A Queen, a Nameless Girl, a Saint, an Angel

Elizabeth Siddall
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Today I share another excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, The Dove Upon Her Branch to mark the birthday – July 25, 1829 – of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddall, muse and wife of Christina’s brother and Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Elizabeth Siddall
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

     Miss Siddall was sitting slightly hunched, her arms reaching, resting between her knees, just below which her hands were clasped. Thick, mahogany hair was loosely ballooned on the nape of her neck, her chin stretched forward. Her waist, like most of the wicker chair she perched on, was lost in the bunching of her skirt, but even with her torso swallowed in billowing fabric and her shoulders slumped, there was no doubt she was tall.

         A queen in opal or in ruby dress, a nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, a saint, an angel — every canvas means the same one meaning, neither more or less.*

     Christina saw what Gabriel did. Although simply, somberly gowned in cotton and shawled in wool, this woman was fascinating, not as she was but meant to be.

     As Christina entered fully into her view, Miss Siddall stood and took a few sliding steps, her grey-blue eyes heavy-lidded, kind, and evasive. The hand she extended was warm in intention but cold in its flesh.

     Oh, she is not well. I must be kind to her. I must … not jump to conclusions about her. I must … not mind Gabe loving her.

     “Well, what do you think, Chrissy?” Gabriel blurted, immediately clarifying his question. “Of the Blackfriars crib? The way the rooms are built out over the river, windows on all sides, there’s plenty of light and from the balcony a magnificent view of the Tower, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.”

     “If only there wasn’t such a stink from the river.”

     “I hardly notice anymore. During the day it’s busy and interesting. At night there’s the shimmering reflection of gas lamps on the bridge and wharf side.”

     “He notices. In words I won’t repeat.” William stood before an easel-supported canvas. “You’ve made good progress.”

     “Which one is it?” Christina moved to have a look. “Oh, a watercolor,” she tried not to sound disappointed.

     “Beatrice Meets Dante at a Marriage Feast.” William glanced between his brother and Miss Siddall.

     “And denies him her salutation,” Gabriel added, not brave enough to look at his “Sid” sitting and slumping again.

     William leaned into the painting to examine it more closely. “He’s captured you for eternity, Lizzie.”

     “Sitting for him certainly can seem an eternity.” Christina thought she saw Miss Siddall struggle not to smile.

     “You didn’t refuse, even though Mama said you could.” Gabriel knew he was right. “I remember you begging to pose again.”

     Christina did, too. “Well, your memory fails you. But one thing doesn’t.” She stepped back from the painting, looking around at all other evidence of her brother’s current obsession. “Having your muse constantly close.”

     “I don’t live here,” Lizzie finally spoke, softly but emphatically.

Copyright © 2021 by DM Dentom

*From the poem In the Artist’s Studio by Christina Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddall Sketching Dante Gabriel Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In an Artist’s Studio

BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

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

Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

A Feather in the Wind

“Please, take my hand,” Charlotte reached back to her sister, “or I’m afraid I’ll lose you like a feather in this wind.”

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë on May 28th, 1849 in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

When I was writing my novel portrait of Anne, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit (published in late 2017), I gave a lot of consideration to how I would handle her death at the age of 29. I knew at the outset, as moving as her deathbed scene with her last words “Take courage” to her only surviving sibling Charlotte was, that I wanted to end the novel in a way that showed Anne’s own unwavering courage, conscience, and compassion.

I had long been captivated by the report of Anne’s final and solitary ride across the sands of Scarborough, when she takes the reigns from the lad whose cart it was after he displays cruelty to the donkey pulling it.

Well into the writing of Without the Veil Between, I planned on Anne’s last days unfolding on its pages as they did for her, not as a lament but with gratefulness for her fine and subtle, purposeful and poetic life and legacy.

Here are two excerpts from that poignant event, including one of the interior illustration I did for the novel:

     The tide was out, the afternoon as fine as Scarborough ever offered, except to be warmer for swimming or wading in the sea. Anne stayed with her companions until they reached the beach. Charlotte and Ellen didn’t want to let her go, but were helpless against Anne’s will and legs strengthened by her need to get away from what held her back. The sands cushioned and eased her walking down to the donkey-pulled traps once a cause of pity for those who, because of age, disability or disease, had no other way to enjoy mobility up and down the South Bay shoreline.

     “I need some help,” Anne was loathed, but forced to say to the Heathcliff-like lad who chose her before she had a chance to employ another. She also unwillingly groaned as he lifted her onto the seat of his brightly painted little vehicle.

     “Yer all bones, Miss.” He was soon sitting beside her, surprising her again by laying a small woolen blanket over her lap. It was ragged and smelly, but instantly warmed her legs.

     He picked up the reins. Anne noticed he also had a whip in his left hand.

     “A gentle drive, please.” Anne couldn’t be sure of the lad’s compliance until he put the whip away. They began to move along at a pace that didn’t jolt her body or feel rushed.

     After about five minutes the whip was in his hand again. “This aint a funeral, ole girl.” He cracked it across the donkey’s hind quarters.

     The donkey stopped and kicked up her back legs. The lad lifted his arm to strike her a second time.

     “Stop it.” Anne grabbed the reins, the blanket sliding to her feet. If she couldn’t be his equal in physical strength then in will. “Get off. I’ll drive myself.”

     “’Tis my cart ’n my beast. Well, my da’s.”

     “You—he—might own one but not the other. Not God’s blessed creature.”

     “Well, suit yersen.” He jumped down. “It’ll cost ye mar.”

     “Why should it? To reward your cruelty?” Anne was almost in tears, leaning perilously forward to stroke the donkey where the boy had hit her. “Don’t you know it’s wicked to beat her? How would you like it? What if it was done to you?”

     His eyes told her it had been.

     Imagining his story, she struggled with continuing to scold him, but, also, realized an opportunity to make him more empathetic. “Animals live and feel as we do. You must remember that in how you treat them.”

     He mumbled his reasons for needing Millie to go faster, not so much now, out of season, but when the crowds came and he lost business to other boys who sold two even three rides to his one. Anne told him he might charge a little more for customers who wanted or even required a slower ride.

     “You might specialize,” she concluded, not sure she had talked him into anything the offer of an extra penny would have also achieved.

     “No, Anne, you can’t.” Ellen was running up from the water’s edge.

     “I can. And I will.” Immediately Anne was sorry she sounded so cross with her friend. “I’ll be fine.”

     “You won’t go far? Not out of sight.”

     “Once up and down.”

     “Tha’ll tak ’n hour or mar wi’ Millie,” the boy remarked.

     “If it does, there’ll be another coin for you. Oh, here comes Charlotte.” Anne barely tugged the reins and Millie lifted her head, braying as she began to walk.

     Anne didn’t feel guilty escaping. She had saved Millie 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 help thinking about what came next, mulling over questions soon to be answered.

5. END Anne Driving Cart

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. Anne wanted dying to be welcome and welcoming, releasing and promising, like driving along the shore that afternoon and how she had tried to steer her life, her hands on the reins but faith guiding her progress.

Graying Millie might be slow but she was wise, going gingerly one way and then the other, staying above the wettest sand that could swallow enough of the carriage’s wheels to necessitate a cry for help. When they did stop, it was because Millie decided to. What some called a dumb animal Anne appreciated as a special creature of God’s making, who sensed Anne’s need to pause and reflect in some semblance of solitude.

 … She waved to Charlotte and Ellen waiting with the donkey boy.

 

 

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring and carried aloft on the wings of the breeze.
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

To regret the exchange of earthly pleasures for the joys of Heaven, is as if the groveling caterpillar should lament that it must one day quit the nibbled leaf to soar aloft and flutter through the air, roving at will from flower to flower, sipping sweet honey from their cups, or basking in their sunny petals. If these little creatures knew how great a change awaited them, no doubt they would regret it; but would not all such sorrow be misplaced?
~ Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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

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

 

Christina Rossetti: The Birthday of Her Life

Christina Rossetti: The Birthday of Her Life

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

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

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

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

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

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

A Birthday
By Christina Rossetti


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

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

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

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch

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

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

Ecce Ancilla Domini, or The Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

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

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1877

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

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

Happy Birthday, Christina Rossetti

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

The Singing Lesson

As promised, more excerpts from my publications. Two this time, from A House Near Luccoli and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled


     She knew what she shouldn’t do. But the harpsichord’s graceful frame wasn’t the only one within reach.
     “I told you, don’t lean on anything!”
     She was forgiving and forgiven, but mostly frustrated with her voice that felt trapped in her head.
     “Sigh.”
     “Sigh?”
     “Like the wind worked into a gale.” Alessandro stood up and took her in his arms, his fingers climbing her spine.
     Surprise disguised shame as she didn’t resist him.
     “Most singers won’t wear corsetti. Haven’t you noticed the size of their waists?”
     She wondered how he might make fun of her.
     “No frowning. Sing and weep. Never frown.” He lifted her arms. “Sigh. For me.”
     She had to admit he was making it easier and easier to do so.
     “Keep your arms up.” His hands pushed against her diaphragm. “Make it a sliding note, higher, higher,” he dropped them from the inflation of her breasts, “with body and voice until you can’t feel any difference,” to her waist. “Reach from your toes.”
     She held on to pleasing him and not just as he wanted her to sing. She was learning, positioned to rise above the inexperience of her voice and fall for the consequence of his instruction, forgetting herself and willing to defy anyone or anything that might prevent her going further. He clapped and returned to the harpsichord, propping a knee on its seat, his fingers leading on the keyboard, his eyes directed toward the lyrics in front of him.
     She added them to the tune she wasn’t familiar with, either, faltering, like a baby beginning to talk or her father attempting Italian. Alessandro realized he was playing too fast, not patient but willing to accompany her until she could handle it the other way around. She appreciated his tolerance and did her best to show him, slowly putting the words together into melody and meaning, phrases rolling, his encouragement exaggerating her ability.
     He conducted with the sway of his head. “Entice! Enjoy! They’re not just notes, but many avventure, one giving way for the next.”
     Her breath and soprano’s range were reaching their limit.
     “Don’t struggle. Think of a kiss. Soften your mouth. Open it, lift your tongue.”
     She understood how he got himself in trouble but also made the best singers.
     “No. Birds. Think of how they hold their bodies and announce their throats before they make a sound. They believe they’re made for singing. They don’t try, don’t strain, and don’t hang on. They know they have to do it.” He gave his hand and heart to the music, remembering a stage warmed by candles and great passions. “Like flying. Or mating. Or dying.”
     She was silent.
     “You’re giving up?”
     “I need a lower key.”
     “You don’t.”
     “But … you said … the high note isn’t all.”
     “Did I?”
     “Yes.”
     “Sometimes I say things I don’t mean.” He rose to adjust her posture, gentler maneuvering her head, gliding around her. “But always, the range of a voice is like the heart for amore.” Her neck was alert to his next move. “According to the available singers or lovers.”
     Donatella continued to imagine someone walking in, whether a suspicious relation or just reliable and unreliable servant bringing limonata or, now it was almost December, mulled wine. A lady would know how to pretend she wasn’t compromised by anything than what was supposed and a gentleman would let her have her innocence.

     “Oh, I must hear Stradella.” Master Purcell swung out his arms as though into an embrace.
     “Let me choose.” Mama was irresistibly devious, lifting page after page.
     “Something lighthearted and melodious, if you please.” the young composer’s arms dropped. “As I feel sure he would have wished to entertain us.”
     “It is here.”
     “No, Mama.” Donatella realized her mother’s discovery and an ache in her stomach.
     Master Purcell was soon performing the selected music with his eyes and a delicate finger in the air. “Will you sing it, Mistress?”
     “Yes, yes. With my daughter, Donata, as she is shy. It’s her specialty.”
     “Really?” Master Purcell screwed his mouth, skeptical but interested.
     “In fact, Maestro Stradella might’ve written it for her.”
     “Oh, no, Mama. In Rome, before—”
     “You knew him?” Master Purcell motioned for Lonati who had been listening without comprehending what should have provoked him into having his say. “I would like to hear this, Carlo. I don’t see a bass viol, but Reggio can improvise. The ladies will sing. There’s only one score.”
     “I know it by heart.” Donatella blindly stepped back into her mother’s arms.
     “Of course you do, darling,” Mama’s soft voice blew into her ear.
     “Ah.” Purcell was watching them closely, and then turned back to Lonati, who was explaining the music to Reggio.
     There was the appropriate silence before Lonati was as elegant and amiable with bow and violin as no other activity afforded him. With every stroke, nod and faraway expression, he was an echo of Alessandro, exacting the very best from the composition and the late composer’s nature, generous with his talent, uninhibited with his playing, making the music his own only as he adored it. His reminiscent virtuosity swept Donatella onto the waves of Le donne più bella like a ship with a steady breeze in its sails, Reggio’s archlute-continuo encouraging the rolling sensation. Her mother’s grasp of her arm and escorting vocal weakened, soon leaving Donatella alone with each poetic turn of phrase and melodic ornamentation.
     Donatella listened, the sound of her singing always a surprise. She grew more and more trusting as she interpreted the aria with good legato, shading and tone, her jaw relaxed and her tongue in the proper position, her chest lifted but not too proud. Lonati flourished in-between her dreamy declarations, Reggio constant until the end that softened and lingered in harmony with her final passage.
     She kept her eyes closed, the silence longer than before the performance, as though her singing had not only used up her breath but everyone else’s, too.

Visit the novels’ booklaunch pages for purchase links and more:
A House Near Luccoli 
To A Strange Somewhere Fled

©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.

Traction

I have been delinquent in posting to this blog for the last few months, but with the care of my 91 year old bedridden, nearly blind mother and the house inside and out, a part-time job (working mostly from home), grocery shopping, etc. etc. all on my own, I can barely find the time and energy to write my next novel and try to get enough sleep, stay healthy – well, not completely disintegrate.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I don’t often write about my personal life, unless indirectly through my prose and poetry.

Today, I feel an overwhelming need to put down my guard and express how discouraged I feel when it comes to getting some traction as an author. I had a nasty blow in the spring in regards to a response by a Brontë Scholar to my third published novel, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A fine and Subtle Spirit, which knocked out the little wind I had in my writing sails. I thought I had gotten over it, but, I’m afraid, it and its author are still “living in my head rent free” – as someone I love and admire told me back when it first happened.

In thinking about my, at times, almost debilitating sense of discouragement, I felt that even if I might never achieve awards and best seller listings like other authors, I might hope for a few more readers who would find something entertaining, engaging, emotive, enlightening, and even enchanting in the novels and stories I’ve published thus far.

I didn’t intend for this post to seem like whining or begging for sympathy. I would rather it be a reminder to discerning, adventurous readers to discover choices outside and in the shadows of the obvious ones. I know I am not alone in my struggle to be a better known author.

In order to post more consistently in the near future, considering the time and energy constraints of my current personal situation, I will be sharing excerpts from my published novels and short stories – even a few from my current work-in-progress – hopefully, to offer pleasure and a little temptation.

Hope is like a harebell trembling from its birth.
~ Christina Rossetti

My first published novel was A House Near Luccoli
August, 2012, All Things That Matter Press

Visit the novel’s one-stop page for synopsis, reviews, trailer, buy links, and more!

Excerpt from Chapter Two

     The door opened. A harpsichord entered, hesitant, fragile, blushing and elegant with carved cheeks, perfect curves, and small feet. It was permanently adorned with sprays of roses and fern, lifted over the threshold by a lover who knew how to handle his passion.
     He wasn’t daunted by the heights to which it must yet be taken. “Bene, my spirito has ascended her to heaven.”
     “Now, my muscle, too.” A man of lesser age and quality took hold of the instrument’s narrowing end, swinging it around and walking backwards, resenting his position.
     Despina saw Donatella on the stairs. “Out of the way.”
     “Ah.” The new lodger widened his eyes, conducting the scene into civility. “Golone, let the maid pass.”
     The mistake might have been upsetting if he hadn’t smiled on Donatella’s self-conscious descent.
     Despina caught up with her sleeve. “See that breakfast is ready.”
     “I’m not hungry, just tired,” Signor Stradella defied reports of being troublesome.
     “Well, I could eat in my sleep.” Golone looked for any reaction, struggling sideways up stair by stair. Maestro’s eyes were down again, the harpsichord at his chest so with the sway of his head and posture of shoulders and arms he might play and carry it at the same time.
     “They brought it all the way from Modena?” Donatella found Nubesta in the breakfast room where hard boiled eggs, fresh anchovies, and chickpea polenta wouldn’t be wasted.
     “No. The Strata Nuova.”
     “Why wasn’t it delivered yesterday?”
     “Signor insisted he handle it himself.” Nubesta was thrilled with what she knew and Donatella didn’t. “So you were a thief in the night.”
     “I didn’t steal anything.”
     “That’s not what I meant. But you did what you said you wouldn’t.”
     “Well … yes … at his request.”
     “Bait.”
     “Ridiculous.”
     “You’ve never been hooked.”
     Donatella had been, then dangled and let go, almost before Nubesta was born.
     “Well, I don’t mind.” Nubesta was eating, slumped on the couch beside double doors opened onto an orchid filled conservatory.
     The young servant didn’t appreciate the limits of her life, hungry for experiences as for the breakfast not meant for her. It wasn’t that she was a bad girl—Despina wouldn’t have her in the house if she were—but her restlessness seemed more unfortunate than her circumstances.
     “We won’t see much of him.”
     “Will he invite his ladies?”
     Donatella didn’t want to think let alone talk about such things. She wouldn’t mind the continuo of a harpsichord stopping and starting as masterpieces were made, its vibrations inspiring the ornamentation of a violin. Soft sighs from a lute would be for the silence of the night when he couldn’t dream without a respondent in his arms. That was how it would be with him there, the sublime above their heads, any scandal somewhere else. Nothing would be seen of him but coming and going, or known of his needs except what the ladies of the household could respectably fulfill.
     “Should we take up a tray?” Donatella turned when Nubesta stood and swallowed.
     Despina had come into the room. “No. Don’t you listen? Signor is resting.”
     “Did he say anything about the apartment?”
     “He shouldn’t have any problem with it.”
     “Well, he seems easy to please.” Nubesta laughed like a woman twice her age.
     Despina stood at the sideboard to eat or not, waving away flies deciding for her. “Get some netting to cover this.”
     The maid was gone, her heavy steps as obvious as her scowl.
     “Close the shutters. The sun’s already hot and will fade the carpet.”
     Donatella plunged the beginnings of the day into night as perhaps the new lodger had done. No, his rooms were on the west side, with windows for viewing ships and sunsets.


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

Beata Beatrix in the Artist’s Studio

One face looks out from all his canvases,

one selfsame figure sits or walks or leans …

~ Christina Rossetti from In The Artist’s Studio

Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1854

 

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

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti sitting to Elizabeth Siddal

 

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

Twelfth Night by Walter Deverell 1851

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

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

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal

 

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

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

 

Ophelia by John Everett Millais 1852

 

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

 

Lovers Listening to Music by Elizabeth Siddal 1854

 

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

Marriage Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1860

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

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

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

Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal

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

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

 

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

In the Artist’s Studio

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

 ~ Christina Rossetti

 

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

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

Anne Brontë’s Farewell

On May 24, 1849, Anne Brontë left her home in Haworth to travel with her sister Charlotte and their dear friend Ellen Nussey to York and then on to Scarborough.

From Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit, written and illustrated by DM Denton​

There weren’t many goodbyes left to make. Home—the touch, the sight, the sounds, the smells, its memories and those yet to be made, its isolation and inclusion, its agreements and arguments, its reverence and scandals, its joys and sorrows—was done with her now. The last time she saw Tabby, the old woman scolded her for leaving them and forgave her with a hug. John Brown busied himself with loading their cases on the gig waiting in Church Street, eventually wishing her well with a wipe of his eyes accepting she wasn’t. Mr. Nicholls was discreet about the private word she’d had with him a few days earlier regarding keeping William’s memorial plaque polished and not giving up on gaining Charlotte’s affection. He was also something of a savior as he steadied her father stumbling back from embracing her shoulders and kissing her cheek. She had made her weepy farewells to Keeper, Tiger and Dick the canary. The years and last days adoring and being adored by Flossy turned into last moments when Martha, tears streaming, carried him out and handed him to Anne already seated in the chaise.

“My dear, dear little man. What a love we have.” Anne buried her face in his silky fur, caressing his underbelly, ears, and tail, kissing each paw, holding onto him until Charlotte and Ellen were squeezed with her and the driver said they had to go if they were to catch their train to Leeds.

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

 

Latest 5-Star Review from Charlie Rauh on Goodreads!

DM Denton’s novel presents an inspired view into the complex mind of Anne Brontë, while illuminating Brontë’s courageous heart in a way never before attempted. Well researched, deeply felt, and uniquely creative – Without The Veil Between follows Anne through her joys, heartbreak, triumphs, and tragic end. Those familiar with the Brontë legacy will appreciate the combination of accuracy and artistry that Denton delivers, however this is also a wonderful introduction for those interested in knowing more about an innovative and often overlooked giant in the history of literature.

Read on Goodreads

 

©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.

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.

 

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.

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’

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