First published in 1932, Cold Comfort Farm is a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a city girl’s visit to her quirky country relatives in isolated rural England. This comic novel is filled with unforgettable characters who are completely absurd and quite unlike any others I have come across in recent years.
Young Flora Poste, the heroine at the heart of the book, is a lot like Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen’s famous book by the same name in that she has her heart set on getting to the root of their problems and sorting everyone out.
When Flora finds herself orphaned at nineteen, she realises she must find a job or better still, find some extended family members who will take her in and she can sponge off. Of the five letters she writes, it is only one from her cousin Judith Starkadder that offers any hint of fun. Judith’s letter is filled with intrigue and talks about Flora’s “rights” and hints that the family must atone for something that has happened to Flora’s father in the past.
So Flora sets off to Cold Comfort Farm, which is in Howling, Sussex, and meets up with her eccentric family, the Starkadders, who are a motley crew to say the least. Cousin Judith is filled with guilt about who knows what and spends her days locked away in her room which is filled with pictures of her youngest son Seth—a broodingly handsome young man who is prone to getting the odd maid or two in the village pregnant.
Her husband Amos preaches hell and damnation to the wicked community but for some reason his family never come along and support his sermons. Their oldest son Reuben is full of doom and despair and their youngest daughter Elfine is never to be seen as she constantly flits around the moors with wild hair and a colourful cape.
The old matriarch Aunt Ada Doom has never left the farm for the past twenty years since she saw “something nasty in the woodshed” and believes that the farm is cursed. The house help Adam tends to his cows called Graceless, Aimless, Feckless and Pointless and washes the family dishes with a twig.
Flora takes it upon herself, armed with her common sense and stubbornness, to get to the bottom of each and ever story, and just like Emma Woodhouse, tries ever trick in the book to show them that her way is the best way.
Author Stella Gibbons was born in London in 1902 and past away in 1989. She was an author, poet, and short-story writer, as well as a journalist. She was a prolific writer with over thirty works published but Cold Comfort Farm was her first novel and perhaps remains her most famous.
Cold Comfort Farm has twice been adapted for British television, first in 1971 as a mini-series and then again in 1995. It was also released in theatres in the United States.
Gibbons, S. (2006) Cold Comfort Farm (Penguin Books, ISBN: 0143039598, 233 pages.)
My rating: ★★★★