Original date of publication: 1932
My edition: 2006 (Penguin)
Why I decided to read: It’s on the list of 1001 books to read before you die
How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s, Piccadilly, London, September 2011
A tongue-in-cheek satire, Cold Comfort Farm is a novel about a young woman named Flora Poste, who goes to live with her cousins, the Starkadder family, on their farm in Sussex. It’s a cast of characters, to be sure: Judith and Amos, and their children, Seth, Reuben, and Elfine; and a host of others, including the reclusive Aunt Ada Doom, who hasn’t left her room in 20 years because she saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a child. One by one, Flora takes on each member of the family, acting as a sort of fairy godmother, especially to Elfine.
It’s a funny novel, but not overtly so. For example, I loved the part where Mr Mybug (not really his name, but no matter) regales Flora with his theory about Branwell Bronte being the author of Wuthering Heights. In this way Stella Gibbons parodies the classic Victorian novels, as well as many of the women’s novels of the 1930s (many of which were reprinted by Virago Modern Classics, so I kind of have a point of reference). As with most satirical novels, it’s over the top, but so over the top that it becomes unbelievable. But it’s an odd book, nonetheless, especially since Gibbons set it sometime in the future (from 1932). But we don’t know exactly what year it’s supposed to be, so the events in this novel take place in a kind of vacuum. It’s bizarre, but bizarre in a good way!