Review: The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s, Rachel Ferguson

Haha, at last I have my hands on some books from the Bloomsbury group, and all because my mother is a difficult person to buy for.  Not one but three of these lovely books did she receive – Miss Hargreaves, A Kid for Two Farthings, and this one, which is the one I very much most of all wanted to read.  It is purple, you know.

Says Bloomsbury:

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 Brontës did indeed go to Woolworths?

I swung back and forth like a pendulum when reading this book, and in the end settled on liking it a lot.  At the very start, I was completely charmed.  Deirdre says she hates books about sisters, because she can never keep track of them all, which eloped with whom and who drinks.  These sisters are quite easy to sort out, Deirdre who writes, Katrine who acts, and little Sheil who is still quite young and needs a governess.  Then after a little while, I got muddled about what they were imagining and what had actually happened.  The mum had jury duty, so that was real, but did they ever actually speak with “Toddy” after that?  I was getting fed up with it by the time the governess’s joyless letter home popped up and sorted things out, and then it was fine.  I wouldn’t have minded having things cleared up slightly sooner.

Once Dierdre met Toddy’s wife Mildred at a charity bazaar and took up with her, the book became irresistible.  I didn’t care for Deirdre – consciously naive, to steal a phrase from Dodie Smith – but it didn’t matter terribly, and the Toddingtons were wonderful.  It was such fun seeing Toddy and Mildred trying to play up to the Carne girls, while navigating their own slightly tricky relationship at the same time. The joyless governess got quite sneered at by everybody, and there was a certain element of class prejudice that wasn’t very nice to read.  On the other hand, I love it that the girls carry on doing whatever they want without much regard for what’s considered Nice.  Hurrah for Bloomsbury!  Also hurrah for my mum not minding my borrowing her Christmas books before she’s had a chance to read them her own self.

(I got loads of good things for Christmas.  I will post pictures soon.)

Other reviews: Nymeth, Savidge Reads, Stuck in a Book, A Work in Progress, and let me know if I’ve missed yours!

9 thoughts on “Review: The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s, Rachel Ferguson

  1. Very interesting – I’ve heard a lot about this book but never actually seen a copy in a store anywhere to buy. I guess it’s been republished and is making a comeback. I will look out for it!

    • I am in LOVE with all this putting books from this time period in Britain back into print – the Bloomsbury Group and Persephone are doing it, which means loads of fun books for me! 😛

  2. I’m reading it now and it IS a bit of a plough-through – I can’t figure out what is real and what is imagined, and since I also don’t know WHY they are imagining the fantasy stuff, I am finding it hard to care about the characters. But I am plodding on, waiting for the good part you promised…

    • Yes, and I didn’t think the governesses were nearly as stodgy and hateful as the girls seemed to find them. I mean I can just imagine being a governess to a family that played all these games all the time – excluded from them, of course, but still obliged to play along for the little girl. Maddening, wouldn’t you think?

  3. Pingback: Saturday Shout-Out » A Life In Books

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