Alas, poor lady – poor Rachel Ferguson. Few today, even among the well-read elderly, mention her eccentric and haunting novels, though from the 1930s to the mid-50s she was up there with Margaret Kennedy, Rosamond Lehmann and – almost – with Elizabeth Bowen. Born into comfortable circumstances in 1893 (a childhood in a Thames suburb which became for her, in later life, the archetypal lost idyll; rich relations in large Kensington houses) she emerged into the 1920s part spinster-daughter of a widow, part a Modern Young Woman. An early passion for the theatre led her to stage school and into touring music hall companies, experiences which were to provide her with a lifetime of rich material when she discovered that her true talents lay in journalism. She developed a line in parodies, became a regular contributor to Punch, then branched into fiction.
The only one of her novels which has been in print in recent decades is the unforgettably named The Brontes Went to Woolworths (1931, Virago 1988). This extraordinary work has been variously claimed as a ghost story, as an autobiographical evocation of the world full of fantasy characters in which