Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stella Gibbons: Cold Comfort Farm, Pt. 2

I have finished Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm, and I don't agree with the reviewer who stated that this was "very probably the funniest book ever written." I did find it a pleasant and enjoyable read. I might read it again some time in the future, but that will be some years down the road.

Perhaps the problem is that the novel is a satire, a parody on what the Wikipedia entry calls "the romanticised, sometimes doom-laden accounts of rural life popular at the time, by writers such as Mary Webb." One of the major problems with satires and parodies is that the reader must be familiar with the subject of the satire or parody. I haven't read anything by Mary Webb or any of the other "doom-laden accounts popular at the time," so it is very possible much of the humor went right on by me. The closest I've come to the atmosphere at Cold Comfort Farm would probably be Wuthering Heights, but it lacks the intensity and seriousness of Bronte' novel. I never thought of Wuthering Heights when I was reading the novel, but the Wikipedia entry mentioned it and then I did see some resemblance.

Flora Poste has decided to live with relatives as she hasn't a sufficient inheritance to support her, and, in spite of her lengthy education, she lacks any skill or talent which would help her support herself. Once at Cold Comfort Farm, she decide to enlighten them and to improve their lives by bringing them into the 20th century. In this respect she reminds me of one of Jane Austen's heroines, Emma. Emma and Flora are both blessed with the same virtue, the itch to meddle in other people's lives.

Emma restricts her efforts to matchmaking, while Flora recognizes no such limitations on her abilities and acts accordingly. Fortunately for those around her, Emma fails, and those who were blessed with her attempts eventually were able to go on and find their own spouses. Emma, if I remember correctly, ends with three marriages, one of which is the heroine's own.

Flora, however, is amazingly successful in her efforts. She persuades Amos to buy a Ford van and preach the gospel to a much wider audience than just the small chapel in the neighborhood. His absence then allows Reuben to manage the farm, something he's been waiting decades for. Flora decides that extreme makeovers are the solution for several of the women on the farm, and this results in several marriages and Aunt Ada's (she who hadn't left the farm since she saw "something nasty in the woodpile" at the age of three) trip to Paris.

Flora even manages to find a unique solution to her own problem--her inability to support herself. She decides she's in love with her cousin Charles, so now it's his problem. Since he's wealthy (he owns his own airplane), it shouldn't be much of a problem.

I don't know whether it was fortunate or unfortunate that Fiona's efforts were so successful. I would have to wait a decade or so before making a decision. Since there is no sequel, we shall never know how it all turned out. Did they all live happily ever after?

Overall Reaction: a light novel, enjoyable reading. I remember that my reaction to the film version was the same.


  1. Fred,

    I wonder if you have to be British to fully appreciate the humor of this book/movie? Some of the humor seemed to play on exaggerated versions of both Londoners and English farm dwellers. Since I don't have personal experience with either, I'm sure some of the jokes went over my head.

    I hadn't read anything by Mary Webb, either, so that probably affected my enjoyment of the book. I guess I was looking to some of the more bleak novels by Thomas Hardy when relating to the inhabitants of Cold Comfort Farm. These, too, can be doom-laden. The publisher's intro to my copy of the book does mention works by Hardy and D.H. Lawrence as books Gibbons is having fun with in Cold Comfort Farm. I actually had seen the movie version before I'd read Hardy, but I still knew what Gibbons was poking fun at.

    I do agree that it was a light, enjoyable read. I wouldn't put it on a "must re-read" list, but I'm kind of picky about re-reading. Too many books I have yet to read for the first time. :)

  2. Cheryl,

    That's quite possible. It may be a combination of not being British and not being that knowledgeable about those "doom-laden" rural novels. Hardy could fit, as well as D.H. Lawrence, according to the Wiki entry, anyway.

    Perhaps both the city and the rural people are being satirized here. The doom-laden rural types and the bright, insanely cheerful, and insensitive meddling do-gooders.