A Feather in the Wind

 

“Please, take my hand,” Charlotte reached back to her sister, “or I’m afraid I’ll lose you like a feather in this wind.”

 

 

 

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

Anne Brontë died in Scarborough on Monday, May 28, 1849 at about two in the afternoon. Charlotte and Ellen Nussey were at her bedside in Wood’s Lodgings where the Grand Hotel now stands.

Charlotte made the decision to have her youngest sister buried “where the flower had fallen” rather than transport her body back to Haworth. Besides Charlotte and Ellen, the only other mourner at Anne’s Christ Church funeral was their former Roe Head mistress, Miss Wooler, who owned a house on the North Bay. Anne was interred in St. Mary’s churchyard on Castle Hill overlooking the sea.

I longed to view that bliss divine,
Which eye hath never seen;
Like Moses, I would see his face
Without the veil between.
~ from Anne Brontë’s poem, A Happy Day in February

There is no doubt that Anne Brontë’s dying words – “Take courage” – to her sole surviving sister, Charlotte, present a moving finale to her earthly story.

On the Death of Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte

Well into writing Without the Veil Between, I decided to portray Anne’s death without the scene of her final moments. I wanted her last days to unfold on its pages as they did for Anne herself, not as a lament but with gratefulness for her fine and subtle, purposeful and poetic life without end.

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring and carried aloft on the wings of the breeze.
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

Anne’s insistence, a few days before she died, not only on taking a donkey ride on Scarborough’s south sands, but on doing so alone and driving the cart herself, because she didn’t want the donkey pulling it to be mistreated, begged to be expanded out of the footnotes of her history. Her actions and reasons exemplified her quiet determination and independence, kind heart, strong conscience, and desire to do some good even as her life was drawing to an end far too soon.

He picked up the reins. Anne noticed he also had a whip in his left hand.

“A gentle drive, please.” Anne couldn’t be sure of the lad’s compliance until he put the whip away. They began to move along at a pace that didn’t jolt her body or feel rushed.

After about five minutes the whip was in his hand again. “This ain’t a funeral, ole girl.” He cracked it across the donkey’s hind quarters.

The donkey stopped and kicked up her back legs. The lad lifted his arm to strike her a second time.

“Stop it.” Anne grabbed the reins, the blanket sliding to her feet. If she couldn’t be his equal in physical strength then in will. “Get off. I’ll drive myself.”

Anne was almost in tears, leaning perilously forward to stroke the donkey where the boy had hit her. “Don’t you know it’s wicked to beat her? How would you like it? What if it was done to you?”

His eyes told her it had been.

Imagining his story, she struggled with continuing to scold him, but, also, realized an opportunity to make him more empathetic. “Animals live and feel as we do. You must remember that in how you treat them.”

 

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

Anne didn’t feel guilty escaping. She had saved Millie and herself from the dominance of others for a while and thought driving the cart might show Charlotte the holiday was doing her good. In truth, Anne was moving away from the exhausting fight to survive towards surrendering to the precious time she had left. The curve of the bay was all hers. A beautiful sparkling headland lay ahead. The dip and lift of gulls and equally roguish clouds were almost indistinguishable as was the sea sounding near and far.

Anne wanted dying to be welcome and welcoming, releasing and promising, like driving along the shore that afternoon and how she had tried to steer her life, her hands on the reins but faith guiding her progress.

Graying Millie might be slow but she was wise, going gingerly one way and then the other, staying above the wettest sand that could swallow enough of the carriage’s wheels to necessitate a cry for help. When they did stop, it was because Millie decided to. What some called a dumb animal Anne appreciated as a special creature of God’s making, who sensed Anne’s need to pause and reflect in some semblance of solitude.

 

To regret the exchange of earthly pleasures for the joys of Heaven, is as if the groveling caterpillar should lament that it must one day quit the nibbled leaf to soar aloft and flutter through the air, roving at will from flower to flower, sipping sweet honey from their cups, or basking in their sunny petals. If these little creatures knew how great a change awaited them, no doubt they would regret it; but would not all such sorrow be misplaced?
~ Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

I’m thrilled to report that Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit has made it onto the shelves of the Brontë Parsonage Museum Shop! Thank you to The Brontë Society!

©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.

Maiden May by Christina Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower,
In her blush rose bower in flower,
Sweet of scent;
Sat and dreamed away an hour,
Half content, half uncontent.

‘Why should rose blossoms be born,
Tender blossoms, on a thorn
Though so sweet?
Never a thorn besets the corn
Scentless in its strength complete.
‘Why are roses all so frail,
At the mercy of a gale,
Of a breath?
Yet so sweet and perfect pale,
Still so sweet in life and death.

“Mona Rosa” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower,
In her blush rose bower in flower,
Where a linnet
Made one bristling branch the tower
For her nest and young ones in it.

‘Gay and clear the linnet trills;
Yet the skylark only, thrills
Heaven and earth
When he breasts the height, and fills
Height and depth with song and mirth.

‘Nightingales which yield to night
Solitary strange delight,
Reign alone:
But the lark for all his height
Fills no solitary throne;

‘While he sings, a hundred sing;
Wing their flight below his wing
Yet in flight;
Each a lovely joyful thing
To the measure of its delight.

‘Why then should a lark be reckoned
One alone, without a second
Near his throne?
He in skyward flight unslackened,
In his music, not alone.’

“Veronica Veronese” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower;
Her own face was like a flower
Of the prime,
Half in sunshine, half in shower,
In the year’s most tender time.

Her own thoughts in silent song
Musically flowed along,
Wise, unwise,
Wistful, wondering, weak or strong:
As brook shallows sink or rise.

“The Shepherdess” by William Holman Hunt

Other thoughts another day,
Maiden May, will surge and sway
Round your heart;
Wake, and plead, and turn at bay,
Wisdom part, and folly part.

Time not far remote will borrow
Other joys, another sorrow,
All for you;
Not to-day, and yet to-morrow
Reasoning false and reasoning true.

Wherefore greatest? Wherefore least?
Hearts that starve and hearts that feast?
You and I?
Stammering Oracles have ceased,
And the whole earth stands at ‘why?’

“Women Reading in Garden” by Marie Spartali Stillman

Underneath all things that be
Lies an unsolved mystery;
Over all
Spreads a veil impenetrably,
Spreads a dense unlifted pall.

Mystery of mysteries:
This creation hears and sees
High and low –
Vanity of vanities:
This we test and this we know.

Maiden May, the days of flowering
Nurse you now in sweet embowering,
Sunny days;
Bright with rainbows all the showering,
Bright with blossoms all the ways.

“The Blind Girl” by John Everett Mallais

Close the inlet of your bower,
Close it close with thorn and flower,
Maiden May;
Lengthen out the shortening hour, –
Morrows are not as to-day.

Stay to-day which wanes too soon,
Stay the sun and stay the moon,
Stay your youth;
Bask you in the actual noon,
Rest you in the present truth.

Let to-day suffice to-day:
For itself to-morrow may
Fetch its loss,
Aim and stumble, say its say,
Watch and pray and bear its cross.
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti

“Fair Rosamund” by Arthur Hughes

Click here to read and view a previous year’s post celebrating May Day.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Christina Rossetti is the subject of my work-in-progress novel The Dove Upon Her Branch.

 

©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.

Too Many Tales: for National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day

As April 30th is National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, I thought I would re-share a post from 2012, which I’m sure many haven’t seen. This one was also published in the My View section of one of my local papers, The Buffalo News, on 4/7/12.

We waded into a sea of faces masked in markings of black and white, gray and ginger, eyes shining through from a galaxy all their own. There were jewels in each look, some sparkling, others sadder from losing their luster. Tails were confident and questioning, like sails bringing a fleet of ships into the harbor of our hearts. We were immediately surrounded, immediately surrendering to whatever fate had in store for us, too. It was almost Dickensian, so many orphans vying for our attention, the first tiny one put in my arms thinner than should be survivable but as hungry for love. How frightened he was, not to be held but let go, rejected that day and every other, the moment all the hope he had, the back of a cage somewhere to disappear in forever.

Mom sat in a chair as wobbly as her resolve, a queen holding audience for hardly deferential subjects curling and climbing and clamoring to be her favorite. It seemed the most natural thing for her to be covered with such a crowd, lying at and even on her feet, piling into her lap, begging her embrace. She was as adoring as adored, her shoulders easily bearing the weight, her neck encircled, her composure finally crowned. She reached up to see who was so agile and awkward at the same time, a long slender creature with eyes closing tighter and contentment sounding louder. Oh, that’s Tilly—we were told—she was recently adopted and returned a few days later. Returned? Like a piece of clothing that didn’t fit right? Or an appliance that didn’t work? Oh—it was edgily explained—the lady said she couldn’t deal with such a loving creature.

There wasn’t any doubt. Tilly was affectionate enough to bring the warring world to its knees. She would never give up on love, never stop believing caresses and kisses and kindness were what she was born for. She was soft and white with an upturned pink nose and silky black cap framing her forehead and veiling her ears, a matching cape dressing her back and trailing down her tail. She was limp and lovely in my mother’s arms, her eyes suddenly swirling green and lifting up, still looking for a promise though they knew it could be broken.

The manager and volunteers did their best, taking in every cat abandoned to abandonment, providing more than food and shelter, healing wounds, offering a place of belonging for days or weeks or years. They knew every name, each personality, and all the stories that should’ve been too many to remember. They might’ve been glad of anyone to take some of the responsibility off their hands, but there was something more important to consider than seeing the numbers decline.

And so more cats came than went, left at the door and in the road, found in snow banks and ditches and barns, rescued from fighting and pregnancy and disease, given the chance to grow up and be cherished. What was it like when their crowded but companionable world was raided? How frightening was it to be counted and cataloged and taken away? Perhaps it was all for the good, everyone finally paying attention and wanting to help. But accusations didn’t acknowledge the good intentions that weren’t ever lost, just overwhelmed because they were so undervalued.

There’s confusion in my heart over what the shelter did right and how it went wrong.  

And why we didn’t take Tilly. We were reassured she would soon be adopted again and continued with our choice of a kitten. We left with the skinny one, who never let us doubt his happiness. And his brother, a munchkin, who a few days later almost stopped breathing but was saved for a lifetime of memories and a tale for another day.

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Note (from 2012): Recently our local No-Kill animal shelter–the Wyoming Country SPCA (that my mother and I have supported for years)–was raided and declared unfit, the manager vilified for hoarding. Over 500 cats were found at the shelter (many many more than when our visit depicted in this post occurred).The hyped reporting of this for the most part failed to offer the real reason why the population of cats had increased so, making the care of them so difficult with the limited funds (from public donations) and help (mainly volunteers) available. This shelter is in a very rural area where cats and kittens were regularly and often pitilessly dropped off, and those coming to ‘adopt’ too frequently just wanted a cat or two to throw in a barn and keep down the mice. The manager did not want that kind of life for any of the cats who had already been rescued from dangerous and neglectful situations and was fussy about the kind of HOMES they went to, charging a minimal fee to ensure they were really wanted. She had been on local TV and through other means advertised the overpopulated situation at the shelter, but until the raid little help was forthcoming. It was reported that 30 cats were euthanized because of poor health but most were taken by other local SPCAs who have been adopting them out for free, hopefully, to secure and loving lives.

4/30/19 Note: The manager, referred to above, took her own life in July 2012. She had been indicted on charges of animal abuse for hoarding, which, it seems, broke her heart. She had dedicated herself to the shelter, because she wanted to help so many abandoned, abused, vulnerable cats, resulting in the shelter becoming overcrowded. She had tried to bring attention to this and get help, but, tragically, it came too late.

Also, we still have the two cats (then kittens) we adopted that day, Dante (tuxedo) and Blake (gray tabbey). They are doing well.

 

 

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

For Easter: Music by Stradella and Purcell, Words by Christina Rossetti and Anne Brontë

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

This is a revamped post from Easter past with music and words reflecting my three published novels: Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle SpiritA House Near Luccoli and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

This year I’ve added a poem by Christina Rossetti, subject of my work-in-progress novel portrait of her, The Dove Upon Her Branch.

An Easter Carol
by
Christina Rossetti

Spring bursts to-day,
For Christ is risen and all the earth’s at play.

Flash forth, thou Sun,
The rain is over and gone, its work is done.

Winter is past,
Sweet Spring is come at last, is come at last.

Bud, Fig and Vine,
Bud, Olive, fat with fruit and oil and wine.

Break forth this morn
In roses, thou but yesterday a Thorn.

Uplift thy head,
O pure white Lily through the Winter dead.

Beside your dams
Leap and rejoice, you merry-making Lambs.

All Herds and Flocks
Rejoice, all Beasts of thickets and of rocks.

Sing, Creatures, sing,
Angels and Men and Birds and everything.

All notes of Doves
Fill all our world: this is the time of loves.

 

Lucis Chamber Choir performing the world premiere of Russell Hepplewhite’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s Easter Carol in St Mary’s Church, Bathwick.

 

Here is Anne Brontë’s poem/hymn Believe Not Those Who Say/The Narrow Way, which was put to the tune Festal Song by William Henry Walter.

Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou should stumble in the way,
And faint before the truth.
To labor and to love,
To pardon and endure,
To lift thy heart to God above,
And keep thy conscience pure.
Be this thy constant aim,
Thy hope, thy chief delight,
What matter who should whisper blame
Or who should scorn or slight.

Read the full poem here
(it includes one of Anne’s most quoted lines:
But he, that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

 

 

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a recording of Anne’s words put to the music. I did find an organ instrumental of Festal Song and it’s easy to “hear” how her words fit in.

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, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

 

 

“My music began. A mixture of harmonious voices, poetry & fine instrumentalists.”
Alessandro Stradella ~ A House Near Luccoli

Alessandro Stradella’s sacred cantata for solo alto and instruments Crocifissione e morte di nostro signore Gesu Cristo – the Crucifixion and death of our savior Jesus Christ.
Performed by Baroque and Renaissance Choral

 

Purcell performed the music with his eyes & a delicate finger in the air.
~ To A Strange Somewhere Fled 

Choir of Clare College Cambridge singing Purcell’s Hear My Prayer

 

Blessings for Easter and Passover

 

Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

 

 

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

Influencing Hearts and Conversations – A Birthday Celebration

I can’t let the day pass without ‘mentioning’ (in this updated re-post) that it is Alessandro Stradella‘s birthday (April 3, 1639, near Rome), the mesmerizing figure at the center of my first published novel, A House Near Luccoli.

Stradella_pe_pe resized

Illustration by DM Denton©

In the seven and a half years since its publication, I have certainly noticed more interest in and attention on Stradella and his music. In January of 2016, BBC Radio 2 broadcasted How to Flee From Sorrow* – Behind (Stradella’s) lovely, well-ordered music was a life bursting with ambition and starved of security. The program’s musical director was Alberto Sanna, musicologist and violinist, who has released the first-ever complete period-instrument recording of Alessandro Stradella’s beautiful yet neglected Two-Part Sinfonias.

*The entire program is not currently available, except as occasionally re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4, but teasers are available here and here.

Click here for a wonderful and insightful piece about Stradella – “Wild man of the Baroque” – by the program’s writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Presentation2 with Cantata Cover and Villa Doria background picmonkey1

Since 2016, the Festival Barroco Alessandro Stradella has been held in September in Stradella’s birthplace of Nepi, Italy. Click here for the program from 2018.

The composer’s arrival at a house near Luccoli in April 1681 put a cat among pigeons.

Harpsichord and Genoa with books.jpg with text 2 white

She smelled a candle burning, but it didn’t light the short hall. In the main room a window was open, with the settee moved closer to it, Signor Stradella a masterpiece resting there. One dark leg was stretched and falling over the back of the couch, a ruffled hand on its knee; the other bent to the floor and, even without stocking and shoe, appeared ready to walk away. He had also undressed to his shirt still buttoned high and wrinkled softly because it was made of the finest linen. A slight breeze blew his hair over his face. As he realized her burdened entrance, his right shoulder pillowed a half-smile and he reached out lazily.

“Did you bring bavareisa?”

“What’s that?” She clumsily laid the tray down on the gray marble hearth, not wanting to bend with her back to him.

Cioccolata and caffè.”

“We don’t have coffee. It’s too expensive.”

“I’ll pay for it.” He swung into sitting, hunched and rubbing his neck. “I’m getting one of my headaches.”

“It’s the weather.” Donatella offered him a drink.

He accepted it, the tips of his fingers friendlier than they should have been. “A veil over the sun, like a woman at Messa.” He tasted it. “Ah. Fresco.”

“Squeezed this morning. Nonna says it’s good for clearing the voice.”

Cara Nònna.” He raised his glass, then emptied it with a kiss on its rim. “I’ve heard she was very rebellious. I wonder you didn’t become the same.”

“I wasn’t meant to.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it didn’t happen.”

She was still holding the folder.

“I believe that’s why you’ve come?”

He moved slowly to make space on the table where his inventions were layered and sprawled, so many at once. By the time she placed the copy there he was sitting once more, leaning forward, his head in his hands.

“You can let me know.” She felt intrusive. “I’ve never seen you at Maddalena before.”

He rose, admitting his rudeness. “I was testing the sound for a wedding there.”

“It must be a special one.”

“Ah. I’ll make it so.” His teeth showed. “Così.” He leaned over the table, the side of his face long and angled, eyelashes still and mouth taut, the first page flipped for the second, the second for the third, every one after that as unremarkable.

“I’m untrained.”

He looked at the first page again, his index finger, chin, and muted hum following the stanzas. “Ah. You see. Just a little more space here and this note a little higher, the words not quite aligned.”

Her hope of impressing him was gone.

“No, no.” He showed sensitivity to being misunderstood. “Even my last copyist, a priest, cursed my sloppiness.”

“I did my best.”

“Ah. Anyway, there are many arie in the serenata, besides duetti and trii and sinfonie. I need copies of each by—you saw the date; barely a month away. Before that for rehearsal.” He closed the folder, falling back on the settee. “And only so-called musicisti in Genova, too quick or too slow or distracted by ambizione. Will you do more for me?”

She had to consider. His reputation. Her motivation. She couldn’t sign her name to the work, freely spend any payment, or even show some pride. Sneaking around, her aunt would eventually find out and put a stop to it anyway.

“Is that cake?”

“Yes.”

“For the flies?”

“Oh.” She rescued the plate.

He took a slice, eating it almost without chewing. “As we live dangerously opening windows.” He reached for another, nodding for her to take what was left.

“All right,” she answered.

Bene allora.”

“I mean … I will help you.”

Mangia.”

“Oh, yes.” She broke a corner of the last piece on the plate.

He got up to pour her a glass of limonata, staring as her lips, covered in crumbs, finally took a sip.

~ From A House Near Luccoli

Despite the circumstances that dictated the ending of the novel, Stradella continues to influence hearts and conversations in its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

Casee's Book Photo on Dark Blue Background with Text_pe

Excerpts from To A Strange Somewhere Fled

She made her mark as unexpectedly as before, becoming more and more involved with its swirling and sliding and dotting, rising and falling with her shoulders and satisfaction. She was definitely possessed by a melodic hum and laughter in her head, the tease of a draft on her neck, and the surprise that she hadn’t forgotten how to serve a master. She knew he was smiling as she checked her work, a mistake here and there repentantly fixed, page after page turned into another chance to show that, in theory and practice and ways she didn’t need to understand, she was worthy of his presence.

Yes, it felt like he was there, pacing the room and wringing his hands as he realized he couldn’t change anything.  She could, with his permission. What else allowed her to hear a note held longer or twilled higher, a crescendo misplaced, or toccata written more for poetry than a harpsichordist’s dexterity? What would have put such ideas in her head, except the desire of one who had touched her with his variations?

***

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.

***

It looked as though Master Purcell was trying to hide under the stairs. Roger inquired about his journey from London and he emerged to reveal that he had interrupted the trip with a night at Oxford and much drinking, and another at Rousham Park and even more feasting.

Donatella didn’t expect him to recognize her, but when Roger moved aside she became “that most courteous copyist who had also forgiven Stradella.”

“And I hope you’ll pardon me, Harry, but the guests will soon arrive and you need to tidy yourself and prepare.” Roger didn’t know he showed concern for anything but the plan for the evening ahead.

“Well, I am a little dusty.” Master Purcell winked in Donatella’s direction. “I wonder if Stradella was always impeccably turned out.”

They walked into the hall and Donatella wanted to tell him about the man she had known as reported but, also, in very different ways. Would Master Purcell believe Alessandro had been in need of friendship more than love, or that he had grown tired of making music for those who only listened to their own importance? Would it seem as ridiculous to say he would have rather roamed the streets, lost in the crowds and songs of Carnival, than found to be wanting in nobler society? She could describe him as flamboyant in disguise and excessive when it came to enjoying himself, yet he had the sense to be gracious in his manners, and even humble when it weighed in his favor and, especially, his purse. She might also reveal the unshaven, disheveled creature that growled with frustration and cursed the affairs that caused him more trouble than they were worth.

Surely, Master Purcell would rather hear about Alessandro’s genius and even his sacred purpose: how the music came to him like the archangel Gabriel, because he was highly chosen with or without the patronage of any prince or princess.


I “knew” Alessandro Stradella. I recognized his distinct voice, his swaying form, his infectious smile, and his wandering heart. I had witnessed the rise and fall of his talents, how his music had showered him with forgiveness if not fortune.

So I celebrate his birth!

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.

Guest Post: The Women in Berthe Morisot’s Life

Today I am hosting Paula Butterfield, whose new novel La Luministe, was just released by Regal House Publishing March 15th.

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Barnes and Noble

This is an exquisitely imagined and written novel about the artist Berthe Morisot, her determined but, also, instinctive approach to art, life and love. This novel is a beautiful, seductive, linguistic dance, subtly expressive like Morisot’s art. I highly recommend it!

 

The Women In Berthe Morisot’s Life by Paula Butterfield

Berthe Morisot’s mother played an important role in Berthe’s life, encouraging her daughter’s artistic pursuits (most of the time), and holding weekly Tuesday “evenings” to which she invited the artists that Berthe could not socialize with at the popular cafes. But Maman Morisot had no idea how to prepare her daughter to integrate a career as an artist with a traditional woman’s life.   In La Luministe, Berthe looks to two other important women in her life to offer paths for her to follow.

Her sister, Edma, was Berthe’s earliest influence. Only one year older than Berthe, Edma seemed to effortlessly stay clean, follow the rules, and—quite literally—color inside the lines. When the two sisters had studied drawing and painting long enough to begin copying at the Louvre, it was Edma who was thought to be the better artist because she copied so precisely, while Berthe left out details if she felt they were unimportant.

The sisters were on parallel paths to success. They both had work accepted at the Salon, the influential annual art exhibition put on by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Then Edma turned thirty. The vow the sisters had made as girls, to pursue lives as artists, didn’t protect Edma from societal pressure to marry. What was worse, in Berthe’s view, was that Edma married a naval officer whose career required the couple to move from one location to another, each far from Paris. The sisters promised that they would visit often, and that they would keep painting. But running a household and taking care of a growing family precluded time for paintings, and Edma eventually gave up art altogether.

Edma’s path struck fear into Berthe’s heart. She couldn’t imagine living without her artistic outlet. But at the same time, she longed for a happy family like the one Edma created. There was much to envy about her sister’s new life. Berthe painted idyllic scenes of Edma and her little daughter playing hide-and-seek or chasing butterflies.

 

The other woman close to Berthe was the Duchess of Colonna, whom Berthe met when her family spent a summer amongst other artists in the Barbizon Forest. She idolized the Duchess, a sculptor who, as the young widow of an aristocrat, had status and money that afforded her the freedom to live as an artist. She even signed her work as “Marcello”, hoping that a man’s name would protect her identity. The Duchess won prizes at the Salon and commissions from titled patrons.

But even her beauty and unmarried status could not protect the Duchess. She had many admirers—from the artist Eugene Delacroix to Emperor Louis Napoleon—too many, society determined. As she reached middle age, her independence was no longer deemed acceptable.

Berthe, too, was financially comfortable and a beauty; how could she avoid the judgment that the Duchess endured?

Berthe faced a choice: to live as a single woman, and eventually an old maid, free to devote her entire life to her art. Or to enjoy a family of her own, and the approval of the Parisian haute-bourgeoise. When Edma married, Berthe complained to Edouard Manet that she had lost her companion and competitor. He challenged Berthe to tell him about one woman who had combined work and family, but she couldn’t think of any. In the end, Berthe Morisot became that woman. She had to create her own role, one as radical as her painting.

The Impressionists were concerned with depicting modern life. Combining work and love, art and family—THAT was Berthe’s modern life.

 

Author Paula Butterfield taught courses about women artists for twenty years before turning to writing about them. La Luministe, her debut novel, earned the Best Historical Fiction Chanticleer Award. Paula lives with her husband and daughter in Portland and on the Oregon coast.

http://www.paula-butterfield.com

@pbutterwriter

https://www.pinterest.com/luministe

https://www.instagram.com/paulabutterfield2018

Thank you, Paula, for such an interesting post

and eloquent, gentle, inspiring novel!

Mother, Accept I Pray, My Offering

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while, have seen my mom’s beautiful artwork and, through me, shared in her whimsical but indomitable spirit.

Copyright 2012 by JM DiGiacomo

She has been seriously ill with pneumonia over the last month and now is home with me, bedridden and under palliative care. She is eating better, seems stronger, and is in good spirits. Are there challenges? Yes, of course. But I only have to look over and see her there (have moved her hospital bed into the living room) and I know it is worth overcoming the difficulties the best I can to spend such valuable time with her.

Today, March 10, 2019, is her 90th birthday! All the more special because there were many moments over the last weeks that I questioned whether she would be with me and the kitties to celebrate this milestone.

My mom at nineteen

In terms of this post, to mark her birthday, I’m sharing an excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poetess, Christina Rossetti. Christina was extremely close to her mother, whom she lived with virtually all her life until her mother died at the age of 85.

Christina Rossetti and her Mother Frances Rossetti, 7th October 1863, by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll)

This post is also the unveiling of the working title of my novel about Christina:

The Dove Upon Her Branch

(One of the first poems Christina wrote was at the age of eleven to mark her mother’s birthday)

“Today’s your natal day, sweet flowers I bring …”

Christina would never deny her mother’s opinion was the one that haunted and pleased her most. Even as a willful child, getting her way wasn’t as gratifying as hearing her mother say, “Good girl”, and, even better, seeing the light of approval in her eyes. They were glowing and moist as Christina held out a forget-me-not posy and began reciting her first poem—well, the first she admitted to.

“Mother accept I pray, my offering …”

“Of course, my darling.” The flowers were in her mother’s hands. “Go on. I know the best is yet to come.”

How did she? Christina wondered if Gabriel had given the surprise away as he had threatened, not only that there was a poem but, also, the very words that comprised it. She went on anyway. “And may you happy live, and long us to bless …”

The flowers were in her mother’s lap as she pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve.

“Receiving as you give,” Christina’s own eyes teared up, as it happened and she remembered, “great happiness.”

Hopefully, her mother wiped hers for the best of reasons, Christina then as now needing her poetry to find its brightest point in Francis Polidori Rossetti’s appreciation of it.

“And the rhymes all your own. I heard you wouldn’t have any help with them.”

Christina turned her suspicion to William for spoiling the unexpectedness of her birthday gift to her mother. “Of course.”

“You don’t need to stamp your foot.”

“I’m sorry, Mama.”

“Instead, let poetry express your mood.”

Copyright © 2019 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by June M DiGiacomo (from a card my mom painted for my birthday 7 years ago)

To My Mother
by Christina Rossetti, 1830 – 1894

To-day’s your natal day;
   Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
   My offering.

And may you happy live,
   And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
   Great happiness.

Copyright 2012 by June M DiGiacomo

The secrets of your heart
are stacked against the wall,
canvases for your art
of hiding what you missed.
No mistaking your style,
a freedom out of hand
that kept you all the while
believing as you wished.
A world that long was yours
before it was revealed—
imagination soars
with courage its master.
Flowers filling a place
left bereft of your own,
a portrait in a vase
found by me, your daughter.
Landscapes take you afar,
cats and soup bring you home
to settle for who you are:
the author of this poem.
~ DM Denton

Happy 90th Birthday, Mom!

Taking care of you doesn’t mean putting my life on hold,
but holding my life in your love.

©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.