Kamis, 21 Februari 2013

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...

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