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The Brontes Went to Woolworths (Virago Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Rachel Ferguson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb 1990 Virago Modern Classics
As growing up in pre-war London looms large in the lives of the Carne sisters, Deirdre, Katrine and young Sheil still share an insatiable appetite for the fantastic. Eldest sister Deirdre is a journalist, Katrine a fledgling actress and young Sheil is still with her governess; together they live a life unchecked by their mother in their bohemian town house. Irrepressibly imaginative, the sisters cannot resist making up stories as they have done since childhood; from their talking nursery toys, Ironface the Doll and Dion Saffyn the pierrot, to their fulsomely-imagined friendship with real high-court Judge Toddington who, since Mrs Carne did jury duty, they affectionately called Toddy. However, when Deirdre meets Toddy's real-life wife at a charity bazaar, the sisters are forced to confront the subject of their imaginings. Will the sisters cast off the fantasies of childhood forever? Will Toddy and his wife, Lady Mildred, accept these charmingly eccentric girls? And when fancy and reality collide, who can tell whether Ironface can really talk, whether Judge Toddington truly wears lavender silk pyjamas or whether the Brontes did indeed go to Woolworths? The Brontes Went to Woolworths is part of The Bloomsbury Group, a new library of books from the early twentieth-century chosen by readers for readers.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Penguin USA (P); Revised edition (Feb 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140161996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140161991
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 12.7 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,112,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The Brontes Went to Woolworths is about the imagination. It is marvellously successful' A.S Byatt 'The family at its most eccentric and bohemian - a pure concoction of wonderful invention. What an extraordinary meeting I have just had with the Carnes' Dovegreyreader 'Charming and zany' stuckinabook.blogspot 'A wonderful mix between reality and fantasy' aladybugsbooks.blogspot --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Rachel Ferguson was born in 1893 in Hampton Wick. Rachel was educated privately, before being sent to finishing school in Italy. She flaunted her traditional upbringing to become a vigorous campaigner for women's rights and member of the WSPU. In 1911 Rachel Ferguson became a student at the Academy of Dramatic Art. She enjoyed a brief though varied career on the stage, cut short by the First World War. After service in the Women's Volunteer Reserve she began writing in earnest. Working as a journalist at the same time as writing fiction, Rachel Ferguson started out as 'Columbine', drama critic on the Sunday Chronicle. False Goddesses, her first novel, was published in 1923. A second novel The Brontes Went to Woolworths did not appear until 1931, but its wide acclaim confirmed Rachel Ferguson's position in the public eye. Over the next two decades she wrote extensively and published eight more novels. Rachel Ferguson lived in Kensington until her death in 1957. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming and whimsical 21 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was attracted to this book by its surreal title. At first I could not quite grasp what was going on but after a few pages all become clear. The three Carne sisters - Deirdre, Katrine and Shiel (think Isle of Skye rather than diminutive of Sheila) - live in London and like the Brontes of the title make up stories to pass the time. One of their main stories involves High Court Judge Sir Herbert Toddington and his wife Lady Mildred. Deirdre - a journalist - gets the opportunity to meet Lady Mildred at a summer fete. She has mixed feelings about attending. Will the reality live up to the fantasy?

On the face of it the plot is so far off the wall that you would not think the book would even be readable but it is so full of charm that it pulls you in. Even though it was written in a different era - between the wars - it still has a lot to give to a modern audience. The author has an excellent knowledge of human nature and the way people interact. The relationships between the sisters and their unfortunate governess is excellent as is the relationship between the judge and his wife.

Read it if you are willing to set aside modern sophistication and cynicism and you will find a delightful world which will restore your faith in human nature. I was quite sad when I turned the final page.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre but stick with it 20 Dec 2006
Written between the wars, this is a story about a fatherless family of middle class girls who, like the Brontes, brighten their lives with various shared fantasies. Public characters (like a judge and his wife) are woven into the fantasy. It all sounds unbearably whimsical, and to start with you wonder if you're going to be able to stand it - but stay with it. They're aware that they're treading on dangerous ground when the eldest girl (a journalist) has an opportunity to meet the judge's wife, who takes to her instantly. Mr and Mrs Judge become a real part of their lives, and the mother and older girls juggle fact and fiction with the youngest girl who's still of an age to believe in it all. When on holiday in a dreary Yorkshire village the three girls and their single parent and governess try table turning and seem to get in touch with the spirits of Charlotte and Emily. As people who are prepared to believe anything, this doesn't faze them, and they act on Charlotte's directive to take their young sister back home. Their poor governess is driven almost to distraction by their in-jokes, and then on All Soul's Eve, when she and the child are alone in the house, two oddly dressed ladies come to call... Prepare to be genuinely chilled. And appalled by the girls' casual snobbery. And impressed by post-modernism before the fact.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't quite cut it for me - too out there 21 Sep 2010
By M. K. Burton VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really wanted to love this book. I think what threw me was how imaginative the sisters actually were. I had such a hard time figuring out when they were playing and when they were actually living. It's playful and funny, but almost too much so for the first half. Luckily, it improved when Deirdre met Mrs. Toddington because finally real life started to have a discernible effect on the novel and it all interwove in a charming way as the girls start to grow up and realize how damaging their fantasies can be.

I did enjoy the language; it's so playfully British that it's hard not to cherish each individual word! The time period is also interesting and I know I'd like to read more classics with this sort of feel to them. But mostly, I feel like I missed the part that makes this book brilliant. I think I was too caught up in just how childish their games felt to me - and I thought it was a little mean on their part, as well. It was all in fun but it did feel a little like they were mocking the people when they didn't even know what they were like. I guess I'm just too much of a wet blanket!

In short, I think The Brontes Went to Woolworths could be charming for another reader, but it didn't quite cut it for me.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weird but worth finishing 27 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was looking forward to reading this book. It has such a great title and I have enjoyed several other books published by the Bloomsbury group. However, the first few chapters I found to contain such a weird world, it was a while before I felt any connection with the characters. I persevered, and gradually came to understand the "game" that is constantly spun thoughout this book.

It is the 1930's and the three Carne sisters and their widowed mother inhabit a bubble of their own making, woven with "in" jokes and conversations about people both real and imaginary. The youngest daughters poor governess is outside the bubble and bewildered, as was this reader to begin with. Events become more interesting when the imagined and talked about world colides with the real.

In many ways a piece of its' time, this book is funny in parts, snobbish in others, and creepy and weird to boot. I found the sisters annoying and their mother bewlidering. You certainly won't read anything else quite like it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful 18 Oct 2009
By AJ-99
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is so charming, funny and touching. In the early 1930s the three high-spirited Carne sisters - Deirdre, a journalist, Katrine, an aspiring actress, and Sheil who is still in the schoolroom - and their widowed mother have tremendous fun (and exasperate Sheil's hapless uncomprehending governess) acting out ongoing fantasy sagas, which become vividly real to them, based on various figures who have taken their fancy, most notably a celebrated High Court Judge and his wife - and then one day Deirdre meets the latter in reality. A visitation by certain ghostly sisters from Yorkshire is almost merely a minor complication in their lives, and the title is only explained near the very end. (The Brontes turn out not to approve of Woolworths; but one wonders if their lives would have resembled those of the joyous Carnes if they'd lived in their liberated times.) Really it's impossible to precis but addictively readable and very refreshing. My only complaint is that I wished it had been twice the length and had five sequels.
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