Historical and Literary Fiction / Essays / Poetry / Reviews /Book Cover and Interior Illustrations / Pet Portraits and Other Commissioned Artwork … "Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant." ~ Edna Ferber, 1885-1968, American novelist, short story writer and playwright
On this New Year’s Day 2021, I was reminder by the first two stanzas of this poem by Christina Rossetti (Old and New Year Ditties) of why I was and continue to be compelled to write my current work-in-progress novel about her, and how in sync I am with her melancholic hope and sensibilities:
New Year met me somewhat sad: Old Year leaves me tired, Stripped of favourite things I had Baulked of much desired: Yet farther on my road to-day God willing, farther on my way.
New Year coming on apace What have you to give me? Bring you scathe, or bring you grace, Face me with an honest face; You shall not deceive me: Be it good or ill, be it what you will, It needs shall help me on my road, My rugged way to heaven, please God.
Here is the rest of the poem, no doubt more overtly religious than I am, but full of rich spiritual contemplation I cannot help but relate to:
Watch with me, men, women, and children dear, You whom I love, for whom I hope and fear, Watch with me this last vigil of the year. Some hug their business, some their pleasure-scheme; Some seize the vacant hour to sleep or dream; Heart locked in heart some kneel and watch apart.
Watch with me blessed spirits, who delight All through the holy night to walk in white, Or take your ease after the long-drawn fight. I know not if they watch with me: I know They count this eve of resurrection slow, And cry, ‘How long?’ with urgent utterance strong.
Watch with me Jesus, in my loneliness: Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes; Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless. Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night; To-night of pain, to-morrow of delight: I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine.
Passing away, saith the World, passing away: Chances, beauty and youth sapped day by day: Thy life never continueth in one stay. Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey That hath won neither laurel nor bay? I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May: Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay On my bosom for aye. Then I answered: Yea.
Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away: With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play; Hearken what the past doth witness and say: Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array, A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay. At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day Lo, the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay: Watch thou and pray. Then I answered: Yea.
Passing away, saith my God, passing away: Winter passeth after the long delay: New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray, Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven’s May. Though I tarry wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray: Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day, My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say. Then I answered: Yea.
Wishing you health, fulfillment, love, and peace for 2021 and beyond.
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?
Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between,Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
December 19, 1848 was a tragic day at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, for Anne, Charlotte, and their father, Patrick.
Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
Only a few months after brother Branwell passed from their lives, beloved sister Emily followed him. 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 they usually found themselves come together again after being 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.
‘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, in my case, prose …
“‘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.
Today is the 190th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830
A Birthday By Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird Whose nest is in a water’d shoot; My heart is like an apple-tree Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit; My heart is like a rainbow shell That paddles in a halcyon sea; My heart is gladder than all these Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down; Hang it with vair and purple dyes; Carve it in doves and pomegranates, And peacocks with a hundred eyes; Work it in gold and silver grapes, In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys; Because the birthday of my life Is come, my love is come to me.
Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch
Christina and William Rossetti posing for the painting of Ecce Ancilla Domini by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in November 1849
In Depression-weary times, a little girl’s wish for a special doll touches a stoic heart. Through sacrifice and pure intent, giving her what she wants results in disappointment but eventually confirms that love and patience can work magic.
Time for another short story, a seasonal one for every season
The Snow White Gift
by DM Denton
A childish gasp greeted the wide-eyed porcelain doll. The exploration of a trunk full of old clothes uncovered it, eager hands lifting it from lying so long on its back in the dark. It blinked, dropped its arms, stretched its legs and lowered its chin while its sleeves were pinched out. An attempt was made to smooth the creases in its skirt and cape; the ribbon in its hair retied. Other than twisting awkwardly when it was hugged like a long lost friend, it offered no resistance to being rescued from what might have been the end of its story.
The Snow White Gift is available to read in its entirety on Kindle devices or for most other devices by downloading the Kindle app.
Who? At first, I didn’t think the question was directed at me. I didn’t want to be seen. If by some unintended wish I was, I didn’t feel inclined to answer, to reveal more than I had already. I didn’t want to be rude, either, the manners Aunt Elizabeth had instilled in me continuing to influence my judgment. It was the staircase I meant to be present for as I moved out of the shadows and onto its wide bottom step, Queen Anne in its demeanor and mine. Would there be the smell of polish and creaking on certain steps, its handrail smooth, cold, and substantial beneath my small hand? It was a miracle that I had found it again, and myself as eager and expectant as when the journey to my independent future packed more illusions—especially of the juvenile variety—than clothes. The staircase had darkened with age but in its afterlife had been restored for a brighter environment. Gone was the eighteenth-century oak paneling of its first home that eclipsed the rare beauty of its burred yew unless a candle was held near. Now surrounded by white-washed walls and ceilings, and light-fixtures with flames that didn’t flicker, the imperfections of the staircase’s wood glowed. Once again it seemed I was alone, or, at least, without anyone realizing my presence pretending to be other than it was. The first time I stepped onto the staircase I was still in awe of Blake Hall’s magnificence and certain I was at the threshold of an exciting time in my young life. In terms of my own actions, maintenance, faculties, and possibilities, I was just beginning. I intended to make the most of an opportunity for refinement and worthiness. It was April 1839. I was taken up a back way to a small but comfortable bedroom to briefly revive with refreshment and rest, leaving little time to tidy my appearance before I emerged less than an hour later. I walked along a paneled and papered hallway to a grander way down to meet new responsibilities, convinced the society below would put my shyness and insecurities at ease and improve and cultivate me. Lifting the mud-splattered hem of my skirt, I wished it clean and my petticoats, too, although I was wearing only one. I saw skimpy slippers on my feet rather than sensible boots. Somewhere, probably the drawing room, a piano was being played and there was singing, the latter much less in tune, but, as a young female child’s voice often was, sweet and pretty. My optimism in being entrusted with the care and education of children was enthused until I heard mockery and crying. A door slammed. A rude boy, no more than six or seven, bounded up past me, while the same stately woman who had met my arrival earlier with nothing more than was necessary to say, stood at the bottom of the stairs expressionless. I could go no further in that disagreeable direction. I hadn’t followed the fate of the staircase to revisit the pomposity, unpleasantness, and worse of the Inghams, or my own wickedness that I wasn’t proud of but seemed necessary at the time. I closed my eyes, counted to ten, opened them, and all that remained was my flight of fancy on those stairs.
My faith had prepared me to settle in heavenly peace where I was reunited with those I loved, one in particular even more agreeable in the hereafter. I was rarely nostalgic for the life I had abandoned too soon, especially once Charlotte and Flossy were with me again. I have to—affectionately—blame Emily, who was still into haunting, for alerting me to the demolition of Blake Hall after what was salvaged of its character and worth had been auctioned off. That was as far as Emily was willing to go with the news, while Charlotte had long ago grown disillusioned with London, so I made a second trip there on my own. Of course, I could do nothing but watch the dealings that started at a Kensington antiques fair, continued miles away in a damp, dusty warehouse, and culminated in the staircase’s sale and a plan to send it to be reassembled even farther away from fitting in. By then, I was curious about the couple who had crossed the Atlantic to flaunt their money and steal a little of the old world to the new. Giving into the temptation to eavesdrop on Allen and Gladys Topping during their return voyage, I meant to limit my spying to their discussions about “the English treasures” purchased for their new house on a “long island”. Instead, my fascination with their engaging if sometimes vulgar speech and mannerisms and Gladys’ spontaneous operatic singing, which made her husband’s eyes shine, became an inexcusable intrusion upon their privacy. No sooner I returned to time without measure than Allen Topping was there. I wanted to ask him about the staircase but decided not to because he didn’t know me. He was greeted by a crowd of condolences for the loss of his wife. I often wondered if William ever felt bereaved over what might have been between us, but I was still too shy to ask him. Heaven, like earth, was full of unfinished love stories. I knew Allen would be all right. Gladys would be, too, for, as my dearest Flossy told me, Allen had left her with a special gift.
“Mr. Wyk, what is it?” Mr. Wyk reminded me of Emily’s Keeper, intimidating until he wagged his tail and nuzzled my hand for a treat he wasn’t supposed to have. I was sure he was a comfort to his mistress who, unlike Emily, had no rules that kept him off her bed or from roaming anywhere in the house. Not that Emily and Keeper were less devoted to each other, their reunion as intensely emotional as mine had been with Flossy. “Mr. Wyk?” The young Doberman Pincher ran up the stairs to the first landing, his snout down on his front paws and his spine rising as he resumed growling. I began to ascend, thinking to put him at ease again, but he backed away whining and turned to Gladys. She had one hand over her mouth while the other lifted a chamber stick that illuminated the fear and curiosity in her eyes. I waited for the question I didn’t want to answer. Who? it came, although it wasn’t spoken. Quickly, once and for all, in a whisper meant to be an impression, I told her. I was surprised she had heard of me, also of my sisters and brother, and had even seen the lovely moors. “Ah, she’s gone.” Gladys stroked Mr. Wyk’s ears and went down the stairs. I moved aside, forgetting I didn’t need to. The faithful dog wanted to follow her but waited for me to gesture him to. “You must be hungry, Mr. Wyk. Will anyone believe we saw her? I wonder if she’ll be back.” I have been, but not so Gladys has actually observed me again. It’s hard to be sure about Mr. Wyk; perhaps he no longer sees anything unusual in my visits. I often make a detour to catch a sunrise over the ocean from one of Quoque’s beaches, before returning to Sanderling where I like to go up and down the staircase, rather like a madwoman, which I would never have done in life, or, hopefully, put in a novel. Sometimes, I offer little noises and other signs that get Gladys’ attention but don’t disturb her too much or give away more than I have already.
Read about the actual events that inspired The Staircase:
I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered The Earth is available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle devices and app: US UK Profits go to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which like so many cultural institutions is struggling financially during the pandemic.
More than 200 years since their births, the ghosts of the famous Bronte family – Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne – haunt their eager fans through novels, poetry, and the fascinating true story of genius tucked into unlikely spaces. It is all here waiting for you in this collection of spine-tingling Bronte-Inspired Ghost Stories, Local Legends, Paranormal Experiences, and Channelings. As one of our authors, Danette Camponeschi, says in her story Keepers of the Truth, “When shut inside during our own time of horror – while the world sleeps and waits and holds its collective breath – we continue the tradition of storytelling in our own way, keeping the truth alive and the imagination flourishing.” Open the cover of this book and enjoy a moonlit ramble on the moors. You never know what you’ll find…or what will find you…
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine And Subtle Spirit is available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle devices and app: US UK
As promised, more excerpts from my publications. Two this time, from A House Near Luccoli andits sequel To A StrangeSomewhere Fled
She knew what she shouldn’t do. But the harpsichord’s graceful frame wasn’t the only one within reach. “I told you, don’t lean on anything!” She was forgiving and forgiven, but mostly frustrated with her voice that felt trapped in her head. “Sigh.” “Sigh?” “Like the wind worked into a gale.” Alessandro stood up and took her in his arms, his fingers climbing her spine. Surprise disguised shame as she didn’t resist him. “Most singers won’t wear corsetti. Haven’t you noticed the size of their waists?” She wondered how he might make fun of her. “No frowning. Sing and weep. Never frown.” He lifted her arms. “Sigh. For me.” She had to admit he was making it easier and easier to do so. “Keep your arms up.” His hands pushed against her diaphragm. “Make it a sliding note, higher, higher,” he dropped them from the inflation of her breasts, “with body and voice until you can’t feel any difference,” to her waist. “Reach from your toes.” She held on to pleasing him and not just as he wanted her to sing. She was learning, positioned to rise above the inexperience of her voice and fall for the consequence of his instruction, forgetting herself and willing to defy anyone or anything that might prevent her going further. He clapped and returned to the harpsichord, propping a knee on its seat, his fingers leading on the keyboard, his eyes directed toward the lyrics in front of him. She added them to the tune she wasn’t familiar with, either, faltering, like a baby beginning to talk or her father attempting Italian. Alessandro realized he was playing too fast, not patient but willing to accompany her until she could handle it the other way around. She appreciated his tolerance and did her best to show him, slowly putting the words together into melody and meaning, phrases rolling, his encouragement exaggerating her ability. He conducted with the sway of his head. “Entice! Enjoy! They’re not just notes, but many avventure, one giving way for the next.” Her breath and soprano’s range were reaching their limit. “Don’t struggle. Think of a kiss. Soften your mouth. Open it, lift your tongue.” She understood how he got himself in trouble but also made the best singers. “No. Birds. Think of how they hold their bodies and announce their throats before they make a sound. They believe they’re made for singing. They don’t try, don’t strain, and don’t hang on. They know they have to do it.” He gave his hand and heart to the music, remembering a stage warmed by candles and great passions. “Like flying. Or mating. Or dying.” She was silent. “You’re giving up?” “I need a lower key.” “You don’t.” “But … you said … the high note isn’t all.” “Did I?” “Yes.” “Sometimes I say things I don’t mean.” He rose to adjust her posture, gentler maneuvering her head, gliding around her. “But always, the range of a voice is like the heart for amore.” Her neck was alert to his next move. “According to the available singers or lovers.” Donatella continued to imagine someone walking in, whether a suspicious relation or just reliable and unreliable servant bringing limonata or, now it was almost December, mulled wine. A lady would know how to pretend she wasn’t compromised by anything than what was supposed and a gentleman would let her have her innocence.
“Oh, I must hear Stradella.” Master Purcell swung out his arms as though into an embrace. “Let me choose.” Mama was irresistibly devious, lifting page after page. “Something lighthearted and melodious, if you please.” the young composer’s arms dropped. “As I feel sure he would have wished to entertain us.” “It is here.” “No, Mama.” Donatella realized her mother’s discovery and an ache in her stomach. Master Purcell was soon performing the selected music with his eyes and a delicate finger in the air. “Will you sing it, Mistress?” “Yes, yes. With my daughter, Donata, as she is shy. It’s her specialty.” “Really?” Master Purcell screwed his mouth, skeptical but interested. “In fact, Maestro Stradella might’ve written it for her.” “Oh, no, Mama. In Rome, before—” “You knew him?” Master Purcell motioned for Lonati who had been listening without comprehending what should have provoked him into having his say. “I would like to hear this, Carlo. I don’t see a bass viol, but Reggio can improvise. The ladies will sing. There’s only one score.” “I know it by heart.” Donatella blindly stepped back into her mother’s arms. “Of course you do, darling,” Mama’s soft voice blew into her ear. “Ah.” Purcell was watching them closely, and then turned back to Lonati, who was explaining the music to Reggio. There was the appropriate silence before Lonati was as elegant and amiable with bow and violin as no other activity afforded him. With every stroke, nod and faraway expression, he was an echo of Alessandro, exacting the very best from the composition and the late composer’s nature, generous with his talent, uninhibited with his playing, making the music his own only as he adored it. His reminiscent virtuosity swept Donatella onto the waves of Le donne più bella like a ship with a steady breeze in its sails, Reggio’s archlute-continuo encouraging the rolling sensation. Her mother’s grasp of her arm and escorting vocal weakened, soon leaving Donatella alone with each poetic turn of phrase and melodic ornamentation. Donatella listened, the sound of her singing always a surprise. She grew more and more trusting as she interpreted the aria with good legato, shading and tone, her jaw relaxed and her tongue in the proper position, her chest lifted but not too proud. Lonati flourished in-between her dreamy declarations, Reggio constant until the end that softened and lingered in harmony with her final passage. She kept her eyes closed, the silence longer than before the performance, as though her singing had not only used up her breath but everyone else’s, too.
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
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.
A few months ago my Anne Brontë bluebell path crossed with the talented composer and guitarist Charlie Rauh, who so generously allowed me to use a track from his soon-to-be released album inspired by the poetry of Anne and Emily Brontë on my book trailer for Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë A Fine and Subtle Spirit.
Charlie’s equally talented sister Christina Rauh Fishburne adds her own creative and personal touch to this day when TheBluebell becomes available for pre-order.
Be amongst the first 30 to pre-order and receive a very special gift!
“We flatter ourselves that we know things about Emily and Anne because we’ve read their books and poems and letters and these diary papers never meant for us, but whatever we know can’t ever be in the right context.
“The representation of the sixth Diary Paper is Charles’s album, The Bluebell.
“Charlie Rauh’s album, The Bluebell, along with 30 sets of The Diary Papers Box, is available for preorder from Destiny Records HERE
“Why are you crushing those flowers?”
“I’m not crushing them–I’m pressing them. To try and preserve them.”
“Oh.” (the “whatever, Mom” was implied)
“They’re bluebells! Like Uncle Charlie’s album named after the Brontes’ poems! Remember the four kids who had great imaginations like you guys and wrote–”
“Can I play Minecraft now? I ate lunch.”
(gritting teeth) “Fine.”
“…and they’re actually purple.”
“I know. But they’re called bluebells. See! They look like little bells!”
Before the “DANGER DO NOT ENTER” sign warning of falling trees went up in the little woods, I’d go for walks alone. We’d go as a family sometimes. I’d take the kids after online-school destroyed us enough for the day. Sometimes we’d hear the train, but most of the time it was just birds. And leaves. And our own poetic feet on the dirt. One evening I went out after dinner because I was…
Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1854
Today marks the birthday of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal (July 25, 1849 – February 11, 1860), muse and eventual wife of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti sitting to Elizabeth Siddal
The story goes that, while working in a dressmakers and millinery shop in Cranberry Alley, London, she was noticed by the artist Walter Deverell, who with the help of his mother, persuaded her to pose as Viola for his painting Twelfth Night.
Twelfth Night by Walter Deverell 1851
First, she was Twelfth Night’s Viola for Deverell, a Celt for Hunt, and a chilled Ophelia for Millais. She posed and was paid to supplement what she made as a milliner’s assistant, Mrs. Tozer allowing her time off from her normal hours at the shop. She, her family, even Mrs. Tozer must have been wary, knowing modeling threatened her respectability. Christina had been safeguarded by her sisterly relationship to the Brotherhood. Miss Siddall had no such protection from artist licentiousness. How could her head not be turned by these handsome,at least, interesting, and imaginative men? How could she not be flattered by their impression of her—in Deverell’s words—as “a queen, magnificently tall with a lovely figure, a face of the most delicate and finished modeling … like the carving of a Pheidean goddess … her hair like dazzling copper … as she waves it down”?
Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal
By 1851, Lizzie was sitting for Dante Gabriel and became his primary model, the number of drawings and paintings he did of her in the thousands. Eventually, he prohibited her from posing for any other artist.
One of the most famous paintings she posed for was John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, floating on her back in a bathtub, oil lamps lit under the tub to keep the water warm. Unfortunately, during one session, the lamps went out. Millais was so engrossed in his work he didn’t notice and Lizzie didn’t complain. She became quite ill, with a cold or even pneumonia, her father threatening to sue Millais until he agreed to pay her medical bills.
Ophelia by John Everett Millais 1852
Even before she became a model for Dante Gabriel and other PRB artists, Lizzie was experimenting with art and poetry herself. Dante Gabriel encouraged her to pursue both and she made great strides, getting the attention of the prominent art critic John Ruskin who financially supported her artistic progress and efforts. A little to the chagrin of Dante Gabriel as he struggled to sell paintings and be critically approved of?
Lovers Listening to Music by Elizabeth Siddal 1854
Lizzie and Dante Gabriel purportedly became engaged ten years before they actually married in 1860.
Marriage Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1860
Other than Dante Gabriel’s younger brother, William, Lizzie didn’t meet his family for years after their relationship intensified. Finally, in the spring of 1853, Dante Gabriel invited his youngest sister Christina to his studio and flat on Chatham Place in Blackfriars, London to be introduced to his “Sid”, his “Guggums”, his “Dove”.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal at Chatham Place (Blackfriars Bridge can be seen through the window in the background)
We found her hidden just behind those screens, that mirror gave back all her loveliness.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti drawing of Elizabeth Siddal
Miss Siddall was sitting slightly hunched, her arms reaching, resting between her knees, just below which her hands were clasped. Her waist, like the wicker chair she perched on was lost in the bunching of her skirt. Even with Lizzie’s torso swallowed in billowing grey and her shoulders slumped, her height was evident, her stretched neck, pointed chin uplifted, and thick, mahogany hair loosely ballooned on the nape of her neck elongating her.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress, a nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, a saint, an angel — every canvas means the same one meaning, neither more or less.
Christina saw what Gabriel did. Even simply, somberly gowned in cotton and shawled in wool, this woman was fascinating, not as she was but meant to be.
As Christina entered fully into her view, Lizzie stood up and took a few sliding steps towards her, greeting her visitor with heavy-lidded, kind if evasive grey-blue eyes, and extending her hand, warm in intention but cold in its flesh.
Oh, she is not well. I must be kind to her. I must … not jump to conclusions about her. I must … not mind Gabe loving her. Christina knew she acted more condescending than she felt, patting the other woman’s hand.
Gabriel rushed towards them, his arm around Lizzie to move her away from Christina. Taken by surprise, Lizzie was a ragdoll in his control; once she regained her will she shrugged him off.
“Well, what do you think, Chrissy?” Gabriel blurted, immediately clarifying his question. “Of the Blackfriars crib? The way the rooms are built out over the river, windows on all sides, there’s plenty of light and a magnificent view from the balcony of the Tower, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. ”
“If only there wasn’t such a stink from the river.”
“I hardly notice anymore. During the day it’s busy and interesting. At night there’s the shimmering reflection of gas lamps on the bridge and wharf side.”
“He notices. In words I won’t repeat.” William stood before an easel-supported canvas it was obvious, by its illuminated position and proximity to paints and brushes, Gabriel was currently working on. “You’ve made good progress.”
“Which one is it?” Christina moved to have a look. “Oh, a watercolor,” she tried not to sound disappointed.
“Beatrice Meets Dante at a Marriage Feast.” William glanced between his brother and Miss Siddall.
“And denies him her salutation,” Gabriel added, not brave enough to look at Lizzie sitting and slumping again.
William leaned into the painting to examine it more closely. “He’s captured you for eternity.”
“Sitting for him certainly can seem an eternity.” Christina thought she saw Lizzie struggle not to smile.
“You didn’t refuse, even though Mama said you could.” Gabriel knew he was right. “I remember you begging to pose again.”
Christina did, too. “Well, your memory fails you. But one thing doesn’t.” She stepped back from the painting, looking around at all the other evidence of her brother’s vocation. “Having your muse constantly close.”
“I don’t live here,” Lizzie finally spoke, softly but emphatically.
According to William, it was true. She went home every night. Walking the short distance from his Somerset House office, he regularly dropped in on his brother after work, sometimes to stay the night. After all, it was his signature as co-owner and money that was keeping Gabriel at 14 Chatham Place. If Miss Siddall were still there, she would dine with them. Around nine or ten at the latest, one or the other of them would accompany her home about a mile and a half over the river to Old Kent Road, her father opening the door before she stepped up to it.
Gabriel and Lizzie were alone together at other times, their behavior left to the frailty of restraint. Word was she had practically lived there once, albeit while Gabriel was traveling, furtively coming and going as a woman so slim, faint, and quiet naturally could. I want to tell you that Lizzy is painting at Blackfriars while I am away. Gabriel wrote to William from Newcastle, assuming, as he often mocked the Rossetti siblings’ compulsion of “spilling the beans” to each other, Christina would know, too. Do not therefore encourage anyone to go near the place. I have told her to keep the doors locked. I’m assuming she’ll probably sleep there sometimes.
Gabriel included a caricature of himself thumbing his nose at his landlord.
Christina wondered what lie Lizzie told her family, obviously abetted by someone they trusted, regarding those nights her father didn’t wait for her to return home.
There was something other than the ambiguity and unconventionality of Gabriel’s relationship with Lizzie that, although it may have protected her honor, made Christina even more uneasy. It stemmed from his turning the Rossetti scholarly obsession with Dante Alighieri and his elusive Beatrice into a quest for an actualized perfect love: The Blessed Damozel. He thought he had found her, lean’d out from the golden bar of heaven, in a hat girl, whose grandfather was a Sheffield scissor-maker, her father a south-east London cutler, her distinctive tresses inherited from her mother and fondness for poetry beginning when she discovered Tennyson’s on a piece of paper wrapped around butter.
Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (completed after Elizabeth Siddal’s death)
In the Artist’s Studio
One face looks out from all his canvases, One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans: We found her hidden just behind those screens, That mirror gave back all her loveliness. A queen in opal or in ruby dress, A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, A saint, an angel — every canvas means The same one meaning, neither more or less. He feeds upon her face by day and night, And she with true kind eyes looks back on him, Fair as the moon and joyful as the light: Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim; Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright; Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.