45. The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson

The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 188 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: Mar. 13, 2010
First Published: 1931 (2010 US pb March Bloomsbury Group edition)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: British farce, fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sisters.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Penguin Group Canada.

Reason for Reading: I've heard much praising of this book over the years. And lamenting as it seems it was a Virago Classic at one time but went out of print. I've always wanted to read it since I enjoy early 20th century literature.

Summary: The Carnes, three daughters and a mother since the father died, are not a well-to-do family but they get by and do employ a governess for the youngest, while the two elder are both in their early twenties. Katrine is an aspiring actress attending Dramatic School and Deirdre is a working journalist who works on her book at home. The family has invented a whole passel of imaginary friends (often based on real life people) and guests who have become a part of their daily lives. They've invented complete fairy tales around these subjects and live quite an extraordinary and romantic life through them. When mother must go sit as a backup for jury duty they add Judge Toddington to their assemblage, calling him Toddy, and his wife and staff. But one day Deirdre is sent to cover a charity bazaar at which she meets the real Lady Toddington and is invited to her home for tea.

Comments: This really is quite some book! First I'll admit that as it starts off I found myself very confused as to who was real and who was imaginary and just what the heck was going on. It all seemed rather strange to have twenty year olds living an imaginary life and I wondered what I had got myself into reading! Little by little over the first several chapters the method of the madness is revealed and everyone is sorted out for the reader. The governess, recently hired, is a drop of reason for the reader as she writes to her sister of the "weird" family and "weird" goings on. Eventually, the sisters' characters emerge and one is smitten with them and truly engaged with the farcical goings on. Once the Toddington's (the real ones) appear on the scene the tone of the book takes a new direction and while the imaginations continue to be farcical they also become a catharsis which I can't really talk about any more as it would give away what happens. And just how the Brontes figure into things not to mention ending up at Woolworths I'm not going to tell though I will mention one word ... seance.

Truly a joy to read! The second half of the book is by far the better half and I was so taken with Toddy (Sir Toddington) and the narrator of the book Deirdre. A delight to read and at less than 200 pages a quick one at that. This is certainly something very different than what is written nowadays and I recommend for those looking for a trip back to the Bohemian British thirties.


  1. I have this on my tbr pile. I'll keep in mind that the beginning is a bit confusing, thanks for that tip-off!


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