I loved Miss Read’s Fairacre and Thrush Green novels when I read them years ago. ‘˜Miss Read’ is a pseudonym for Dora Jessie Saint (1913 ‘“ 2012) who wrote over 30 gentle books of English country and village life for adults and children.
Set in the 1950s, Fresh from the Country is a stand-alone novel telling the story of Anna Lacey, a newly qualified teacher, as she spends her first year teaching in Elm Hill, a new suburb in London. It is a little disappointing, because although Miss Read successfully conveys Anna’s dislike of the new suburb in comparison to her love of life in the countryside where she grew up, I found it a bit over done and dispiriting and the comparison is repeated several times in different ways throughout the book.
But there are some lovely descriptions of the everyday lives of the teachers and children at Elm Hill school in this book alongside some interesting comparisons between town and country. One example is the ‘flabby wrapped slices of bread‘ her landlady provides compared to the ‘fat cottage loaves with a generous dimple in their crusty tops‘. Another example, a ‘wild lovely bouquet’ of ‘sprays of bright yellow hornbeam and rose hips‘ compared to ‘faded artificial daffodils‘. Anna decides that the difference between her home and her lodgings in town is that ‘one was genuine, wholesome and homely – the real thing‘. The other was ‘false and artificial.‘
Despite my slight disappointment I did like this book, which transported me back to the 1950s, when children were taught in large classes and the pace of life was slower than today. It was a bit disconcerting to read that Anna enjoyed smoking, but then the dangers of cigarettes were not emphasised in those days and many people did smoke.
There are interesting comments on enjoying the simple pleasures of life, on the nature of happiness, the virtues of truthfulness and neighbourliness, being useful in the community and how ambition is a
… two-edged weapon which ‘could provide a motive, an interest, a spur. It could be the means of living in a perpetual state of hope. … But, on the other hand it could lead to self-aggrandisement and self-deception.’ (page 107)
By the end of the year Anna feels more settled at the school. She is looking forward to moving out of Mrs Flynn’s house to more comfortable lodgings with the hospitable and friendly Mrs Armstrong. But she thought that in the ‘misty future there might be a country school‘ and a ‘little house of her own set in quiet fields’. I don’t think that Miss Read wrote any more books about Anna, but I like to think that a little village school did materialise for her.