Miss Read is the author of two series describing life in an idealized English village. The stories are, according to Wikipedia, ‘wry regional social comedies, laced with gentle humour and subtle social commentary’. Above all I believe they are highly enjoyable.
Have you read any books from Miss Read’s Fairacre or Thrush Green series? I only read 2-3, and I am looking forward to reading more. ‘Comfort reading’ – say several posts about her books, and that is what these books are.
Nevertheless, reading comments in obituaries in 2012, some, especially those written by literary critics, deprecate the lack of a strong message regarding some social or other pressing issues. ‘Miss Read specialised in storms in village teacups’, or ‘The nearest thing to a crisis is when an elm tree falls over and damages the village church.’ And it is true that although unhappy events or tragedies are sometimes mentioned, at least in the books I read, they happened a long time ago, or happen to people who are only loosely connected with the story and never enter our ‘field of vision’. Like a letter from an unnamed friend about his young son’s passing – it is just mentioned, and we don’t have time to dwell on it for long. Yet there are descriptions of adversity and disappointment, and some not-too-pleasant characters, even a ‘bossy, scheming, devious bully’ enter the pages, in addition to the highly likeable but some times dotty Dotty, loyal friend but somewhat domineering Ella, the gentle vicar and his wife, and many others.
Thoroughly enjoyable, and utterly forgettable. –says one reader. I myself agree with some other people, who are thankful for the ‘pleasure and comfort’ the books give.
It is good to see that the praises of her work far outweigh the criticism, even by the literary establishment. The New York Times obituary quotes Hardy scholar Mary Ellen Chase saying “It is difficult to convey the charm and grace of this book. Seemingly slight in subject matter and disarmingly simple in its manner of writing, it yet lingers in one’s mind as something true, rare and lovely.” And indeed the subjects are often just seemingly slight. In an interview with her daughter, - though clearly not an impartial commentator - she says, “more recently – people thinking of it [her work] more as social history. A lot of people ….point out that the novels aren’t just escapism.”
Of course the most important point is the sheer joy of reading the books. As the Telegraph obituary said “Part of the charm of Miss Read’s writing was its gentle… style, and her ear for comedy and loving, though unsentimental, observation …. of English country life”
Not too sentimental, for sure, see an example cited by a reader: “….as for love, well, you know what the Provincial Lady maintained. She reckoned that a sound bank balance and good teeth far outweighed it in value."
Or the ‘ear for comedy’ regarding grumpy Arthur: ‘Might freeze’ Albert replied morosely ‘then we’ll al break our legs, I shouldn’t wonder’ ‘That’s right!’ commented Mr Jones ’Cheer us all up!’
Or, for some picturesque expressions: “It was strange, she thought…how pleasant life was even though her movements were so restricted….The comings and goings of garden birds…The antics of a bumble bee…God tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, as her old father would say.”
No wonder, that as the New York Times says, she ‘drew a wide following on both sides of the Atlantic’. More then one reviewer compares her writing and style to those of Jane Austen.
Miss Read is a pen name. She was born Dora Shaef in 1913, and spent a lot of her childhood in the countryside. Her father went into teaching and, after completing a college degree, she also taught until she married Dougles Saint. Even after marriage, she taught occasionally, and also started writing, initially into newspapers. As the Guardian obituary puts it, school remained her ideal world. The village school remained an important part of all her stories: stories in the Fairacre series were told in first person by the headmistress, Miss Read.
The Miss Read’s (Dora Saint) books are available on Amazon, Ebay, Alibris and probably many other sources. Some books may be downloaded for free. And don’t forget about public libraries, I just checked our own: they have several volumes!