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.

 

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

 

 

May 2019 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.

Anne Brontë’s First Girl, Agnes

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

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

First edition Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

“Sometimes resolve must be adjusted, Anne.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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 188th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830.

She was part of a remarkable family of English-Italian scholars, artists, and poets, her older brother being Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

I thought I’d share a little excerpt from my novel that’s in its very early stages of creation. The following is from the first chapter, describing the intimacy between brother and sister, who, as children, were very similar in temperament and interests. They were called “the two storms”, while their sister Maria and brother William were called ‘the two calms”.

From a photograph by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carol)

In adulthood Gabriel’s hand revered and mocked her, in childhood it held hers on their long walks through the park and zoo, and sometimes even farther to the poor folks’ heights of London named prettily and nostalgically Primrose Hill. For children who didn’t mind being blown about, the broad meadowed mound was a welcome contrast to the grime and gridlock of the city. It offered the chase, not for wolves or boars or deer, but, as a Tutor King must have also enjoyed, the benefits of fresh air, exercise, escape, and a sense of being on top of the world.
Copyright © 2018 by DM Denton

 

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

 

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