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The Brontës Went to Woolworths

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  511 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
'How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sisters'; so proclaims Deirdre at the beginning of The Brontës Went to Woolworths, one of three sisters.

London, 1931. As growing up 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 fle
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Paperback, 188 pages
Published March 5th 2010 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 1931)
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Neenee
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: big-bad-wolf, my-2018
Sorry, Ms Ferguson, I am not your fan. This particular book was quite complicated for me. Almost everything flew over my head -- the story, the humour, the characters, the dialogues (especially those in French), etc, etc.

It was a traumatised experience.
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
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Amber
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Nicola Mansfield
Mar 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Ali
Jan 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Susann
Mar 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Joy
Mar 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
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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
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Mary Ronan Drew
Jan 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
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,
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Adam
Sep 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Catherine
Aug 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 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.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
May 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics, 2010
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
Lorri Steinbacher
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was so funny and quirky. This is the story of a family (all women) who invent relationships with real-life people and integrate them into their own family narrative who then have to deal with the fallout when they actually meet one of these people in real life. This book is filled with memorable characters: three sisters (one of whom you will surely relate to), a mother who plays along, an exasperated governess, and a cantankerous judge and his society wife, and a cast of imaginary fri ...more
Alysa
Oct 28, 2017 rated it liked it
I loved the beginning but it started to get a bit like a cryptic crossword.
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
John
Aug 02, 2013 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
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Jennifer
May 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Quirky, whimsical, and eccentric are the words that spring easily to mind when describing this book. Since I enjoy all of those in fiction, I found it a delight, albeit a difficult to describe one.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths throws you, from the very first page, right into the rich fantasy life of the Carne family, a trio of sisters and their widowed mother. Told primarily by the eldest, Deirdre, we learn of their family enjoyment of imaginary friends. Some of these are of the familiar sort,
...more
Jo
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of those books that totally (well, almost) made me forget the worries of everyday life. I didn't want it to end, but as is the case with a large number of outstanding books, this one ended far too soon, after a mere 188 pages.

As soon as I became engrossed in it I loved it for its quirky, true-to-life and unconventional characters, the author's remarkably light-hearted style – which is no less unconventional – and the recurring motives of love of literature, theatre, the festive season, allu
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Jamie
Oct 13, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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Amanda Allen
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Nancy
Jan 20, 2010 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
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Adrien
Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, library-book
"Three years ago I was proposed to. I couldn't accept the man, much as I liked him, because I was in love with Sherlock Holmes. For Holmes and his personality and brain I had a force of feeling which, for the time, converted living men to shadows".

Oooh there is so much to love about this strange little book! Deirdre lives with her two younger sisters and mothers in 1930s London, much like any other family. However, the sisters and their mother are prone to creating complete worlds and personalit
...more
Becky
Feb 10, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Michelle
Jan 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dorian
Aug 24, 2012 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
Bree (AnotherLookBook)
Mar 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Alisa
Apr 04, 2008 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
Neile
Apr 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fans of I Capture the Castle and Cold Comfort Farm rejoice! Here is a book that to me has the same charming feel as these two books--two of my long-time favourites. This is the story of a family of three sisters, two young adults and the third eleven, and their widowed mother in London. They are somewhat well-off, but both elder sisters hope for professions, one as a writer, the other as an actress. The story focuses on their elaborate and imaginative family games, where they fasten onto someone ...more
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Rachel Ferguson 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 World War. After service in the Women's V
...more
“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.” 24 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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