Tory Historian's blog: Missed Obituaries 1

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, October 30, 2012 ,

Oh dear. Not only has TH missed some important birthdays this year (that series is to be continued) but also some very important obituaries. Looking up "Miss Read" a.k.a. Dora Jessie Saint, née Shafe, TH found that the estimable lady, author of numerous novels about English life in the Cotswolds, children's books, a couple of volumes of autobiography and even a cookery book, died in April of this year, missing her 99th birthday by just 10 days.

The three obituaries that were found easily, in the Guardian, the Telegraph and the New York Times , all said more or less the same. They praised the novels, their charm, their beautiful style and occasional acerbity; all spoke of "Miss Read's" understanding of the countryside and somewhat rosy view of the people who inhabit it. Much the same is to be found in this article that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first "Miss Read" novel.

The two British obituaries mention the fact that she was disregarded and somewhat despised by the literary establishment but the consistent refusal to pay attention or to take her work seriously did not prevent it becoming very popular with a following of readership that most literary authors would give their eye-teeth for.

Several of the books were recorded by June Whitfield, another highly popular lady that is not so highly regarded by the artistic establishment but adored by several generations of her public.

Gentle and acerbic, well-written and slightly unreal - these are the words of praise and criticism. But how nostalgic and unreal are those stories? There isn't a great deal there about new housing estates and developments and the social structure of the village remains more or less unchanged. But in at least one book A Year at Thrush Green there is a fairly brash but immensely likeable American character who loves the place but finds it hard to understand why the people cannot solve some of the smaller problems they face. His solution is immediate, practical and completely matter of fact, which the inhabitants of Thrush Green accept after being taken aback by his attitude. That is reality for many places and people.

What about the accusation that people never seem to talk about big events. Such things as the Cuban crisis or the nuclear threat pass them largely by. Well, really. How much time do people spend talking about "big" things as compared to the small change of life, so ably described by "Miss Read": children, schooling, pets, weather, neighbours and their various affairs, and the weather? Highly realistic, TH would suggest. Incidentally, there is a single mother in at least one of the Thrush Green novels and recurring characters of highly unsatisfactory neighbours.

There is, however, one thing missing from those novels or, at least, from the ones TH has come across. Nobody ever seems to watch television or discuss the previous evening's programmes. Now that is completely unrealistic.


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