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.

William Weightman Barely Breathed and was Gone September 6, 1842

(Originally posted last year)

In 1839, a young curate breezed into the lives of the Brontë family. This young man was like a breath of fresh air, quite unlike any curate that the Brontë girls had previously encountered. For three short years, as well as being a diligent worker in his parish duties, he brought gaiety, romance, and humour into their lives, and an almost brotherly friendship with Branwell.
~ from The Brontë Studies, Volume 29, 2004 – Issue 1

. . . He sits opposite Anne at church sighing softly and looking out of the corners of his eyes to win her attention – and Anne is so quiet, her look so downcast – they are a picture . . .
~ Charlotte Brontë

William Weight by Charlotte Brontë

Anne could hear William’s lively chatter just outside the church, reminding he was gregarious, generous with his time and joyousness, and happiest when he was lifting others out of sighing and sadness. She chided herself for minding he didn’t observe her passing by, his occupation requiring him to be available to everyone, even silly young ladies who shouldn’t be denied a little of his sparkling company.

Anne wasn’t prepared for him walking beside her before she caught up with her aunt and brother.

“What will you do with the rest of your day?” he asked, sliding his hands down his long white cravat and folding them around its ends against the front of his heavily-buttoned frock coat.

She looked up for the sunshine that might yet peek through the dark and light clouds, a skylark singing frantically and flying as if looking for a way through them in the opposite direction the sun was. William was patient while she considered what to say, one answer in her heart and another in her head, someone else calling his name with an urgency she doubted she could ever express. The perfect afternoon activity would be a walk beyond Penistone Hill, across the high-ground, gray-green heath where curlews, golden plover peregrines, and merlins nested and by now would have some young. Even unintentional intruders might flush a few grouse out of the bracken and delight at them taking off to glide over the hair grass, cotton sedge, fern, and heather. There was always time to dally for such sights and talk to curly-horned sheep crowding for scraps of bread before continuing to the top of a steep slope, catching a glimmer here and there of the stream in the gully below. As the journey neared its end, hands would clasp to carefully descend the uneven stone steps to the waterfall weakened but its appeal not diminished by early summer. Emily’s chair would offer rest; other large stones also shaped, if not quite so perfectly, for sitting. What a pleasant diversion if the rain held off, invigorating if the wind was brisk, and respectable if Branwell came along, leaving little doubt how, as avowed in Psalm 104:24, the Lord had given them an earth full of riches.

“I hope you will excuse me.” William barely breathed and was gone.

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

 

One of the interior illustrations by DM Denton in Without the Veil Between

William died within three weeks of contracting cholera on his visits to the sick in the parish. Anne was informed of his death by a letter from her brother Branwell, which arrived after his burial had taken place.

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

©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.

Summer Days and Nights

Summer Days and Nights

Summer by Christina Rossetti

Copyright DM Denton

Winter is cold-hearted,
Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weathercock
Blown every way:
Summer days for me
When every leaf is on its tree;

When Robin’s not a beggar,
And Jenny Wren’s a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing,

Copyright DM Denton

Over the wheat-fields wide,
And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
Swings from side to side,

And blue-black beetles transact business,
And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
That no time be lost,

Copyright DM Denton

And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive.

Before green apples blush,
Before green nuts embrown,
Why, one day in the country
Is worth a month in town;
Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
That days drone elsewhere.

Copyright DM Denton

 

 

 

 

Christina Rossetti, Victorian poetess, sister of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, Dante Gabrielle Rossetti, and the subject of my current work-in-progress novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch, grew up and resided most of her life in London. Her visits into the country were as angels’ visits, ‘few and far between’, but when there, how much she noted of flower and tree, bird and beast*. It wasn’t the wide vistas that drew her attention, but, as the poem above sublimely illustrates, she had a distinct awareness and appreciation of the ‘little things’ in the natural world.

Copyright DM Denton

As a child, up until the age of nine, her grandfather Polidori’s home in Holmer Green, Buckinghamshire, was her escape from urban life.

Later in her life, Christina wrote:
If one thing schooled me in the direction of poetry it was perhaps the delightful liberty to prowl all alone about my grandfather’s cottage grounds some thirty miles from London, entailing in my childhood a long stage-coach journey. The grounds were quite small, and on the simplest scale, but to me they were vast, varied, and well worth exploring.

*Quote in my research notes, but I couldn’t find the source in time for making this post.

 

From the 1st draft of The Dove Upon Her Branch:

Holmer Green was where Christina first studied a rosebud slowly swelling with dew. In sunshine and rain, she waited with patience no one thought she had, to see it become a perfect flower and then to wither. Even as young as six or seven, whether by being willful and wily, the negligence of Maria, Gabriel, or William distracted by their own inclinations, or her grandfather falling asleep in the rocking chair he was so proud of making, she took advantage of a chance—so rare in London crowded with siblings and strangers and confined by walls and human wilderness—to be on her own. As far as she was concerned, such liberty only put her in danger of discovering what might be missed if she followed rather than explored, especially the smallest things that were more precious for often being overlooked. Beetles, caterpillars, snails, and worms were often in her hands, gently examined and eventually returned to the grass, branch, or leaf she had lifted each from. William told her spiders were fragile and could perish with the gentlest touch, so she merely watched them dangle, move up and down by a thread, or weave their magic that sparkled, swayed, and survived beyond belief. When an impulsive poke caused a frog to cover his head with his feet, she tried a soft stroke, which persuaded it to show her its eyes.
Copyright © 2019 by DM Denton

Copyright DM Denton

The summer nights are short 
Where northern days are long: 
For hours and hours lark after lark 
Trills out his song. 
The summer days are short 
Where southern nights are long: 
Yet short the night when nightingales 
Trill out their song. 

Christina Georgina Rossetti

Wishing everyone a safe, serene,
and very special summer!

 

donatellawquillunshaded©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 Blessed Moon Arose on High and Shone Serenely There

Today, January 17, 2019, marks 199 years since Anne Brontë was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England, youngest of the six children of Maria Branwell from Penzance and Irish clergyman Patrick Brontë. Anyone who has visited this page in the last couple of years knows I have written a novel about her, which was published by All Things That Matter Press at the end of 2017.

Anne’s unfinished ‘Portrait of a girl with a dog’

This will be a anticipatory year as it leads up to Anne’s bicentennial celebrations in 2020, especially those planned by The Brontë Society at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth. (I continue to live in hope that the society and Museum will recognize my novel Without the Veil, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle SpiritSo far, other than the Society’s Italian Representative, Maddalena De Leo, who read the novel and wrote a lovely review, I haven’t had any luck in getting a response from the society about it).

For the past week I’ve been thinking about how I would commemorate this day this year. By yesterday, perhaps because of the physical and mental exhaustion of taking care of my mother along with everything else, I realized there isn’t anything I can express about Anne that reveals my understanding, affinity, respect, and, yes, love of her better than what I’ve already written in Without the Veil Between.

Drawing of Anne Brontë by Charlotte Brontë

So an excerpt it will be (with a few omissions … to account for it being presented out of context). One I haven’t share before, but I think encapsulates much of what I personally, as a writer and an artist who wanted to present a well-researched and thought-out intimate portrait of Anne, discovered of her intellect and resilience, faith and spirit, hopes and heart.

 

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

Anne thought of … a word, more than a word, a philosophy, simple but profound, out of the mouth of someone who spoke simply and succinctly, not unlike Tabby, or, in the old days, Nancy and Sarah Garrs, who sometimes shared wisdom with just a comment on the weather.

“Fluctuations.”

Now it was a title for a poem …

Anne stroked Flossy’s ears as she began to quietly read out loud, “‘Fluctuations. What though the Sun had left my sky—’” Her doe-eyed companion looked up, understanding nothing and everything, wagging his tail and letting it drop limply, whining because he didn’t like it when his mistress was upset. “Shh, shh. It’s all right, sweet pup. ‘To save me from despair the blessed Moon arose on high, and shone serenely there.’”

It was all right. It would be all right. Perhaps not every moment, not when she thought of who she must wait until she died to see again, or how there was less heartache but more frustration in believing she would never feel fully useful in society or even at home unless she accomplished something meaningful. Still, it could be worse if she was without the resolve to make her life fruitful, pursue a well-cultivated mind and well-disposed heart, have the strength to help others be strong, or, especially, the faith to endure and rise above endurance.

“‘I thought such wan and lifeless beams could ne’er my heart repay, for the bright sun’s most transient gleams that cheered me through the day. But as above that mist’s control she rose and brighter shone—’” Flossy looked up at her again. “‘I felt a light upon my soul!’”

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer. She also valued family and friendship, which, of course, could be one and the same. At times it was stifling back at the parsonage, as though all the windows and doors that held her to being the smallest, quietest, last and least likely to surprise were kept locked by those who loved her for their own conclusions. Anne could never think of home as a prison, but once she flew the nest and realized she had the wherewithal to, if not quite soar, make survivable landings, she knew it was restrictive. She had always suspected being overly protected was as dangerous as being unguarded, like enjoying the rose without noticing its thorns. It wasn’t as though her family was unaware of the world and its ways. Daily and weekly doses of newspapers and magazines initiated lively discussions, mostly between Branwell and Charlotte with Emily grunting, about religion and revolution and parliamentary reform, potato famine and, closer to home, the plight of the wool laborers and sick in their father’s parish.

Anne was afraid responding to political, social, and moral issues through the amusement of fantasy was more about outwitting these realities than addressing them. She even felt some shame at having gone along with the juvenilia that made believe the world was at her fingertips, its maneuverings entertaining, romantic, and escapist, although she could almost forgive the child she was then. Halfway through her twenties, having lived most of the last four years away from her family, she was finally fully-fledged, the nature she was born with at last standing up for itself, wanting its voice to be heard, with the courage to admit she was meant to wear truths not masks.

In or away from Haworth, the best companionship was often with herself alone: the best being the reflection that wouldn’t falsely flatter for the sake of avoiding hard feelings, wasn’t eager to congratulate in order to keep her friendship, and didn’t encourage self-pity because it was wanted in return. Anne had long since decided to be honest with herself even when it meant facing a harsh reality, like the prospect of never marrying and having children. Whatever God’s will, she hoped a few of the schemes in her head, humble and limited as they were, might come to something. She could hear Emily guffawing. Why shouldn’t they? You worry too much. Yes, she did, a correction that was one of the most difficult to make if she thought she must choose between passion and dispassion.

 

Illustration (from Without the Veil Between) by DM Denton

 

Just a reminder that today is the last day to enter a contest I have been running since early November. So if you’ve read Without the Veil Between and haven’t posted a review of it yet, by doing so, today, January 17, 2019 by midnight EST, you still have a chance to win a limited addition signed print from the novel and signed copies of my first two novels.

 

WHAT though the Sun had left my sky;
  To save me from despair
The blessed Moon arose on high,
  And shone serenely there.

I watched her, with a tearful gaze,
  Rise slowly o’er the hill,
While through the dim horizon’s haze
  Her light gleamed faint and chill.

I thought such wan and lifeless beams
  Could ne’er my heart repay,
For the bright sun’s most transient gleams
  That cheered me through the day:

But as above that mist’s control
  She rose, and brighter shone,
I felt her light upon my soul;
  But nowthat light is gone!

Thick vapours snatched her from my sight,
  And I was darkling left,
All in the cold and gloomy night,
  Of light and hope bereft:

Until, methought, a little star
  Shone forth with trembling ray,
To cheer me with its light afar
  But that, too, passed away.

Anon, an earthly meteor blazed
  The gloomy darkness through;
I smiled, yet trembled while I gazed
  But that soon vanished too!

And darker, drearier fell the night
  Upon my spirit then;
But what is that faint struggling light?
  Is it the Moon again?

Kind Heaven! increase that silvery gleam,
  And bid these clouds depart,
And let her soft celestial beam
  Restore my fainting heart!

~Acton Bell (Anne Brontë)

 

Happy birthday, dearest Anne!

 

©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.

 

Contest! Review “Without the Veil Between”: Deadline to Enter Extended!

Have you read, are you reading,

or are you planning on reading

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

Would you like to win a lovely, limited edition prize?

go to:

 Contest! Review “Without the Veil Between” and Enter to Win!

 

Deadline extended to Anne Brontë’s birthday, January 17!

 

Please note in comments on this post or the linked page
that you have written and posted a review and where.
Or contact me to let me know.
Thank you in advance!

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.

Farewell to thee! but not farewell

Reposting from last year, as with my mother having just come home from the hospital, I haven’t had time to put together a new post marking the death of Emily Jane Brontë.

December 19, 1848 was a tragic day at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, for Anne, Charlotte, and their father, Patrick, only a few months after brother Branwell met his inevitable end during which beloved sister Emily sickened beyond repair. One can only imagine the grief of losing two siblings and children so soon one after the other – not the first time this had happened for the Brontë family and not made easier by being just before Christmas, a time when the family usually found themselves come together from various endeavors that took them away from home.

I wrote about the closeness (“like twins … inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption” ~ Ellen Nussey) of Anne and Emily Brontë in a previous post: The Very Closest Sympathy.

Writing the scenes of Emily’s death in my novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit happened to correspond to a time (December 2016 – January 2017) when I was losing my beloved Gabey-kitty (his brother Darcy passed a few months later).

‘When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which yet we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often naturally seek relief in poetry . . .’
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

Or, as in my case at the time, prose … well, poetic prose, for I needed the melancholy music of the words I was using to express the inexpressible.

“‘Powerful’. ‘Interesting’. ‘Coarse’. ‘Brutal’. ‘Morbid’. Do we write with any such adjectives in mind?” Anne had been reading through the reviews of Tenant she had collected, portions aloud to Emily, especially those that might stir any fight left in her. “Or go through the tormenting process of writing a novel for ‘reveling in scenes of debauchery’?”

Emily was quiet lying sideways on the sofa in the parlor. Since Anne had repositioned the pillow borrowed from one or other of their beds, Emily’s head had slipped to bow against her frail neck. Her torso was curled so her length was contracted, no definition to her arms or bosom within the sleeves and bodice of her dress, no movement under its skirt since Anne had lifted her sister’s skeletal legs up more than an hour before.

Anne wondered if Emily was still pulled by the brutishness and beauty of the moors and the similar punishment and reward of writing. Did a look out a window or opening of a door remind her of what she was missing, and new Gondal rascals or Heathcliffs or Catherines find her imagination receptive? Anne longed for one more conversation with her, whether playful or intense, one more chance to agree, argue and confirm they were good for each other’s inspiration, intellects and souls. Anne ached for one more meeting with the Emily who was wiry but robust, strong like a man and simple like a child, her head full of logic and fantastic stories at the same time, her choices uncompromising, as were her passions. If only Emily’s life could return to being routine and yet so exceptional, filled with writing brilliantly while she was bread making or sewing or everyone else was asleep, making music like a perfect lady and rambling the Pennine way like a free and easy lad.

Instead, Anne had to helplessly watch as Emily continued to disappear through those December days and nights. On that Monday evening, a week before Christmas, her stillness, half-open eyes and mouth, and leaning towards resignation indicated there was only one way she would be released from consumption’s captivity.

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

One of the illustrations I did for “Without the Veil Between”: all available for purchase as prints, including limited edition signed prints.

Farewell
by Anne Brontë

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.
O, beautiful, and full of grace!
If thou hadst never met mine eye,
I had not dreamed a living face
Could fancied charms so far outvie.

If I may ne’er behold again
That form and face so dear to me,
Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain
Preserve, for aye, their memory.

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.

Adieu, but let me cherish, still,
The hope with which I cannot part.
Contempt may wound, and coldness chill,
But still it lingers in my heart.

And who can tell but Heaven, at last,
May answer all my thousand prayers,
And bid the future pay the past
With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?

Available in Print:

amazon.com

barnesandnoble.com

And for

Kindle

Anne and Emily from a painting by their brother, Branwell

I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad!
~ from Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

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