Historical and Literary Fiction / Essays / Poetry / Reviews /Book Cover and Interior Illustrations / Pet Portraits and Other Commissioned Artwork … "Prose may be the lowest order of the rhythmic composition, but we know it is capable of such purity, sweetness, strength, elasticity, as entitle it to a place as a sister art with poetry." Thomas Hall Caine (1853 -1931) from his firsthand "Reflections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti"
Already two years beyond her bicentennial, my novel portrait of Anne Brontë, which entailed years of research and writing, is the best way I have of proving my affection for her and devotion to bringing her out of the shadows …
…a portrait … that resonates in a way that suspends years and centuries and lets us feel the joys and sadness of a writer whose unflinching look at life, especially in her novels, rings with the authenticity of who, inside, she really was.
Above all, through the well-measured words of Denton, a young Anne emerges more and more. 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; then resigned to accept her own death with dignity and fortitude. A meaningful homage to the memory of Anne Brontë.
Thanks to her dear sister Emily, who is reported to have been a wonderful baker, Anne’s birthday is celebrated in Without the Veil Between.
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.
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
July 30th marks the anniversary in 1818 in Thornton, Yorkshire of the birth of Emily Brontë, one of the most uniquely fearless, impassioned, enigmatic, and elusive poets and novelists of all time.
My novel Without the Veil Between, published in November 2017, focuses on Anne Bronte, but Emily is very present in it. Long after all the Brontë sisters had died, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey wrote in Reminisces of Charlotte Brontë that “[Emily] and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”
Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between
Emily was as essential to Anne as Anne was to Emily, whether she and Anne were together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or physically apart like when Emily was at school in Brussels or Anne was working as a governess. They invigorated each other’s imagination, offered a sense of belonging, and balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The ethereal essence of their connection was enough to overcome their growing apart when it came to the fantasy writing that had bonded them as children and adolescents.
Emily never stopped being an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her youngest sister to leave at least some of her spirit unfettered and even encouraged her to now and then step out of life’s responsibilities and live a little wildly.
O come with me, thus ran the song, The moon is bright in Autumn’s sky, And thou hast toiled and laboured long With aching head and weary eye.
~ From OCome WithMe by Emily Brontë
Anne’s influence on Emily was less obvious, easier to view Emily as more akin to nature and mystery than real people, floating untethered in her own self-created, solitary, independent, irreligious orbit. For me, all of that remains true while, at the same time, I feel Emily was deeply attached to Anne: that she admired her level-headedness and faith-filled, forgiving, moralistic, yielding yet strong nature, and valued her opinion, especially creatively.
Anne was a safe haven where Emily could rely on something besides her own fortitude and segregation. Anne was someone who understood her and had no wish to change her.
There was profound understanding and acceptance, truth and endurance in the love each had for the other.
What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by resuming their habit of wandering west to meet only earth and sky. Their dogs, like themselves, with contrasting physiques and personalities, were intrinsically similar, especially in their need to frequently escape the stuffiness and limited amusement of being indoors.
“Flossy, come back,” Anne tried to command the impulsive spaniel off once more to chase sheep.
Emily had no trouble getting Keeper to lie down with a firm annunciation of his name while she pointed to the ground, although his whimpering implied he was still thinking about following Flossy’s example.
“Flossy. Bad boy, bad boy.”
“If you control your little Robinsons like you do that sassy mutt, I fear they won’t live long.”
As if it heard Emily’s prediction, a large ewe turned on Flossy, which brought the dog running back up the steep slope to his forgiving mistress.
On second thought, Anne tried to be tougher with a disciplinary tap on Flossy’s nose, then embraced him again. “Good boy.”
“Methinks he’s exactly what you always wanted … to be.” Emily was walking again, her direction declaring her destination. Their ascent to Top Withens would be delayed an hour or more, if Emily’s mood was more for reclining and swirling her hand in the water to stir up tadpoles.
When Ellen Nussey was with them, from crossing the slabbed bridge over Sladen Beck to climbing a rugged bank, navigating greasy stones and not minding a little dampening, there was always an echo of “watch your step”. With just Anne and the dogs following her lead, Emily didn’t have anything to say until they were at the best seat in view of the waterfall.
“No, you take it, Annie. I relinquish my throne to you.”
“Any of the other stones would do for me.”
“I insist on taking care of you.”
Anne didn’t mind Emily acting more like an older brother than Branwell ever did, or even a gallant lover, reminiscent of childish acting-out. In truth, she depended on it. In that small oasis of time, standing still where they were hidden from the world, their faithful companions conspiring to find something to occupy themselves, there was so much to enjoy and be grateful for. The sky was open in sight of heaven, high ground around and beyond them, the sun warming and a breeze cooling, the sound of water calming, and faintly fragrant moss glistening on the rocks with tiny white stars appearing between some of them.
Yet, more as if she was on a stormy ocean than in a quiet cove, panic overwhelmed Anne until she could hardly breathe.
Emily lightly rubbed Anne’s back and twisted up a strand of her hair loosened from its simple arrangement.
Anne cleared her throat, choking, Flossy pawing at her knees, Keeper barking.
“Go ahead and spit.” Emily helped her sister lean over to do so. “Other than me, there’s only the dogs, flies, tadpoles and, perhaps, God to witness it.”
Anne laughed and spoke hoarsely, “What would I do without you?”
When weary with the long day’s care, And earthly change from pain to pain, And lost and ready to despair, Thy kind voice calls me back again: Oh, my true friend! I am not lone, While thou canst speak with such a tone!
“Please, take my hand,” Charlotte reached back to her sister, “or I’m afraid I’ll lose you like a feather in this wind.”
Today marks the anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë on May 28th, 1849 in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.
When I was writing my novel portrait of Anne, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit(published in late 2017), I gave a lot of consideration to how I would handle her death at the age of 29. I knew at the outset, as moving as her deathbed scene with her last words “Take courage” to her only surviving sibling Charlotte was, that I wanted to end the novel in a way that showed Anne’s own unwavering courage, conscience, and compassion.
I had long been captivated by the report of Anne’s final and solitary ride across the sands of Scarborough, when she takes the reigns from the lad whose cart it was after he displays cruelty to the donkey pulling it.
Well into the writing of Without the Veil Between, I planned on Anne’s last days unfolding on its pages as they did for her, not as a lament but with gratefulness for her fine and subtle, purposeful and poetic life and legacy.
Here are two excerpts from that poignant event, including one of the interior illustration I did for the novel:
The tide was out, the afternoon as fine as Scarborough ever offered, except to be warmer for swimming or wading in the sea. Anne stayed with her companions until they reached the beach. Charlotte and Ellen didn’t want to let her go, but were helpless against Anne’s will and legs strengthened by her need to get away from what held her back. The sands cushioned and eased her walking down to the donkey-pulled traps once a cause of pity for those who, because of age, disability or disease, had no other way to enjoy mobility up and down the South Bay shoreline.
“I need some help,” Anne was loathed, but forced to say to the Heathcliff-like lad who chose her before she had a chance to employ another. She also unwillingly groaned as he lifted her onto the seat of his brightly painted little vehicle.
“Yer all bones, Miss.” He was soon sitting beside her, surprising her again by laying a small woolen blanket over her lap. It was ragged and smelly, but instantly warmed her legs.
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 aint 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.”
“’Tis my cart ’n my beast. Well, my da’s.”
“You—he—might own one but not the other. Not God’s blessed creature.”
“Well, suit yersen.” He jumped down. “It’ll cost ye mar.”
“Why should it? To reward your cruelty?” 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.”
He mumbled his reasons for needing Millie to go faster, not so much now, out of season, but when the crowds came and he lost business to other boys who sold two even three rides to his one. Anne told him he might charge a little more for customers who wanted or even required a slower ride.
“You might specialize,” she concluded, not sure she had talked him into anything the offer of an extra penny would have also achieved.
“No, Anne, you can’t.” Ellen was running up from the water’s edge.
“I can. And I will.” Immediately Anne was sorry she sounded so cross with her friend. “I’ll be fine.”
“You won’t go far? Not out of sight.”
“Once up and down.”
“Tha’ll tak ’n hour or mar wi’ Millie,” the boy remarked.
“If it does, there’ll be another coin for you. Oh, here comes Charlotte.” Anne barely tugged the reins and Millie lifted her head, braying as she began to walk.
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. She couldn’t help thinking about what came next, mulling over questions soon to be answered.
Would pain or peace see her out? She might have an idea of what it was like to be short of breath, but not without it completely. As she watched Branwell and Emily take their last, it seemed the hardest thing they had ever done. 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.
… She waved to Charlotte and Ellen waiting with the donkey boy.
My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring and carried aloft on the wings of the breeze. ~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey
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 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
Why would she write novels if only age, love, and death changed her? Poetry would be enough, a more natural and satisfying means of expression. It suited her pensiveness and piety, could be composed in isolated moments and reflect without analyzing. Poetry was a solitary art; even when read by others, its author could go unnoticed. It was perfect for disappearing into.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
That I might simply fancy there
One little flower — a primrose fair,
Just opening into sight;
As in the days of infancy,
An opening primrose seemed to me
A source of strange delight.
Sweet Memory! ever smile on me;
Nature’s chief beauties spring from thee,
Oh, still thy tribute bring!
Still make the golden crocus shine
Among the flowers the most divine,
The glory of the spring.
~ from the poem, Memory, by Anne Brontë
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
Despite the care of my 92 year old bedridden mother taking up most of my time and energy, I continue with my work-in-progress: a novel portrait of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), The Dove Upon Her Branch.
Through barely leafy woods there were early spring flowers to accidentally come upon and search for. Birds broke the silence as if noting her intrusion. Squirrels didn’t need prompting to squawk less musically while flying as ably from tree to tree. The way opening onto a field offered the sweetness of lambs and moist grass, the earth was green, the sky was blue*, Christina saw and heard a skylark hang between the two*. Shelly had written a longer and loftier poem inspired by that spritely bird that singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest **.
*from The Skylark by Christina Rossetti
**from To the Skylark by Percy Shelly
Here is Christina’s exquisite poem, Spring, describing the burgeoning of the season, but, also, its transience.
Frost-locked all the winter,
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
What shall make their sap ascend
That they may put forth shoots?
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
Tips of tender green,
Leaf, or blade, or sheath;
Telling of the hidden life
That breaks forth underneath,
Life nursed in its grave by Death.
Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly,
Drips the soaking rain,
By fits looks down the waking sun:
Young grass springs on the plain;
Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees;
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
Swollen with sap put forth their shoots;
Curled-headed ferns sprout in the lane;
Birds sing and pair again.
There is no time like Spring,
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
When life’s alive in everything,
Before new nestlings sing,
Before cleft swallows speed their journey back
Along the trackless track –
God guides their wing,
He spreads their table that they nothing lack, –
Before the daisy grows a common flower
Before the sun has power
To scorch the world up in his noontide hour.
There is no time like Spring,
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
Like Spring that passes by;
There is no life like Spring-life born to die, –
Piercing the sod,
Clothing the uncouth clod,
Hatched in the nest,
Fledged on the windy bough,
Strong on the wing:
There is no time like Spring that passes by,
Now newly born, and now
Hastening to die.
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti
I also hope to someday write about one of my favorite writers, early 20th century novelist and poet Mary Webb.
Copyright 2018 by DM Denton
There bloom immortal crocuses, beside
A live-rose hedge, and irises that grow
Along a far green inlet–circling wide
Anemone fields where none but stars may go.
The ardours of a thousand springs are there;
Through infinite deeps they quicken, bright and tender:
In that sequestered garden of the air …
~ from Winter Sunrise by Mary Webb
May the snow subside, the sun brighten and the rain cleanse!
But as above that mist’s control She rose, and brighter shone …
from Fluctuations by Anne Brontë
January 17, 2021, marks 201 years since Anne Brontë was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England, youngest of the six children of Maria Branwell from Penzance and Irish clergyman Patrick Brontë.
My novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit is my love letter to Anne. Not Anne, the ‘less gifted’ sister of Charlotte and Emily … 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
2020 was Anne’s bicentennial, celebrations unexpectedly and unfortunately curtailed by Covid-19 restrictions. Of course, honoring Anne can be done at any time by reading her poetry and prose and what others have been inspired to write about her; also, (perhaps, a way that would please her the most) by following her example of good and purposeful living achieved through resilience, faith, honesty, compassion and – invaluable during an isolating pandemic – self-containment, patience, and flexibility.
Anne’s two novels and unfinished ‘Portrait of a girl with a dog’
Anne thought of … a word, more than a word, a philosophy, simple but profound, out of the mouth of someone who spoke simply and succinctly, not unlike Tabby, or, in the old days, Nancy and Sarah Garrs, who sometimes shared wisdom with just a comment on the weather.
Copyright 2017 by DM Denton
Now it was a title for a poem …
Anne stroked Flossy’s ears as she began to quietly read out loud, “‘Fluctuations. What though the Sun had left my sky—’” Her doe-eyed companion looked up, understanding nothing and everything, wagging his tail and letting it drop limply, whining because he didn’t like it when his mistress was upset. “Shh, shh. It’s all right, sweet pup. ‘To save me from despair the blessed Moon arose on high, and shone serenely there.’”
It was all right. It would be all right. Perhaps not every moment, not when she thought of who she must wait until she died to see again, or how there was less heartache but more frustration in believing she would never feel fully useful in society or even at home unless she accomplished something meaningful. Still, it could be worse if she was without the resolve to make her life fruitful, pursue a well-cultivated mind and well-disposed heart, have the strength to help others be strong, or, especially, the faith to endure and rise above endurance.
“‘I thought such wan and lifeless beams could ne’er my heart repay, for the bright sun’s most transient gleams that cheered me through the day. But as above that mist’s control she rose and brighter shone—’” Flossy looked up at her again. “‘I felt a light upon my soul!’”
Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer. She also valued family and friendship, which, of course, could be one and the same. At times it was stifling back at the parsonage, as though all the windows and doors that held her to being the smallest, quietest, last and least likely to surprise were kept locked by those who loved her for their own conclusions. Anne could never think of home as a prison, but once she flew the nest and realized she had the wherewithal to, if not quite soar, make survivable landings, she knew it was restrictive. She had always suspected being overly protected was as dangerous as being unguarded, like enjoying the rose without noticing its thorns. It wasn’t as though her family was unaware of the world and its ways. Daily and weekly doses of newspapers and magazines initiated lively discussions, mostly between Branwell and Charlotte with Emily grunting, about religion and revolution and parliamentary reform, potato famine and, closer to home, the plight of the wool laborers and sick in their father’s parish.
Anne was afraid responding to political, social, and moral issues through the amusement of fantasy was more about outwitting these realities than addressing them. She even felt some shame at having gone along with the juvenilia that made believe the world was at her fingertips, its maneuverings entertaining, romantic, and escapist, although she could almost forgive the child she was then. Halfway through her twenties, having lived most of the last four years away from her family, she was finally fully-fledged, the nature she was born with at last standing up for itself, wanting its voice to be heard, with the courage to admit she was meant to wear truths not masks.
In or away from Haworth, the best companionship was often with herself alone: the best being the reflection that wouldn’t falsely flatter for the sake of avoiding hard feelings, wasn’t eager to congratulate in order to keep her friendship, and didn’t encourage self-pity because it was wanted in return. Anne had long since decided to be honest with herself even when it meant facing a harsh reality, like the prospect of never marrying and having children. Whatever God’s will, she hoped a few of the schemes in her head, humble and limited as they were, might come to something. She could hear Emily guffawing. Why shouldn’t they? You worry too much. Yes, she did, a correction that was one of the most difficult to make if she thought she must choose between passion and dispassion.
Excerpt from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
Illustration (from Without the Veil Between) by DM Denton
What though the Sun had left my sky; To save me from despair The blessed Moon arose on high, And shone serenely there.
I watched her, with a tearful gaze, Rise slowly o’er the hill, While through the dim horizon’s haze Her light gleamed faint and chill.
I thought such wan and lifeless beams Could ne’er my heart repay, For the bright sun’s most transient gleams That cheered me through the day:
But as above that mist’s control She rose, and brighter shone, I felt her light upon my soul; But now–that light is gone!
Thick vapours snatched her from my sight, And I was darkling left, All in the cold and gloomy night, Of light and hope bereft:
Until, methought, a little star Shone forth with trembling ray, To cheer me with its light afar– But that, too, passed away.
Anon, an earthly meteor blazed The gloomy darkness through; I smiled, yet trembled while I gazed– But that soon vanished too!
And darker, drearier fell the night Upon my spirit then;– But what is that faint struggling light? Is it the Moon again?
Kind Heaven! increase that silvery gleam, And bid these clouds depart, And let her soft celestial beam Restore my fainting heart!
Farewell to thee! but not farewell To all my fondest thoughts of thee: Within my heart they still shall dwell; And they shall cheer and comfort me. O, beautiful, and full of grace! If thou hadst never met mine eye, I had not dreamed a living face Could fancied charms so far outvie.
If I may ne’er behold again That form and face so dear to me, Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain Preserve, for aye, their memory.
That voice, the magic of whose tone Can wake an echo in my breast, Creating feelings that, alone, Can make my tranced spirit blest.
That laughing eye, whose sunny beam My memory would not cherish less; — And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam Nor mortal language can express.
Adieu, but let me cherish, still, The hope with which I cannot part. Contempt may wound, and coldness chill, But still it lingers in my heart.
And who can tell but Heaven, at last, May answer all my thousand prayers, And bid the future pay the past With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?
Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between,Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
December 19, 1848 was a tragic day at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, for Anne, Charlotte, and their father, Patrick.
Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
Only a few months after brother Branwell passed from their lives, beloved sister Emily followed him. One can only imagine the grief of losing two siblings and children so soon one after the other – not the first time this had happened for the Brontë family and not made easier by being just before Christmas, a time when they usually found themselves come together again after being away from home.
I wrote about the closeness (“like twins … inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption” ~ Ellen Nussey) of Anne and Emily Brontë in a previous post: The Very Closest Sympathy.
‘When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which yet we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often naturally seek relief in poetry . . .’
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey
Or, in my case, prose …
“‘Powerful’. ‘Interesting’. ‘Coarse’. ‘Brutal’. ‘Morbid’. Do we write with any such adjectives in mind?” Anne had been reading through the reviews of Tenant she had collected, portions aloud to Emily, especially those that might stir any fight left in her. “Or go through the tormenting process of writing a novel for ‘reveling in scenes of debauchery’?”
Emily was quiet lying sideways on the sofa in the parlor. Since Anne had repositioned the pillow borrowed from one or other of their beds, Emily’s head had slipped to bow against her frail neck. Her torso was curled so her length was contracted, no definition to her arms or bosom within the sleeves and bodice of her dress, no movement under its skirt since Anne had lifted her sister’s skeletal legs up more than an hour before.
Anne wondered if Emily was still pulled by the brutishness and beauty of the moors and the similar punishment and reward of writing. Did a look out a window or opening of a door remind her of what she was missing, and new Gondal rascals or Heathcliffs or Catherines find her imagination receptive? Anne longed for one more conversation with her, whether playful or intense, one more chance to agree, argue and confirm they were good for each other’s inspiration, intellects and souls. Anne ached for one more meeting with the Emily who was wiry but robust, strong like a man and simple like a child, her head full of logic and fantastic stories at the same time, her choices uncompromising, as were her passions. If only Emily’s life could return to being routine and yet so exceptional, filled with writing brilliantly while she was bread making or sewing or everyone else was asleep, making music like a perfect lady and rambling the Pennine way like a free and easy lad.
Instead, Anne had to helplessly watch as Emily continued to disappear through those December days and nights. On that Monday evening, a week before Christmas, her stillness, half-open eyes and mouth, and leaning towards resignation indicated there was only one way she would be released from consumption’s captivity.
Who? At first, I didn’t think the question was directed at me. I didn’t want to be seen. If by some unintended wish I was, I didn’t feel inclined to answer, to reveal more than I had already. I didn’t want to be rude, either, the manners Aunt Elizabeth had instilled in me continuing to influence my judgment. It was the staircase I meant to be present for as I moved out of the shadows and onto its wide bottom step, Queen Anne in its demeanor and mine. Would there be the smell of polish and creaking on certain steps, its handrail smooth, cold, and substantial beneath my small hand? It was a miracle that I had found it again, and myself as eager and expectant as when the journey to my independent future packed more illusions—especially of the juvenile variety—than clothes. The staircase had darkened with age but in its afterlife had been restored for a brighter environment. Gone was the eighteenth-century oak paneling of its first home that eclipsed the rare beauty of its burred yew unless a candle was held near. Now surrounded by white-washed walls and ceilings, and light-fixtures with flames that didn’t flicker, the imperfections of the staircase’s wood glowed. Once again it seemed I was alone, or, at least, without anyone realizing my presence pretending to be other than it was. The first time I stepped onto the staircase I was still in awe of Blake Hall’s magnificence and certain I was at the threshold of an exciting time in my young life. In terms of my own actions, maintenance, faculties, and possibilities, I was just beginning. I intended to make the most of an opportunity for refinement and worthiness. It was April 1839. I was taken up a back way to a small but comfortable bedroom to briefly revive with refreshment and rest, leaving little time to tidy my appearance before I emerged less than an hour later. I walked along a paneled and papered hallway to a grander way down to meet new responsibilities, convinced the society below would put my shyness and insecurities at ease and improve and cultivate me. Lifting the mud-splattered hem of my skirt, I wished it clean and my petticoats, too, although I was wearing only one. I saw skimpy slippers on my feet rather than sensible boots. Somewhere, probably the drawing room, a piano was being played and there was singing, the latter much less in tune, but, as a young female child’s voice often was, sweet and pretty. My optimism in being entrusted with the care and education of children was enthused until I heard mockery and crying. A door slammed. A rude boy, no more than six or seven, bounded up past me, while the same stately woman who had met my arrival earlier with nothing more than was necessary to say, stood at the bottom of the stairs expressionless. I could go no further in that disagreeable direction. I hadn’t followed the fate of the staircase to revisit the pomposity, unpleasantness, and worse of the Inghams, or my own wickedness that I wasn’t proud of but seemed necessary at the time. I closed my eyes, counted to ten, opened them, and all that remained was my flight of fancy on those stairs.
My faith had prepared me to settle in heavenly peace where I was reunited with those I loved, one in particular even more agreeable in the hereafter. I was rarely nostalgic for the life I had abandoned too soon, especially once Charlotte and Flossy were with me again. I have to—affectionately—blame Emily, who was still into haunting, for alerting me to the demolition of Blake Hall after what was salvaged of its character and worth had been auctioned off. That was as far as Emily was willing to go with the news, while Charlotte had long ago grown disillusioned with London, so I made a second trip there on my own. Of course, I could do nothing but watch the dealings that started at a Kensington antiques fair, continued miles away in a damp, dusty warehouse, and culminated in the staircase’s sale and a plan to send it to be reassembled even farther away from fitting in. By then, I was curious about the couple who had crossed the Atlantic to flaunt their money and steal a little of the old world to the new. Giving into the temptation to eavesdrop on Allen and Gladys Topping during their return voyage, I meant to limit my spying to their discussions about “the English treasures” purchased for their new house on a “long island”. Instead, my fascination with their engaging if sometimes vulgar speech and mannerisms and Gladys’ spontaneous operatic singing, which made her husband’s eyes shine, became an inexcusable intrusion upon their privacy. No sooner I returned to time without measure than Allen Topping was there. I wanted to ask him about the staircase but decided not to because he didn’t know me. He was greeted by a crowd of condolences for the loss of his wife. I often wondered if William ever felt bereaved over what might have been between us, but I was still too shy to ask him. Heaven, like earth, was full of unfinished love stories. I knew Allen would be all right. Gladys would be, too, for, as my dearest Flossy told me, Allen had left her with a special gift.
“Mr. Wyk, what is it?” Mr. Wyk reminded me of Emily’s Keeper, intimidating until he wagged his tail and nuzzled my hand for a treat he wasn’t supposed to have. I was sure he was a comfort to his mistress who, unlike Emily, had no rules that kept him off her bed or from roaming anywhere in the house. Not that Emily and Keeper were less devoted to each other, their reunion as intensely emotional as mine had been with Flossy. “Mr. Wyk?” The young Doberman Pincher ran up the stairs to the first landing, his snout down on his front paws and his spine rising as he resumed growling. I began to ascend, thinking to put him at ease again, but he backed away whining and turned to Gladys. She had one hand over her mouth while the other lifted a chamber stick that illuminated the fear and curiosity in her eyes. I waited for the question I didn’t want to answer. Who? it came, although it wasn’t spoken. Quickly, once and for all, in a whisper meant to be an impression, I told her. I was surprised she had heard of me, also of my sisters and brother, and had even seen the lovely moors. “Ah, she’s gone.” Gladys stroked Mr. Wyk’s ears and went down the stairs. I moved aside, forgetting I didn’t need to. The faithful dog wanted to follow her but waited for me to gesture him to. “You must be hungry, Mr. Wyk. Will anyone believe we saw her? I wonder if she’ll be back.” I have been, but not so Gladys has actually observed me again. It’s hard to be sure about Mr. Wyk; perhaps he no longer sees anything unusual in my visits. I often make a detour to catch a sunrise over the ocean from one of Quoque’s beaches, before returning to Sanderling where I like to go up and down the staircase, rather like a madwoman, which I would never have done in life, or, hopefully, put in a novel. Sometimes, I offer little noises and other signs that get Gladys’ attention but don’t disturb her too much or give away more than I have already.
Read about the actual events that inspired The Staircase:
I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered The Earth is available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle devices and app: US UK Profits go to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which like so many cultural institutions is struggling financially during the pandemic.
More than 200 years since their births, the ghosts of the famous Bronte family – Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne – haunt their eager fans through novels, poetry, and the fascinating true story of genius tucked into unlikely spaces. It is all here waiting for you in this collection of spine-tingling Bronte-Inspired Ghost Stories, Local Legends, Paranormal Experiences, and Channelings. As one of our authors, Danette Camponeschi, says in her story Keepers of the Truth, “When shut inside during our own time of horror – while the world sleeps and waits and holds its collective breath – we continue the tradition of storytelling in our own way, keeping the truth alive and the imagination flourishing.” Open the cover of this book and enjoy a moonlit ramble on the moors. You never know what you’ll find…or what will find you…
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine And Subtle Spirit is available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle devices and app: US UK
I have been delinquent in posting to this blog for the last few months, but with the care of my 91 year old bedridden, nearly blind mother and the house inside and out, a part-time job (working mostly from home), grocery shopping, etc. etc. all on my own, I can barely find the time and energy to write my next novel and try to get enough sleep, stay healthy – well, not completely disintegrate.
As anyone who follows this blog knows, I don’t often write about my personal life, unless indirectly through my prose and poetry.
Today, I feel an overwhelming need to put down my guard and express how discouraged I feel when it comes to getting some traction as an author. I had a nasty blow in the spring in regards to a response by a Brontë Scholar to my third published novel, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A fine and Subtle Spirit, which knocked out the little wind I had in my writing sails. I thought I had gotten over it, but, I’m afraid, it and its author are still “living in my head rent free” – as someone I love and admire told me back when it first happened.
In thinking about my, at times, almost debilitating sense of discouragement, I felt that even if I might never achieve awards and best seller listings like other authors, I might hope for a few more readers who would find something entertaining, engaging, emotive, enlightening, and even enchanting in the novels and stories I’ve published thus far.
I didn’t intend for this post to seem like whining or begging for sympathy. I would rather it be a reminder to discerning, adventurous readers to discover choices outside and in the shadows of the obvious ones. I know I am not alone in my struggle to be a better known author.
In order to post more consistently in the near future, considering the time and energy constraints of my current personal situation, I will be sharing excerpts from my published novels and short stories – even a few from my current work-in-progress – hopefully, to offer pleasure and a little temptation.
Hope is like a harebell trembling from its birth. ~ Christina Rossetti
The door opened. A harpsichord entered, hesitant, fragile, blushing and elegant with carved cheeks, perfect curves, and small feet. It was permanently adorned with sprays of roses and fern, lifted over the threshold by a lover who knew how to handle his passion. He wasn’t daunted by the heights to which it must yet be taken. “Bene, my spirito has ascended her to heaven.” “Now, my muscle, too.” A man of lesser age and quality took hold of the instrument’s narrowing end, swinging it around and walking backwards, resenting his position. Despina saw Donatella on the stairs. “Out of the way.” “Ah.” The new lodger widened his eyes, conducting the scene into civility. “Golone, let the maid pass.” The mistake might have been upsetting if he hadn’t smiled on Donatella’s self-conscious descent. Despina caught up with her sleeve. “See that breakfast is ready.” “I’m not hungry, just tired,” Signor Stradella defied reports of being troublesome. “Well, I could eat in my sleep.” Golone looked for any reaction, struggling sideways up stair by stair. Maestro’s eyes were down again, the harpsichord at his chest so with the sway of his head and posture of shoulders and arms he might play and carry it at the same time. “They brought it all the way from Modena?” Donatella found Nubesta in the breakfast room where hard boiled eggs, fresh anchovies, and chickpea polenta wouldn’t be wasted. “No. The Strata Nuova.” “Why wasn’t it delivered yesterday?” “Signor insisted he handle it himself.” Nubesta was thrilled with what she knew and Donatella didn’t. “So you were a thief in the night.” “I didn’t steal anything.” “That’s not what I meant. But you did what you said you wouldn’t.” “Well … yes … at his request.” “Bait.” “Ridiculous.” “You’ve never been hooked.” Donatella had been, then dangled and let go, almost before Nubesta was born. “Well, I don’t mind.” Nubesta was eating, slumped on the couch beside double doors opened onto an orchid filled conservatory. The young servant didn’t appreciate the limits of her life, hungry for experiences as for the breakfast not meant for her. It wasn’t that she was a bad girl—Despina wouldn’t have her in the house if she were—but her restlessness seemed more unfortunate than her circumstances. “We won’t see much of him.” “Will he invite his ladies?” Donatella didn’t want to think let alone talk about such things. She wouldn’t mind the continuo of a harpsichord stopping and starting as masterpieces were made, its vibrations inspiring the ornamentation of a violin. Soft sighs from a lute would be for the silence of the night when he couldn’t dream without a respondent in his arms. That was how it would be with him there, the sublime above their heads, any scandal somewhere else. Nothing would be seen of him but coming and going, or known of his needs except what the ladies of the household could respectably fulfill. “Should we take up a tray?” Donatella turned when Nubesta stood and swallowed. Despina had come into the room. “No. Don’t you listen? Signor is resting.” “Did he say anything about the apartment?” “He shouldn’t have any problem with it.” “Well, he seems easy to please.” Nubesta laughed like a woman twice her age. Despina stood at the sideboard to eat or not, waving away flies deciding for her. “Get some netting to cover this.” The maid was gone, her heavy steps as obvious as her scowl. “Close the shutters. The sun’s already hot and will fade the carpet.” Donatella plunged the beginnings of the day into night as perhaps the new lodger had done. No, his rooms were on the west side, with windows for viewing ships and sunsets.
A few months ago my Anne Brontë bluebell path crossed with the talented composer and guitarist Charlie Rauh, who so generously allowed me to use a track from his soon-to-be released album inspired by the poetry of Anne and Emily Brontë on my book trailer for Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë A Fine and Subtle Spirit.
Charlie’s equally talented sister Christina Rauh Fishburne adds her own creative and personal touch to this day when TheBluebell becomes available for pre-order.
Be amongst the first 30 to pre-order and receive a very special gift!
“We flatter ourselves that we know things about Emily and Anne because we’ve read their books and poems and letters and these diary papers never meant for us, but whatever we know can’t ever be in the right context.
“The representation of the sixth Diary Paper is Charles’s album, The Bluebell.
“Charlie Rauh’s album, The Bluebell, along with 30 sets of The Diary Papers Box, is available for preorder from Destiny Records HERE
“Why are you crushing those flowers?”
“I’m not crushing them–I’m pressing them. To try and preserve them.”
“Oh.” (the “whatever, Mom” was implied)
“They’re bluebells! Like Uncle Charlie’s album named after the Brontes’ poems! Remember the four kids who had great imaginations like you guys and wrote–”
“Can I play Minecraft now? I ate lunch.”
(gritting teeth) “Fine.”
“…and they’re actually purple.”
“I know. But they’re called bluebells. See! They look like little bells!”
Before the “DANGER DO NOT ENTER” sign warning of falling trees went up in the little woods, I’d go for walks alone. We’d go as a family sometimes. I’d take the kids after online-school destroyed us enough for the day. Sometimes we’d hear the train, but most of the time it was just birds. And leaves. And our own poetic feet on the dirt. One evening I went out after dinner because I was…