On ‘The Brontës Went to Woolworths’

Here’s the excerpt from Rachel Ferguson’s We Were Amused about The Brontes Went to Woolworths:

The Brontës Went to Woolworths was published by Messrs Benn.  Before it was finished, I met an old school-friend in Barker’s who asked how it was progressing.  I said, “It’s getting so odd that I’m rather frightened of it.”

Sir Ernest Benn was wonderfully considerate to me, and his death a real loss to Conservatism, for he could always be relied upon to be angry in the Press about all the right things; indeed, it almost seemed that, with him, ideas and idealism predominated, yet he was invariably balanced and realistic in his fulminations.

When the book came out, Mother and I had just taken a furnished house near Hythe for the summer, and I came down to breakfast to find a foot-high pile of letters, some of them from those who, until then, would none of me.  That book was published quite twenty-five years ago, and I still receive letters about it.  Whatever it had done for me, it indisputably put dog Crellie and doll Ironface on the map, and I often wonder what did happen to ‘Ionie’ when she made her final exit from the Westover toy-box.  She, or portions of her, must be somewhere, still, for her head and neck were of strong, painted metal…

The Carne family of The Brontës were to become curiously real to innumerable people, and when Mother died, in 1947, Reggie Temple wrote from Italy, saying that he couldn’t understand why he was grieving so, until he realized that my family was more actual to him than was his own.

In a former book, I have alluded to the many family sagas that came to light, and which readers retailed to me.  It was as if some secret guilty had been exposed as innocent!  But – you must take the helm, firmly, lest you become like one reader, who, apparently, could no longer separate the illusory from the true.  For she wrote, telling me that, as with the governesses in my book, she, too, was one, and most unhappy in her situation in a Carne-like family.  I condoled, only to receive the confession that so strongly had the book dominated her thoughts that she had imagined herself into the role of governess.  Personally, I esteemed more that anonymous postcard which fairly spat venom at The Brontës, so much had the unknown writer hated it.

I made surprisingly little out of that book, in spite of reprints, Penguins and America, but, thanks to Mother, a long-dead dog and a long-lost doll, it had got me started.  A very odd coincidence in regard to it was that, having named my family ‘Carne’, I found out much later that the Brontë’s grandmother had been a Miss Carne…

8 thoughts on “On ‘The Brontës Went to Woolworths’

  • February 22, 2013 at 6:36 pm
    Permalink

    I find it interesting that she find this book so odd that she was frightened of it, almost as if it it took on a life of its own, outside her control. I wonder how much of her own family background went into it, and whether it was at all the way she originally envisaged it – or do you think this was a tongue in cheek comment?

    Reply
    • February 25, 2013 at 8:48 pm
      Permalink

      I definitely got that sense! She seems quite set on using real life things in books (which always feels like cheating to me) – in her case, her family made up 'sagas' about people in the same way that the Brontes Went to Woolworths family does. She doesn't really 'do' tongue-in-cheek in her autobiog, oddly enough…

      Reply
  • February 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm
    Permalink

    Oh, I want to read "We Were Amused." Quite expensive so far. Thank you for the quotes.

    Reply
  • February 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm
    Permalink

    Interesting, I shall have to liberate 'Brontes' from the Tbr in the near future

    Reply
  • February 25, 2013 at 6:46 pm
    Permalink

    The Brontës Went to Woolworths is yet another new to me book that sounds like it would be worth investigating! Luckily, it looks as if there are lots of used and new copies avaialble from on-line sellers.

    Reply
    • February 25, 2013 at 8:48 pm
      Permalink

      They published it in the same marvellous series that had Miss Hargreaves – no duds at all in the series, in my opinion.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: