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

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

Fortune, how fickle

and how vain thou art

~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Not Keeper either.”

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

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

     Branwell cried out incoherently and left.

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

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

 

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

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

 

Read about Branwell on the Bronte Parsonage Museum Page

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

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

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

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

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

Flashes of the gentle brother with his little sister on his knee, proving his talent for telling stories too entertaining to question and drawing pretty pictures he inscribed for Anne …
from Without the Veil Between

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

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

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Announcing Winner of “Without the Veil Between” Contest!

Thank you to everyone who commented on my May 17th post, A Word or Two about the Cover of Without the Veil Between – Win a Signed Copy and More and, therefore, entered the contest.

I enjoyed reading and was heartened by your lovely, thoughtful, lyrical, creative, generous comments.

 

The drawing for the winner was done online at Random Picker.

 

Congratulations

Veronica Leigh!

 

 You’ve won a signed copy of Without the Veil Between
and a limited edition signed print of one of the illustrations in the novel.

You can choose the illustration by going to
the gallery on my artspan website.

I will be in touch with you via Facebook to find out your choice
and get your address

To celebrate the first day of June 2018, let me offer a little excerpt from
Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit:

Anne’s anxieties usually cleared away, at least temporarily, while she was on her own out of doors. June continued pleasant, the sun intensifying so scattered clouds were welcome, along with trees touching their fresh canopies across the road from Great Ouseburn to Thorpe Underwood. She frequently stopped to study and sketch whatever flora caught her eye. Hawthorn blossoms clustered out of bramble hedges and chickweed didn’t quite succeed in creeping unnoticed through roadside grass. Dandelions invaded the road, some already bursting into seed. Anne enjoyed their bravado, quickly drawing a couple of them head to head but not their simple, lobed leaves before she was distracted by bees finding sustenance in clover flowers.

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

 

Happy June Everyone!

 

 

©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.

Would not all such sorrow be misplaced?

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

Today is the 169th anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë (born: Jan 17, 1820, Thornton, West Yorkshire, England; died: May 28, 1849, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England).

Recently I was told (by a non-writer on discovering I was a published author and of what genre) that historical and biographical novels were the easiest to write, because the characters and stories didn’t have to be invented: the names, places, events, and endings ready-made, just a little research and a few decisions on where to begin and what to include and exclude all that was needed to fill the pages.

What he didn’t take into account was the responsibility and long-term involvement there is in resurrecting real people—well, there should be if you’re really doing it from a place of love for and/or commitment to your subject. He also didn’t understand how intense and even complicated it can get weaving what is certainly and uncertainly known, various viewpoints, differing opinions and accounts into a vibrant, engaging narrative that credibly recreates the historical person, their time and environment. Even in fiction, accuracy is always an essential ingredient—of course, indebted to the work and writing of wonderful researchers and biographers—complicated by a storyteller’s compulsion to go behind, beneath, and in-between the facts, to interpret, dramatize, physcologize, sensitize, and, of course, imagine just as writers in other genres do.

In my experience, first in my novel A House Near Luccoli, and again in Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, the responsibility is never heavier than when one writes about a historical figure whose death, usually because it was sudden or untimely, has become the most renowned part of his/her story.

In Without the Veil Between, I didn’t want to write a novel moving head on towards the tragedy of Anne passing too soon from this world, but one that wandered where she inwardly and outwardly did, along with who she affected and affected her, through what she loved and enjoyed, doubted and believed, meeting fulfillment and disappointment,  and, of course, entertaining her romantic, conscientious, and spiritual muse.

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

I really wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with Anne’s death up until the last part of the novel, except I knew I didn’t want it to be cast in melodrama. I let it come to me as it did to Anne, 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

She still wanted to try recommended therapies and looked forward to revisiting Scarborough and her writing. By January’s close it seemed Anne’s own end, for whatever reason, even consumption’s trickery, had been deferred. She felt well enough to use ink and work on an unfinished poem as if it was the beginning of her life as she always meant to live it: more humble, more wise, more strengthened for strife, more apt to lean on God’s love than away from His will. Meant only for her eyes, she crafted and corrected the lines and verses that had come out of a dreadful darkness and bewildered mind. In a calmer body she found the brightness of faith and clarity of thought to add hope where there was none, abundance when all seemed lost, and, in winter’s brief respite, warmth in her heart for when the frost returned.
~ from Without the Veil Between

On the Death of Anne Brontë

THERE ‘s little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave ;
I ‘ve lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.

Calmly to watch the failing breath,
Wishing each sigh might be the last ;
Longing to see the shade of death
O’er those belovèd features cast.

The cloud, the stillness that must part
The darling of my life from me ;
And then to thank God from my heart,
To thank Him well and fervently ;

Although I knew that we had lost
The hope and glory of our life ;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
Must bear alone the weary strife.

~ Charlotte Brontë

“Please, take my hand,” Charlotte reached back to her sister, “or I’m afraid I’ll lose you like a feather in this wind.”
~ from Without the Veil Between

Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.
~ Anne Brontë

 

Time is running out to enter to win a signed copy of Without the Veil Between and a print of one of the illustrations included in it. Please visit my previous post to find out how. You have nothing to lose, only to win!

Photograph by Maggie Gardiner

©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.

For Charlotte Brontë’s Birthday: A Journey with Anne

Charlotte Brontë was born April 21, 1816 in Thornton, West Yorkshire, 202 years ago today.

Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond chalk, 1850

To mark the occasion, I offer an excerpt from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit: Chapter Nineteen, when Charlotte and Anne make a spur-of-the moment journey to London and the publisher of Jane Eyre, Smith, Elder & Company. Although the novel’s focus is Anne, it also offers intimate portraits of Charlotte and Emily and – as reviewer Deborah Bennison of Bennison Books wrote – “explores the tensions that existed between the sisters as well as their mutual love and support.”

The dynamics among these three gifted women sizzles on the page. Descriptions of Charlotte and Emily are haunting in their excellence. Each woman changed literature and the way in which women were viewed in society.
~ author Mary Clark (Tally: An Intuitive Life, Miami Morning, Racing the Sun, and more …)

The story of the Brontë family told through the thoughts and emotions of Anne Brontë, the sister who did not become the powerful force in English literature her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, did, explores how genius interplays with everyday frustrations, sensations, and tragedies of life, transmuting the imagination and observations of three brilliant sisters into the tapestry of stories and poetry still relevant to our contemporary lives.
~
author Thomas Davis (The Weirding Storm)

Without the Veil Between isn’t simply a biography, it is a journey back into the day to day lives of one of history’s most famous literary families.
~ author Stephen Lindahl (Motherless Soul, Whitehorse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, Under a Warped Cross)

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

London, July 1848

Anne reached the last step up, turned and looked at how far she had come. She hadn’t made a grand entrance, although the staircase was one: three-to-four-people-wide with crimson carpeting, bordered by smooth porphyry columns, and glowingly lit by suspended Grecian lamps.

Her expectations for the evening had been to simply enjoy the relief of a crisis averted and, by no later than nine, try to settle in a strange bed after going almost two days without real sleep. There was the possibility of visitors to be entertained in a remote corner of the Chapter Coffee House lobby. She and Charlotte made themselves ready just in case. Charlotte resorted to a dose of sal volatile for her headache before they fixed each other’s hair and changed to appear less limp and crumpled if still provincial in high-necked, dreary dresses.

They had nothing better to wear, not in their luggage or the world. When had it ever been necessary for them to have large-skirted, off-the-shoulder gowns, gloves more than half the length of their arms, and jewelry other than a small cameo pin or locket necklace? At least, as they ever admitted to each other.

Their evening was redesigned by Mr. Smith and his sisters’ insistence the Misses Brontë attend The Royal Italian Opera in Covent Garden with them. Charlotte decided to dismiss her headache and accept.

The stylishly outfitted and graciously mannered Smiths never made Charlotte or Anne feel unequal to their company or the excursion, and continued generous and amiable in their carriage where Mr. Smith Williams had been waiting. Even disembarking off of Bow Street in full view of London society promenading across the theater’s main plaza and through its front portico didn’t alter the kind demeanor of the Smiths and Mr. Smith Williams. They did their best to shield their guests from scrutiny and, especially, unfavorable opinion. No matter, Anne couldn’t help feeling travel-worn, awkward, and poor. It was difficult to read Charlotte’s reaction. She was probably reminded of Brussels and uppity girls who thought, because their clothes and lineage and prospects were finer, they were superior to her, and how in intellect, resourcefulness and resilience she had proven they were not.

When it came to society’s segregation according to birth and wealth, Anne, as in many other issues, erred on the side of humility and restraint. Charlotte, like Emily, tended to jump to indignation without considering where she might land. Even badly bruised, it was unusual for her to wish she hadn’t. These days Anne didn’t always regret her oldest sister’s impulses. After all, they wouldn’t be about to step into a box of a grand opera house if Charlotte’s rage at Newby’s lying and manipulations hadn’t sent them off to London on the spur of the moment.

London Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden

It’s been Excerpt Week on the novel’s Facebook page, so I invite you to go on over for some more, hopefully, enticing samples from Without the Veil Between.

A reminder, if you have read the novel, how grateful I would be to know your thoughts on it and for you to share them with others. Thank you to those who have already read and reviewed it.

©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 Irish Connection for Anne and Me

There is an Irish connection to the subject of my latest novel, Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit. Anne had Irish roots through her father Patrick Brontë (nee Prunty, Brunty or Bruntee), who was born in a two roomed cabin at Emdale in the parish of Drumballyroney, County Down, on March 17, 1777.

Haworth folk were known for their bluntness & lore. Usually Anne welcomed the contrast to her own circumspection & realism—her Irishness might normally play along, while her Aunt Branwell conscience relished the relief.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit, by DM Denton

As I have for many years on St. Patrick’s Day, I’m sharing the poem and illustration below, both inspired by one of three trips I made to Ireland in the 1980’s. (There are also some allusions to a couple of traditional Irish folk songs…curious if anyone knows what they are).

Flowers of Ireland Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

I traveled there a woman

and came back a child

with my eyes full of the clouds

coming over the mountains

so I could never tell

how high they were,

the rivers going on

forever,

the irises

floating down to the sea,

the fuchsias so wild

but not really.

All along the way

cowslips lived

where meadows survived

and milkmaids didn’t mind

the rain

so sudden

as suddenly gone.

The fields were greener than any

in France

through the glass of our visit

going down to the sea,

everywhere surrounding,

only my heart brave enough

to go on

into the waves,

a lonesome boatman calling me

to come live with him

forever.

1983

Photo of me walking on Inch Strand on the Dingle Pennisula in Ireland in the mid-80’s. Inch Strand was the beach location for “Ryan’s Daughter”,

 

March 17th is also ‘St Gertrude’s Day’, the Patron Saint Of Cats. Bless all the kitties, here and in the hereafter.

 

©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 Mother’s Gift of Reading … the Brontës

Today is my mother’s 89th birthday. Since early November of last year, she has been in the hospital and rehab twice, for a total of nine weeks. The first time was because of infections that caused her to have some scary delirium and the second because of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), when she almost fell into a coma, and, again, infection, mainly in her legs. I am so grateful she is doing well and returned home yesterday. Our kitty-boys are, of course, thrilled!

To mark her home coming and birthday, I am sharing the essay I included at the back of my recently released novel, Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit. It is not only about how I came to initially read the Brontës, but, also, a tribute to my mom’s own love-affair with their work that she shared with me when I was a girl, which set me reading voraciously and inspired my own long and winding road of being a novelist.

I cannot help but consider how fortunate I am to still have my mother with me after sixty-four and a half years. She only had hers for ten, the loss still raw to this day. Anne Brontë was one and a half when her mother died, her grief for what she never knew.

After the essay I offer a prose-poetry piece I wrote some time ago: hence, a little repetition. Oh, so worth repeating.

My mom, June, at nineteen

Reading the Brontës

     Merry Christmas from Aunt Renee, 1943. When my mother was fourteen she received a book that fed her appetite for novels and offered an escape from her own complicated narrative. Published by Random House, New York, it was wider and “taller” than it was thick, bound in dark blue-green with a slightly gullied joint and gold lettering on a strong spine, front and back boards illustrated by the work of Fritz Eichenberg, more of his moodily magnificent wood engravings within. Monotype Bodoni with long descenders and double-columns presented its text, chapters running on without pause, like the brave and breathless mind and spirit that filled it with one of the most mercilessly compelling, passionate, earthy unearthly stories ever told.

     Over twenty years later this classic hardcover edition of Wuthering Heights was re-gifted to me and my reading the Brontës began with Emily. She immediately and irrevocably enticed me out of 1960s suburban America, away from fenced-in yards, narrow sidewalks, and managed nature, into the wilderness of her West Yorkshire world, inexhaustible imagination and uncompromising soul. I had never before read a novel as descriptive and dramatic, bold and mesmerizing, as validating of my own mystic inclinations. Of course, I hadn’t. I was only twelve.

 

 

     I believe I can credit reading Emily with the early maturing of my literary preferences. Her poetry soon followed and I felt even more akin to her: introverted but intense, a homebody with wanderlust, quiet with much “to say”, my fantasies my salvation.

     Wuthering Heights led to Jane Eyre, also at my adolescent fingertips. My mother owned the matching 1943 edition originally boxed as a set with Wuthering Heights. Lent to a reckless relative, it came to me a little battered and begged to be handled devotedly.  Soon I was occupied by the reticence, resilience, and quiet and artistic sensibility of Jane, and entertained by the romance, mystery and maneuverings of her journey. If in my younger days I didn’t feel the empathy with Charlotte I did with Emily, later, much later I found myself identifying with Charlotte’s struggles and strength, even her stubbornness, certainly her conflicted ambition. Earlier and later I couldn’t help appreciate and aspire to Charlotte’s mastery at storytelling.

 

 

     Unfortunately, neither of Anne’s novels were included in the Eichenberg illustrated collection. Still, a treasured copy of Agnes Grey also found its way to me through my mother: a 3 ¼ by 5 ¼ hardcover edition she had purchased from a second-hand book store in Oxford on a visit while I was living in England. It was part of the Oxford University World Classics range, first published in 1907 and reprinted numerous times up until the 1970s, which included all four of Charlotte’s novels, Wuthering Heights, and, also, Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Despite the diminutive dimensions of this edition of Agnes Grey, the front of its burnt-sienna dust jacket had space for a Leonard Rosoman black and white illustration of governess Agnes. Its text was tiny, reminiscent of the Brontë juvenilia, requiring youthful eyes or a magnifying glass.

 

     From the multitude of documentaries about the Brontës, and movies, even pop music, inspired by Charlotte’s and Emily’s books, it was all too easy to neglect Anne’s presence and influence in her family and literature. As an English major in college, those “in charge” of my education barely mentioned her if at all. They might have been directing my edification as they thought necessary, but not my curiosity more piqued by the neglected than celebrated.

 

 

     In the mid-1990s while organizing book shelves I happened upon my miniature Agnes Grey. Flipping through it I stopped at Chapter XXIV, The Sands. I was reminded of my first and only visit to Scarborough, North Yorkshire in March 1974 when sightseeing took me up to the medieval fortress on the town’s northern headland. Back down Castle Road I detoured into the yard of the little church—St. Mary’s—where, a month or so earlier, when at last I made it to Haworth, I had learned Anne was buried. If walking through the cold, rolling fog behind the Brontë Parsonage unable to resist calling out “Heathcliff” was surreal, standing at the small wind-and-salt weathered monument to Anne’s courageous self-determination opened a new chapter in my Brontë reading. Finding her interred apart from her family, away from the place name and environment that, for me as for so many others, she and her siblings were inevitably associated with, my first thoughts on “why?” were intuitive rather than informed.

     I could understand Anne wanting to be near Scarborough’s curve of headlands, beaches, and watery outlook to somewhere foreign and, therefore, appealing. I found myself in her reasons to value those rare moments in sight and sound and smell of the sea. I identified with her relief and exhilaration when she was out-of-sight of all whose assumptions had for too long defined and restricted her.

 

Copyright by DM Denton 2017

 

     Even when all I had to go on was a hunch, I suspected Anne Brontë was something of a rebel, not in defiance but for discovery.

     Scarborough had lured Anne to move from mortality to eternity because she couldn’t ignore her need for a way all her own. The only thing in error regarding her burial away from Haworth was the inscription on the stone noting her age when she died. Symbolically that chiseled “typo” took away the year of Anne’s greatest accomplishment, forewarning Charlotte literally doing so when she refused a posthumous reprinting of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

 

 

     I’ll admit I didn’t read Anne’s second novel until I decided to write one about her and wondered—and soon recognized—why it had taken me over half a century to do both.

 

 

     Sometimes the closest thing to ourselves takes a long time to reach. My mother made it to Haworth in 1975. For reasons that seemed important at the time and now I can only regret, I wasn’t with her as she walked up the hill, heard her steps on the cobblestones and voices of the dead, inhaled the mist, saw the parsonage and windswept trees and moors, and, perhaps, if silently, did a little Heathcliff calling of her own to turn the pages back. I didn’t see if her eyes sparkled, but like to think they did.

 

Copyright by DM Denton 2017 Click image to find out how you can purchase a print

 

Happy Birthday, Mom …

You gave me many gifts, like the gods and goddesses gave Pandora: a sense of beauty, charm, music, curiosity and persuasion. In particular there was a book, large and beautifully bound, its writing in columns and essence carved in wood.

You were as naïve as I was.

For it was also a box of unknowns, like Pandora’s, that unleashed more than either of us bargained for. I preferred the version of the myth that claimed good things were allowed to escape. All except for one.

We never lost hope.

You put the faraway in my hands, so how could I not want to go there? Of course, you meant for me to travel pages not miles.

You said you would never forgive me.

How many months we didn’t speak; how many years we paid dearly for conversations in such different time zones, trying to being ordinary when it was all so impossible.

We were both alone with our mistakes.

I never thought it would be that difficult to be away from you. My youth was lost, not to romantic discontent but missing what was true.

Could you ever forgive me?

Perhaps you did a little. When you traveled as I did, because I did: over the sea, to another country, to places you had and hadn’t visited. You walked up the hill, heard your heels on the cobblestones and voices of the dead, inhaled the mist, saw the parsonage, the windswept trees and moors, and turned the pages back.

I didn’t see if your eyes sparkled, but I like to believe they did.

Copyright 2012 by JM DiGiacomo (my mom)

 

©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, Dear, Sweet, Anne: A Valentine

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.

Drawing of William Weightman by Charlotte Bronte

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 …

There were many men who could at first and, for a while, please and astonish others, but eventually they would reveal their weak characters, insincerity, even dishonor, until their eyes, hair, form, and words were finer than their appeal. Anne wouldn’t deny William was independent and mischievous, but only as he liked to encourage pluck and cheerfulness in others. It was clear he always meant to do what was right and just, over and over proving his good nature through the tireless kindness he showed everyone, especially those whom circumstance had been most unkind to. At once prepossessing, to some suspiciously so, the longer Anne knew William the more she trusted how she felt about him, especially as he held dear those she did.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit

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

 

©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.