Cold Comfort Farm tells the story of Flora Poste, a young English woman who is charming, clever and an excellent manager. When Flora is orphaned at the age of 19 with only 100 pounds per year, she writes to each of her relatives with the intention of determining who she will live with and after receiving their replies, decides that her cousins, the Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex, will suit her best.
I believe Flora, who reads Jane Austen when she wants to be soothed, will become of my favourite book heroines of all time.
The Starkadders turn out to be as Flora expected, stereotypes of rural people who are all eccentric in their own way. The Starkadder family is ruled by Aunt Ada Doom, who as a small child saw something nasty in the woodshed. Aunt Ada won’t allow any of the family to leave the farm, because “there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm.”
The next generation include Amos, a hell-fire preaching religious zealot, and his wife Judith, who is jealously possessive of their son, Seth. Seth is a handsome and sexy lothario who does a lot of “mollocking” with local girls, (mullocking is best avoided, if you don’t want to fall pregnant to Seth), while Seth’s brother Reuben lives for the farm, although hampered by his father and grandmother. Amos and Judith also have a daughter, Elfine, who is beautiful, writes poetry and dances in the woods.
Other characters include old Adam and his beloved cows, Aimless, Graceless, Pointless and Feckless. There is a young female servant who falls pregnant all too often, and the wonderful Mrs Beetle, who does for the family and a number of cousins who live and work at the farm. Flora also has sophisticated and loving friends who she regularly visits and communicates with, and a would-be romantic interest, in the form of a Mr Mybug, a writer.
Very soon after arriving at Cold Comfort Farm, Flora realises that changes are required for the Starkadders to be happy and she sets out to engineer them. Under Flora’s guidance, Amos is sent out into the world to preach to a greater audience, leaving Reuben to run the farm in a manner which will bring in a profit. Seth is introduced to a producer friend of Flora’s from Hollywood, who takes him away to become a star in the “talkies.” Judith and Elfine are also managed, as are the remaining Starkadders in ways which work out exactly as Flora plans.
Stella Gibbons is a very funny and clever writer. In the foreword, which is itself a joke, she tells the reader that she has marked her finer passages with stars, so they can be sure they are “Literature” rather than “sheer flapdoodle.” Sure enough, the most descriptive passages in the book are marked with two or three stars. I actually laughed aloud when I found the first stars.
The name throughout the book are wonderfully descriptive, with Cold Comfort Farm being located near the town of Howling, which has a pub called The Condemn’d Man. The bull’s name is Big Business. The author must have giggled to herself constantly while writing this book.
If anyone else has read Cold Comfort Farm, please tell me what you think the nasty thing was that Aunt Ada saw in the woodshed, as this is a mystery with the potential to drive me crazy, no doubt just as the writer intended.