Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Last October I was casting around for a way to celebrate National Sarcasm Month and I came across a list of sarcastic books from Fiction_L, an electronic mailing list for library folk. (Some people claim that sarcasm is a harsh, aggressive form of humor, but they’re all socially-promoted whiners.) To my delight some of my favorite books appeared on it, of which this is one.
It was written in 1932 and set “in the near future”. It opens in Brontean fashion with Flora Poste, a young English upper-class woman recently left penniless by the accidental deaths of her parents. She must choose which of her many relatives she will move in with, having rejected the idea of simply getting a job. She knows herself to be an excellent organizer and craves the opportunity to wade into a morass of difficulties and sort them all out. She chooses the Starkadders, a distant branch of her father’s family, who soon prove that she chosen wisely. They live on and work a decaying Sussex farm called Cold Comfort, with a juicy stockpile of travails. The matriarch fancies herself an invalid because of a traumatic childhood episode in which she “saw something nasty in the woodshed”. The other inhabitants range from frustrated preachers and actors to neurotics and nymphomaniacs. Overlying all this is the mystery of what wrong was done to Flora’s father by one of the Starkadders, an incident referred to but never explained to Flora.
Despite the generations-deep origins of these enmeshed dilemmas, Flora begins seeking out ingenious solutions to square everybody away in happier and healthier circumstances. One wonders how this young woman has the confidence to make such sweeping changes in the lives she touches, but both the family and the farm workers benefit from her ingenuity.
This has been made into a very funny film which has helped me appreciate the book even more. Much of the dialogue happens in a very rural accent which brings the language in the book to life. Come to think of it, the book came in handy for understanding some of the language of the film, so it may be that they complete each other, which is apparently very desirable in romance as well as literature.

Find a copy of this book in our catalog.


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