A Feather in the Wind

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

On the Death of Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His eyes told her it had been.

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

 

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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.

The Pen Laid Aside – For ever

No, not mine.

Today marks the 167th anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë in her beloved Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, England.  The youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Anne was the only sibling to die and be buried away from their home in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Her last words “Take courage” were to her sister Charlotte, who had already suffered the loss of her brother, Branwell, and sister Emily the previous September and December.

Anne Brontë's Gravestone in St. Mary's churchyard, Scarborough, Yorkshire, England

Anne Bronte’s Gravestone in St. Mary’s churchyard, Scarborough

As some of you may know, my latest work-in-progress is a novel about Anne Brontë, which was conceived as a journey off the beaten path of how her life is usually presented (when not ignored in the Brontë legacy). It is coming along very well and I hope to have the 1st draft finished within a couple of months.

I have been delighted to discover some great biographies about Anne that have proved invaluable to writing about her, especially Winifred Gerin’s exquisitely written book Anne Brontë, A Biography, first published in 1957. Another enlightening resource has been Edward Chitham’s A Life of Anne Brontë, first published in 1991.

Recently, a brand new biography In Search of Anne Bronte by Nick Holland was released. Besides being an author, Nick is an active member of the Brontë Society and keeper of the website and blog annebronte.org.

To mark Anne’s death my review of this book is below. You can also read it on amazon and Goodreads.

Five Stars cropped resized5.0 out of 5 stars

 

Excellent Biography about a Remarkably Intelligent, Caring, Courageous, Beyond-her-time Woman
May 7, 2016
Format: Hardcover

My first encounter with the Brontës began at the age of ten or eleven when my mother gave me her beautiful 1946 editions of “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” with columned text and exquisite engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. Eventually, I discovered there was another author-sister in the family, the youngest, Anne. From the multitude of documentaries about the Brontës, movies based on Charlotte’s and Emily’s books, and even, as an English major, classic literature courses in school, it was all too easy to overlook Anne’s presence in and influence on literature and the Brontë story.

A travesty, indeed!

Quietly enduring, persevering, unpretentious people often don’t come across as accomplished or potentially so. As a writer myself, I’m constantly drawn to creative figures in history that somehow and for whatever reasons have been set aside as less important and appealing than others. In researching my own Anne Brontë project, I’ve been surprised and delighted to discover so many others motivated to make Anne’s more intimate acquaintance. Following in the footsteps of Winifred Gerin and Edward Chitham, Nick Holland, an active member of the Brontë Society, has turned his fascination with Anne into an eloquent, informative, affecting, and perceptive biography that like his blog, annebronte.org, is another important step in bringing her out of disregard and misconception.

There will always remain secrets about Anne Brontë. All of her childhood writings and most of her letters have been lost. Mr. Holland has drawn from documented facts, the interpretations of other biographers, diary papers Anne and Emily wrote, Charlotte’s letters and recorded remembrances, but, also, essentially, Anne’s verse and prose writing that offer many clues to who she was, why she wrote as she did, and how she lived and died.

In Search of Anne Brontë is a sensitively formed account of her life, the book’s slow, reflective, and conscientiously investigative style apropos to Anne’s character, intellect, and spirit. There is clarity and affection in its pages, an engaging examination of how her surroundings and relationships shaped, challenged and inspired her, a confirmation of her gentle, introspective, spiritual, mediating character. Anyone who gets to know Anne Brontë as thoroughly as Mr. Holland has, realizes there was so much more to her, including a strength and individualism that took her away from Haworth and family to do her duty; which resulted in the channeling of her expanded awareness and experience into the honesty, prowess, and courage of her poetry and novels.

As Mr. Holland and other Anne Brontë aficionados appreciate, she was endearing for her quiet, sweet, kind manner, but going in deeper lifts her out of the shadows cast by her more well-known and dramatic sisters and brother and the often over-emphasized isolation and tragedy of their lives. Yes, Anne’s life was brief and at times difficult, a struggle with loneliness, self-doubt and loss, but also full of imagination, love, music, nature, friendship, freedom and discovery. It was, after all, fully lived. If you haven’t read any other biography about Anne Brontë, this one is a perfect way to be introduced to her. If you have, you will, as I did, find Mr. Holland’s fresh perspective, devoted understanding and intense respect for his subject make you even more appreciative of what a remarkably intelligent, caring, brave, and beyond-her-time woman and writer she was.

DM Denton

I enthusiastically encourage you to visit Nick’s website/blog for his latest reflection on the death of Anne Bronte, and while you’re there please peruse other posts that intelligently and lovingly celebrate her life.

Last stanza from Last Lines, Anne Brontë’s final poem:

Should death be standing at the gate,
Thus should I keep my vow;
But, Lord! whatever be my fate,
Oh, let me serve Thee now!

Read full poem

Note by Charlotte Brontë:
“These lines written, the desk was closed, the pen laid aside – for ever.”

Anne, from a group portrait by her brother Branwell

Anne, from a group portrait by her brother Branwell

And to end, here is a short excerpt from my WIP©:

For years Anne hadn’t been home on her birthday. Not that it mattered. Emily always baked an oatmeal and treacle cake for her a couple of days ahead of the teatime designated for its consumption in order for it to be stored in a tin and softened. Anne could only wonder at Emily’s talents with cooking and housekeeping, admitting, at least to herself, that her nearest sister not only had more opportunity but inclination to learn from Tabby and even uncertain Martha.

“I’ll allow no one to refuse a piece of Annie’s parkin,” Emily would insist, although she was usually loathed to try to make anyone do anything. That year, like others, she was determined that hour or so be a happy memory for her “bet’r sen”, even given to singing 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 continued with the song beyond Emily’s intention.

Anne briefly escaped his devilish behavior to take a piece of cake out to Tabby in the back kitchen, who because of being easily wearied and hard-of-hearing hadn’t stirred from her nap in an unforgiving straight-backed chair positioned too close to the draught from the back door.

“Where’s your shawl?” Anne found it draped over the handle-top of a broom leaning against a wall.

“Eh? What’s yer fus’n?”

Anne’s gentle laying of the loosely-knit shawl around Tabby’s shoulders and, especially, what was on the plate put into her hands, quickly quelled the old servant’s complaining.

“Ah, my angel-lass.”

Copyright 2016 by DM Denton©

 

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