One of the pleasures I have not had for years is to read a novel by Miss Read, who wrote quite a few books over the course of 50 years, beginning in the 1950’s. Many of these novels are gentle stories about village life, but Fresh from the Country is about living in town.
Anna Lacey is a country girl who has recently finished training as a teacher and has taken a position as a primary school teacher in a new suburb of London. The school and the town are suffering the results of the post-war baby boom. Shoddy houses are going up quickly, and lodging is scarce. In the first scene of the novel, Anna inspects the grim quarters that will be her new home and is clearly cheated in her rent by her miserly landlady, who also underfeeds her throughout the novel.
The school, too, is crowded, as 48 children are crammed into her class in space meant for 20. The numbers in her class are a constant worry as she learns how to control the children, work in limited space, and keep the class productive. She also has to cope with the peculiarities of the various inspectors, since as a new teacher she is on probation.
Anna flees joyfully home on the weekends and holidays, to the large old farmhouse, her cheerful parents, and the beauties of the countryside. She finds the ugly scenery and the noise of the suburb hard to take.
Although Anna is a nice person, she at first tends to look askance at some of the foibles of her coworkers. It is her friendship with another teacher, Joan Berry, that teaches her not to be so hard on people who haven’t had the advantages of loving parents and a stable upbringing.
This is a gentle novel about the difficulties of being away from home for the first time, about learning new skills and learning to understand others, about the problems of the teaching profession. It has a tinge of light romance as well. It is mildly humorous, especially in the details of Anna’s life as a teacher.