Guest blog by DM Denton
In the mid-1990s, while organizing bookshelves, I happened upon my miniature copy of Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë’s debut novel. Flipping through it I stopped at Chapter 24, The Sands, set in Scarborough on the north-east Yorkshire coast. I was reminded of my visit there in March 1974, which took me up to the town’s medieval castle and into the yard of St. Mary’s church where Anne was buried. I was intrigued to find her interred apart from her family, away from Haworth village and the beautifully brutish moors of West Yorkshire that she and her sisters were associated with.
Even when all I had to go on was a hunch, I recognized Anne as something of a rebel—not in defiance but for discovery. My curiosity is always piqued more by the neglected than the celebrated, so I wanted to explore the connection I felt with this young “veiled” Victorian woman and writer.
It took over thirty years for me to set out on that expedition. My initial plan was to write a novella or novelette about her as part of a collection featuring two other lesser known and undervalued women: the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, and the early 20th century novelist and poet Mary Webb. I didn’t think there was enough material for a novel-length about Anne. Before the first few chapters were finished, I realized there was more than enough.
My early experience of the Brontës was mostly through the writings of Emily and Charlotte. I read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I was enthralled by the “romance” of their isolation, the sovereignty of their spirits and wildness of their imaginations that created their extraordinary juvenilia, poetry, and novels. Anne was there usually as an aside and little more than the youngest Brontë who was content in the shadows. At best her distinction was as the prettiest sister, the normal, the restrained one.
Venturing off the beaten Brontë path, I discovered how unfair, incomplete, and even inaccurate such an assessment of Anne was, and I wanted even more to unveil a fully-fleshed, authentic portrait of her.
The result is Without the Veil, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, where I write how “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.”
The story begins with Anne maturing into — to quote Deborah Bennison of Bennison Books, a reviewer of the novel — “a writer of remarkable insight, prescience and moral courage whose work can still astonish us today.”
In how she lived and in her writing, Anne advocated against the “delicate concealing of facts” that prevented women from taking care of and having high expectations for themselves. With determination and courage, independence of thought and action, as well as intelligent and compassionate insight, Anne set out on a controversial course to tell the hard truth about the challenges and injustices prevalent in work, relationships, and identity for the women of her time.
It is unfortunate that many of these issues are still relevant in our present day.
DM (Diane) Denton is an author and an artist who enjoys feeding and complementing her literary muse. She is inspired by music, history, nature, mysticism, and the contradictions of the creative and human spirit. Her educational journey included a semester at Wroxton College in England, and she stayed in the UK for sixteen years. She now lives near Batavia, New York in a cozy log cabin with her eighty-something mother and a multitude of cats. She has published three historical novels with All Things that Matter Press: A House Near Luccoli and its sequel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled, set in 17th century Genoa and England, inspired by the legendary composer Alessandro Stradella. Without the Veil Between, which she also illustrated, was released in late 2017. Visit her at dmdenton-author-artist.com, bardessdmdenton.wordpress.com and dmdenton.artspan.com
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit is available on Amazon.