Fortune How Fickle Thou Art – Marking Birth Day of Branwell Brontë

June 26, 2018 marks the 201st anniversary of the birth of Branwell Brontë in Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire.

Fortune, how fickle

and how vain thou art

~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

When writing about him, his self-destructive tenancies cannot be ignored.

Branwell was sullenly histrionic. To Anne he was a quivering fledgling bird: humped over, swaying, biting his lips, adjusting his glasses or picking at his chin when he wasn’t rubbing his hands. To his own satisfaction, he looked every bit the doomed artistic type. Not for the first time, he struggled to contain his anger when Mr. Robinson was less than civil to his wife, Anne hooking her brother’s arm and holding him back from behaving as wasn’t his place to.
~ from Without the Veil Between

 

In Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, I wanted to do a more complex portrait of him than the bad boy image. After all, he was a much beloved son, brother, and friend right through to the end. There was vanity but, also, a generosity of spirit in him. And a tendency to fall deeply into his emotions, that sometimes caused him to care more for others than himself ...

Her mourning needed companionship, the kind only Branwell, a dear friend to her dearest, could offer. She already knew her brother had devoted himself to William’s care and, in the end, kept vigil by his bedside, just as he had with Aunt Elizabeth.
~ from Without the Veil Between

… which, as well as manifesting in his willingness to nurse others in sickness, in turn caused his downfall and much distress to those that loved him.

      They were all three brimming with anticipation and accomplishment, certain even Branwell stumbling in on them before he went out to damage himself more wouldn’t spoil the pleasantness of those hours.

     “I know I’ve been left out of something. In turn, when my fortune changes, I may do the same to you.”

     Charlotte didn’t look up from writing, as she had announced earlier, to Mary Taylor, who, unlike Ellen, was her confidant on literary matters.

     Emily spoke to Anne instead. “Is that Flossy barking?”

     “No.” Anne’s confusion caused her to stand up.

     “Not Keeper either.”

     Branwell crossed his arms. “You’re all so smug in your sudden togetherness. I’ve heard your disagreements. I’ll wager there’s more to come.”

      “Now it’s a growling.” Charlotte put down her pen.

     Branwell cried out incoherently and left.

     “No. Let him go.” Emily tried to stop Anne from acting on her conscience.

     In hindsight, although Branwell refused to hear her and she returned to the parlor within moments, Anne might blame herself for disrupting the cheerfulness and camaraderie of that evening, and days and nights to come. Charlotte and Emily had fallen into a despondent silence Anne replicated as she looked out the window again. The moon, although shifted, was still pure and calm. The hearth was brighter and warmer. No literal death, sickness or pain entered there. However, where was any balm to soothe their thoughts, mirth to lift their mood, all those looks and smiles of fellowship? The evening’s conviviality had gone astray with Branwell, no words to console the mourning for their endeavors never to include him again.

 

Drawing by Branwell Brontë, included in letter to Joseph Bentley Leyland Copyright University of Leeds

     “He has a heart that welcomes pain.” Anne was more emotional than she wanted to be. “He walks into temptation like a storm he hopes will blow him away.”
~ from Without the Veil Between

 

Read about Branwell on the Bronte Parsonage Museum Page

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

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

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

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

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

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 …
from Without the Veil Between

Branwell Bronte’s earliest surviving sketch of a cat done when he was 11 years old

©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.

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If she were more perfect, she would be less interesting

Counting down to Anne Brontë’s own Brontë200,
the bicentennial
of her birth on January 17, 1820,
today is the 198th birthday
of the youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë.

She is subject of my new novel

Anne Brontë comes through as a leading character in her own right, not as an understudy. Diane has written an exceptional history of a hidden jewel in the family Brontë and imbued her with a strength, a tenderness, and a will to animate and to shine.

Literary fiction has another distinctive voice in Diane Denton.

~ Martin Shone, author of three beautiful poetry collections: Being Human, Silence Happens, and After the Rain.

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

To mark Anne’s birth day, I am sharing an excerpt from Chapter Nine of Without the Veil Between, that includes an Emily initiated celebration.

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

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

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 one of the most extraordinary and transformational
 writing experiences of my life!

 

donatellasmallest© 2018 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.

Impending Birth and Remembering a Death

Getting close to the release,
by my wonderful publishers
All Things That Matter Press,
of my new novel

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

Cover and Interior Illustrations by DM Denton

Still time to add your name to my email list
for notification of the novel’s release
and a chance to win a signed copy!

On this day, October 29th, in 1842, Elizabeth Branwell, aunt to Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë, died.

In the summer of 1821, unmarried at the age of 45, she traveled to Haworth from her native Penzance to be by the side of her dying sister, Maria, wife of the Reverend Patrick Brontë and mother to his six children. After Maria Bronte’s death in September 1821, Elizabeth Branwell stayed on to temporarily help with the care of the Brontë brood, which then included older sisters Maria and Elizabeth who would also die within a few years. When it seemed her brother-in-law was unlikely to remarry, Aunt Elizabeth Branwell took on the permanent role of surrogate mother to the Brontë children. Although it meant enduring the often harsh conditions and seclusion of West Yorkshire, she choose duty, from, I believe, what was a great love for her nieces and nephew, over an easier life in a milder climate, pleasant society, and the familiarity of her native Cornwall.

Aunt Elizabeth was the only “mother” Anne could remember, as a child sharing a bed with her and greatly influenced by her piety, stoicism and sacrifice.

Charlotte and Emily were at school in Brussels at the time of their aunt’s death. Anne, who was governess at Thorpe Green near York, made it home shortly after her funeral. Branwell was the only one of the Brontë children who was with her through her brief but horrible demise from a constriction of the bowel. After her death, he wrote to a friend, ‘I am incoherent, I fear, but I have been waking two nights witnessing such agonizing suffering as I would not wish my worst enemy to endure; and I have now lost the guide and director of all the happy days connected with my childhood.’

Here is an excerpt from Without the Veil Between, set the Christmas after Aunt Elizabeth Branwell’s death:

Death had intruded on them all, but Branwell and their father had spent the most time with it and were physically and emotionally wearied by its visit not once but twice in a little over two months. Anne and her sisters weren’t spared its ruthlessness, although with the loss of her aunt, Anne found some relief, not from grief but the concealment of it.

“However did we all fit in this room?” Charlotte prompted Anne to find courage, even a little delight, in remembering.

“We pushed up the side table, didn’t we?”

“Yes, I believe so. And Branny straddled its pedestal, could hardly eat for its wobbling, and sweated as he was so close to the fire.”

Their brother didn’t look up, his plate as full as it was half an hour before.
“Aunt hated when we teased him,” Charlotte continued to talk about her brother as though he wasn’t there, knowing how to both irritate and indulge him. “She doted on him more than she did you, Anne.”

“She knew his weaknesses,” Reverend Brontë immediately clarified, “but at the end his devotion.”

Branwell spoke softly with his hand over his mouth.

His father reached across the table to pull it down. “Say again.”

“I don’t think so. How could she? Her suffering, such pain as I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”

“She’s not suffering now, my boy.”

“Just regretting.”

Anne, who was sitting next to him, stroked his hand crumbling a piece of bread.

“Oh, I think she’s comfortably settled on her heavenly throne thinking she did her best and we’re no longer her problem.” Charlotte wasn’t eating much either.

“Not how she wasted her life on us?”

“Well, you must let such a question influence your own choices, Son,” Reverend Brontë spoke without a hint of guilt in any reference to his wife’s sister, who had saved him from foolishly continuing his search for a second wife and his children from being motherless, although not any of them from being sinless.

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

Silhouette of a Young Aunt Elizabeth Branwell

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

 

Branwell Brontë: as Broken as all Their Hearts Were

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

Branwell Brontë, Self-Portrait

To commemorate, here is an excerpt from my upcoming novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle SpiritClick here to add your name to my email list, be notified of its release (late 2017) and enter to win a signed copy.

(Please keep in mind, the novel has yet to go through its final edits):

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

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

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

“I don’t think so.”

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

Emily walked up and down the hallway, it seemed for hours, to the drone of her father praying that was some comfort to Anne. Even covered with blankets Charlotte complained she felt cold. She said she was going to throw up, but never needed the chamber pot for that purpose and finally fell asleep.

Anne couldn’t and needing something to do assumed her father hadn’t interrupted his vigil at Branwell’s bedside to wind the long-cased clock.

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

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

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

“You don’t believe such nonsense.”

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

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

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

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

Emily shook her head and went downstairs.

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

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

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

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

“It is.”

Emily usually performed the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata nimbly with soft dynamics and reflective expression, letting it rise and fall like a singer’s perfect breathing and articulation. That night, just past the new moon, too far from old joys, too close to last wishes, one of the darkest nights of the month and their lives, her playing was labored, hesitant, even harsh, as broken as all their hearts were.

Copyright © 2017 by DM Denton

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

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

Branwell Brontë Birth Bicentennial

June 26, 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Branwell Brontë in Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire.

Branwell was sullenly histrionic. To Anne he was a quivering fledgling bird: humped over, swaying, biting his lips, adjusting his glasses or picking at his chin when he wasn’t rubbing his hands. To his own satisfaction, he looked every bit the doomed artistic type. With Mr. Robinson there he became more nervous with any attention Mrs. Robinson showed him, and struggled to contain his anger when her husband was less than civil to her. More than once Anne hooked her brother’s arm and held him back from acting as wasn’t his place to. © 2017 by DM Denton

Of course, he makes many appearances and is an integral character in my upcoming novel focusing on and from the viewpoint of his youngest sister, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

(As) Anne … weaves her gentle spirit into dealing with the dissolution of her brother, her father’s loving distraction, and her two sisters’ determination to overcome the limitations of their sex in Victorian society, the reader gets a sense of how genius rose out of the tensions, love, and straining within the family itself.  ~ from pre-publication review by Thomas Davis, Four Window Press, author of The Weirding Storm, an epic poem

Here’s another Branwell-related excerpt from Without the Veil Between (yet to go through its final edits):

“I thought you would have gone to the Greenhows,” Branwell called out.
He caught Anne turning away from Monk’s lodge, changing her mind about calling on him. “No. It never came up.”
“Did the beast stay behind?”
“Flossy? I didn’t want to deal with him running off, constantly tugging if I kept him on a lead, or having to clean him of mud and, worse, burrs.”
“I didn’t mean Flossy.”
“Then I don’t know whom you’re referring to.”
“Yes, you do. You don’t like the lord of this manor any more than I do.”
“You mustn’t be uncharitable, Branny. Mr. Robinson hasn’t been well.”
Branwell laughed. “Glad to hear it. Will you come in for tea?” He stepped out of the doorway to give her access to it. “Of course, you’ll have to do the honors.”
Anne felt her moralizing rising to the surface while the summer-like mildness and autumn colors begged her to see the calmer, brighter side of the day. “Why don’t you come for a walk? If just around the grounds.” She wasn’t prepared for his agreement, but wasn’t displeased by it either.
“I don’t even need a coat.”
“I’m too warm in this lightweight one. It’s like early September.” Anne involuntarily regressed, small and vulnerable walking beside him, waiting for him to take her hand as he had when she was the youngest of six. Of course, he didn’t.
“Look at all of this—the rolled lawns, trim borders, flourishing trees, picturesque approach to a mansion high and all its comforts inside—that might be mine”
Another kind of hold on Anne allowed her brother to lead her through his misguided expectations: the hope she might yet prevent his thorough downfall.
“It’s not home for us, Branny. It never can be.”
“So what ails the mister now? Perhaps the complimentary letter I received from Macaulay has sickened him again.”
“Anne Marshall said he blames it on last Sunday’s dinner.”
Branwell clapped his hands. “Twasn’t me. Although, I have good reason.”
Anne trembled in silence, because of what she should say.
“Miss Marshall is an annoying fly buzzing around my dear Lydia.”
“She’s doing her job.”
“And some. She sees enough to hang me.”
Anne could no longer refrain from preaching, stopping and forcing herself to grab his arm to prevent him from moving on. “Only because you provide the rope.”
Branwell patted her hand before he pushed it away. “You can do better than such a cliché, my little nothing. Don’t pout. You know I only chide you with affection.”
Anne tried to ignore his condescendence. “I know Miss Marshall. She’s discreet and loyal to her mistress.”
“A mistress so deserving of loyalty as well as more return in kind of her unselfish sincerity, sweet temper, and unwearied care for others.”
Was Anne really almost to the point of giving her brother up to his emotional weakness and ultimate moral decline? “I’ll leave you here. I’m feeling tired. Also, I’d be wise to prepare a German lesson for Misses Mary and Elizabeth in case I’m expected to teach them later, as you might be with Edmund. I don’t like to go in through the front door.”
“Well, you should like it. You will like it when—” Branwell sounded determined until he saw Anne was more so, standing straighter and folding her arms. He raised his voice to ignore her resistance and further his delusion, “—when I’m the master here.”
© 2017 by DM Denton

More about Without the Veil Between here on my blog and/ my website

Add your name to my email list for notification of my new novel’s release!

Read about Branwell and his bicentennial on the Bronte Parsonage Museum Page

Fortune, how fickle and how vain thou art
~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

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

Let’s Go A-Maying

This is a repost, but why not? Hope you enjoy it again or for the first time! And that May brings beauty to your eyes, warmth to your heart and rebirth to your spirit!

On May Morning

Now the bright morning Star, Day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The Flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
Hail bounteous May that dost inspire
Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.
~ John Milton (1608-1674)

 

The first of May, by all its names and traditions, is a day marked for its flowers and frolicking, even if, as Shakespeare wrote: “Rough winds do shake” its “darling buds”.

Edwin-Austin-Abbey-May-Day-Morning

‘May Day Morning’ by Edwin Austin Abbey (1852 – 1911)

For the Druids of the British Isles, Beltane was celebrated to honor the sun, marking the halfway point between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Bonfires were lit, usually on the eve of May 1st, smoke and ashes thought to have a cleansing and protective influence. Like Samhain (November 1st), it was a very important festival. Some say the tradition of a pole decorated with flowers, dancers weaving its ribbon streamers intricately together until knotted, began with the pagans. As innocent as it seems, the May pole is a phallic symbol, which ties in with the day’s theme of the fertility of spring for plants, animals and humans. The May bush, made of hawthorn, rowan or sycamore, was decorated with flowers, ribbons, cloth streamers, even eggshells and candles. “Long life and a pretty wife and a candle from the May bush.” Yellow flowers, like primroses, gorse and marsh marigolds, were tied into crosses to be hung over doorways and laid on windowsills and doorsteps to encourage abundance. The Green man was a masculine ‘face’ covered in leaves and shrubbery, often carried through towns and villages. Feasting took place, food and drink offered to the spirits of nature like fairies or elves.

raising-the-maypole

May’s beginning was a celebratory time for the Romans, too. They called it Floralia: five days from April 28th through May 2nd with much wanton gaiety in honor of their goddess of flowers and fertility, Flora.

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Triumph of Flora by Tiepolo (ca. 1743)

In Medieval times, ‘a-maying’ welcomed the dawn with the gathering of flowers and foliage, and women washing their faces in dew to improve their looks and encourage men to pursue them. A Queen of the May was crowned, a blending of her origins as the flower bride, queen of the fairies, the Roman goddess of springtime (Maia), and Maid Marion from the tales of Robin Hood; in all these guises generally representing purity and the potential for new life.

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‘Queen Guinevere’s Maying’ John Collier (1850 – 1934)

In the puritanical mid-17th century England, May Day was outlawed for a while, a censor the Puritans took to America. The Catholic Church attempted to outlaw the May initiations, but eventually absorbed its pagan rites into its own in order to win converts.

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May Day as ‘Labor Day’ and “International Workers Day’ is marked by a bank holiday in many parts of the world, but not in the US or Canada (instead moved to the first Monday in September), probably because of its association with communism and socialism, which certainly doesn’t prevent Americans and Canadians from welcoming and appreciating this day that, no matter sunshine or showers, warm or cold winds, insists winter is finally over.

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“There not be a buddin’ boy or girl, this day, but be got up n’ gone to bring in May.”

All day she had tried to ignore what was going on out-of-sight but not earshot, unable to deny the appeal of laughter, lively music and singing inspired by the beribboned pole she had watched going up the day before. She didn’t take part, except to secretly act out one of Martha’s reminisces of being young and wanting to look her best for any possible sweetheart. “Wash in dew from the hawthorn tree, and will ever after handsome be.”  Martha also suggested collecting it from ivy leaves or the grass under an oak, emphasizing that it had to be done at or just before sunrise.

“Also prevents freckles, sunburn, chappin n’ wrinkles.”

Donatella took a bowl outside before Martha had arrived and Mama was up. It filled a little as she shook the ivy that hung along the cottage’s front door, the leaves of some kind of thorn at one end of the garden, and the grass she pulled up from under the oak tree at the other. Not sure the dampness everywhere wasn’t from overnight rain, she felt silly and hoped no one saw her running around barefoot and rubbing her face and neck.

~ From my Historical Fiction To A Strange Somewhere Fled (sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

Spring flowers in woods

Wroxton Abbey Woods composite with Spring Flowers by DM Denton

 

 Wishing all a very Merry Month of May!

donatellasmallest©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 tobardessdmdenton. 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.