Down on the Cold Comfort Farm

English river bank

English river bank image courtesy of Jim Munnelly, Morguefile

Last weekend, I plowed through Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and laughed during every bucolic moment of it. Cold Comfort Farm is the story of Flora Poste, a sophisticated and sensible Londoner of 19 who goes to live with her rural relatives at Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex after she becomes an orphan. The farm looks like something out of The Fall of the House of Usher and contains a hilarious group of characters:

1) Aunt Ada Doom: Head of the family and emotional tyrant after an unfortunate incident in childhood (“I saw something nasty in the woodshed!”).

2) Cousin Judith Starkadder: Major gloom and doom (this woman could give lessons to Hamlet).

3) Cousin Elfine Starkadder: Fond of flitting around and in love with the young lord next door.

4) Cousin Seth Starkadder: The local “playa”/libertine and movie lover.

5) Cousin Reuben Starkadder: Sad-faced farmer who only wants to inherit the farm.

6) Cousin Amos Starkadder: Self-proclaimed evangelist and Judith’s husband.

Flora can’t bear a mess. As a result, she decides to take action and tidies up the entire family (sometimes with help from loyal friends), making her relatives more content and happier with their lives. All of them undergo a transformation in one way or another, and the biggest and most unexpected transformation is Aunt Ada.

The book is funny because it uses a mildly ironic tone and lots of contradictions. It’s also intended as a parody; Gibbons was making fun of the doom-laden rural novels that were popular during the era when the book was written.

So if you’re in the mood for a bit of rural humor, try Cold Comfort Farm. And watch out for those woodsheds.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Down on the Cold Comfort Farm

  1. moshimoshineko

    I loved Cold Comfort Farm when I had to read it for school. It’s great that you point out that it is a parody of doom-laden rural novels of the 30’s – especially of Mary Webb’s purple prose and D.H. Lawrence.

    • And you could include Thomas Hardy on that list, too.

      • moshimoshineko

        Yep, most correct! But I actually really like Hardy, while I can’t stand Lawrence! (Mary Webb’s novels are mostly out of print, if not all out of print, so I have no real opinion on her work.)

      • I liked Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure myself, but they were so solemn!!!

      • moshimoshineko

        They are, but I read Jude The Obscure rather quickly for what I normally take for a classic book (apart from Austen’s Emma) and, although I agree that it’s not a feel good book, somehow it still worked for me.

  2. Jaclyn

    Great book! I read it a few years ago at the prompting of a co-worker and laughed the entire time. Can’t believe I’m going to say this, either, but…the movie version with Kate Beckinsale is quite good, too. (Bonus: Stephen Fry plays Mybug!)

    • I saw the movie with Kate Beckinsale, too, before I read the book. (Usually, it’s the other way around.) And double bonus: Rufus Sewell plays Seth! Nice to see him play a good guy sometimes.

  3. This looks really good! I was a little worried with the “plowing through” in your first sentence, but immediately realized the excellent humorous metaphor. Can you imagine being able to “fix” a family? I want to see how it’s done. And how Aunt Ada changes. Thank you for this review.

  4. Sadly, I wasn’t aware this originated as a book and saw the movie a while ago (and thoroughly enjoyed it). Thanks for the revelation! If the movie is half as humorous as the book (which is typically the case), this promises to be an excellent read. I was further excited to find that there is an edition with an introduction by Lynne Truss (author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves fame), which is a badge of honor by itself.

    • Thanks so much for passing on the Lynne Truss info; I wasn’t aware of her importance and that’s good to know. I went to look at my version of the book and guess who wrote the introduction! My version, produced by Penguin Classics, also features hilarious cover art which has miniature comic-strip style portraits of all the characters (even the bull and the cows). Although the Flora portrait makes her look closer to 40 and not 19. Ugh.

      • You have the edition I saw on Amazon! I’ve adopted Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves as my personal grammar manifesto. She also wrote a novel’s rant about modern society’s poor etiquette (Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today), which is worth a read, although everything pales in comparison to the grumpy panda.

      • Now you’ve got me curious. I have to go and read about the grumpy panda!

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