Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons
Poor Flora Poste. Brought up in prosperity in 1920s London, orphaned into poverty at 20, with nothing but an annual allowance of 100 pounds. Rather than succumb to fits of drama, and against the advice of her dear friend, the widow Mrs. Smiling, she patiently writes all her relatives to see which would be willing to take her in. Of course, Mrs. Smiling’s grim prediction of ending up in some podunk farm with a Seth and a Reuben comes true when Flora finds herself on Cold Comfort Farm, a dreary rash of land populated by distant cousins the Starkadders. There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm, a place wickedly run down in appearance and spirit. Quickly, Flora sets to work turning the farm into a Happy Place, guided by no more than her common sense and the illuminating words of the Abbe Fausse-Maigre, whose Higher Common Sense provides her with answers to all manner of moral and ethical conundrums. Within five months, Flora has completely won over the truculent Starkadders, sent off those who were too batty to deal with, and in general turned Cold Comfort Farm into a model of British agricultural efficiency.
While this synopsis may sound cliché, Gibbons’ execution is remarkable. When Cold Comfort Farm was first published in 1932, it was intended as a skewering of the luridly popular pastoral novels of the time. Without going into the details of literary history, let’s just say that this aura of parody is pervasive and stinging, and no threadbare plot device is unraveled without a wink and wicked grin. Gibbon’s use of the language — “There is a dark force in him. It beats… like a black gong.” — is masterful to say the least, and her portrayal of the manically depressed Starkadders is harsh, but not without a certain amount of sympathy for the forces that made them.
This edition by Penguin features cover artwork by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, and perfectly complements the nature of the book, a truly classy way to befriend a classic.
Penguin Classics: www.penguinclassics.com