Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Brontes Went to Woolworths” as Want to Read:
The Brontes Went to Woolworths
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Brontes Went to Woolworths

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  316 ratings  ·  92 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, 266 pages
Published March 31st 1988 by Virago Press Ltd (first published 1931)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Brontes Went to Woolworths, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Brontes Went to Woolworths

The Return of the Twelves by Pauline ClarkeThe Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel FergusonHalton Cray by N.B. RobertsBorrowed Horses by Sian   GriffithsPeter's Room by Antonia Forest
Best Bronte Books
2nd out of 8 books — 5 voters
The Good Earth by Pearl S. BuckThe Glass Key by Dashiell HammettMourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O'NeillOnly Yesterday by Frederick Lewis AllenShadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
Best Books of 1931
10th out of 16 books — 13 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,037)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Nicola Mansfield
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
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
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
Mary Ronan Drew
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,
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
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
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
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Nov 04, 2011 Jamie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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:
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
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
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
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
Apr 04, 2008 Alisa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
I did really like this book, but....but.... I didn't like the Carne family's treatment of their governesses, Miss Martin and the new lady at the end, and they way they spoke about their previous ones. It felt cruel and not in good spirit. There is a lot of stuff in this book that mocks people in lower/poorer social classes than the Carnes - I hated how the sisters made fun of people's pronunciations of certain words and how they said them and how Katrine rejected her suitor because of his backgr ...more
Sally Tarbox
'If you're frightfully interested in people, you begin to KNOW things about them',, May 1, 2014

This review is from: The Brontes Went to Woolworths (The Bloomsbury Group) (Kindle Edition)
Selected as a relaxing, light-relief kind of read, this is a lovely but highly eccentric novel. Somewhat of the 'I capture the Castle' (Dodie Smith) school, but a lot more peculiar.
Written in 1931, this follows three fairly well-to-do sisters in London. Katrine, the eldest, is forging a career on the stage; 11 y
Oct 07, 2008 Wealhtheow rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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.
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.
Feb 20, 2008 Maren rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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.
Bree (AnotherLookBook)
Mar 31, 2014 Bree (AnotherLookBook) rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of books about sisters
A short novel about a family of girls who, though beyond the usual age for make-believe, happily live in a world populated by their collective imaginings. 1931.

Full review (and other recommendations!) at Another look book

I read this for a quick, one-day break from a big saga book. The beginning was a little hard to understand, as there are lots of characters who aren't actually real, or who are in fact a doll (literally), but once you get that sorted out it all becomes VERY funny. I loved the re
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."

Amanda Allen
This book is a difficult one to rate. I read a lot of books, and I was lost through a good portion of the book. Yet it was delightful, and I want to re-read it. That being said, I struggled with it. But through out the book there are little gems like these:

"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
This story was not what I expected, which was something along the lines of the current Jane Austen and paranormal creatures novels.
First, the Brontes are not the main subject of the story, and neither is Woolworths. Instead it's about three sisters and their widowed mother.
It takes place in 1930's England, according to the cover blurb, which strikes me as odd because it was copywrited in 1931. Okay, it's a year into the decade, maybe she can predict how it would go.
The family is funny (amusing
This somewhat quirky novel is about 3 sisters, Deidre (journalist), Katrine (aspiring actress), and Sheil (a young girl who has gone through a series of governesses) who live with their mother in 1930's Britain. The family has an active imagination and has created storylines for the doll Ironface, the pierrot Dion Saffyn, and their most recent obsession, Judge Toddington and his wife Lady Mildred. The real world meets their imaginings when Deidre meets Lady Toddington at a charity bazaar. While ...more
Mar 17, 2010 Becky rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 34 35 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Miss Mole (A Virago modern classic)
  • Love's Shadow
  • Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942
  • Invitation to the Waltz
  • The Constant Nymph
  • Mrs. Tim Christie
  • Nightingale Wood
  • The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached House
  • Lolly Willowes
  • Greenery Street
  • Our Spoons Came from Woolworths
  • South Riding
  • The Land of Spices
  • Frost in May
  • Angel
  • One Fine Day
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • All Passion Spent
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 Academy of Dramatic Art. She enjoyed a brief though varied career on the stage, cut short by the First World
More about Rachel Ferguson...
Alas, Poor Lady False Goddesses

Share This Book

“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.” 19 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.” 4 likes
More quotes…