Anne Brontë’s First Girl, Agnes

In December 1847 (possibly the 13th),  a triple-book set of novels was published. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights made up the first two volumes and Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey, the third.

It was appropriate that Anne and Emily, who were so close to each other in affection and understanding, should have their novels make their first public appearance together. Although accepted for publication by Thomas Newby before Jane Eyre was by Smith, Elder & Co, Charlotte’s novel beat her sisters’ to the presses by a couple of months.

First edition Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey

Anne had made many corrections in her proofing of Agnes Grey, but Newby neglected to follow through on them.

After months of being upset by Newby’s negligence, Anne could finally smile a little at all the red marks in her personal copy of Agnes Grey.

The long delay in the release of her and Emily’s novels had been exasperating. Then Newby rushed them into print and, although Anne carefully labored over final corrections, overdue Agnes was born with defects that couldn’t be hidden. The results of Emily’s expectancy weren’t much better.
~ from Without the Veil Between

 

A review in the Atlas, January 22, 1848, must have been disappointing to Anne:

It leaves no painful impression on the mind – some may think it leaves no impression at all. There is a want of distinctness in the character of Agnes, which prevents the reader from taking much interest in her fate.

Much later, long after Anne was gone, the Irish novelist George Moore (1852 – 1933) couldn’t have disagreed more, praising Agnes Grey as the most perfect prose narrative in English letters.

An article by Samantha Ellis, author of Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life, reflects on Agnes Grey from the present, but, surely, touches upon how Anne set out to maintain her life, integrity, and purpose in the world of her time.

Agnes is a quieter heroine than Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights’s Cathy Earnshaw, but she burns with her own anger. Agnes Grey is often a furious novel, and a feminist novel. Its main concern is how a woman can do what Agnes wants to do at the start: “to go out into the world; to act for myself; to exercise my unused faculties; to try my own unknown powers”.
~ from Anne Brontë: the sister who got there first

 

 

The beginning of summer ended the pursuit of a publisher for Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, if less than satisfactorily with Thomas Cautley Newby’s request for fifty pounds to produce them.

“We resolved not to pay to see our novels in print. And here we are about to do so.”

“Sometimes resolve must be adjusted, Anne.”

How could Anne not think of her first “girl” and wonder whether she would be clothed more elegantly than Jane or as plain in cloth-backed gray-boards with little trim. As the months since proofing dragged on without a sign from Newby other than him giving his word to break it, would Agnes make a public appearance at all?

Anne continued to have faith, although she was more prepared for betrayal than before she knew its look, how it spoke and maneuvered. She had written Agnes Grey as a reaction to her inaugural governess experience with the Ingrams, but, also, as an instructional reflection. She had meant to bring less naiveté to Thorpe Green and the writing she did in the limited free time allowed her there. She had soon discovered—or rediscovered—it was easier to live with wit and wisdom, to maintain a pensive cheerfulness or, at least, a philosophical viewpoint, through imaginary encounters rather than actual ones.

The passages of Agnes had brought Anne through insecurity, loneliness, worry, wavering, weariness, and grief. Agnes’ story had helped Anne navigate a life that wasn’t hers but needed to be traveled with enough involvement for learning and growing towards the best purpose of the one that was. The challenge was not to lose sight of the destination she hoped was ahead of her: to do the most good she could in the world before she left it.

The journey of someone who never existed was at times more real than Anne’s own, its importance to her not diminished by how few knew of it. Even if the book never made it to the presses and fifty pounds was lost or required legal action to retrieve, nothing would change Anne having conceived it and carried it full term. No matter if Agnes was stillborn, lived for a few years or many, she was the offspring of Anne’s desire to write with more purpose than being clever with words and entertaining. Instead, to produce a calm, undistracted, useful, and benevolent child who, if anyone did encounter her, would whisper a few wholesome truths to make them wiser and kinder, and open their minds and hearts.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

 

Miniature edition of Agnes Grey that my mom found in a secondhand bookstore in Oxford in the 1980s.

The human heart is like india-rubber; a little swells it, but a great deal will not burst it. If “little more than nothing will disturb it, little less than all things will suffice” to break it. As in the outer members of our frame, there is a vital power inherent in itself that strengthens it against external violence. Every blow that shakes it will serve to harden it against a future stroke; as constant labour thickens the skin of the hand, and strengthens its muscles instead of wasting them away: so that a day of arduous toil, that might excoriate a lady’s palm, would make no sensible impression on that of a hardy ploughman.
Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

 

©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.

Review of “Without the Veil Between” by Maddalena De Leo, Italian Representative of the Brontë Society

I am so honored, grateful, and inspired to have received this review by Maddalena De Leo, who is the Italian Representative of the Brontë Society (La Sezione Italiana della Brontë Society).

Professor De Leo understands, appreciates, and encapsulates the novel with such sensitivity and eloquence. Thank you, Maddalena!

 

The novel by DM Denton, Without the Veil Between – Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, puts the accent on the lesser known of the three Brontë sisters, the British authors who have become famous throughout the world in the last century. I remember that forty years ago their name appeared little in the European encyclopedias, and Anne, the third sister, was mentioned only by name, without even knowing that she had written two novels instead.

Today, however, Anne Brontë has been greatly re-evaluated and in the last twenty years, thanks to translations of her works in various languages and a BBC production of her second and longer novel, she is considered, in some respects, even the most modern of the three. With grace and discretion, DM Denton, through this novel, wants to start an unaware reader [on] the path of endurance carried forward with determination and modesty by the “smallest” of the sisters, tracing the developments during the last seven years of [her] life. It highlights those that were characteristics in her, already common to the other two, namely the determination and courage to assert their ideas often deviating from the conventions of the time.

Through the succession of chapters in the book, where the historical-biographical information is dutifully mixed with the imagination, we discover wonderful family pictures in which we are almost in contact with the daily life of the Brontë family; we see discussions and small skirmishes between the sisters; we live and share the constant concerns of all of them with regard to their brother Branwell, who is on the wrong path and with no return.

Above all, through the well-measured words of Denton, a young Anne emerges more and more, especially in the final chapters. She frees from the web of religiosity with which she traditionally is painted, [and] tries to leave something good in the world through her measured but deliberately targeted writing. A different Anne at the beginning of the book, timidly in love, and then resigned to accept her own death with dignity and fortitude without moving the reader piteously, as often happens in various modern biographies or film biopic transpositions. All this is to give credit to Diane M. Denton who, with her delightful pencil drawings on the inside but also on the cover of the book, has contributed to make a meaningful homage to the memory of Anne Brontë.

Illustration from “Without the Veil Between” Available with others from artspan.com

Adieu, but let me cherish, still,
The hope with which I cannot part.
~ from Farewell by Anne Brontë

More About Maddalena de Leo

Besides being the Italian representative for The Brontë Society and on The Brontë Studies editorial board, Maddalena has worked very hard for many years to have the Brontë sisters known in Italy and worldwide. She has translated Brontë works and written fascinating articles about the Brontës, which you can read on the Bronte Society in Italy Section of The Sisters Room: A Bronte-Inspired Blog.

Maddalena’s most recent translation into Italian is Emily Brontë (1883) by Agnes Mary Robinson (1857–1944).

Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
is available in print and for Kindle devices and app

US: amazon.com

UK: amazon.uk

Italy: (in English; in Inglese) amazon.it

and through amazon in many other countries

 

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

A Mother’s Gift of Reading … the Brontës

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

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

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

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

My mom, June, at nineteen

Reading the Brontës

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Copyright by DM Denton 2017

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Happy Birthday, Mom …

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

You were as naïve as I was.

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

We never lost hope.

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

You said you would never forgive me.

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

We were both alone with our mistakes.

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

Could you ever forgive me?

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

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

Copyright 2012 by JM DiGiacomo (my mom)

 

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

Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit by DM Denton

Now Available!

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

by DM Denton

A new novel about Anne Brontë
(youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily)
Poet and Novelist
Author of Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
This new novel gives us Anne. Not Anne, the ‘less gifted’ sister of Charlotte and Emily (although we meet them too as convincingly drawn individuals); nor the Anne who ‘also wrote two novels’, but Anne herself, courageous, committed, daring and fiercely individual: a writer of remarkable insight, prescience and moral courage whose work can still astonish us today.
~ Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books
Read the full review …

Available in Paperback
BUY NOW AT AMAZON.COM

BUY AT AMAZON.CO.UK

Whole passages are beautifully written: meticulous, poetic, luminous, and powerful. I can’t think of anyone better suited to bring us into the world and the life of the sensitive, creative, and quietly courageous Anne Brontë.
Read full review …
~ Mary Clark, author of Tally: An Intuitive Life, Miami Morning and Racing the Sun

Also available for Kindle
BUY NOW AT AMAZON.COM

You can turn your phone or tablet into a book!
The Kindle App is available for iOS, Android, Mac and PC
Click here

 

BUY NOW AT BARNESANDNOBLE.COM
Will be available for NOOK soon

 

Anne was, at least to the modern sensibility, a great novelist in spite of her contemporary reputation, and as she weaves her gentle spirit into dealing with the dissolution of her brother, her father’s loving distraction, and her two sisters’ determination to overcome the limitations of their sex in Victorian society, the reader gets a sense of how genius rose out of the tensions, love, and straining within the family itself.
Read the full review …
~ Thomas Davis, author of The Weirding Storm
***
Whole passages are beautifully written: meticulous, poetic, luminous, and powerful. I can’t think of anyone better suited to bring us into the world and the life of the sensitive, creative, and quietly courageous Anne Brontë.
Read full review …
~ Mary Clark, author of Tally: An Intuitive LifeMiami Morning and Racing the Sun

 

The novel includes original illustrations by DM Denton


Books can truly change our lives:
the lives of those who read them,
the lives of those who write them.
Readers and writers alike discover things they never knew
about the world and about themselves. 

~ Lloyd Chudley Alexander, 1924 – 2007, American author

I hope you will read and enjoy

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

and, if you are so inclined,
share your thoughts in a review

Thank you!

 

©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.

Coming Attractions: “Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit” (Book Trailer)

If you’ve watched this space, you will know I have written a novel about the “other” Brontë sister, Anne.

So pleased to announce that it will soon be available in print, Kindle, and NOOK Book editions, published by All Things That Matter Press.

In the meantime, get a taste of the novel through its book’s trailer. Hope you will sit back for a few minutes and enjoy it, along with the music of Mendelssohn.

Thank you to Deborah Bennison of Bennison Books, Thomas Davis, author of The Weirding Storm, and Mary Clark, author of Tally, An Intuitive Life, Miami Morning, and Racing the Sun for words used in the text of this video. The music is Song Without Words, No 46 in C minor, OP 102 by Mendelssohn, Public Domain, Royalty Free music from Musopen

You can read more about the novel, including pre-publication reviews, on its Book Launch page where there is a link to add your name to be notified via email of the release of the novel and, also, to enter to win a signed copy.

You can sign up directly here.

I can’t wait to offer the transforming journey I took with Anne Brontë to the world!

The novel’s publication has taken on even greater meaning as my beloved eighty-eight-year-old mom, who introduced me at a young age to the Brontës, slowly recovers from a serious infection that had her hospitalized for a number of days. She is now in rehab and, I pray, after getting more of her strength and mobility back, she will be able to come home again.

Those who have followed this blog for a while will know that my mom did some lovely artwork in the past. If you watch the video above you’ll realize how relevant roses are to the subject of Anne Brontë.

Paintings by my mom, June, (left) and me Copyright 2015

 

©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.