Reflections on the 199th Anniversary of Emily Brontë’s Birth

When my mother was fourteen a book was given to her appetite for reading and need to escape 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 twelve.

Fritz Eichenberg Illustration for 1943 Edition of Wuthering Heights

It was never easy to tell what was stirring in Emily’s heart. That afternoon her touch and words felt like pleading, as much as she could ever be suppliant. It might change Anne’s view of her nearest and dearest sibling. Even walking physically tall and strong across the moors, Emily seemed smaller, as if her influence was shrinking.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

Today, July 30, 2017 marks the 199th anniversary of the birth of Emily Brontë.

As many of you are already aware, my novel about her youngest sister, Anne – Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit – is finished and awaiting publication by All Things That Matter Press later this year.

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).

“I must have your opinion, Anne.” Emily abruptly moved Tiger from her lap, swung her feet off the sofa and slipped them into her shoes before she began to recite, “‘In the dungeon-crypts idly did I stray, reckless of the lives wasting there away; Draw the ponderous bars! open, Warder stern!’” She stood and stamped. “‘He dared not say me nay—the hinges harshly turn.’”
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

The first known reference to the Gondal Saga is in their also joint diary paper of 1834 (below as originally written):

Anne and I have been peeling apples for Charlotte to make an apple pudding . . .  Taby said just now come Anne pillopuate a potato  Aunt has come into the kitchen just now and said where are you feet Anne  Anne answered on the on the floor Aunt papa opened the parlour Door and said B gave Branwell a Letter saying here Branwell read this and show it to your Aunt and Charlotte – The Gondals are discovering the interior of Gaaldine. Sally mosley is washing in the back kitchin.

In her biography of Anne, Winifred Gerin writes “Unlike Charlotte’s and Branwell’s Angria … the permanence of Gondal lay in the fact that it was not a world at several removes from reality but only a slightly blurred print of the landscape of home.”

It was the Haworth moors that inspired the poetry of Gondal. Gerin writes: “To Emily, nature became an end in itself; to Anne, a pathway to God; to both of them a necessity.”

Anne, in one of her Gondal poems (Z ———‘s Dream), surely expressed the experience and essence of both their spirits:

I loved free air and open sky
Better than books and tutors grim,
And 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! —
Had climbed the steep and coursed the dale …

Ellen Nussey was not altogether correct when she claimed Emily and Anne’s closeness “never had any interruption”. Physical separations, caused by periods away at school and governess stints, especially Anne’s briefly at Blake Hall and then for five years at Thorpe Green forty miles from Haworth, were bound to test their unity. As they left their childhood behind and stumbled into womanhood, Anne’s maturing sense of duty, hope for self-sufficiency, not always pleasant experience of “the world” and literary insistence for speaking truth over indulging in fantasy left less time and inclination for the Gondal prose and poetry Emily continued to feel enthusiastic about.

Why should Anne be guided by Emily, differences in temperament, experiences, and responsibilities challenging their cohesion? How could she not? Even when her closest sister was miles away she was present in spirit. The phantom bliss, as Emily called her imagination, had once cast a spell on Anne, but the clingy little sister had become self-reliant and more rooted in reality. If Anne was truthful, she did envy Emily settled at Haworth, never having to apologize for withdrawing from the world and into her writing.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

In 1842, returning home from Brussels for the Christmas holiday, Emily exerted her independence in the opposite way Anne did and was more adamant than ever to stay humbly domestic and wildly imaginative in her own isolated piece of the planet at and around Haworth. She remained there for the rest of her life, never going further away than nearby Keighley, Bradford or Manchester or for longer than a few days as in early summer 1845.

Anne and I went our first long journey by ourselves together–leaving Home on the 30th of June-monday sleeping at York–returning to Keighley Tuesday evening sleeping there and walking home on Wednesday morning–though the weather was broken, we enjoyed ourselves very much except during a few hours at Bradford and during our excursion we were Ronald Macelgin, Henry Angora, Juliet Augusteena, Rosobelle Esualdar, Ella and Julian Egramont Catherine Navarre and Cordelia Fitzaphnold escaping from the palaces of Instruction to join the Royalists who are hard driven at present by the victorious Republicans–The Gondals still flourish bright as ever I am at present writing a work on the First Wars–Anne has been writing some articles on this and a book by Henry Sophona–We intend sticking firm by the rascals as long as they delight us which I am glad to say they do at present.
~from Emily’s diary paper, written on her birthday, July 30, 1845.

Anne drifted in and out of obliging Emily’s desire to spend most of the journey pretending to be Gondal princes and princesses fleeing the palaces of instructions to join the Royalists.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

In her paper written on the same date, Anne didn’t mention the York trip and her reflection on Gondal hints, I think, of her trying to hold onto the past mostly for Emily’s sake.

How will it be when we open this paper and the one Emily has written? I wonder whether the Gondalian will still be flourishing, and what will be their condition. I am now engaged in writing the fourth volume of Solala Vernon’s Life.

Emily might argue imaginative escapes were a good defense. One day Anne might return to being as Emily wished her to be, in part if not entirely. For now, Anne needed to concentrate on the practicalities of duty and endurance, and the long-term benefits of maintaining her integrity.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

When, in September 1845, Charlotte, whether by accident or design, happened upon the magnificent poems Emily had written and, up until then, kept from her sisters, it was Anne who understood Emily’s anger at having her sacred privacy broken into.

“You robbed me!”

Emily took her tirade to the kitchen, slamming doors, yelling at the dogs, and rattling pots. It was fortunate their father was out and Tabby was almost deaf and knew how to soothe her. Martha was prudent enough not to try.

Anne was exhausted, in part due to the long blustery walk she shared with Emily before they discovered Charlotte’s discovery, not least because she felt the pain of every verbal blow her sisters thrust at each other.
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

It was also Anne who mediated the battle that ensued between her sisters, a task not made easier by Charlotte’s insistence that Emily’s poetry be published. Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell – and, subsequently, Wuthering Heights – might never have made it into print if Anne hadn’t offered Charlotte a look at her own verses and somehow softened Emily’s resistance to sharing herself, even under a pseudonym, so publically.

“If you must, publish the poems. But I’ll not be revealed.”

“You mean, your name?” Charlotte took off her glasses, unmasking the strain in her eyes.

“Not any part of me.”

“Noms de plume,” Anne realized with a mixture of relief and regret.

“Hmm.” Charlotte nodded. “As much for hiding our sex as our Emily’s obsession with being invisible.”

“All Gondal references must be removed.” Emily knocked off her shoes. “Yours, too, Annie.”

“Yes, I realize that.”

Emily put her feet on the sofa and her head back. “You need something to do. Both of you. I’m sick of seeing you mope around, one wondering whether she’s loved and the other what God wants her to do.”

“You might try, Em, but you won’t irritate me.” Charlotte returned her poetry to her. “Not while I’m so glad we’re finally all in agreement.”

“I’m submitting, not agreeing, Lotte dear.”
Without the Veil Between © 2017 DM Denton

Emily Brontë, from a painting by Branwell Brontë

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 © 2017 DM Denton

Portrait of the Brontë Sisters, c.1834 (oil on canvas) by Patrick Branwell Brontë, National Portrait Gallery, London,

©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.

 

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Branwell Brontë Birth Bicentennial

June 26, 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Branwell Brontë in Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire.

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. With Mr. Robinson there he became more nervous with any attention Mrs. Robinson showed him, and struggled to contain his anger when her husband was less than civil to her. More than once Anne hooked her brother’s arm and held him back from acting as wasn’t his place to. © 2017 by DM Denton

Of course, he makes many appearances and is an integral character in my upcoming novel focusing on and from the viewpoint of his youngest sister, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

(As) Anne … weaves her gentle spirit into dealing with the dissolution of her brother, her father’s loving distraction, and her two sisters’ determination to overcome the limitations of their sex in Victorian society, the reader gets a sense of how genius rose out of the tensions, love, and straining within the family itself.  ~ from pre-publication review by Thomas Davis, Four Window Press, author of The Weirding Storm, an epic poem

Here’s another Branwell-related excerpt from Without the Veil Between (yet to go through its final edits):

“I thought you would have gone to the Greenhows,” Branwell called out.
He caught Anne turning away from Monk’s lodge, changing her mind about calling on him. “No. It never came up.”
“Did the beast stay behind?”
“Flossy? I didn’t want to deal with him running off, constantly tugging if I kept him on a lead, or having to clean him of mud and, worse, burrs.”
“I didn’t mean Flossy.”
“Then I don’t know whom you’re referring to.”
“Yes, you do. You don’t like the lord of this manor any more than I do.”
“You mustn’t be uncharitable, Branny. Mr. Robinson hasn’t been well.”
Branwell laughed. “Glad to hear it. Will you come in for tea?” He stepped out of the doorway to give her access to it. “Of course, you’ll have to do the honors.”
Anne felt her moralizing rising to the surface while the summer-like mildness and autumn colors begged her to see the calmer, brighter side of the day. “Why don’t you come for a walk? If just around the grounds.” She wasn’t prepared for his agreement, but wasn’t displeased by it either.
“I don’t even need a coat.”
“I’m too warm in this lightweight one. It’s like early September.” Anne involuntarily regressed, small and vulnerable walking beside him, waiting for him to take her hand as he had when she was the youngest of six. Of course, he didn’t.
“Look at all of this—the rolled lawns, trim borders, flourishing trees, picturesque approach to a mansion high and all its comforts inside—that might be mine”
Another kind of hold on Anne allowed her brother to lead her through his misguided expectations: the hope she might yet prevent his thorough downfall.
“It’s not home for us, Branny. It never can be.”
“So what ails the mister now? Perhaps the complimentary letter I received from Macaulay has sickened him again.”
“Anne Marshall said he blames it on last Sunday’s dinner.”
Branwell clapped his hands. “Twasn’t me. Although, I have good reason.”
Anne trembled in silence, because of what she should say.
“Miss Marshall is an annoying fly buzzing around my dear Lydia.”
“She’s doing her job.”
“And some. She sees enough to hang me.”
Anne could no longer refrain from preaching, stopping and forcing herself to grab his arm to prevent him from moving on. “Only because you provide the rope.”
Branwell patted her hand before he pushed it away. “You can do better than such a cliché, my little nothing. Don’t pout. You know I only chide you with affection.”
Anne tried to ignore his condescendence. “I know Miss Marshall. She’s discreet and loyal to her mistress.”
“A mistress so deserving of loyalty as well as more return in kind of her unselfish sincerity, sweet temper, and unwearied care for others.”
Was Anne really almost to the point of giving her brother up to his emotional weakness and ultimate moral decline? “I’ll leave you here. I’m feeling tired. Also, I’d be wise to prepare a German lesson for Misses Mary and Elizabeth in case I’m expected to teach them later, as you might be with Edmund. I don’t like to go in through the front door.”
“Well, you should like it. You will like it when—” Branwell sounded determined until he saw Anne was more so, standing straighter and folding her arms. He raised his voice to ignore her resistance and further his delusion, “—when I’m the master here.”
© 2017 by DM Denton

More about Without the Veil Between here on my blog and/ my website

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Read about Branwell and his bicentennial on the Bronte Parsonage Museum Page

Fortune, how fickle and how vain thou art
~ Patrick 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.

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

This post marks the 168th anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë (Born: Jan 17, 1820, Thornton, West Yorkshire, England; died: May 28, 1849, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England)

“Adieu! but let me cherish, still, The hope with which I cannot part.”

~Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Note: Inscription is incorrect. Anne was actually 29 at the time of her death.

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

Anne didn’t feel guilty escaping. She had saved a donkey 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 stop thinking about what came next, mulling over questions soon to be answered. Was dying like closing her eyes without the choice to open them again? Would vision be gone or just different? If it was like falling asleep, would she be as unaware of the precise moment it happened, not knowing it had until she came to in another way of being? Or was the transfer between life and death like getting off one train and moving to a different platform to board another, not for a change in direction or destination, just to continue? Would she slip away from everything or everything slip away from her? Would nothing matter but the state of her soul? What if there wasn’t a consciousness she could still recognize as her own, or any at all? She couldn’t fathom extinction: to be without feelings or thoughts, to be nothing. Except as her brother had teased, as she hoped he had been teasing.
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.
~© 2017 by DM Denton

Excerpt from …

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

~a novel about the “other” Brontë sister~

coming in late 2017

For notification of its release, please add your name to my email list

Cover Art by DM Denton © 2017

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.

~ from The Bluebell by Anne Brontë

Anne has always, and unfairly, been the least celebrated Brontë sister, her work considered less important than that of her siblings …

This book gives us Anne. Not Anne, the ‘less gifted’ sister of Charlotte and Emily (although we meet them too as convincingly drawn individuals); nor the Anne who ‘also wrote two novels’, but Anne herself, courageous, committed, daring and fiercely individual: a writer of remarkable insight, prescience and moral courage whose work can still astonish us today.
~ Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books

Without the Veil Between will be released by All Things That Matter Press, publisher of my first two novels.

When I set out, well over two years ago, to write a fiction about Anne Brontë, youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily, I doubted I would find enough material to produce something longer than a novella. I remember how Deborah Bennison, whose lovely words are quoted in this post, pushed me to take it further. Before the first part was finished, I was also convinced there was more than enough for a novel.

The pages are still blank, but there is the miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.
~ Vladimir Nabokov

My objective didn’t change as blank pages filled and multiplied. I wanted to present Anne as a vital person and writer in her own right, as crucial to the Brontë story and literary legacy as her more famous and—in her brother Branwell’s case—infamous siblings were. As anyone who ventures off the Brontë beaten path might, I soon realized Anne had a very independent, intelligent, inspiring story to explore, take to my heart and soul, and tell.

Denton’s emphasis on the thoughts and desires of the youngest Brontë sister brings color and life to the pages of her novel. She expresses Anne’s concerns in lavish prose that matches the 19th century Brontë style. Without the Veil Between  isn’t simply a biographical novel; it is a journey back into the day to day lives of one of history’s most famous literary families.
~ Steve Lindahl, author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, and Hopatcong Vision Quest, stevelindahl.com

Without the Veil Between follows Anne through the last seven years of her life. It begins in 1842 while she is still governess for the Robinson family of Thorpe Green, away from Haworth and her family most of the time, with opportunities to travel to York and Scarborough, places she develops deep affection for. Although, as with her siblings, circumstances eventually bring her back home, she is not deterred in her quest for individual purpose and integrity. She stands as firm in her ambitions as Charlotte does and is a powerful conciliator in light of Emily’s resistance to the publication of their poetry and novels.

Without the Veil Between catches both the triumph and the tragedy of Anne’s short but quietly courageous and determined life. Her disappointments and heartbreak patiently borne; her originality of thought in opposition to contemporary mores; her searing and unflinching insights into the experiences of women and the need for resistance and positive action that we now call feminism.
~Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books

Of course, Anne’s life and work intermingled with her sisters’, but should never have been for so long blended with theirs until nearly non-existent, her character, thoughts, emotions, spirituality and much of her experience independent from theirs—as she and, eventually, others grew to realize, imperatively and purposefully so.

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.
~© 2017 by DM Denton

This is no cosy account of three sisters living in harmony in their parsonage home while happily creating their masterpieces for posterity. DM Denton convincingly explores the tensions that existed between the sisters as well as their mutual love and support; and the security and emotional comfort Anne found within her family juxtaposed with the need to separate herself in some way. This is perfectly captured in the author’s precise description of both Charlotte and Anne being “torn between the calling to leave and the longing to stay”. Here, also, we see the author’s careful and measured examination of the different personalities at work within the Bronte family: Charlotte is driven to venture out more by “curiosity and enterprise”, while Anne’s purpose is a serious and morally driven desire to develop character and endurance, and demonstrate what she is capable of. And, indeed, it is she of all the sisters who does endure for longest in the world of work …
~Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books

I invite you to enter Anne Brontë’s world
through the places and people that influenced it.

Settings of Without the Veil Between

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Characters in Without the Veil Between

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The farther Anne went from the donkeys, huts, bathers and concerns for her giggling, argumentative charges, the sand was less and less disturbed and eventually almost perfectly smooth, so her footprints were the first that day, for many days, or, as she might pretend, ever. To the east was somewhere foreign and, therefore, appealing. Her gaze and steps traveled over low mossy rocks around rippling pools, and followed little streams down to the dazzling, daring expanse of the North Sea.
As indecisive as it seemed, the surf was coming closer, offering to wash her feet.
Anne should have scolded her girls if they had wetted just the hems of their skirts and petticoats. It would have been indefensible to allow them to remove their shoes and stockings and lift their dresses, let alone show them how to sink into the sand and feel it and slithery seaweed between their toes. What missteps they would all have taken if, on impulse, Anne led them further into the cold, frothy, toing and froing water.

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Illustration by DM Denton Copyright 2017

©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.