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March/April 2019
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The Brontës Went to Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson (1931)

Ghosts—in a Martian department store. C. M. Kornbluth had this cute story idea, but he never got around to writing it. He might have taken it (adding the Martians) from The Brontës Went to Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson (1892-1957).

Ferguson's novel is a send-up of Bloomsbury Group whimsy. "How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sisters. It is usually called They Were Seven or Three Not Out…" The narrator, Deirdre Carne, with her sisters, Katrine and Sheil, hold a séance in the Brontë village of Haworth. It calls up Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, who visit their twentieth-century soul-sisters on Halloween. Charlotte and Emily go shopping at the local Woolworths. They don't much care for it, as Deirdre explains:

"Emily had one of her difficult fits right in the middle of the haberdashery… It was a queer shop [Charlotte wrote], much favoured with their custom by a class which I do not think to be our own. The attractions—no, I will not be sentimental—the attractions, then, are lights, variety of articles displayed, music, cleanliness and warmth (from whence obtained I do not know), but proving an evident lure to these families who know no better.…"

It may or may not be that Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were drawn to the happy Carne family because of the happiness they never enjoyed themselves. Of the three Carne sisters, Deirdre is the most affected by the quasi-hauntings. Woolworths is now every bit as ghostly as the whole Brontë family. But The Brontës Went to Walmart doesn't have the same ring to it—despite the alliteration.

—Graham Andrews

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