The Best Society, Our Little Society, the Safest Society

 

December 31, 1846, Haworth, West Yorkshire

No matter his fidgetiness, Anne experienced her usual pleasure in drawing because it calmed her and ordered her thoughts. She managed a decent depiction of Flossy before he left his window pose and the room. Setting her art box on the nightstand, she sat on the edge of the bed to use the sketching block on her lap, first draping the eiderdown over her legs and feet. Even fully dressed she was chilled to the bone. On the canvas Anne’s imagination and brush redesigned the window, adding a curtain hooked high to one side and a warmer outlook. Eventually Flossy returned to the room. Anne observed him stalking and scratching at overwintering bugs, rolling on the braid rug between the bed and the dresser, and briefly posing at the window again.

She spent the next hour on the painting, coloring in his darker curls and smooth cavalier face and the shadowing of his white underbelly.

“You’re right,” Anne said once the light and her impulse to be other than convalescing started to fail and Flossy had long since curled up on the bottom of the bed. “It can be finished another day.”

“And another year.” Emily entered the room with something wrapped in a serviette, tapping Flossy’s nose to let him know what she thought of his begging.

“It’s warm and smells sweet and of currants.” Anne accepted Emily’s gift. “You’ve made bannocks.”

“It’s New Year’s Eve, after all.”

“I haven’t even made an effort.”

“It appears you have.” Emily examined Anne’s painting without touching it. “A bold likeness.”

“Like trying to capture a fly.” Anne leaned over to stroke Flossy, who glanced at Emily sideways, his jowls slavering and a paw reaching up.

“You don’t fool me.” Emily folded her arms. “You’re more in love than frustrated with that little bugger of a mutt. Now, won’t you try the bannock?”

Anne unwrapped it in her lap, admiring it: a golden-brown, crusty hillock made of pastry and dried fruit that crumbled compactly as, not long out of the oven, it should. Finally, she broke off a piece.

“If you don’t smack your lips,” Emily winked, “how will I know you’re enjoying it?”

“Anne keeps us all wondering.” Charlotte was in the doorway. “Is the party up here? And with the best society, our little society.” She took a portion of what was left of the bannock. “The safest society.”

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

 

 

May 2019 bring good health, many blessings and joys to you and yours.

May it bring sanity, healing,

and an emphasis on love and compassion

for the entire world.

 

©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.

Farewell to thee! but not farewell

Reposting from last year, as with my mother having just come home from the hospital, I haven’t had time to put together a new post marking the death of Emily Jane Brontë.

December 19, 1848 was a tragic day at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, for Anne, Charlotte, and their father, Patrick, only a few months after brother Branwell met his inevitable end during which beloved sister Emily sickened beyond repair. 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 the family usually found themselves come together from various endeavors that took them 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.

Writing the scenes of Emily’s death in my novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit happened to correspond to a time (December 2016 – January 2017) when I was losing my beloved Gabey-kitty (his brother Darcy passed a few months later).

‘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, as in my case at the time, prose … well, poetic prose, for I needed the melancholy music of the words I was using to express the inexpressible.

“‘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.

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

One of the illustrations I did for “Without the Veil Between”: all available for purchase as prints, including limited edition signed prints.

Farewell
by Anne Brontë

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?

Available in Print:

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Anne and Emily from a painting by their brother, Branwell

I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad!
~ from Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

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

Anne 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.

Branwell Brontë: as Broken as all Their Hearts Were

This is a repost from last year, with a few changes.

Patrick Branwell Brontë, brother to Charlotte, Emily and Anne, died on September 24, 1848 around 9am, most likely from tuberculosis aggravated by delirium tremens, alcoholism, and addiction to laudanum and opium. It was a Sunday. He was thirty-one.

 

Branwell Brontë, Self-Portrait

How could any of them know the extent of his weaknesses before they manifested in such a way as to irreversibly ruin him and torture them all, and, in Anne’s case, prove she had done more harm than good by trying to help him?

Anne pushed her thoughts in a higher direction. “There might be joy and fulfillment for him yet, if he’ll try to receive it.”

“Even our father seems to have given up on his eternal salvation.”

“I don’t think so.”

Anne wanted to feel as sympathetically close to Charlotte as they were in the flesh while they sat on the bed they shared, both in their nightgowns and caps but neither making a motion to get under the covers.

Emily walked up and down the hallway, it seemed for hours, to the drone of her father praying, which was a little comfort to Anne. Even covered with blankets Charlotte complained she felt cold. She said she was going to throw up, but never needed the chamber pot for that purpose and finally fell asleep. Anne couldn’t and, needing something to do, assumed her father hadn’t interrupted his vigil at Branwell’s bedside to wind the long-cased clock.

Emily was leaning against the door frame of the room where, Anne hoped, father and son might bond in dying as they hadn’t in living. Emily’s eyes were closed, her mouth moving, her words muffled, Anne making them out in their repetition.

“You’ve killed yourself … you’ve killed yourself … you’ve killed yourself …”

“Oh, Emily,” Anne reacted softly, walking towards her sister, knowing she wouldn’t be able to comfort her. She had to try. “He may yet recover.”

“You don’t believe such nonsense.”

The expectation of another skeptical reaction sent Anne to the clock, the action she could take to keep it going, and the struggle with her own faith she didn’t want anyone, especially not Emily, to witness.

“Oh, luv.” Tabby startled her into dropping the winding key, but immediately relieved her of holding back her tears.

They hugged. Tabby was grown more bosomy in a frill-less, high-necked nightgown, her face becoming redder. The old woman wiped a billowing sleeve across her face, allowed herself a few more sniffles, and walked up to Branwell’s room, stroking Emily’s arm before she went in.

“He sleeps quiet,” she reported, touching Emily’s shoulder this time, reaching out to take Anne’s hand. “Rev’r’end be restin’, too. Y’uns shuld get sum sleep.”

Emily shook her head and went downstairs.

Tabby noticed Martha was in the hallway and waved her back to their little room. “Need tha up early, Missy.”

Charlotte was also awake, sitting in bed with the covers pulled to her chin, questioning Anne, panic in her eyes.

“No change.” Anne slid in alongside her, lying on her back, which wasn’t comfortable. She needed to listen for what she hoped she wouldn’t hear.

It was the unexpected Charlotte responded to first. “What’s that? It’s not—”

“It is.”

Emily usually performed the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata nimbly with soft dynamics and reflective expression, letting it rise and fall like a singer’s perfect breathing and articulation.

That night, just past the new moon, too far from old joys, too close to last wishes, one of the darkest nights of the month and their lives, her playing was labored, hesitant, even harsh, as broken as all their hearts were.

~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

Branwell Brontë’s caricature (1847) of himself lying in bed and being summoned by death.

I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,
And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago.

Unwelcome cares, unthought-of fears,
Around my room arise;
I seek for suns of former years
But clouds o’ercast my skies.

Yes-Memory, wherefore does thy voice
Bring old times back to view,
As thou wouldst bid me not rejoice
In thoughts and prospects new?

I’ll thank thee, Memory, in the hour
When troubled thoughts are mine-
For thou, like suns in April’s shower,
On shadowy scenes wilt shine.

I’ll thank thee when approaching death
Would quench life’s feeble ember,
For thou wouldst even renew my breath
With thy sweet word ‘Remember’!

~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

“In the next world I could not be worse than I am in this.”
~ Branwell Brontë

 

 

©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.

Saturday Short: Autumnal Sisterhood

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

~ Emily Brontë

Copyright 2014 by DM Denton

“Wait but a little while,” she said,

“Till Summer’s burning days are fled;

And Autumn shall restore,

With golden riches of her own …”

~ Anne Brontë

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

On numerous evenings in the parlor the two of them worked on companion pieces, which excerpted read like a scripted dialogue between them.

Anne: “‘A younger boy was with me there, his hand upon my shoulder leant; his heart, like mine, was free from care …’”

Emily: “‘They had learnt from length of strife—of civil war and anarchy—to laugh at death and look on life with somewhat lighter sympathy.’”

Anne: “‘We had wandered far that day o’er that forbidden ground away—ground, to our rebel feet how dear. Danger and freedom both were there—’”

Emily: “‘It was the autumn of the year; the time to laboring peasants, dear: week after week, from noon to noon, September shone as bright as June.’”

Anne: “‘He bade me pause and breathe a while, but spoke it with a happy smile. His lips were parted to inhale the breeze that swept the ferny dale, and chased the clouds across the sky …’”

~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
(quoted poetry from Emily Brontë’s Why ask to know the date—the Clime? and Anne Brontë’s  Z_________’s Dream)

 

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

The Phantom Bliss: A Storyboard for Emily Brontë’s 200th Birthday

To celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of the poet and novelist Emily Brontë (July 30,1818 – December 19, 1848), I have created a storyboard that portrays Emily through excerpts from my novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

I hope you enjoy it!

A Storyboard for Emily Brontës 200th Birthday from Diane M Denton on Vimeo.

Emily was an important presence in Anne’s life as Anne was in hers. In 1833, when Emily was fifteen and Anne thirteen, friend of the family Ellen Nussey noted, on a visit to Haworth, they were “like twins – inseparable companions … in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.” A few years earlier, in the interval between Charlotte going away to school and Emily joining her, Anne and Emily had liberated themselves from their older sister and brother Branwell, especially in their writings, to create their own fantasy world.  Set in the North Pacific, it consisted of at least four kingdoms: Gondal (how their juvenilia is usually referenced), Angora, Exina and Alcona.  (“None of the prose fiction now survives but poetry still exists, mostly in the form of a manuscript donated to the British Museum in 1933; as do diary entries and scraps of lists” – Wikipedia).

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree —
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
~ from Mild the Mist Upon the Hill by Emily Brontë

For a few moments a full reconciliation between them seemed viable. They stood arm in arm looking into the shrubby, mossy gully washed by winter’s thaw and spring rain streaming off the moors, blue light casting it as fantastical as their imaginations had once been. If they were to continue on, there wasn’t any choice but to follow each other precariously down an uneven and slippery path, water rushing, splashing, and, eventually, falling steeply and musically towards the beck it was destined to join, song birds adding their voices and the rhythm of their wings.
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit © 2017 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.

 

Fortune How Fickle Thou Art – Marking Birth Day of Branwell Brontë

June 26, 2018 marks the 201st anniversary of the birth of Branwell Brontë in Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire.

Fortune, how fickle

and how vain thou art

~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

When writing about him, his self-destructive tenancies cannot be ignored.

Branwell was sullenly histrionic. To Anne he was a quivering fledgling bird: humped over, swaying, biting his lips, adjusting his glasses or picking at his chin when he wasn’t rubbing his hands. To his own satisfaction, he looked every bit the doomed artistic type. Not for the first time, he struggled to contain his anger when Mr. Robinson was less than civil to his wife, Anne hooking her brother’s arm and holding him back from behaving as wasn’t his place to.
~ from Without the Veil Between

 

In Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, I wanted to do a more complex portrait of him than the bad boy image. After all, he was a much beloved son, brother, and friend right through to the end. There was vanity but, also, a generosity of spirit in him. And a tendency to fall deeply into his emotions, that sometimes caused him to care more for others than himself ...

Her mourning needed companionship, the kind only Branwell, a dear friend to her dearest, could offer. She already knew her brother had devoted himself to William’s care and, in the end, kept vigil by his bedside, just as he had with Aunt Elizabeth.
~ from Without the Veil Between

… which, as well as manifesting in his willingness to nurse others in sickness, in turn caused his downfall and much distress to those that loved him.

      They were all three brimming with anticipation and accomplishment, certain even Branwell stumbling in on them before he went out to damage himself more wouldn’t spoil the pleasantness of those hours.

     “I know I’ve been left out of something. In turn, when my fortune changes, I may do the same to you.”

     Charlotte didn’t look up from writing, as she had announced earlier, to Mary Taylor, who, unlike Ellen, was her confidant on literary matters.

     Emily spoke to Anne instead. “Is that Flossy barking?”

     “No.” Anne’s confusion caused her to stand up.

     “Not Keeper either.”

     Branwell crossed his arms. “You’re all so smug in your sudden togetherness. I’ve heard your disagreements. I’ll wager there’s more to come.”

      “Now it’s a growling.” Charlotte put down her pen.

     Branwell cried out incoherently and left.

     “No. Let him go.” Emily tried to stop Anne from acting on her conscience.

     In hindsight, although Branwell refused to hear her and she returned to the parlor within moments, Anne might blame herself for disrupting the cheerfulness and camaraderie of that evening, and days and nights to come. Charlotte and Emily had fallen into a despondent silence Anne replicated as she looked out the window again. The moon, although shifted, was still pure and calm. The hearth was brighter and warmer. No literal death, sickness or pain entered there. However, where was any balm to soothe their thoughts, mirth to lift their mood, all those looks and smiles of fellowship? The evening’s conviviality had gone astray with Branwell, no words to console the mourning for their endeavors never to include him again.

 

Drawing by Branwell Brontë, included in letter to Joseph Bentley Leyland Copyright University of Leeds

     “He has a heart that welcomes pain.” Anne was more emotional than she wanted to be. “He walks into temptation like a storm he hopes will blow him away.”
~ from Without the Veil Between

 

Read about Branwell on the Bronte Parsonage Museum Page

I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,
And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago.

Unwelcome cares, unthought-of fears,
Around my room arise;
I seek for suns of former years
But clouds o’ercast my skies.

Yes—Memory, wherefore does thy voice
Bring old times back to view,
As thou wouldst bid me not rejoice
In thoughts and prospects new?

I’ll thank thee, Memory, in the hour
When troubled thoughts are mine—
For thou, like suns in April’s shower,
On shadowy scenes wilt shine.

I’ll thank thee when approaching death
Would quench life’s feeble ember,
For thou wouldst even renew my breath
With thy sweet word ‘Remember’!
~ Patrick Branwell Brontë

Flashes of the gentle brother with his little sister on his knee, proving his talent for telling stories too entertaining to question and drawing pretty pictures he inscribed for Anne …
from Without the Veil Between

Branwell Bronte’s earliest surviving sketch of a cat done when he was 11 years old

©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.