During this busy time of year, especially when I have a cold—as I do now—I inevitably turn to Miss Read (aka Dora Saint) for some peace, common sense, and just plain fun. I am lucky enough to own Miss Read’s Christmas: Village Christmas and The Christmas Mouse, and how nice it is to just take it from the bookshelf.
What do I like so much about Miss Read? First, there are her depictions of nature. This description of rain is from the first two paragraphs in The Christmas Mouse: “The rain began at noon. At first it fell lightly, making little noise. Only the darkening of the thatched roofs, and the sheen on the damp flagstones made people aware of the rain. It was dismissed as ‘only a mizzle’….But by two o’clock…[t]he wind had swung round to the northwest, and the drizzle had turned to a downpour. It hissed among the dripping trees, pattered upon the cabbages in cottage gardens and drummed the bare soil with pock marks.”
When I read that description, I could feel, hear, and see the rain. Such lovely, evocative writing.
Then, there is what the The New Yorker called Miss Read’s “beery sense of humor.” In The Christmas Mouse, the story revolves around three generations—Mrs. Berry, the grandmother; Mary, her widowed daughter; and Frances and Jane, Mary’s two young daughters. It is Christmas Eve, and the children are beside themselves with excitement. (Thank goodness that never changes!) Frances and Jane have just bounded from their bath into their mother’s bedroom.
“‘The water’s all gone. Frances pushed out the plug—‘
‘I never then!’
‘Yes, you did! You know you did! Mum, she wriggled it out with her bottom—”
They began to giggle, eying each other.
‘Let’s go down and frighten [Gran], all bare,” cried Jane.
‘Don’t you dare now!’ said their mother, her voice sharpened by the thought of the [girls’] slippers being wrapped below.”
Finally, there is Miss Read’s great respect for work and home. Here she describes Mrs. Berry and her husband: “Amelia and Stanley were true homemakers….She could make frocks for the children, curtains, and rag rugs as competently as she could make a cottage pie or a round of shortbread….Stanley saw to it that any stonework or woodwork was in good repair. They shared the gardening, and it was Mrs. Berry’s pride that they never needed to buy a vegetable.”
In Maine, I’ve known many a Franco-American and many a Yankee who would fit the description of Amelia and Stanley. And I still do.
Perhaps that’s why Miss Read never grows stale for me. Her observations about human nature, work and home, and the natural world continue to ring as true now, in 2015, as they did when she wrote in the 1960s and 1970s,