I have posted before on my love for the books written by “Miss Read”, a pseudonym for Dora Jesse Saint. I discovered the author many years ago when I came across her book, Over the Gate, at a used book sale. It was a pleasure to find that “Miss Read” had written 30-some other books. For the last 24 years, I have read and re-read them. While in England, visiting the book shops in London’s Charing Cross Road, my husband found several I hadn’t read, and I now own about 20 of them.
Whenever I have moved to various parts of the country, the first stop I have always made is the library, and inevitably, I’d end up at the Miss Read book section. Whether I lived in McAllen, Texas, Virginia Beach, Virginia, Orlando, Florida or Greer, South Carolina, I was always home when I had these books around me. What is their allure? It’s not just that they offer a peaceful respite from a world gone mad. Lots of books can do that. It has to do with the lovable portrayal of characters that you honestly wish you knew. It is the sense of community in those books that is missing today. The little villages in these stories draw you back again and again, because you sense that here is what communities and neighbors should be.
There are two series of books written by the author, one takes you through the village life of Thrush Green; the other is written in first person by Miss Read herself, a village school teacher in Fairacre in the Cotswolds. Both series feature simple country people drawn with gentle humor and wit. In the Fairacre books, Miss Read has a way of describing characters and situations that reveals a keen understanding of human nature, both the good and the bad. Best of all, her descriptive prose of nature in that part of England is absolutely lovely. You literally smell the roses, see the rooks circling, and the fields shimmering in the summer heat. Miss Read describes the “copses, murmurous with the cooing of doves.” It doesn’t get better than that!
I’ve thought sometimes about my favorite characters in both series of books. Miss Read as the school teacher is my favorite in the Fairacre series. As a middle-aged head of the village school, she takes a dim view of the young teachers who come to teach, trailing clouds of modern educational theories. In one book there is a memorable scene as one such educational theorist comes to the village to propound on the wonders of child psychology in a village where the simple country folk have no such use for such “lark”. The clash of worlds is hilarious, and, of course, Miss Read’s common sense prevails.
I also love the virago of a school cleaner, Mrs. Pringle, whose bad leg flares up every time she takes umbrage at the school teacher. In the Thrush Green books, the kindly vicar, Charles Henstock and his wife Dimity, are two of my favorites, but, of course, the eccentric and entertaining Dotty Harmer and her menagerie of animals is my absolute favorite. I also love Ella Bembridge, whose outspoken opinions aired in the village cafe, make for lots of laughs.
In Summer at Fairacre, Miss Read describes a moonlit night in late summer, as observed from her bedroom window.
“These summer nights were as lovely as the day. The moon rose each night, enormous and golden, and at its height it was almost bright enough to read a book. There were strange movements in the garden, as hedgehogs snuffled and scuffled about. A stoat yapped, an an owl gave its eerie quavering cry. The shadows of the trees lay still and black across the silvered lawn, and moonlight glimmered on the school windows and the church roof. There was a lot to be said for being sleepless on such nights of beauty too rarely seen, and I relished them accordingly.”
—Summer at Fairacre, Miss Read
If you’re needing a break, the quiet villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green beckon. Take little vacation to the Cotswolds. You won’t want to leave!