FOUR DREAMERS AND EMILY
 

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1 There are two Yorkshire graveyards, a few miles apart, which have become shrines for passionately possessive literary pilgrims. One is at Heptonstall, where Sylvia Plath is buried. The other is at Haworth, the centre of the mighty Brontë industry. Some readers enjoy a delusive, first-name-terms intimacy with these writers, an imagined relationship which can be as dangerous as it is enchanting.

Stevie Davies, in Four Dreamers and Emily, perfectly understands this uneasy blend of the literary and the personal. Her characters dream of "Emily", justify their own lives in terms of lonely Brontëan passion, treasure Brontë memorabilia and indeed create it. But when one of them forges Emily Brontë's signature on a watercolour, she intends less to deceive than to turn what ought to be into what is.

Davies's fifth novel is a poignant, funny and luminous story of the conflict between her characters' dreams and their cobbled-together lives. Marianne Pendlebury, organiser of a weekend conference at Haworth which brings the four dreamers together, is a disorganised, dowdy, overburdened mother of three, and a failing academic. But she is no stereotype. She has warmth and a wry enjoyment of the comedy of existence.

At the conference, she meets Timothy Whitty, who has built an image of her based on their correspondence and his own pent-up grief and longing after his wife's death. Marianne too has her hopes. She finds not a Heathcliffian "giant of a man, rugged, powerful", but a desperately sick old man. She recoils at his decrepitude, his distance from the dream. But then she moves forward again and kisses him, "for she saw that he was moved; and was disgusted at the baseness of her own thoughts". The writing has a dance-like vigour, and Davies has written an immensely enjoyable novel, lit by comedy and wisdom.
  Helen Dunmore, The Times

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2 Stevie Davies's new novel sees her, once again, on the kind of form that so characterised the brilliant Closing the Book. The four dreamers of the title are harassed mother and English lecturer Marianne Pendlebury, self-professed Brontë expert Eileen Nussey James, ailing widower Timothy Whitty and waitress Sharon Mitchell. All that they share in common is a passion for the Brontë sisters and it is through that — and, in particular, their affinity with Emily — that their lives cross at a literary conference in Haworth.

Davies is herself a literary critic and her work on Emily Brontë is radical and acclaimed. She gently mocks herself and those who spend their lives engaged in such work, all the while seeing those who simply get pleasure from the novels as being most important. Her humanity in dealing with her central characters — warts and all — is a triumph of warmth. Like Closing the Book, there are moments of sadness to tinge the story, but, as with that work, Davies's dry, quiet humour and faith in life predominate.

The writing is a joy and, if you despair of finding a really fine novel that entertains at the same time as being thought provoking, here it is.
  Morning Star

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3 An acknowledged expert on the life of Emily Brontë, Davies sends herself up to perfection in this tongue-in-cheek comedy. The story is set during a conference for Brontë groupies which profoundly changes the lives of four people who attend. A tubby waitress called Sharon sheds her fear of fatness; Marianne, the conference organiser, meets her pen pal Timothy, an ancient widower — but it is Eileen, a maiden of 60+, with whom he is mistakenly locked into Haworth Parsonage for the night. Sounds crazy? It is, but oddly touching, too — and Davies never sacrifices compassion for wit. A lovely book.
  Good Housekeeping

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4 In a charming, comic little novel on the love that literature can inspire, a motley group of Brontë enthusiasts gather for an academic conference — and end up transforming their chaste devotion into a more physical passion.

British novelist and critic Davies, herself a Brontë scholar, pokes reverent fun at all the fuss ladled on the three dead sisters. Her briskly plotted work, the author's first US publication, follows the exploits of four pilgrims to the shrine of the Brontë homestead: Eileen James, a 60ish virgin who attends all the conferences to proclaim vehemently the significance of Passion; Timothy, an infirm widower who occasionally sees Emily's ghost; Marianne Pendlebury, the professor who arranged the conference — and has a Brontë pen-pal in Timothy and a grudge against the always disruptive Eileen; and finally young, hulking Sharon, a waitress invited by Marianne, who mistakenly thinks Sharon has hidden literary interests. The conference, peopled by the usual assortment of theorists (the semicolon enthusiasts, the uterine-feminists, the deconstructionists) does not go well for Marianne. She knows that she's on the verge of being sacked by her university (she's too subdued in lectures), and her three toddlers have unexpectedly shown up — in tow of their self-centred father, who deposits them on her lap. Eileen is disillusioned (she happens upon two deconstructionists having sex on the moors, and the animalism of the act shatters her well-tended ides about passion), but when she's accidentally locked in the Brontë house at night with Timothy, she discovers an appealing companionship. Bored Sharon also finds love on the moors, in the form of local boy Mark, who's entranced by her learned associations. The ending, which picks up the lives of the pilgrims a year later, offers a sweet homage to the transformative powers of literature, in all its subtle forms.
An airy read, light and rewarding; particularly enjoyable to those bewitched by the academic world of letters.
  Kirkus Reviews
 

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This entire presentation Copyright © Stevie Davies