LONDON – Dora Saint, a prolific and gentle chronicler of English village life who wrote under the pen name Miss Read, has died at age 98.
Saint died April 7 at her home in Great Shefford, 50 miles (80 kilometres) west of London, the Newbury Weekly News reported.
In 28 novels between 1955 and 1996, Saint wrote of the small conflicts and quiet excitements of life in the fictional villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green. She also wrote 16 other books including two volumes of autobiography.
The first book, “Village School,” drew on her experiences of village life and teaching. The pen name Read was her mother’s maiden name.
A review in The Times said events in that book were small “but observed with an exactitude, animation, and sense of comedy that recall a Brueghel painting of village folk.”
Saint believed that “happiness is the result of an attitude of mind.”
“I believe you can build it out of small things, out of hearing someone calling across a garden, a robin in a hedge, a cat in the woodshed,” she once said. “When I hear depressing news on the radio, I can switch off and drift into what is, I suppose, a dream world. I think all people like to look back, not because everything was better in the past, but because often they were happy then.”
“Village School” was reprinted in 2005 with two other titles, “Village Diary” and “Storm in the Village.” The three books had been adapted in 1982 as a musical, “Meet Miss Read.”
Robert Lusty, her first publisher, “told me that my books would never be bestsellers,” Saint once said. “A little trickle over a good many years, he said, and he was right.”
Her books found audiences in the many nations of the Commonwealth and the United States, and were translated into Japanese, Russian, German and Dutch. For decades, Miss Read books were among the most-borrowed at British libraries.
Jenny Dereham, Saint’s editor from 1981, said the author was uncomplicated.
“She wrote wonderfully about the things she held dear; good friendships, the countryside through the seasons and a bit of harmless tittle-tattle on the green,” Dereham wrote in The Guardian newspaper.
“She did not shirk from speaking about the downs as well as the ups of village life. She wove the threat of school closure into her books with true feeling, and the unwelcome encroachment of new houses and in-comers â€” but good always prevailed.”
Born Dora Jessie Shafe, she married George Saint in 1940. He died in 2004. She is survived by her daughter, Jill Saint.
A memorial service will be held May 17 at St. Mary’s Church in Great Shefford.