FOUR DREAMERS AND EMILY
|| 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
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
||Helen Dunmore, The
|| 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.
|| 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
|| 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
An airy read, light and rewarding; particularly enjoyable
to those bewitched by the academic world of letters.
|| Kirkus Reviews
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