the poetry anthology she and her sisters published in the spring of 1846. It reflects Anne’s piety and love of music, words and nature, using all to paint a lyrically poignant bridge between heaven and earth.

music-of-christmas-morning-poem-with-holly-border-croped

 

Whether you read this post and Anne’s poem on the morning it was written in honor of, or at any other time, I want to offer my heartfelt appreciation for your visit to my little space in the universe along with wishes for many blessings to be yours in this season however you mark it.

Peace and Love

Please note that the excerpts I offered from my in progress Without the Veil Between, are from its first draft.

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The Very Closest Sympathy

On July 30th, 198 years ago, Emily Jane Brontë was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England.

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I know you love to play Mendelson.” Anne grasped Emily’s hand, hoping she wouldn’t mind.

Emily endorsed Anne’s effort with a quick squeeze of her fingers. “I have to catch up with his Songs without Words volumes. I believe there are eight now. I only have five.”

Now she knew what it should be, Anne was glad there was just enough time to send away for Emily’s birthday present.
© 2016 DM Denton

 

Although my current work in progress is a novel focusing on her younger sister, Anne, Emily is essential to the narrative, whether they are together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or separated for long periods of time.

Emily was an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her little 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, especially as mother earth beckoned her to.

For nature is constant still
For when the heart is free from care
Whatever meets the eye
Is bright, and every sound we hear
Is full of melody …
~
Anne Brontë, from Verses for Lady Geralda, 1836

Long after 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.”

What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by reliving their childhood habit of wandering daily to meet only earth and sky, now with Keeper and Flossy, their dogs like themselves, despite contrasting physiques and personalities, discovering intrinsic similarities, especially the need to often escape the stuffiness and lack of possibilities indoors. For the dogs, too, the companionship of walks that took them west past tilting, spindly conifers and thorn bushes into the wind-swept vastness behind the parsonage, acknowledged the basic wildness of their natures and left no doubt they were more alike than different.
© 2016 DM Denton

Emily and Anne Bronte cropped

From Pillar Portrait by Branwell Brontë

As children they formed an alliance apart from Charlotte, brother Branwell and the fictional world of Angria to invent their own imaginary kingdom of Gondal. The departure of Charlotte to Roe Head School meant they became even closer, but something more powerful than circumstance cemented their devotion: the innate ability to understand, unconditionally love, lighten, consolingly burden and so strengthen each other, to speak in silence as much as conversation, and, perhaps, most significantly, to create “the very closest sympathy” through the infinite sisterhood of their imaginations.

To Imagination by Emily Brontë

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
O my true friend, I am not lone
While thou canst speak with such a tone!

So hopeless is the world without,
The world within I doubly prize;
Thy world where guile and hate and doubt
And cold suspicion never rise;
Where thou and I and Liberty
Have undisputed sovereignty.

What matters it that all around
Danger and grief and darkness lie,
If but within our bosom’s bound
We hold a bright unsullied sky,
Warm with ten thousand mingled rays
Of suns that know no winter days?

Reason indeed may oft complain
For Nature’s sad reality,
And tell the suffering heart how vain
Its cherished dreams must always be;
And Truth may rudely trample down
The flowers of Fancy newly blown.

But thou art ever there to bring
The hovering visions back and breathe
New glories o’er the blighted spring
And call a lovelier life from death,
And whisper with a voice divine
Of real worlds as bright as thine.

I trust not to thy phantom bliss,
Yet still in evening’s quiet hour
With never-failing thankfulness I
welcome thee, benignant power,
Sure solacer of human cares
And brighter hope when hope despairs.

Emily Bronte Desk

Emily Brontë’s fold-up writing desk and contents

 

Anne was less hesitant to being drawn into Emily’s simply lived yet creatively complex orbit; then Anne had grown up in it, been sustained by it, and found true friendship in it. She knew, welcoming the hope in that knowledge, that even as Emily seemed unsentimental, letting them go to their beds and disappointments and fears and useless efforts to change what couldn’t be changed, she was keeping a place for them by the fire of her imagination and fidelity.
© 2016 DM Denton

 

Haworth Parsonage

Haworth Parsonage, painted in the 1970s by DM Denton©

What was complicated for her sisters and brother was simple for Emily: there was no going back to working for little profit that left her essentially impoverished. Instead, she settled once and for all into the confinement that unleashed her fantasies, escaping change except as she grew taller and stronger and unapologetically herself. “I am as God made me,” Charlotte reported Emily’s answer to the “silly” girls at the Pensionnat who ridiculed her clothes, walk, thoughts, and habits. Anne couldn’t decide if such certainty made Emily saintly or blasphemous. According to Charlotte it did the trick in stopping the harassment, so it would seem an enlightened declaration after all.

Emily knew her place and stuck with it without being stuck, like a solitary tree on the moor, as violently content, shaped by the wind yet unyielding, in motion without leaving the spot she was rooted in.
© 2016 DM Denton

 

bronte_moors_by_wandereringsoul

©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 Pen Laid Aside – For ever

No, not mine.

Today marks the 167th anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë in her beloved Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, England.  The youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Anne was the only sibling to die and be buried away from their home in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Her last words “Take courage” were to her sister Charlotte, who had already suffered the loss of her brother, Branwell, and sister Emily the previous September and December.

Anne Brontë's Gravestone in St. Mary's churchyard, Scarborough, Yorkshire, England

Anne Bronte’s Gravestone in St. Mary’s churchyard, Scarborough

As some of you may know, my latest work-in-progress is a novel about Anne Brontë, which was conceived as a journey off the beaten path of how her life is usually presented (when not ignored in the Brontë legacy). It is coming along very well and I hope to have the 1st draft finished within a couple of months.

I have been delighted to discover some great biographies about Anne that have proved invaluable to writing about her, especially Winifred Gerin’s exquisitely written book Anne Brontë, A Biography, first published in 1957. Another enlightening resource has been Edward Chitham’s A Life of Anne Brontë, first published in 1991.

Recently, a brand new biography In Search of Anne Bronte by Nick Holland was released. Besides being an author, Nick is an active member of the Brontë Society and keeper of the website and blog annebronte.org.

To mark Anne’s death my review of this book is below. You can also read it on amazon and Goodreads.

Five Stars cropped resized5.0 out of 5 stars

 

Excellent Biography about a Remarkably Intelligent, Caring, Courageous, Beyond-her-time Woman
May 7, 2016
Format: Hardcover

My first encounter with the Brontës began at the age of ten or eleven when my mother gave me her beautiful 1946 editions of “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” with columned text and exquisite engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. Eventually, I discovered there was another author-sister in the family, the youngest, Anne. From the multitude of documentaries about the Brontës, movies based on Charlotte’s and Emily’s books, and even, as an English major, classic literature courses in school, it was all too easy to overlook Anne’s presence in and influence on literature and the Brontë story.

A travesty, indeed!

Quietly enduring, persevering, unpretentious people often don’t come across as accomplished or potentially so. As a writer myself, I’m constantly drawn to creative figures in history that somehow and for whatever reasons have been set aside as less important and appealing than others. In researching my own Anne Brontë project, I’ve been surprised and delighted to discover so many others motivated to make Anne’s more intimate acquaintance. Following in the footsteps of Winifred Gerin and Edward Chitham, Nick Holland, an active member of the Brontë Society, has turned his fascination with Anne into an eloquent, informative, affecting, and perceptive biography that like his blog, annebronte.org, is another important step in bringing her out of disregard and misconception.

There will always remain secrets about Anne Brontë. All of her childhood writings and most of her letters have been lost. Mr. Holland has drawn from documented facts, the interpretations of other biographers, diary papers Anne and Emily wrote, Charlotte’s letters and recorded remembrances, but, also, essentially, Anne’s verse and prose writing that offer many clues to who she was, why she wrote as she did, and how she lived and died.

In Search of Anne Brontë is a sensitively formed account of her life, the book’s slow, reflective, and conscientiously investigative style apropos to Anne’s character, intellect, and spirit. There is clarity and affection in its pages, an engaging examination of how her surroundings and relationships shaped, challenged and inspired her, a confirmation of her gentle, introspective, spiritual, mediating character. Anyone who gets to know Anne Brontë as thoroughly as Mr. Holland has, realizes there was so much more to her, including a strength and individualism that took her away from Haworth and family to do her duty; which resulted in the channeling of her expanded awareness and experience into the honesty, prowess, and courage of her poetry and novels.

As Mr. Holland and other Anne Brontë aficionados appreciate, she was endearing for her quiet, sweet, kind manner, but going in deeper lifts her out of the shadows cast by her more well-known and dramatic sisters and brother and the often over-emphasized isolation and tragedy of their lives. Yes, Anne’s life was brief and at times difficult, a struggle with loneliness, self-doubt and loss, but also full of imagination, love, music, nature, friendship, freedom and discovery. It was, after all, fully lived. If you haven’t read any other biography about Anne Brontë, this one is a perfect way to be introduced to her. If you have, you will, as I did, find Mr. Holland’s fresh perspective, devoted understanding and intense respect for his subject make you even more appreciative of what a remarkably intelligent, caring, brave, and beyond-her-time woman and writer she was.

DM Denton

I enthusiastically encourage you to visit Nick’s website/blog for his latest reflection on the death of Anne Bronte, and while you’re there please peruse other posts that intelligently and lovingly celebrate her life.

Last stanza from Last Lines, Anne Brontë’s final poem:

Should death be standing at the gate,
Thus should I keep my vow;
But, Lord! whatever be my fate,
Oh, let me serve Thee now!

Read full poem

Note by Charlotte Brontë:
“These lines written, the desk was closed, the pen laid aside – for ever.”

Anne, from a group portrait by her brother Branwell

Anne, from a group portrait by her brother Branwell

And to end, here is a short excerpt from my WIP©:

For years Anne hadn’t been home on her birthday. Not that it mattered. Emily always baked an oatmeal and treacle cake for her a couple of days ahead of the teatime designated for its consumption in order for it to be stored in a tin and softened. Anne could only wonder at Emily’s talents with cooking and housekeeping, admitting, at least to herself, that her nearest sister not only had more opportunity but inclination to learn from Tabby and even uncertain Martha.

“I’ll allow no one to refuse a piece of Annie’s parkin,” Emily would insist, although she was usually loathed to try to make anyone do anything. That year, like others, she was determined that hour or so be a happy memory for her “bet’r sen”, even given to singing 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 continued with the song beyond Emily’s intention.

Anne briefly escaped his devilish behavior to take a piece of cake out to Tabby in the back kitchen, who because of being easily wearied and hard-of-hearing hadn’t stirred from her nap in an unforgiving straight-backed chair positioned too close to the draught from the back door.

“Where’s your shawl?” Anne found it draped over the handle-top of a broom leaning against a wall.

“Eh? What’s yer fus’n?”

Anne’s gentle laying of the loosely-knit shawl around Tabby’s shoulders and, especially, what was on the plate put into her hands, quickly quelled the old servant’s complaining.

“Ah, my angel-lass.”

Copyright 2016 by DM Denton©

 

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Perseverance, Purpose, and Mathematics

From a letter Charlotte Brontë wrote to Hartley Coleridge, June 16, 1847:

Bronte_poems2

Sir,

My relatives Ellis and Acton Bell and myself, heedless of the repeated warnings of various respectable publishers, have committed the rash act of printing a volume of poems.

The consequences predicted have, of course, overtaken us; our book is found to be a drug; no man needs it or heeds it. In the space of a year our publisher has disposed but of two copies and by what painful efforts, he succeeded in getting rid of those two himself only knows.

Before transferring the edition to the Trunk-makers, we have decided on distributing as presents, a few copies of what we cannot sell.

Besides demonstrating Charlotte’s wry humor, which, I have no doubt, masked her disappointment and frustration, her letter also reveals an important choice she made in order to move past this discouraging experience of presenting the Brontë sisters’ writing to the public. I might add that the poetry collection, which they paid to have published, did inspire a few positive reviews from newspaper critics.

I feel very grateful that Charlotte wrote that letter. Of course, she had no idea it would be preserved to reach out and beyond its original purpose and, for all those writers who would come after her, set a sagacious example of how to deal with setbacks, even failures, by acknowledging them, feeling the irony in them, confronting their implications without relinquishing future progress and possibilities to them.

Yellow Rose DM Denton 3 with text

Illustration Copyright 2016 by DM Denton

 

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My mother’s Jane Eyre, 1941 Edition with woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg

In a letter to her friend Ellen Nussey in October, 1844, Charlotte expressed a similar resilience in the face of defeat when “the enterprise of keeping a school”, which she and her sisters had devised to the point of sending out flyers/”cards of terms” and even thinking about alterations to the parsonage in order to accommodate it, didn’t materialize.

We have no present intention of breaking our hearts on the subject—still less of feeling mortified at defeat—The effort must be beneficial whatever the result may be—because it teaches us experience and an additional knowledge of the world.

 

In the autumn of 1845, Charlotte rather stealthily came upon Emily’s poems. Emily was furious at such an invasion of her privacy and insisted she didn’t write with any thought of publication—perhaps, afraid she might make an enemy of the constant companion writing was to her.

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 then canst speak with such a tone!

Charlotte, who managed to convince Emily to publish her poems under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, would not believe “a mind like (Emily’s) could not be without some latent spark of honorable ambition”.

sketch-of-emily-bronte-and-keeper-from-emilys-diary-image-via-the-bookman-1898

Sketch by Emily Brontë

George Eliot also had her thoughts on how to approach any endeavor, likely with the activity of writing in mind:

Failure after long perseverance is much grander than to never have a striving good enough to be called failure.

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A year ago this week, my second novel (historical fiction), To A Strange Somewhere Fled (dedication above), was published. As with my first, A House Near LuccoliI was optimistic on its release and for its subsequent reception.

“What a fool you must be,” said my head to my heart, or my sterner to my softer self.
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

I don’t think I ever have or will fool myself into thinking my writing lends itself to mainstream appeal. However, I do still believe it can and should be read by many more than have already. I’m very grateful to every buyer, reader, and reviewer. But, if I’m honest, I have to admit I’ve had moments of feeling very frustrated, defeated, even of breaking my heart because I find myself questioning my lifelong calling to write.

Looking to those who have come before also helps, although there are contradicting philosophies …

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~ Sylvia Plath
or
The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen. ~ Colette

My wish to survive and write more and feel “the effort must be beneficial whatever the result may be“, inclines me towards the latter advice. Sylvia Plath had hardly begun to explore her potential when she took her own life at the age of 31. In contrast and, in no way meaning to demean Plath’s ongoing struggle with depression, Colette lived out the natural span of her life to the age of 81, experiencing marital abuse and other difficulties and setbacks, taking detours on unexpected roads, often expressing philosophical optimism. “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.” “Hope costs nothing.” “Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.”

I believe what made Colette a survivor was her ability to create out of the dark as well as the light: “Look for a long time at what pleases you, and longer still at what pains you…”

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Colette in old age with one of her cats

So now, whenever I despair, I no longer expect my end, but some bit of luck, some commonplace little miracle which, like a glittering link, will mend again the necklace of my days.
~ Colette, The Vagabond

So what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or, to paraphrase: what doesn’t stop you writing makes you more determined to do it.

In the past year, I have contributed three short biographies to The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life: Mary Webb, Christina Rossetti, and, just this week, Jean Rhys (click each name to read them). In different ways, all three overcame discouragement to continue writing. Mary Webb attained some positive critical attention and even won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse, but her books didn’t actually become commercially successful until shortly after her death in 1927 when Britain’s Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin publicly praised her writing (you can see an actual letter he wrote her here) and called her a neglected genius (Hmm … he couldn’t have said so a little sooner?).

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Illustration Copyright 2016 by DM Denton

Yes, writers struggle with their own doubts, but also from others’ perceptions and avoidance, especially those close to them.  They can’t help wondering if praise from those quarters is patronizing and, on the other hand, find it hard to deal with their work being dismissed or even ignored by those who “should” be the first to encourage and help to promote their work. Christina Rossetti’s own brother pronounced her too pious to care if her writing achieved any success, an unfounded assessment in view of her passion for and lifetime pursuit of poetic expression.

There is always another side, always. ~ Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys’ last novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, published when she was 76, finally brought her popular success and financial reward, but she wasn’t impressed, saying it had come “too late”. Yet, like Colette, in spite of a life resembling a roller-coaster ride of experiences, relationships, and sometimes crossed-purposes, and while rebelling against how “her obsession (to write) gripped her”, she also understood that writing got rid of obsessions and produced “clarification”, that even if she didn’t want to write, she had to since “life has no shape, art is necessary, it provides some shape, at least to hold on to”.

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Jean Rhys

“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”  ~ Jean Rhys

When I was young, writing was about dreaming up and playing with stories until I grew tired of them.

Young Diane at Typewriter

Now, chosen by them, I honor them as they do me by giving them the best expression I can and persevering patiently when they are troubling because I know they will be ultimately rewarding to my sense of accomplishment and completeness—no matter the mathematical odds against them bringing me fame and fortune.

From To A Strange Somewhere Fled

No one was there, except whom she mournfully invited and didn’t hope would appear. Until something was forming and even stirring, one line then two, black marks turning into graceful strokes, almost half-a-page filled before she knew it, pouring like blood from a deep wound. If only she could keep it flowing, instead of grief drying it up and making it hard and leaving a stain with no poetry about it.

Two Cassee Book Images with Gray Background with text 1

Ill-success failed to crush us: the mere effort to succeed had given a wonderful zest to existence; it must be pursued. ~ Charlotte 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.