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’

Continue reading

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

 

December 31, 1846, Haworth, West Yorkshire

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s New Year’s Eve, after all.”

“I haven’t even made an effort.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 is the Bicentennial of Anne Brontë’s birth!

 

 

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

May it bring sanity, healing,

and an emphasis on love and compassion

for the entire world.

 

 

 

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

Christina Rossetti: Celebrating Her Natal Day

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin 1849 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought it might be appropriate to pray.”

“Not in the Art Catholic’s church.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Maud by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti as a child, by William Bell

 

Happy Birthday, Christina Rossetti

 

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

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.”

 

 

 

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

Anne Brontë died in Scarborough on Monday, May 28, 1849 at about two in the afternoon. Charlotte and Ellen Nussey were at her bedside in Wood’s Lodgings where the Grand Hotel now stands.

Charlotte made the decision to have her youngest sister buried “where the flower had fallen” rather than transport her body back to Haworth. Besides Charlotte and Ellen, the only other mourner at Anne’s Christ Church funeral was their former Roe Head mistress, Miss Wooler, who owned a house on the North Bay. Anne was interred in St. Mary’s churchyard on Castle Hill overlooking the sea.

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

There is no doubt that Anne Brontë’s dying words – “Take courage” – to her sole surviving sister, Charlotte, present a moving finale to her earthly story.

On the Death of Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte

Well into writing Without the Veil Between, I decided to portray Anne’s death without the scene of her final moments. I wanted her last days to unfold on its pages as they did for Anne herself, not as a lament but with gratefulness for her fine and subtle, purposeful and poetic life without end.

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

Anne’s insistence, a few days before she died, not only on taking a donkey ride on Scarborough’s south sands, but on doing so alone and driving the cart herself, because she didn’t want the donkey pulling it to be mistreated, begged to be expanded out of the footnotes of her history. Her actions and reasons exemplified her quiet determination and independence, kind heart, strong conscience, and desire to do some good even as her life was drawing to an end far too soon.

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 ain’t 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.”

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.”

 

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

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.

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.

 

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’m thrilled to report that Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit has made it onto the shelves of the Brontë Parsonage Museum Shop! Thank you to The Brontë Society!

©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.

Influencing Hearts and Conversations – A Birthday Celebration

I can’t let the day pass without ‘mentioning’ (in this updated re-post) that it is Alessandro Stradella‘s birthday (April 3, 1639, near Rome), the mesmerizing figure at the center of my first published novel, A House Near Luccoli.

Stradella_pe_pe resized

Illustration by DM Denton©

In the seven and a half years since its publication, I have certainly noticed more interest in and attention on Stradella and his music. In January of 2016, BBC Radio 2 broadcasted How to Flee From Sorrow* – Behind (Stradella’s) lovely, well-ordered music was a life bursting with ambition and starved of security. The program’s musical director was Alberto Sanna, musicologist and violinist, who has released the first-ever complete period-instrument recording of Alessandro Stradella’s beautiful yet neglected Two-Part Sinfonias.

*The entire program is not currently available, except as occasionally re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4, but teasers are available here and here.

Click here for a wonderful and insightful piece about Stradella – “Wild man of the Baroque” – by the program’s writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Presentation2 with Cantata Cover and Villa Doria background picmonkey1

Since 2016, the Festival Barroco Alessandro Stradella has been held in September in Stradella’s birthplace of Nepi, Italy. Click here for the program from 2018.

The composer’s arrival at a house near Luccoli in April 1681 put a cat among pigeons.

Harpsichord and Genoa with books.jpg with text 2 white

She smelled a candle burning, but it didn’t light the short hall. In the main room a window was open, with the settee moved closer to it, Signor Stradella a masterpiece resting there. One dark leg was stretched and falling over the back of the couch, a ruffled hand on its knee; the other bent to the floor and, even without stocking and shoe, appeared ready to walk away. He had also undressed to his shirt still buttoned high and wrinkled softly because it was made of the finest linen. A slight breeze blew his hair over his face. As he realized her burdened entrance, his right shoulder pillowed a half-smile and he reached out lazily.

“Did you bring bavareisa?”

“What’s that?” She clumsily laid the tray down on the gray marble hearth, not wanting to bend with her back to him.

Cioccolata and caffè.”

“We don’t have coffee. It’s too expensive.”

“I’ll pay for it.” He swung into sitting, hunched and rubbing his neck. “I’m getting one of my headaches.”

“It’s the weather.” Donatella offered him a drink.

He accepted it, the tips of his fingers friendlier than they should have been. “A veil over the sun, like a woman at Messa.” He tasted it. “Ah. Fresco.”

“Squeezed this morning. Nonna says it’s good for clearing the voice.”

Cara Nònna.” He raised his glass, then emptied it with a kiss on its rim. “I’ve heard she was very rebellious. I wonder you didn’t become the same.”

“I wasn’t meant to.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it didn’t happen.”

She was still holding the folder.

“I believe that’s why you’ve come?”

He moved slowly to make space on the table where his inventions were layered and sprawled, so many at once. By the time she placed the copy there he was sitting once more, leaning forward, his head in his hands.

“You can let me know.” She felt intrusive. “I’ve never seen you at Maddalena before.”

He rose, admitting his rudeness. “I was testing the sound for a wedding there.”

“It must be a special one.”

“Ah. I’ll make it so.” His teeth showed. “Così.” He leaned over the table, the side of his face long and angled, eyelashes still and mouth taut, the first page flipped for the second, the second for the third, every one after that as unremarkable.

“I’m untrained.”

He looked at the first page again, his index finger, chin, and muted hum following the stanzas. “Ah. You see. Just a little more space here and this note a little higher, the words not quite aligned.”

Her hope of impressing him was gone.

“No, no.” He showed sensitivity to being misunderstood. “Even my last copyist, a priest, cursed my sloppiness.”

“I did my best.”

“Ah. Anyway, there are many arie in the serenata, besides duetti and trii and sinfonie. I need copies of each by—you saw the date; barely a month away. Before that for rehearsal.” He closed the folder, falling back on the settee. “And only so-called musicisti in Genova, too quick or too slow or distracted by ambizione. Will you do more for me?”

She had to consider. His reputation. Her motivation. She couldn’t sign her name to the work, freely spend any payment, or even show some pride. Sneaking around, her aunt would eventually find out and put a stop to it anyway.

“Is that cake?”

“Yes.”

“For the flies?”

“Oh.” She rescued the plate.

He took a slice, eating it almost without chewing. “As we live dangerously opening windows.” He reached for another, nodding for her to take what was left.

“All right,” she answered.

Bene allora.”

“I mean … I will help you.”

Mangia.”

“Oh, yes.” She broke a corner of the last piece on the plate.

He got up to pour her a glass of limonata, staring as her lips, covered in crumbs, finally took a sip.

~ From A House Near Luccoli

Despite the circumstances that dictated the ending of the novel, Stradella continues to influence hearts and conversations in its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

Casee's Book Photo on Dark Blue Background with Text_pe

Excerpts from To A Strange Somewhere Fled

She made her mark as unexpectedly as before, becoming more and more involved with its swirling and sliding and dotting, rising and falling with her shoulders and satisfaction. She was definitely possessed by a melodic hum and laughter in her head, the tease of a draft on her neck, and the surprise that she hadn’t forgotten how to serve a master. She knew he was smiling as she checked her work, a mistake here and there repentantly fixed, page after page turned into another chance to show that, in theory and practice and ways she didn’t need to understand, she was worthy of his presence.

Yes, it felt like he was there, pacing the room and wringing his hands as he realized he couldn’t change anything.  She could, with his permission. What else allowed her to hear a note held longer or twilled higher, a crescendo misplaced, or toccata written more for poetry than a harpsichordist’s dexterity? What would have put such ideas in her head, except the desire of one who had touched her with his variations?

***

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.

***

It looked as though Master Purcell was trying to hide under the stairs. Roger inquired about his journey from London and he emerged to reveal that he had interrupted the trip with a night at Oxford and much drinking, and another at Rousham Park and even more feasting.

Donatella didn’t expect him to recognize her, but when Roger moved aside she became “that most courteous copyist who had also forgiven Stradella.”

“And I hope you’ll pardon me, Harry, but the guests will soon arrive and you need to tidy yourself and prepare.” Roger didn’t know he showed concern for anything but the plan for the evening ahead.

“Well, I am a little dusty.” Master Purcell winked in Donatella’s direction. “I wonder if Stradella was always impeccably turned out.”

They walked into the hall and Donatella wanted to tell him about the man she had known as reported but, also, in very different ways. Would Master Purcell believe Alessandro had been in need of friendship more than love, or that he had grown tired of making music for those who only listened to their own importance? Would it seem as ridiculous to say he would have rather roamed the streets, lost in the crowds and songs of Carnival, than found to be wanting in nobler society? She could describe him as flamboyant in disguise and excessive when it came to enjoying himself, yet he had the sense to be gracious in his manners, and even humble when it weighed in his favor and, especially, his purse. She might also reveal the unshaven, disheveled creature that growled with frustration and cursed the affairs that caused him more trouble than they were worth.

Surely, Master Purcell would rather hear about Alessandro’s genius and even his sacred purpose: how the music came to him like the archangel Gabriel, because he was highly chosen with or without the patronage of any prince or princess.


I “knew” Alessandro Stradella. I recognized his distinct voice, his swaying form, his infectious smile, and his wandering heart. I had witnessed the rise and fall of his talents, how his music had showered him with forgiveness if not fortune.

So I celebrate his birth!

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 to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Mother, Accept I Pray, My Offering

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while, have seen my mom’s beautiful artwork and, through me, shared in her whimsical but indomitable spirit.

Copyright 2012 by JM DiGiacomo

She has been seriously ill with pneumonia over the last month and now is home with me, bedridden and under palliative care. She is eating better, seems stronger, and is in good spirits. Are there challenges? Yes, of course. But I only have to look over and see her there (have moved her hospital bed into the living room) and I know it is worth overcoming the difficulties the best I can to spend such valuable time with her.

Today, March 10, 2019, is her 90th birthday! All the more special because there were many moments over the last weeks that I questioned whether she would be with me and the kitties to celebrate this milestone.

My mom at nineteen

In terms of this post, to mark her birthday, I’m sharing an excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poetess, Christina Rossetti. Christina was extremely close to her mother, whom she lived with virtually all her life until her mother died at the age of 85.

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

This post is also the unveiling of the working title of my novel about Christina:

The Dove Upon Her Branch

(One of the first poems Christina wrote was at the age of eleven to mark her mother’s birthday)

“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 © 2019 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by June M DiGiacomo (from a card my mom painted for my birthday 7 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 2012 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

Happy 90th Birthday, Mom!

Taking care of you doesn’t mean putting my life on hold,
but holding my life in your love.

©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.