Cold Comfort Farm (1932)

by Stella Gibbons

A parody of melodramatic rural novels, Cold Comfort Farm is hilarious. Flora Poste, orphaned at 20, seeks a roof with relatives in return for the 100 pounds a year her not-much-missed parents left her. The relatives at Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex offer to take in "Robert Poste's child" because one of them once did him an undisclosed disservice.

At Cold Comfort Farm Flora finds an assortment of odd relations. These include dour cousin Julia; Julia's husband, Amos, a self-styled firebrand preacher; one son we'd call a stud today; another son who is big and awkward and puts Flora in mind of a rhinoceros; and a daughter who wanders the hills wrapped in a cloak. Not often seen but dominating everyone's life is the matriarch of the family, Aunt Ada Doom, who when she does emerge from her room keeps muttering that she "saw something nasty in the woodshed" when she was a girl.

Undeterred by the challenge, practical, confident, and (let's face it) meddling, Flora sets out to fix all of their lives, and she largely succeeds. Her own situation has an equally felicitious resolution. Despite being a parody, the plot is also satisfying on its own terms, and readers will enjoy the ways the clever Flora employs common sense to change her relations.

Readers are advised not to skip Gibbons's tongue-in-check foreward, especially if they want to know why some passages in the book are starred. Those are the "finer passages" to which, Gibbons said, she's called attention for "all those thousands of persons not unlike myself . . . who are not always sure whether a sentence is Literature or whether it is just sheer flapdoodle." Literature or flapdoodle, Cold Comfort Farm was such a triumph it won the 1933 Femina Vie Heureuse Prize, an award created by two French literary reviews.


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