On the Threshold.

Patiently watch this space for more news regarding

The Dove Upon Her Branch
A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti
by DM Denton

to be published by
​ All Things That Matter Press

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Illustration © Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

On the threshold of a test she might not pass, she opened the door of an area of the stable block converted into an artist’s studio. * 

Too late for love, too late for joy,
Too late, too late!
You loiter’d on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate;
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait.

from The Bride Song by Christina Rossetti

Christina began to believe she would, within a few years, be part of the statistic of girls who never made it to womanhood. She worked herself into a panic writing poems, obsessing over her failings of temperament and heart, and not having enough time to prepare herself for eternity. She might have given a passing thought to what she would miss of marriage and motherhood or the regret or relief of neither being granted her. Ambition to display her cleverness worried her more, not because she might never have a chance to fulfill it, but that she wanted to. So many things needed correcting before she was short-lived. For instance, she liked to hear her verses praised, but should not seek congratulations. Philippians 2:3: Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Did she think too much of herself? She wasn’t very tolerant of other people, too little time left to spend irritated or, worse, bored by them. And what about her resistance to what was required of her? She was far too rebellious, and when she was, or, at least, tried to be obedient, often was resentfully so.

*Excerpts from
The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti
© Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

Christina Rossetti photographed by Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll

Christina Rossetti comes to us
​ as one of those splendid stars that are so far away
they are seen only at rare intervals.


Christina Rossetti focused her thought
on the beautiful object and at the best angle,
so the picture she brings us
is nobly ordered and richly suggestive.

from Christina Rossetti by Elbert Hubbard

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©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.

And that which shall be was.

Christina Rossetti died December 29, 1894, from breast cancer, just three weeks after turning 64. My novel about her – The Dove Upon Her Branch – is nearing completion …

Remembering Christina through her words and mine.

Portrait of Christina Rossetti (1877), by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Passing and Glassing
by Christina Rossetti

All things that pass
    Are woman’s looking-glass;
They show her how her bloom must fade,
And she herself be laid
With withered roses in the shade;
  With withered roses and the fallen peach,
  Unlovely, out of reach
    Of summer joy that was.

    All things that pass
    Are woman’s tiring-glass;
The faded lavender is sweet,
Sweet the dead violet
Culled and laid by and cared for yet;
  The dried-up violets and dried lavender
  Still sweet, may comfort her,
    Nor need she cry Alas!

    All things that pass
    Are wisdom’s looking-glass;
Being full of hope and fear, and still
Brimful of good or ill,
According to our work and will;
  For there is nothing new beneath the sun;
  Our doings have been done,
    And that which shall be was.

Drawing of Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina knew how it felt to have her appearance altered, in an even harsher way than had happened to Fanny who would look out appealingly from more canvases yet. Mirrors would never again return loveliness to Christina.

     “I see no difference in you.” Charles was either lying, which up until then she hadn’t thought him capable of, or blinded by a devotion that perplexed but still pleased her.  

Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;

Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

     At times, Christina felt frantic, the curtain closing too soon. She wouldn’t accept she was performing her final scene with so much left undone, unseen, unsaid, and, especially, unwritten, before her nursery rhymes were in print—in America, too—and she could surprise Charles with their dedication to his baby nephew. Having lived beyond her youth, survived the interruptions of love and other sicknesses, matured into measured accomplishment, and made it through the dark forest with a little income and integrity, growing old was an ending to look forward to.

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch
Copyright 2021 by DM Denton

©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.

Not the Birthday Planned

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

from To My Mother by Christina Rossetti

Today, December 5th, marks the 191st anniversary of the birth of Christina Rossetti, poet and subject of my upcoming novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch.

In 1853, just before Christina’s 23rd birthday, beloved Nonno, her 89 year old maternal grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, suffered a stroke at his home in London. At the time, Christina was living in Frome, Somerset with her parents, helping her mother run a girls day school and take care of her ailing father. Needless to say, it was not one of her happiest birthdays.

Poetry stone in Frome, Somerset to note Christina Rossetti’s connection to the area.

The inscription reads:

Love lights the sun: love through the dark

Lights the moon’s evanescent arc:

Same Love lights up the glow-worms spark …

from What Good Shall my Life Do me?

by Christina Rossetti

Fromefield’s peaking autumnal colors offered some consolation after Maria returned to London. November was dreary but, also, restorative, an adjustment and relief after months of visitors and daytrips. Once a week or every other Christina shopped in town, nature walks few and far between because of damp, chilly weather. As winter approached and came before it officially did, Christina morphed into an interior creature, knowing it was time to hide away and exist on what was stored within. School was winding down for the Christmas holiday, which promised four weeks of aristocratic leisure. Teaching was almost rewarding at times, as she had never expected it would be, the few girls still at the school quite comfortable with each other and their teacher, Mama, relinquishing that role more and more to her youngest.

     Christina finally had the opportunity to try out the new paint brushes William had sent along with Maria. Out of regret for complaining that two had split quills, she was determined to make good use of them—so far an inadequate portrait of Mama. Such a forgiving, if not forgetful, creature, William had given her a five-pound note for her birthday. She considered spending a few pounds on replacing worn items in her wardrobe, the remainder saved. When Mama returned, a trip to London might be considered good use of it; if after Boxing Day, at least to celebrate the New Year with her siblings. Another incentive was to show appreciation for Amelia’s gift of a pretty collar and sleeves by wearing them in her friend’s presence.

     Christina intended them to complement a frock other than black or gray, her azure-blue conservatively contrasting the crisp white of the butterfly-themed guipure lace.

     “I won’t stay until the twenty-fifth. Papa doesn’t want me to go at all, but there are things to be taken care of. Once they are, I’ll be back, and you can be on your way. ” Mama said wearily while they waited on the platform for her train.

     “I wish we could all live in London again.”

     “We will, dearest,” Mama squeezed Christina’s hand, “before too long.”

      How comforting it was to make plans in one’s head; in one’s heart, more foolish. A few days later Amelia’s present had gone from being impatiently draped over Christina’s vanity table mirror to storage in a deep drawer with a few other frivolous accessories.

from The Dove Upon Her Branch © 2021 by DM Denton

Christina Rossetti, sketch by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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

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

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

from Maud by 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.

Something Besides Her Own Fortitude and Segregation

July 30th marks the anniversary in 1818 in Thornton, Yorkshire of the birth of Emily Brontë, one of the most uniquely fearless, impassioned, enigmatic, and elusive poets and novelists of all time.

My novel Without the Veil Between, published in November 2017, focuses on Anne Bronte, but Emily is very present in it. Long after all the Brontë sisters had died, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey wrote in Reminisces of Charlotte Brontë that “[Emily] and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”

This closeness became more and more palpable as I progressed along the path of research and writing Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

Emily was as essential to Anne as Anne was to Emily, whether she and Anne were together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or physically apart like when Emily was at school in Brussels or Anne was working as a governess. They invigorated each other’s imagination, offered a sense of belonging, and balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The ethereal essence of their connection was enough to overcome their growing apart when it came to the fantasy writing that had bonded them as children and adolescents.

Emily never stopped being an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her youngest sister to leave at least some of her spirit unfettered and even encouraged her to now and then step out of life’s responsibilities and live a little wildly.

O come with me, thus ran the song,
The moon is bright in Autumn’s sky,
And thou hast toiled and laboured long
With aching head and weary eye.

~ From O Come With Me by Emily Brontë

Anne’s influence on Emily was less obvious, easier to view Emily as more akin to nature and mystery than real people, floating untethered in her own self-created, solitary, independent, irreligious orbit. For me, all of that remains true while, at the same time, I feel Emily was deeply attached to Anne: that she admired her level-headedness and faith-filled, forgiving, moralistic, yielding yet strong nature, and valued her opinion, especially creatively.

Anne was a safe haven where Emily could rely on something besides her own fortitude and segregation. Anne was someone who understood her and had no wish to change her.

There was profound understanding and acceptance, truth and endurance in the love each had for the other.

What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by resuming their habit of wandering west to meet only earth and sky. Their dogs, like themselves, with contrasting physiques and personalities, were intrinsically similar, especially in their need to frequently escape the stuffiness and limited amusement of being indoors.

“Flossy, come back,” Anne tried to command the impulsive spaniel off once more to chase sheep.

Emily had no trouble getting Keeper to lie down with a firm annunciation of his name while she pointed to the ground, although his whimpering implied he was still thinking about following Flossy’s example.

“Flossy. Bad boy, bad boy.”

“If you control your little Robinsons like you do that sassy mutt, I fear they won’t live long.”

As if it heard Emily’s prediction, a large ewe turned on Flossy, which brought the dog running back up the steep slope to his forgiving mistress.

On second thought, Anne tried to be tougher with a disciplinary tap on Flossy’s nose, then embraced him again. “Good boy.”

“Methinks he’s exactly what you always wanted … to be.” Emily was walking again, her direction declaring her destination. Their ascent to Top Withens would be delayed an hour or more, if Emily’s mood was more for reclining and swirling her hand in the water to stir up tadpoles.

When Ellen Nussey was with them, from crossing the slabbed bridge over Sladen Beck to climbing a rugged bank, navigating greasy stones and not minding a little dampening, there was always an echo of “watch your step”. With just Anne and the dogs following her lead, Emily didn’t have anything to say until they were at the best seat in view of the waterfall.

“No, you take it, Annie. I relinquish my throne to you.”

“Any of the other stones would do for me.”

“I insist on taking care of you.”

Anne didn’t mind Emily acting more like an older brother than Branwell ever did, or even a gallant lover, reminiscent of childish acting-out. In truth, she depended on it. In that small oasis of time, standing still where they were hidden from the world, their faithful companions conspiring to find something to occupy themselves, there was so much to enjoy and be grateful for. The sky was open in sight of heaven, high ground around and beyond them, the sun warming and a breeze cooling, the sound of water calming, and faintly fragrant moss glistening on the rocks with tiny white stars appearing between some of them.

Yet, more as if she was on a stormy ocean than in a quiet cove, panic overwhelmed Anne until she could hardly breathe.

Emily lightly rubbed Anne’s back and twisted up a strand of her hair loosened from its simple arrangement.

Anne cleared her throat, choking, Flossy pawing at her knees, Keeper barking.

“Go ahead and spit.” Emily helped her sister lean over to do so. “Other than me, there’s only the dogs, flies, tadpoles and, perhaps, God to witness it.”

Anne laughed and spoke hoarsely, “What would I do without you?”

“Better than I have done without you.”

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

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While thou canst speak with such a tone!

~ From To Imagination by Emily Brontë

Continue reading

The Cat and the Fiddle: In the Spirit of ‘Carnevale’ (for a second year despite Covid-19)

Italy cancels Venice Carnival 2021

VENICE, Italy — In another year, masks would be a sign of the gaiety in Venice, an accessory worn for games and parties as big crowds parade about to show off their frivolous, fanciful costumes, especially ones with decorative face coverings.

The Italian canal city’s Carnival festivities should have started Saturday (January 30 – February 16, 2021), but the covid-19 pandemic has made its annual appointment for more than two weeks of merry-making impossible. https://www.arkansasonline.com

So, celebrate virtually with this post (that I bring out every year anyway) including an excerpt from my novel A House Near Luccoli.

Today, February 16, 2021 is Martedí Grasso (Fat Tuesday) of Carnevalea final celebration before Ash Wednesday and Lent.

“Life will show you masks that are worth all your carnivals”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s the main day of Carnival … The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Ivrea has the characteristic “Battle of Oranges” that finds its roots in medieval times. Italy is the birthplace of Carnival celebrations, having its origins in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia~ Wikipedia

There are a few theories on where the name Carnevale originated, the most popular put to verse by Lord Bryon:

This feast is named the Carnival, which being
Interpreted, implies “farewell to flesh”:
So call’d, because the name and thing agreeing,
Through Lent they live on fish, both salt and fresh. 

With roots in the Latin phrase carnem levare, “put away flesh” (carnem: flesh – levare: put away), the name evolved into carnelevare in Old Italian, then carnelevale, then carnevale, and, finally, carne, vale!—“Farewell, meat!”— appropriately referencing the Catholic tradition of giving up meat-eating from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The Italian carnival that usually comes to mind has taken place in Venice since the eleventh century. In the seventeenth century these “Baroque celebrations” were “a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world” (Wikipedia), and it became even more popular and licentious in the 1700s until outlawed in 1797 when Venice was ruled by the King of Austria who also forbade the wearing of masks at any time. It reappeared during the nineteenth century, primarily for private celebrations and artistic expression. Carnevale di Venezia was revived in 1979 as an annual cultural event pronouncing Venice as even more magical and surreal with actors, acrobats, musicians, residents and visitors disguised in extravagant masks and costumes while enjoying themselves to the extreme.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Italian cities had a tradition of mask-wearing, enabling questionable behavior among those needing to protect their reputations, laws passed to restrict masquerading to certain times of the year like Carnevale. Besides serving as subterfuge for inquisitors, spies, high officials and nobility who couldn’t resist behaving badly, donning masks presented an opportunity for covert defiance by those on the lower levels of society.

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

For those of you who have read my historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, you will know that Martedi Grasso offers some pivotal scenes. Although the novel begins a few years after the 17th century composer Alessandro Stradella‘s arrival in Genoa, Carnevale was initially his reason for going (well, there might have been one or two other reasons …) and then he was encouraged to stay.

This week I go to Genoa, invited by some gentlemen of that city, where I will spend carnival …
~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel (one of his patrons), dated Turin, 16 December, 1677

I arrived in Genoa safe and sound already last week, where I was favored by many gentlemen who vied to have me in their homes … And from the moment of my arrival till now, I have always had to spend my time with ladies and gentlemen, all greatly interested in me, and actually they favour me with so many kindnesses and so much applause that I do not know what more I could desire, and in every way they show very great pleasure in my inadequate talent.
~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel, dated Genoa, 8 January 1678 

Read Chapter Twenty-three, one of the Carnevale Chapters of

 A House Near Luccoli in full HERE.

Wander through this brief moment in Italian Baroque musical history and let the author and Alessandro Stradella, Donatella, and a whole host of wonderful characters give you the “spirit of Carnevale“.
~  Martin Shone, author of the poetry collections Silence Happens, Being Human, and After the Rain.

Sleep well tonight. She wished she had taken his advice, but she couldn’t stop looking at the explicitly elegant gown hanging on the wardrobe. Nonna would have enjoyed the sight. It was silk and pearl buttoned, curving and billowing white, beribboned in sapphire and trimmed in bronze. Also warm and cold, tight and loose, depending on what the weather and outcome would be. A few hours later she was like a cat that had fallen from an open window, suddenly finding herself where she both longed and was afraid to be, feeling the hardness of pavement and softness of air.

Alessandro insisted she put on her mask again. “And practice on the way.”

“Practice what?”

“Walking like a cat, purring like a cat.”

“Really.” She wasn’t averse to doing so. “I’ve never seen a blue one.”

“You’ll see others turning green.”

Although her face was immovable and pale, she couldn’t hide her pleasure.

“All that’s left is for you to rub against my legs.”

Alessandro was all in white, as if he had absorbed winter from his hat like a boat with one wind-torn sail to frill topped hose and overly flapped boots. He was wimpled in lacy layers to his shoulders, tightly short coated and cavalier, out of fashion but not style, laddered rows of braid with buttons unfastened to the shine of his shirt also showing through gaping slashes on his sleeves. It would have been a perfect disguise but for the distinctiveness of his stride and attitude of his head exaggerated by a duckbill mask, the shine of his lower lip appearing when his expressive, unmistakable voice did.
~ Read full excerpt from A House Near Luccoli

It doesn’t end there!
The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets,
and an irrepressible spirit
stow away on Donatella’s journey

To A Strange Somewhere Fled (sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

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.

Traction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from Chapter Two

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


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

The Cat and the Fiddle: In the Spirit of ‘Carnevale’ (despite Coronavirus)

Italy cancels last two days of Venice Carnival because of Coronavirus

 

So, safely celebrate with this post (that I bring out every year) including an excerpt from my novel A House Near Luccoli.

Today, February 25, 2020 is Martedí Grasso (Fat Tuesday) of Carnevalea final celebration before Ash Wednesday and Lent.

“Life will show you masks that are worth all your carnivals”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s the main day of Carnival … The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Ivrea has the characteristic “Battle of Oranges” that finds its roots in medieval times. Italy is the birthplace of Carnival celebrations, having its origins in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia~ Wikipedia

There are a few theories on where the name Carnevale originated, the most popular put to verse by Lord Bryon:

This feast is named the Carnival, which being
Interpreted, implies “farewell to flesh”:
So call’d, because the name and thing agreeing,
Through Lent they live on fish, both salt and fresh. 

With roots in the Latin phrase carnem levare, “put away flesh” (carnem: flesh – levare: put away), the name evolved into carnelevare in Old Italian, then carnelevale, then carnevale, and, finally, carne, vale!—“Farewell, meat!”— appropriately referencing the Catholic tradition of giving up meat-eating from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The Italian carnival that usually comes to mind has taken place in Venice since the eleventh century. In the seventeenth century these “Baroque celebrations” were “a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world” (Wikipedia), and it became even more popular and licentious in the 1700s until outlawed in 1797 when Venice was ruled by the King of Austria who also forbade the wearing of masks at any time. It reappeared during the nineteenth century, primarily for private celebrations and artistic expression. Carnevale di Venezia was revived in 1979 as an annual cultural event pronouncing Venice as even more magical and surreal with actors, acrobats, musicians, residents and visitors disguised in extravagant masks and costumes while enjoying themselves to the extreme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Italian cities had a tradition of mask-wearing, enabling questionable behavior among those needing to protect their reputations, laws passed to restrict masquerading to certain times of the year like Carnevale. Besides serving as subterfuge for inquisitors, spies, high officials and nobility who couldn’t resist behaving badly, donning masks presented an opportunity for covert defiance by those on the lower levels of society.

 

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

For those of you who have read my historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, you will know that Martedi Grasso offers some pivotal scenes. Although the novel begins a few years after the 17th century composer Alessandro Stradella‘s arrival in Genoa, Carnevale was initially his reason for going (well, there might have been one or two other reasons …) and then he was encouraged to stay.

This week I go to Genoa, invited by some gentlemen of that city, where I will spend carnival …
~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel (one of his patrons), dated Turin, 16 December, 1677

I arrived in Genoa safe and sound already last week, where I was favored by many gentlemen who vied to have me in their homes … And from the moment of my arrival till now, I have always had to spend my time with ladies and gentlemen, all greatly interested in me, and actually they favour me with so many kindnesses and so much applause that I do not know what more I could desire, and in every way they show very great pleasure in my inadequate talent.
~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel, dated Genoa, 8 January 1678 

 

Read Chapter Twenty-three, one of the Carnevale Chapters of

 A House Near Luccoli in full HERE.

Wander through this brief moment in Italian Baroque musical history and let the author and Alessandro Stradella, Donatella, and a whole host of wonderful characters give you the “spirit of Carnevale“.
~  Martin Shone, author of the poetry collections Silence Happens, Being Human, and After the Rain

Sleep well tonight. She wished she had taken his advice, but she couldn’t stop looking at the explicitly elegant gown hanging on the wardrobe. Nonna would have enjoyed the sight. It was silk and pearl buttoned, curving and billowing white, beribboned in sapphire and trimmed in bronze. Also warm and cold, tight and loose, depending on what the weather and outcome would be. A few hours later she was like a cat that had fallen from an open window, suddenly finding herself where she both longed and was afraid to be, feeling the hardness of pavement and softness of air.

Alessandro insisted she put on her mask again. “And practice on the way.”

“Practice what?”

“Walking like a cat, purring like a cat.”

“Really.” She wasn’t averse to doing so. “I’ve never seen a blue one.”

“You’ll see others turning green.”

Although her face was immovable and pale, she couldn’t hide her pleasure.

“All that’s left is for you to rub against my legs.”

Alessandro was all in white, as if he had absorbed winter from his hat like a boat with one wind-torn sail to frill topped hose and overly flapped boots. He was wimpled in lacy layers to his shoulders, tightly short coated and cavalier, out of fashion but not style, laddered rows of braid with buttons unfastened to the shine of his shirt also showing through gaping slashes on his sleeves. It would have been a perfect disguise but for the distinctiveness of his stride and attitude of his head exaggerated by a duckbill mask, the shine of his lower lip appearing when his expressive, unmistakable voice did.
~ Read full excerpt from A House Near Luccoli

It doesn’t end there!
The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets,
and an irrepressible spirit
stow away on Donatella’s journey

To A Strange Somewhere Fled (sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

 

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.

A Valentine for Anne

Before she closed her eyes on that day she would be tempted to hold and look at one of her most treasured possessions: a Valentine, a pretty thing of lace paper, satin ribbon, & embossed flowers with a little bird in an egg-filled nest, Anne, dear, sweet, Anne quickly written but not yet slowly spoken.

It was unto her spirit given.

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

 

In February 1840, a young man walked ten miles from Haworth to Bradford, West Yorkshire in order to anonymously post Valentines to four young women who he expected would be charmed by them. The flirtatious fellow was William Weightman, curate to Reverend Patrick Brontë.

 

Was William being capricious or compassionate or, perhaps, a bit of both? Sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne and their dear friend Ellen had never received a Valentine before. They may have been fooled by the sender’s motivation, but not by his identity. Charlotte probably told herself to view her Valentine cynically. Emily likely looked hers over quickly and put it aside. Possibly, Ellen enjoyed hers for vanity’s sake.

Anne might have hoped for a deeper meaning in hers, that sending four was William being discreet and inclusive, which, of course, her shy and generous nature would appreciate.

William wrote different verses in each. Well, three are known. The receiver of Fair Ellen, Fair Ellen is obvious. Away fond love and Soul divine could have been inscribed – to tease rather than ensnare – any of the Brontë sisters.

And that fourth Valentine? I like to think it was the most special, because it was …

 

Was William Weightman the love of Anne’s life? Who better than Anne herself to answer … in the way that beautiful poetry tells without saying.

That voice, the magic of whose tone
Can wake an echo in my breast,
Creating feelings that, alone,
Can make my tranced spirit blest.

That laughing eye, whose sunny beam
My memory would not cherish less; —
And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam
Nor mortal language can express.
from Farewell by Anne Brontë

 

What had been hope at first sight, a stir of her heart, amiable reserve, foolish diffidence, a February keepsake, time standing still and looking forward with a gentle exchange of words and glances in a trusted parting, was, in a moment … all that was left of William, her William, never hers except as she imagined, always hers as she would forever know him.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit

In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams Released!

I was privileged to be asked to read Thomas Davis’ new novel In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams pre-publication. It has just been released by my own publisher, All Things That Matter Press. Here is my review of this affecting, edifying, important novel:

While putting my thoughts together to write this review, I came across a quote by Mahatma Gandhi I immediately felt encapsulated the journey and destination of Thomas Davis’ compelling new novel: “The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters fall.”

In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams, its title taken from a Pablo Neruda poem, begins painfully, cruelly, despairingly, throwing the reader into the brutality plantation slaves were regularly subjected to. Yet, from the first encounter with fourteen-year-old Joshua, his shirt and flesh cut through, his stubbornness and resentment riled, his resilience tested from a particularly vicious whipping, we also meet the central theme of the novel: slavery might seem to succeed in owning the bodies of men, women, and children, but only because it unconscionably misjudges the power of resistance in their hearts, minds, and souls, and the risk they are willing to take for freedom and life as it is meant to be lived.

This meticulously researched historical fiction is set before the Civil War, based on actual people and events. Originally, as is noted at the back-end of the novel, it was a sonnet sequence. Thankfully, as Mr. Davis is a master of poetic language and form, a sonnet, whether Shakespearean, Miltonian, Spenserian, Italian, French, or Terza Rima, heads each chapter. In contrast, his prose is appropriately and effectively folksy, clearly conveying the perspective, experiences, and emotions of the story’s characters, especially the young Joshua, who travels both literal and metaphoric miles in his odyssey from rebellious, enslaved child to responsible, unfettered adult.

The story follows a group of Missouri slaves that includes families, some reunited after years of separation, the elderly, young children, and adolescents like Joshua. They are led by an imposing, determined, paternal preacher as they escape to the slave-free but not altogether safe north via the Underground Railway. Mr. Davis’ gripping narrative portrays the fear, hardship, starvation, exhaustion, and relief of these desperate travelers making their way for hundreds of miles on foot off the beaten path through thick woods, mud and otherwise rough terrain, or hidden in wagons, suffocating and cramped, here and there recuperating in safe houses and the kindness of abolitionists. Their flight is under constant threat due to Fugitive Slave Acts that makes capturing runaway slaves a lucrative business. Through Mr. Davis’ empathetic writing, the anxiety of knowing that in a moment their flight to freedom could be ended—their lives turned back to estrangement from those they love and enslavement by those who “care” for them only as chattel—is also the reader’s unsettling experience.

Fannie Barrie Williams, the author of “Black Women in Nineteenth Century American Life” wrote that the most savage thing about slavery was “its attempted destruction of the family instinct of the Negro race in America.” In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams gives this travesty real lives the reader becomes deeply invested in. This important and moving story of a black fishing community of West Harbor, Washington Island, Wisconsin, insists that the savagery of slavery can be—must be—obstructed. Mr. Davis speaks to the need for all human beings to live freely, individually, uniquely while forming families, friendships, and community; to be at liberty to compete and cooperate, to feel love returned and even unrequited, to know how life is naturally given and taken, to enjoy the refuge of home, to have work and leisure and an education, to make plans and pursue hopes and dreams.

fourwindowspress

My new novel, In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams, has just been put on the market by All Things That Matter Press.  It’s available at Independent Bookstores as well as on amazon, https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732723788/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=In+the+Unsettled+Homeland+of+Dreams&qid=1566256736&s=books&sr=1-1.

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For Emily Brontë’s 201st Birthday: Something Besides Her Own Fortitude and Segregation

Today, July 30, 2019, marks the 201st anniversary of the birth of Emily Brontë. Last year’s bicentennial was, of course, awash in commemorations and celebrations at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire and elsewhere, including all over the internet. But, as I’m sure many others feel, Emily’s natal day should always be marked with enthusiasm and gratefulness, for it gave us one of the most uniquely fearless, impassioned, enigmatic, and elusive poets and novelists of all time.

Long after all the Brontë sisters had died, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey wrote in Reminisces of Charlotte Brontë that “[Emily] and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”

This closeness became more and more palpable as I progressed along the path of research and writing Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

Emily was as essential to Anne as Anne was to Emily, whether she and Anne were together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or physically apart like when Emily was at school in Brussels or Anne was working as a governess. They invigorated each other’s imagination, offered a sense of belonging, and balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The ethereal essence of their connection was enough to overcome their growing apart when it came to the fantasy writing that had bonded them as children and adolescents.

Emily never stopped being an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her youngest sister to leave at least some of her spirit unfettered and even encouraged her to now and then step out of life’s responsibilities and live a little wildly.

O come with me, thus ran the song,
The moon is bright in Autumn’s sky,
And thou hast toiled and laboured long
With aching head and weary eye.

~ From O Come With Me by Emily Brontë

Anne’s influence on Emily was less obvious, easier to view Emily as more akin to nature and mystery than real people, floating untethered in her own self-created, solitary, independent, irreligious orbit. For me, all of that remains true while, at the same time, I feel Emily was deeply attached to Anne: that she admired her level-headedness and faith-filled, forgiving, moralistic, yielding yet strong nature, and valued her opinion, especially creatively.

Anne was a safe haven where Emily could rely on something besides her own fortitude and segregation. Anne was someone who understood her and had no wish to change her.

There was profound understanding and acceptance, truth and endurance in the love each had for the other.

 

What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by resuming their habit of wandering west to meet only earth and sky. Their dogs, like themselves, with contrasting physiques and personalities, were intrinsically similar, especially in their need to frequently escape the stuffiness and limited amusement of being indoors.

“Flossy, come back,” Anne tried to command the impulsive spaniel off once more to chase sheep.

Emily had no trouble getting Keeper to lie down with a firm annunciation of his name while she pointed to the ground, although his whimpering implied he was still thinking about following Flossy’s example.

“Flossy. Bad boy, bad boy.”

“If you control your little Robinsons like you do that sassy mutt, I fear they won’t live long.”

As if it heard Emily’s prediction, a large ewe turned on Flossy, which brought the dog running back up the steep slope to his forgiving mistress.

On second thought, Anne tried to be tougher with a disciplinary tap on Flossy’s nose, then embraced him again. “Good boy.”

“Methinks he’s exactly what you always wanted … to be.” Emily was walking again, her direction declaring her destination. Their ascent to Top Withens would be delayed an hour or more, if Emily’s mood was more for reclining and swirling her hand in the water to stir up tadpoles.

When Ellen Nussey was with them, from crossing the slabbed bridge over Sladen Beck to climbing a rugged bank, navigating greasy stones and not minding a little dampening, there was always an echo of “watch your step”. With just Anne and the dogs following her lead, Emily didn’t have anything to say until they were at the best seat in view of the waterfall.

“No, you take it, Annie. I relinquish my throne to you.”

“Any of the other stones would do for me.”

“I insist on taking care of you.”

Anne didn’t mind Emily acting more like an older brother than Branwell ever did, or even a gallant lover, reminiscent of childish acting-out. In truth, she depended on it. In that small oasis of time, standing still where they were hidden from the world, their faithful companions conspiring to find something to occupy themselves, there was so much to enjoy and be grateful for. The sky was open in sight of heaven, high ground around and beyond them, the sun warming and a breeze cooling, the sound of water calming, and faintly fragrant moss glistening on the rocks with tiny white stars appearing between some of them.

Yet, more as if she was on a stormy ocean than in a quiet cove, panic overwhelmed Anne until she could hardly breathe.

Emily lightly rubbed Anne’s back and twisted up a strand of her hair loosened from its simple arrangement.

Anne cleared her throat, choking, Flossy pawing at her knees, Keeper barking.

“Go ahead and spit.” Emily helped her sister lean over to do so. “Other than me, there’s only the dogs, flies, tadpoles and, perhaps, God to witness it.”

Anne laughed and spoke hoarsely, “What would I do without you?”

“Better than I have done without you.”

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

 

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While thou canst speak with such a tone!

~ From To Imagination by Emily Brontë

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