The life of the journalist is poor, nasty, brutish and short. So is his style. You, who are so adept at the lovely polishing of every grave and lucent phrase, will realize the magnitude of the task which confronted me when I found, after spending ten years as a journalist, learning to say exactly what I meant in short sentences, that I must learn, if I was to achieve literature and favourable reviews, to write as though I were not quite sure about what I meant but was jolly well going to say something all the same in sentences as long as possible. - from Stella Gibbons to Tony –
Cold Comfort Farm was first published in 1932 and was Stella Gibbons’ first novel. It is one of those novels which became almost an instant classic, but which is not the first book one thinks of when they think “classic literature.” Stella Gibbons was born in the UK and her novel is set there. Flora Poste finds herself highly educated, but unable to support herself after the death of both her parents. She immediately sets about contacting various relatives and asking if she can live with them (this as a way of not finding work). She accepts an invitation to live on Cold Comfort Farm with her aunt and extended relatives. The farm is out in the country (as farms tend to be) and the characters who live there include Elfine (a flighty free spirit), Seth, Reuben, Judith Starkadder, Adam (who washes dishes with a twig), Amos Starkadder and a menagerie of farm animals including the cows Feckless, Graceless, Aimless and Pointless.
The novel is essentially satire – lighthearted, funny and a bit eccentric. Despite it being written in the 1930’s, it has a modern appeal. The characters and their weirdness are what drive the narrative…and much of the plot is meandering as a way of supporting the growth of the characters.
I enjoyed much of the book, but will admit to growing weary of it before turning the last page. Some of what happens just felt silly to me. Flora does redeem herself from a selfish, lazy person into someone I grew to like. There is a “mystery” in the novel which unfortunately Gibbons leaves unresolved. I found that a bit annoying.
Over all, Cold Comfort Farm is worth the read for those who enjoy British Literature and Classic Fiction…but be prepared to set aside reality and simply step into the crazy world of the Starkadders first!