Dora Saint dies at 98; author of Miss Read novels


Dora Saint, a prolific and gentle chronicler of English village life who wrote a popular series of novels under the pen name Miss Read, died April 7 at her home in Great Shefford, west of London, British media reported. She was 98.

Attention to the small details of ordinary life marked her fictional works, which appeared almost annually between 1955 and 1996.

Her mother’s maiden name was Read, and she adopted it to write of the small conflicts and quiet excitements of life in the fictional villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green. Her first novel, “Village School,” drew on her experiences of village life and teaching.

“She was wonderfully gifted at describing, with apparent simplicity, the joys of the countryside, from discovering a robin’s nest inside a hollow damson tree to smelling a field full of sage,” according to her obituary in the Guardian of London.

The two autobiographies she wrote included a 1987 volume, “Time Remembered.” A Times review of the book remarked on Saint’s ability to recall “the tiniest details” of her early life and pointed out that the same attention to detail was apparent in her fiction.

Her books found an audience in 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.

Dora Jessie Shafe was born in England on April 17, 1913, to a London insurance agent and his wife.

After training at Homerton College in Cambridge, she taught school from 1933 to 1940, the year she married George Saint. He died in 2004. She is survived by her daughter, Jill Saint.

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,” 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 into 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.”

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. “She did not shirk from speaking about the downs as well as the ups of village life ... but good always prevailed.”