Lyn over at I Prefer Reading mentioned Miss Read the other day. It reminded me that I saw her obituary (she was the writer, Dora Saint) and was mildly surprised. I remembered reading her years and years ago, when I was at school and had assumed that she was elderly then. I wondered if it was time to have another look. I got Village School (first published 1955) out of the London Library, and it came in very handy earlier this week when I was feeling groggy with a virus. Perfect comfort reading, but also food for thought.
What I hadn’t realised fully as a child was how similar Miss Read’s school was to my own village school in Ampleforth, North Yorkshire. Perhaps I thought all schools were like that. Just two classes for the whole school, and quite often only one, when one of the teachers was ill, outdoor lavatories (though I think ours did flush) inhabited by spiders that seemed truly monstrous. I don’t remember head lice, but I do remember ringworm. And what a relaxed regime compared to today’s children, tested and measured to the nth degree as they are. I don’t remember a struggle to read, it seemed to happen quite naturally and quickly. I wasn’t conscious of the class divisions so evident in Miss Read’s Fairacre, but I don’t doubt they were there. My father was the village policeman and it now occurs to me that this is one character who is missing from Village School for there surely would have been one.
As the village schoolteacher, Miss Read is part of the community, but her attitude is a little detached, a little ironic, more than a little amused. It is a conservative community (though one that can absorb a dark-haired child born into a fair-haired family when the husband is away during the war) and Miss Read doesn’t on the whole question the status quo. I admire the skill with which she brings a whole little world to life and the book is beautifully illustrated by J. S. Goodall.