Book review: “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

For those who like their English Classic Literature obscure and humorous. If P. G. Wodehouse was a woman and switched from describing city gents and their true masters to rural settings, he might have approached the blend of apt descriptions and sarcasm of “Cold Comfort Farm”.
You will never hear the word ”woodshed” as an innocent description of a place to store logs.

If you can get it, I recommend the Penguin Classics edition as British writer Lynne Truss’ preface contains perfect information about the writer and as to why the book was forgotten for almost a hundred years after an initial wild success.

Gibbons (no relation) committed several sins that doomed her in the manner of books by D. H. Lawrence she parodies. Firstly, she was a woman, which disqualified her from being funny. Secondly, she was a journalist. Then she mocked both Arts and Crafts and Bloomsbury set. Finally, she sold too many copies of her debut novel and collected several awards irritating my beloved Virginia Woolf and Co.

I don’t think the novel is perfect. The urbane heroine, Flora an orphan with meager £100 annual income decides aginst earning her keep or going to a jolly set because she would have to share a room. She goes instead to live on the title farm. Here ignoring reigning inbreeding, doom, and portents she effortlessly rearranges life of farm inhabitants including a quartet of cows named Graceless, Aimless etc. I kept expecting her plans to find at least a minor obstacle to overcome, but everything went swimmingly.

In three weeks, Flora remodels her cousin Elfine from a wild child fleeting in disheveled hair and clothes on the moors similar to Perdita from Mary Shelley’s ”The Last Man of Earth” to an elegant and dull debutante worthy of becoming the young squire’s fiance. Flora categorically decrees her cousin to stop writing poetry and Elfine complies.

The most irritating is the finale (spoiler alert). After arranging all escape routes for her farm relatives, she is rescued by a knight in a canvas plane – a lot of plot development relies on planes taking off from rural fields – that invited her to live with him at the beginning of the book. Domestic bliss beckons.

It’s all well to join in mocking erotic symbolism and the Bloomsbury set after they won and became the next Establishment, but Woolf had had a right to be irritated by clever and funny trolling while the culture battle was ongoing.

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