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.

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In Memory of a Happy Day in February

Here’s a post just because it’s February and, for a day or two, spring-like. Also, because a sanguine view of life  is much needed and who better than Anne Brontë’s eyes to see it through.

Illustration Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

In Memory of a Happy Day in February

Blessed be Thou for all the joy
My soul has felt today!
O let its memory stay with me
And never pass away!
I was alone, for those I loved
Were far away from me,
The sun shone on the withered grass,
The wind blew fresh and free.

Was it the smile of early spring
That made my bosom glow?
‘Twas sweet, but neither sun nor wind
Could raise my spirit so.

Was it some feeling of delight,
All vague and undefined?
No, ’twas a rapture deep and strong,
Expanding in the mind!

Was it a sanguine view of life
And all its transient bliss­-
A hope of bright prosperity?
O no, it was not this!

It was a glimpse of truth divine
Unto my spirit given
Illumined by a ray of light
That shone direct from heaven!

I felt there was a God on high
By whom all things were made.
I saw His wisdom and his power
In all his works displayed.

But most throughout the moral world
I saw his glory shine;
I saw His wisdom infinite,
His mercy all divine.

Deep secrets of his providence
In darkness long concealed
Were brought to my delighted eyes
And graciously revealed.

But while I wondered and adored
His wisdom so divine,
I did not tremble at his power,
I felt that God was mine.

I knew that my Redeemer lived,
I did not fear to die;
Full sure that I should rise again
To immortality.

I longed to view that bliss divine
Which eye hath never seen,
To see the glories of his face
Without the veil between.

~ Anne Brontë

 

Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and 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.

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.

The Cat and the Fiddle: In the Spirit of ‘Carnevale’

Today, February 13, 2018 is Martedí Grasso (Fat Tuesday) of Carnevalea final celebration before Ash Wednesday and Lent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

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

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

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

 

Read Chapter Twenty-three, one of the Carnevale Chapters of A House Near Luccoli in full HERE.

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

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

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

“Practice what?”

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

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

“You’ll see others turning green.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

If she were more perfect, she would be less interesting

Counting down to Anne Brontë’s own Brontë200,
the bicentennial
of her birth on January 17, 1820,
today is the 198th birthday
of the youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë.

She is subject of my new novel

Anne Brontë comes through as a leading character in her own right, not as an understudy. Diane has written an exceptional history of a hidden jewel in the family Brontë and imbued her with a strength, a tenderness, and a will to animate and to shine.

Literary fiction has another distinctive voice in Diane Denton.

~ Martin Shone, author of three beautiful poetry collections: Being Human, Silence Happens, and After the Rain.

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after) engraving Private Collection The Stapleton Collection English, out of copyright

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after)
engraving
Private Collection
The Stapleton Collection
English, out of copyright

To mark Anne’s birth day, I am sharing an excerpt from Chapter Nine of Without the Veil Between, that includes an Emily initiated celebration.

It was years since Anne was home on her birthday. Emily baked an oatmeal and treacle cake a couple of days ahead of the teatime designated for its consumption to soften it in a tin.

“I’ll allow no one to refuse a piece of Annie’s parkin.” Emily, unusually, looked very pleased with herself. “I mean to give my bet’r sen some happy thoughts.” She even sang some lines from an old ballad supposedly from the time of Robin Hood. “‘Now the guests well satisfied, the fragments were laid on one side when Arthur, to make hearts merry, brought ales and parkins and perry.’”

“‘When Timothy Twig stept in, with his pipe and a pipkin of gin,’” Branwell followed on singing.

“Always the spoiler.” Emily didn’t look at him.

“Well, part of a song doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Anne briefly escaped their argument to take a piece of cake out to Tabby in the back kitchen. Easily wearied and hard-of-hearing, the old servant was trying to nap in a straight-backed chair positioned in the draft from the back door.

“Where’s your shawl?” Almost as soon as she wondered, Anne found it draped over the handle of a broom leaning against a wall.

“Eh? What yer fuss?”

Anne gently laid the loosely-knit shawl around Tabby’s shoulders and gave her the plate of cake.

“Dear angel-lass.”

Later, as the sisters spent a final parlor-cozy evening before Anne returned to Thorpe Green, Branwell off to take advantage of his last chance for a while to “stept in” at the Black Bull, even Charlotte admitted the liability he presented to their progress.

“The way it’s going with him, it’s better our school scheme comes to nothing. No doubt he’ll soon be home again, unemployable, even less able to provide decent company. Certainly not an example of manhood young girls should witness.”

Anne never told Charlotte as much as she did Emily, but there was no way to prevent the disturbance of her and Branwell returning home for the holidays together but estranged. As soon as they arrived, Anne fled the hours of traveling with him as though nothing ever disgusted her more. Over the weeks Branwell tried to converse with her beyond yes and no and maybe. Normally, her forbearing nature wouldn’t allow her to slight anyone, but with agitated busyness she dismissed him—to comb Flossy or clean Dick’s cage or help in the kitchen, which she rarely did, or beg Charlotte to let her read to their father who didn’t know of his son’s latest sin but might notice his guilt, so Branwell kept out of his way.

For a while Anne was as cowardly avoiding her brother, even if it meant staying in her room when he was in the house.

She wasn’t proud of her behavior. Gradually she felt more ashamed of her own choices and failings than Branwell’s, blaming her intransigence and righteousness for her failure to persuade him to stand stronger against temptation. Love was what she was made for, understanding, forgiveness and faith at the heart of her, good memories soothing the bad. 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, tempted her to once more hope he might yet chose rationale and, especially, what was right, over ruin.

“Let’s expect he’ll be better and do better.” It was as if Emily had read Anne’s thoughts. “Speak no more of it tonight. Are you still working on the same poem, Annie?”

“Still wrangling with it. You know how it is, thinking it might be better with a different word or different order of words, more metaphors or less. That it might benefit from leaving some sentiments out altogether.”

“I hope it isn’t gloomy.” Charlotte was sitting across the parlor table from Anne, the paper she was fingering easily in view as the beginnings of a letter in French.

Emily’s lounging took on the look of someone double-jointed with her right leg slid off the sofa and her left one lifted and bent, its stockinged foot pressed against the back of the couch. She made a feeble effort of controlling her skirt for modesty’s sake. “It’s rather pleading.”

“Entreating,” Anne corrected as she knew Emily would appreciate.

Emily winked. “If you say so.”

“Let’s hear it entreat then,” Charlotte challenged.

Anne didn’t want to read the poem out loud and spoil the evening with dread of what she was going back to the next day. For a moment, she considered sharing a little of Passages instead, an excerpt that was well-worked and entertaining. Sensing her sister’s impatience, she stood with one of her journals, opening it to its middle and flipping a few pages further. With a slow, almost tiptoeing stride, she recited as she moved around the table, because of the limited space brushing Charlotte’s back with each passing by.

“‘God. If this indeed be all that Life can show to me; if on my aching brow may fall no freshening dew from Thee; if no brighter light than this the lamp of hope may glow, and I may only dream of bliss and wake to weary woe—’”

Emily sighed as dramatically as she never naturally did.

“You always cheer us so.”

“I’m sorry, Charlotte. I won’t continue.” Anne had reached her chair after a second circling.

“No, go on. The writing itself is lovely.”

“‘If friendship’s solace must decay, when other joys are gone, and love must keep so far away—’”

“Enough.” Charlotte groaned.

“Not for me.” Emily threw her head back and closed her eyes.

Anne continued, realizing the poem was quite good and nearly as she intended. However, she hesitated when she reached the fourth verse, mustering up the courage to take a risk.

“Vice and sin?” Emily echoed. “Nothing to do with anyone we know, of course.”

“That’s it for now. I have yet to perfect the rest of it.”

Illustration by DM Denton from “Without the Veil Between”

I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.
~ Anne Brontë, from her introduction to the second edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

I allow she has small claims to perfection; but then, I maintain that, if she were more perfect, she would be less interesting.
~ Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Happy Birthday, Anne Brontë
and
thank you
for one of the most extraordinary and transformational
 writing experiences of my life!

 

donatellasmallest© 2018 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.

Without The Veil Between: Anne Brontë – Book Review

While I ponder and process a new blog post, I will be sharing some reviews of my new novel, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

Here is one that, besides being eloquently written, displays such intelligent and sensitive engagement with the novel. It is from fine author, Mary Clark. I hope, if this review takes you over to her blog, you will check out her publications listed on the side bar: “My Books” and “Poetry”.

Mary Clark, Writer

Without The Veil BetweenWithout The Veil Between Paperback

Without The Veil Between Kindle

Early in Diane Denton’s book the young curate, William Weightman, says to Anne Brontë: “You must find such satisfaction in being able to capture those moments the rest of us let slip away and sometimes aren’t aware of to begin with.” This is an essential part of Denton’s own gift. With this ability she is able to enter the world of a shy artist who lived in the shadows of her father, brother, and sisters, and in the light of a determined and insightful intellect. Anne Brontë set herself a more difficult task than her famous sisters, Charlotte and Emily. She was on a course of an artist whose subject was her life. Making this even more difficult, she sought to achieve emotional and mental stability.

Denton shows us the tensions in the austere home of the Reverend Brontë, the…

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Music on Christmas Morning (Revisited)

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

My vision for Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit was to explore and expand the “asides” of Anne’s life in and out of the context of the more familiar Brontë narrative: one being her fondness for music (a subject that, as those who have read my first two novels will know, I love to write about).

At an early age, along with her siblings, she was taken by her father to concerts performed by the Haworth Operatic Society and in nearby Keighley. In the mid-1830s Reverend Brontë surprised his children by purchasing an upright cabinet piano made by John Green of Soho Square, London.

Piano in Patrick Bronte's study in Haworth Parsonage

Piano in Patrick Bronte’s study in Haworth Parsonage

Their father arranged for them to have a few lessons at the parsonage, but mostly they were self-taught. Emily, whom Anne was extremely close to, is said to have been the most accomplished pianist in the family. Charlotte’s friend (and to them all) Ellen Nussey wrote of Emily playing “with brilliance and precision.”

“Come on.” Emily dropped the shoes she had seemed so desperate to find and, not allowing Anne to put on hers, pulled her sister out of the rocking chair.

“What?”

“It’s time for Mendelsohn.”

“On the piano? It’s almost eleven.”

“Who’s to mind?”

With their father and Charlotte away, Emily couldn’t be stopped from opening the windows in almost every room and occupying herself on the cottage piano in the Reverend’s study any time she pleased. Yet, Anne, who rarely went out of the house without Emily and then only into the front garden or the church to refresh the flowers by the pulpit, hadn’t heard Emily playing, not even the music Anne had given her for her birthday.

“You’ve been practicing. But when?”

“In the wee hours, as lightly as I walk about.”

“Oh. That explains—” Anne didn’t reveal her entire thought, standing to the side and holding the flickering light that illuminated the sheets Emily hardly needed to look at. She wondered how in the dark of a new day with a candle placed precariously on the corner of the piano’s lid, Emily managed to follow the score well enough to commit it to memory as well as perfecting by heart how gracefully and unpretentiously it sang without words. Anne heard it then, as she had in her dreams, something of William in its wordlessness, something of herself in its longings, something almost tender about Emily that except in her constant forgiveness of Keeper might otherwise never be revealed.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

auldlang

Auld Lang Sang as copied by Anne Bronte

Anne also played, as Ellen Nussey claimed, preferring “soft melodies and vocal music. She sang a little; her voice was weak, but very sweet in tone.” As a governess, Anne gave music and singing lessons, purchasing much of the music herself. At home, in June 1843, on a brief holiday from her position at Thorpe Green, she began copying her favorite music into a blank notebook she had probably purchased on a visit to York with her employers, the Robinsons, spending a fairly substantial sum in relation to her earnings.

Anne was on the second page of filling the music manuscript book she had only counted on costing her three shillings and six pence, not the favorable opinion of her favorite sister. Her last trip to York, longer than when she and Branwell had met their father there and this time sanctioned for shopping, allowed Anne almost two hours away from the Misses Robinson. While they spent their time and money on dresses, hats, and confections, Anne browsed a bookstore newly opened in the cathedral city, considering any expenditure carefully. She finally settled on two purchases: a German dictionary and a fabric-bound book for music copying that would also aid in her teaching, more of a justification than reason for buying it. Anne wanted to make the music she loved compactly portable, even without access to a pianoforte, available for performances in her head—preferably so, for then her fingers were agile and her voice wasn’t weak.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

The Shambles, York

The Shambles, York

Anne’s brother, Branwell, also had musical ability and played the organ from time to time for services in the Haworth Parish church. Unfortunately, none of his talents, including writing and painting, could override his self-pitying, self-destructive personality, which spiraled him into deadly addictions to drink and drugs.

[William’s] arm around her brother’s shoulder, assuring Branwell his return to the organ wasn’t spoiled by him losing his place in the processional hymn All Praise to Our Redeeming Lord and struggling with uncertain pedaling and clumsy fingering in Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, was an embrace of [Anne], too.

“In the end, my friend, you found your way,” William’s cheeks were almost crimson, little streaks of sweat on them, “with Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal.”
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

Haworth Church and Parsonage

Haworth Church and Parsonage

I try not to project myself into any historical person I write about, hoping to understand and interpret him/her as objectively and historically accurate as possible. However, fiction (and even biographies) beg some subjectivity in order to go deeper than the facts and explore, for example, his/her motivations, hesitations, impulses and emotions. Although I chose to write about Anne, I never expected to feel such affinity with her on so many levels.

One of the ways I related to Anne was in how her creative talents affected her life as she developed as a writer. Writing became her work, her vocation:  she knew it was her most significant means of expression if not her easiest. It involved much of her time, and, also, her mental, emotional and even physical energy, didn’t come easy, was often frustrating and misunderstood. She had to do it, no matter the trials it put her through, and it seems there were times, especially in the composing of her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, that she was nearly buried in it.

As her sister Charlotte wrote in a letter: ‘I would fain hope that [Anne’s] health is a little stronger than it was – and her spirits a little better, but she leads much too sedentary a life, and is continually sitting stooping either over a book or over her desk – it is with difficulty one can prevail on her to take a walk or induce her to converse.’

In contrast music and art and Anne’s bond to nature were truly enjoyment, allowing her times when she could look up from her weighty sense of purpose and view a lighter, more leisurely way of being.

Anne Bronte’s unfinished portrait of her dog, Flossy

Anne Bronte’s unfinished portrait of her dog, Flossy

Certainly, in difficult times, such as her years as governess at Blake Hall and then Thorpe Green, including Branwell’s disastrous stint as tutor at the latter location, music was a relaxing and pleasant pastime that interrupted Anne’s struggles with her health, duties, and worry and embarrassment over her brother’s behavior.

Like at the Spa in Scarborough, during one of her summer holidays there with her employers, the Robinson’s …

Nothing was more calming to her lungs than sitting among other reverent music lovers—which Elizabeth and Lydia were not—in the Spa’s turreted Saloon, melting into a Mozart symphony, an air by Weber, and a Rossini overture. At least, as the music swelled and soothed and satisfied, she was unaware of any physical discomfort from the afternoon’s rising temperature let alone her earlier asthma episode.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

The Spa, Scarborough, Yorkshire

The Spa, Scarborough, Yorkshire

Or on a sultry first day of rush-bearing, a magnificent Oratorio concert right in Haworth and her own church, St. Michaels and All Angels …

The voice of Mendelssohn’s Christ in three-part chorus rose, not only creating a miraculous sound but also a haloed light.

Anne wanted to be in that moment. Such bountiful music, the church filled with contemplative commentary drawn from the New and Old Testaments, chorales in the manner of Bach, fanfares punctuating more tranquil instrumentals and vocals. It was quite a trick for the orchestra, even reduced as it was, to fit into the church, the violins arranged around the cellos and violas, the strings in front of the winds, and the brass elevated at the very back. The choir was in front of the instrumentalists, sopranos and tenors on the right, mezzo sopranos, altos, and basses on the left.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

Rushbearing 1821

Rush-bearing 1821

Or during an impulsive trip to London with Charlotte, which as unexpectedly found her at the opera in Covent Garden …

Enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about critics or how you must answer them, or Papa or Emily or Branwell … or anything to disturb the wonder of this unexpected adventure

She didn’t think Mr. Smith Williams was reading her thoughts but wanting to witness her enthusiastic participation in the custom of applauding for the conductor as he quickly stepped into the pit, took his place and a bow, and turned to prompt the orchestra’s tuning up.

There was some movement behind the curtain, the footlights burning brighter as Anne’s attention focused on the stage. “This is beyond my dreams. Beyond what I deserve.” She lifted her hands to her cheeks flushed, as Mr. Smith Williams might assume, with pleasure and embarrassment, but really just the warmth and closeness of the theater.

“Oh, Miss Brontë, you’re more than worthy to be here.” Mr. Smith Williams was prompted by Anne’s admission to make one of his own. “I think you’re a perfect companion for attending the opera, for I suspect you understand how music—”

“Kindly bids us wake. It calls us, with an angel’s voice, to wake, worship, and rejoice.”
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

Italian Opera House Covent Garden, London

Italian Opera House Covent Garden, London

Anne’s Music on Christmas Morning was included in the poetry anthology she and her sisters published in the spring of 1846. It reflects Anne’s piety and love of music, words and nature, using all to paint a lyrically poignant bridge between heaven and earth.

music-of-christmas-morning-poem-with-holly-border-croped

 

Whether you read this post and Anne’s poem on the morning it was written in honor of, or at any other time, I want to offer my heartfelt appreciation for your visit to my little space in the universe along with wishes for many blessings to be yours in this season however you mark it.

Peace and Love

 

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