The onset of Autumn makes me feel a bit nostalgic for my childhood, particularly for new things for school and for living in a village. Somehow, the change of the seasons feels less significant living in a town. So I've been re-reading some of my favourite village life fiction by Miss Read, and as I haven't seen much written about her I thought I would encourage you all to seek her out.
Miss Read is the pseudonym of Mrs Dora Saint, a school-mistress born in 1913, who wrote two series of novels between the 1950s and 1990s which were set in the first half of the century. These are set in the two fictional villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green. I think the Fairacre books are my favourite because they have an obvious autobiographical element; the principal character is "Miss Read", an unmarried school teacher in the village school. Both of the series deal with village life and the characters therein and are wonderful evocations of the countryside, nature, the changing seasons as well as involving a degree of social commentary on the villages and some gentle humour.
"The first day of term has a flavour that is all its own; a whiff of lazy days behind and a foretaste of the busy future. The essential thing for a village schoolmistress on such a day is to get up early. I told myself this on a fine September morning, five minutes after switching off the alarm clock. The sun streamed into the bedroom, sparking little rainbows from the window's edge, and outside rooks cawed noisily from the tops of the elm trees in the churchyard" -- Village School
I've just discovered that you can get a preview of Thrush Green and Village School, the first book in each series on Google Books (just search for "Miss Read") and hopefully that might be enough to tempt you. The books were originally published by Penguin, in a variety of editions (see below) but have recently been republished by Orion (bottom picture). Penguin also produced compendium editions, which would be wonderful to get your hands on if you spot them in a second hand bookshop.
Mavis Gallant’s “Madeline’s Bithday” (1951)
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