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The Brontës Went to Woolworths

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3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  444 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
Irrepressibly imaginative, the three Carne sisters cannot resist conjuring up fancies; from their talking childhood toys, Ironface the Doll and Dion Saffyn the pierrot, to their fulsomely-imagined friendship with the real Judge Toddington who they affectionately call Toddy. When middle-sister Deirdre meets Toddy's real-life wife at a charity bazaar, the three sisters are f ...more
Paperback, Virago Modern Classics #279, 254 pages
Published March 31st 1988 by Virago (first published 1931)
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Margaret
I first ran across this in Lucasta Miller's The Bronte Myth. Virago reprinted it a few years back, but it's currently out of print again; I was pleased when Powell's emailed me that they had a copy.

The three Carne girls live with their mother and the youngest girl's governess, in a London house inhabited by the people of their imagination, real people whom the family have made up stories about and turned into imaginary friends. When Deirdre, the eldest, meets one of these imaginary friends in r
...more
Amber
Jun 12, 2011 Amber rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-adult
This was an extraordinary book. But first the bad news. The language is archaic, the context dated, and the modern reader -- even one well versed in the mode and general attitudes of England in the 1920s -- will find that the text often verges on the unintelligible. Take this passage:

"We have missed keeping [Hallowe'en] for years, since we left Hampton Wick, where we had parties on every imaginable anniversary, and having no proper garden now has made a difference, especially in the matter of gu
...more
Nicola Mansfield
Mar 14, 2010 Nicola Mansfield rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Sc
...more
Susann
Mar 03, 2009 Susann rated it really liked it
Shelves: persephone
The Carne family lives a blurry line between reality and fantasy. It's blurry to the beginning reader, anyway. To the family members, it's often delicious, sometimes obsessive, and occasionally frightening. My enjoyment and appreciation for the book snuck up on me and what I thought would be a quirky little read, turned into much more. Ferguson gave me lots to think about re: imagination and what makes something real.
I got this from the library, but I think I'm going to need my own copy so that
...more
Joy
Mar 05, 2009 Joy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
This is quite simply one of the strangest books I've ever read. One of those books you finish and then head back to the beginning to check out all those things you missed the first time through. And while I didn't actually dislike the book (and I certainly applaud Bloomsbury for bringing back these early 20th century works), finishing it was a struggle at times.

The story is, in part, narrated by Deirdre Carne, one of three sisters living with their widowed mother in 1930s London: Deirdre is a jo
...more
Ali
Jan 07, 2012 Ali rated it really liked it
This novel I found enjoyable and confusing in equal measure. I read this in an old Virago VMC edition the jacket of which does not contain such a fulsome synopsis like that which is available on Amazon. In this way the reader is allowed to be confused at the beginning - sorting out what is real and what is not - and seeing as some of the characters have trouble with this it does get puzzling. This I am sure was the original intention of the author - and it does make it fun! This mix of fantasy a ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Jan 28, 2011 Mary Ronan Drew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What fertile imaginations the characters in this little novel display as they create elaborate lives for people they see in a play or in court or spot on the street. Three sisters and their widowed mother (and their succession of stuffy governesses) entertain themselves by learning all they can about, for example, the judge presiding over the trial on which the mother is a reserve juror.

Judge Toddington and his wife, in the imaginations of the girls, come to tea and invite them to dinner. Toddy,
...more
Adam
Sep 26, 2010 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In short: chatty, lunatic, disorienting, and near-genius.

Ferguson tells the story of three sisters who have constructed an elaborate fantasy life, conferring both their obsession and a weird celebrity status on such characters as: an ugly and long-lost doll, the family dog, and several people (living and dead) whom they have never met. During the course of the novel fact collides, of course, with fiction, and even the supernatural world seems to come into play. In some ways, I would compare this
...more
Catherine
Aug 29, 2010 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bry
Wow...this is a weird book. For the first half I had difficulty even figuring out which characters were real, imaginary, real but personally unknown to the other real characters, or ghosts. Yes ghosts. By the second half of the book I had that figured out...for the most park. But honestly...these people are just NUTS.

This story doesn't have much of a plot, but the little it as revolves around 3 sisters and their mother who 'amuse' themselves by imagining ELABORATE interactions with other charac
...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
If it weren't for Chris of Book-a-Rama, I might not have known about this book - for a while, anyway! So thanks again, Chris, because I think I just found my new favourite book.

It is 1930s England and the Carne sisters - Deirdre, a journalist and hopeful author; Katrine, a drama student; and Sheil, their much younger sister - are deep in a make-believe world of their own creation. There is Ironface, a doll with tin arms and head who


developed an intolerably overbearing manner, married a French C
...more
John
Aug 02, 2013 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, audible
This book is not suited to an audio format; moreover, the narration makes the situation worse.

We're dropped "in media res" as it were, and expected to keep track of all the many names bandied about; the closest I could manage was to distinguish new ones, from those previously introduced. Core family consists of a widow and her (three) daughters, along with a some people who are "adopted" as close family friends by the kids, even though they've never met them, with stories of their doings soundin
...more
Jamie
Oct 13, 2011 Jamie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anglophiles, especially those wistful for the times of yore; smart women, sassy women.
Recommended to Jamie by: Was it the Magical Book Recommending Machine, aka Dee??
In this charming book, albeit inconsequential in the way that fun novels about the upper class usually are, the Carne family draws us in and confuses us with their vivid imaginary world in which they know celebrities they've never actually met...until they do. I can't say that this story was fantastic in any way, but it worked its way into my daily life all the same.

Mostly, I adored the spunky and spot-on commentary of the protag, Deirdre Carne, and especially her perspectives on:

a. Romance:
"Th
...more
Nancy
Jan 20, 2010 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Did I mention in previous reviews that I like the covers of the Bloomsbury Group novels (of which this is one?) Well, I do. They have lovely soft pastel colors with stylized silhouetted figures on them. Covers matter, y'all.

I'm finding it somewhat difficult to summarize this one, I confess. The Carne sisters, Deirdre (the narrator), Katrine, and little Sheil, have a lighthearted habit of pretending to close friendships with people they have met only briefly or perhaps not at all; they tell each
...more
Becky
Feb 10, 2010 Becky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Becky by: first reads win
I don't know what I was expecting, but I'm sure it wasn't this. For a "classic book" it had fun elements of the paranormal (I know weird huh) I just didn't see that’s what it was until over half way through the book. It was a little confusing for me especially at the beginning which led to it being harder for me to get into. This book took much longer for me to read than anticipated, a majority of that being because it didn’t grab my attention. The characters were fun but had their own brand of ...more
Dorian
Aug 24, 2012 Dorian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
I picked this up in the library because I vaguely remembered seeing people talking about it somewhere, possibly on Girlsown. It turned out to be...odd. The main character and her family have what I believe is technically described as "a rich imaginative life", which makes the first portion of the book extremely bewildering as it's impossible to tell which characters are real and which imaginary. That improves a bit after a while, and they all go on holiday to an exceptionally dreary part of York ...more
Alisa
Apr 04, 2008 Alisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Clara, Kira
One of the weirdest books I have ever read. For the first 60 pages or so, I thought I wasn't going to make it. It was so slippery, and so private, that I couldn't follow it. (Starting it last night, D said it was like reading Clockwork Orange.) And then it just locked into place and I got it, and it was wonderful. And tragic. And weird. Weird, weird, weird. It's not really about the Brontes, only metaphorical Brontes, except, of course, when they actually show up. And there's all the other bits, ...more
Leslie
Dec 06, 2013 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-fiction
What a terrifying little novel, despite the whimsy and banter! Confusing at first, the method to the madness of the Carnes family comes clear eventually. The characters are complex, multi-layered, not necessarily very nice people. Your own loyalty, as a reader, might shift at the end as Ferguson tosses you first one way and then another.Mixed POV, nearly impenetrable British slang, references to popular culture that are obscure to a modern American reader: these things make it tough going. But I ...more
Amanda
Sep 10, 2012 Amanda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't get past my dislike of the Carne family. The three sisters and their mother are almost incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality, are terrible snobs, and their treatment of the youngest daughter's governesses borders on the cruel.

On the positive side, the Toddingtons are utterly charming, if slightly eccentric, characters and the book has more than a few wonderful lines. My personal favorite: "The Bronte family has been, like Switzerl
...more
Karen
Jul 21, 2012 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. It seems like a standard cozy English between-the-wars women's novel and it turns out to be so much more intriguing and quirky than that. Initially the quirks annoyed me, and I was afraid I would hate this book. (It's always awkward to hate a book someone gave you for your birthday BECAUSE YOU ASKED FOR IT.) And I have to admit I'm glad I read reader reviews and spoilers, or I would have had no idea what was going on for most of the first half. By the end, though, I was enjoying it very muc ...more
Karyn
Jan 10, 2011 Karyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a perplexing book. It has this wonderfully inventive and intriguing title, so I had to find out what it was about. But my affection for it followed a trajectory like a sine curve; there were times when I loved it, and times when I when I felt less enthusiastic. And then it ends on a disquieting note. I came away with a feeling of intense distaste for the main characters.Read more
Wealhtheow
Oct 07, 2008 Wealhtheow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Maggie
Shelves: historical
The story centers on three sisters and their widowed mother in 1920s London. They are an intensely close-knit family; so close, in fact, that their shared imaginary friends and in-jokes are nearly impenetrable to outsiders. I loved the characters and felt as though I knew them, or had been them. It's an interesting, literate, occasionally surreal tale about a quartet of fascinating women. I liked the review here.
Christy
Sep 28, 2009 Christy rated it really liked it
A whimsical, fey novel about a family whose games of imagination make dear friends out of complete strangers and bring characters and the dead to life. The Carnes' ability to create memories and histories out of thin air echo the precocious Brontes' own inventiveness. But the Brontes are not impervious from being summoned as well...

This is about to be reissued by Bloomsbury and is a sharp, intelligent and fantastic novel.
Patty Simpson
Oct 25, 2014 Patty Simpson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book, but it's not going to be for everyone. It hit home as soon as I read the bit where the narrator says how she can't respond when someone asks "Oh, do you like to read?" because it's too much like asking "do you like to breath?".

Anyway, it's bizarre and sometimes confusing, but overall I found it a much more entertaining version of Little Women.
K.
No rating, since I didn't finish. It was just too bizarre. These sisters, mostly grown-up, mind you (and their mother) live so much in their imagination with their imaginary friends that it is really hard for the reader to tell what's going on at all. I have other things to read and just couldn't get myself to want to spend my time puzzling it out, it didn't seem worth the effort.
May
Feb 16, 2016 May rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An adorable little book. As an only child who actively imagined social lives with toys and tv show characters, this book gained a special place for being about a family that collectively imagined such things. And written in a beautiful style. A lovely book, written about nothing in particular, to make you forget how troubling the world can be today.
Maren
Feb 14, 2008 Maren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dreamers and Anglophiles
A brilliant and neglected out of print classic. A family of three sisters and their mother live a slightly eccentric and bohemian life. They make imaginary friends of strangers and build wonderful stories around them perplexing a string of governesses. But things change when they really meet some of their friends and have a ghostly visitation from some other sisters -the Brontes.
Rebecca
Aug 03, 2009 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alas, not an account of Emily thieving pick 'n' mix.

"I often think that perhaps there is only a limited amount of memory going about the world, and that when it wants to live again, it steals its nest, like a cuckoo."

Heather
Jan 26, 2017 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was intrigued by this book on page 1; by page 2 I was totally smitten. Since I've been immersing myself in the world of Barbara Pym this last year, I've also been reading things she liked. This book is an extreme version of the behaviour she delighted in (though it could be considered a bit stalkerish now), where a random person takes your fancy and you invent an imaginary world around them. Often a bit of sleuthing is involved. First published in 1931, it is way before people could do this by ...more
Girl with her Head in a Book
A few months ago, I read Let's Kill Uncle from the Bloomsbury Group. I loved it, when I get round to writing my Top Ten Books of 2015 so far, it will most certainly feature. This one, also published by the Bloomsbury Group, will not. Based purely on components, it ought to have been a sure-fire winner. It had a strong female cast. There were frolics and high-japes. It had a strong vintage aesthetic. But ... it just felt silly. And weird. Like a bizarre Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets The Ma ...more
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Rachel Ferguson was born in 1883 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 Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She enjoyed a brief though varied career on the stage, cut short by the First
...more
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“A woman at one of mother's parties once said to me, "Do you like reading?" which smote us all to silence, for how could one tell her that books are like having a bath or sleeping, or eating bread - absolute necessities which one never thinks of in terms of appreciation. And we all sat waiting for her to say that she had so little time for reading, before ruling her right out for ever and ever.” 23 likes
“I often think that perhaps there is only a limited amount of memory going about the world, and that when it wants to live again, it steals its nest, like a cuckoo.” 5 likes
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