Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Penguin Classics, New York, 1996
Borrowed from the library for the 1930s Mini Challenge.
The title of this novel has been floating around in my head for a while but I’m not sure where I first heard of it. Just one of those English novels I should get around to reading. I am very glad I did.
Flora Poste, orphaned at twenty, well-educated and left with little inheritance, decides to move in with unknown relatives. These relatives, the Starkadders, live at Cold Comfort Farm, the name itself calling up images of somewhere dark and dreary. The Starkadders suffer all sorts of upsets, grief, depression, over active imaginations and budding sexuality. Flora, ever the modern woman, decides to bring order into this chaos.
If she intended to tidy up life at Cold Comfort Farm, she would find herself opposed at every turn by the influence of Aunt Ada. Flora was sure this would be so. Persons of Aunt Ada’s temperament where not fond of a tidy life. Storms were what they liked: plenty of rows, and doors being slammed, and jaws sticking out, and faces white with fury, and faces brooding in corners, faces making unnecessary fuss at breakfast, and plenty of opportunities for gorgeous emotional wallowings, and parting for ever, and misunderstandings, and interferings, and spyings, and above all, managing and intriguing. Oh, they did enjoy themselves! They were the sort that went tramping all over your pet stamp collection, or what ever it was, and then spent the rest of their lives atoning for it. But you would rather have your stamp collection. From page 57.
Flora, bright, smart and very direct, observes the Starkadders and manages, seemingly effortlessly, through gentle manipulation, to get them all pointed in the direction of futures filled with happiness and light. She also find herself dealing with an unwanted suitor.
It can not be said that Flora really enjoyed taking walks with Mr. Mybug. To begin with he was not really interested in anything but sex. This was understandable, if deplorable. After all, many of our best minds have had the same weakness. The trouble about Mr Mybug was that ordinary subjects, which were not usually associated with sex even by our best minds, did suggest sex to Mr Mybug, and he pointed them out, and made comparisons and asked Flora what she thought about it all, Flora found it difficult to reply because she was not interested. She was therefore obliged merely to be polite, and Mr Mybug mistook her lack of enthusiasm and though it was due to inhibitions. He remarked how curious it was that most Englishwomen (most young Englishwomen, that was, Englishwomen of about nineteen to twenty-four) were inhibited. Cold, that was what young Englishwomen from nineteen to twenty-four were.
Gibbons is poking fun at a long line of British literary dramas from Wuthering Heights to the works of Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence. Her introduction takes great pains to explain her concern with Literature and she even marks what she considers her “finer passages with one, two or three stars”. Filled with dramatic and over-wrought language, all perfectly tongue in cheek, Cold Comfort Farm great fun to read.
This is the only book by Gibbons that my library carries, so I am on a search for more of her novels and short stories.