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Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm

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Winner of the 1933 Femina Vie Heureuse Prize, COLD COMFORT FARM is a wickedly funny portrait of British rural life in the 1930s. Flora Poste, a recently orphaned socialite, moves in with her country relatives, the gloomy Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm, and becomes enmeshed in a web of violent emotions, despair, and scheming, until Flora manages to set things right.

233 pages, Paperback

First published September 8, 1932

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About the author

Stella Gibbons

68 books343 followers
Stella Dorothea Gibbons was an English novelist, journalist, poet and short-story writer.

Her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, won the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize for 1933. A satire and parody of the pessimistic ruralism of Thomas Hardy, his followers and especially Precious Bain by Mary Webb -the "loam and lovechild" genre, as some called it, Cold Comfort Farm introduces a self-confident young woman, quite self-consciously modern, pragmatic and optimistic, into the grim, fate-bound and dark rural scene those novelists tended to portray.

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5 stars
15,391 (31%)
4 stars
17,651 (36%)
3 stars
11,283 (23%)
2 stars
3,065 (6%)
1 star
1,130 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,095 reviews
January 17, 2016
Update I've just watched the film. It's even better than the book, by a long way. It's very affectionate, and very much played for gentle laughs. The cast is fantastic, some of the best actresses around including Eileen Atkins and Joanna Ab Fab Lumley, Stephen Fry and Ian McKellan. The attention to detail was stunning. Everything had been thought of - the lighting, colours and even face makeup of the women changed to reflect the lessening of the stranglehold Aunt Ada Doom had on the Starkadders and the lightness that Robert Post's child, Flora, brought to the farm. The ending was also an improvement on the 5* book.

If you like British films, this is so typical of gentle British humour. In an earlier decade it would have been an Ealing film. I don't think it could have been made in the US as most of the actors weren't remotely good looking. Even Elvine, playing a mini Eliza Doolittle role (an obvious pastiche) was rather average and the sex-obsessed and over-fertile girl had been made up to look like an unwashed farm girl. Only Kate Beckinsale (who is not the world's most brilliant actress, although she was competent here, was allowed to be a beauty.

I do recommend the film. And the book. Rarely do I see a film much better than a really good book, but this is it. John Schlesinger and Stella Gibbons, author and director, geniuses both.


When Aunt Ada Doom was just a small child, she saw "something nasty in the woodshed". And if it didn't blight her entire life, she certainly made sure it would blight, or at least add even more blight, to everyone else at Cold Comfort Farm, the family home and ancestral seat of the Starkadders.

Essentially this is the American tv series, the Hillbillies rewritten for 1930s Sussex and parodying Hardy, Lawrence, and various other Great British Writers, but is more related to the Hillbillies with incest, hellfire, strange obsessions (cows) and all manner of people who all have mental or emotional problems of the darker, more malign sort.

Into this maelstrom of petty evil, fear and ineptness, come the heroine. Flora Poste is the posh city cousin fallen on hard times whose father the Starkadders did something unmentionable to and feel guilty about so when she has nowhere to go, they take her in. But not willingly. She sorts them all out and brings them from their ignorant, Gothic-y insular life into the modern world.

It is a ridiculously funny novel, not as literary as the parodying might suggest. I haven't seen the film of it, only just learned there was one, which was apparently brilliant and stars top British actors and actresses (as opposed to 'stars' famous more for their beauty than any thespian ability). Sometimes I don't want to see the film of a favourite book in case the director hasn't seen it the same way as I have, but this time I want to.

Finished 26 Dec. 2011
Book review 19 May 2015
Film Review 24 May 2015
Profile Image for Shovelmonkey1.
353 reviews875 followers
October 30, 2011
I imagine that Stella Gibbons wrote Cold Comfort Farm from the artfully distressed comfort of a small garret-like room. Clad in a light tweed and perched gracefully in front of an oversized front strike, Smith-Corona type writer with a cup of tea in bone china cup and saucer just out of reach of the return of the barrel of the typewriter. I can also imagine her gently cackling to herself in polite and proper manner as she clattered out the lines which would come together to form the world of Cold Comfort Farm; Postes, Starkadders, Beetles, Myburns and all.

Flora Poste is bright eyed, knowing, impossibly perky and recently orphaned (if indeed 20-somthing ladies can be orphans). Apparently penniless with only £100 per year to her name (this was thought to be a paltry sum in Jane Austen's day so clearly young Ms Poste is gently skulling up financial shit-creek), she throws herself upon the mercy of her relatives and with jutting chin and determined step, strikes out boldly for Sussex and Cold Comfort Farm. There she is greeted by the biblically populous and biblically named Starkadder clan who are all the proud owners of names which make them sound much more like extras in Lord of the Rings than gentle farming folk.

Amos has his religion, Aunt Ada has her memories of something nasty in the woodshed, Elfine has her nature walks, Reuben has his chickens, Urk has his watervole obsession, Judith has Seth and Seth... well Seth has had just about everything with a pulse between Cold Comfort and Howling.

Speaking from personal experience, farms are not places where you are encouraged to either lie abed, think genteel thoughts or sit around doing nothing all day aside from acting as a kind of graceful mobile decoration to the general day to day background. Accordingly Flora Poste decides to engage herself in useful farm based activies - none of which actually involve agriculture or animal husbandry of any sort. Much better to take in hand the wayward social, sexual and psychological issues of the family at large. And this she does with some aplomb, although to fill in the detail would be a big old spoiler so you should just go and read this surprisingly enjoyable book instead.

This book made it to the 1001 list for being an incisive and witty dissection of rural life as seen through the eyes of a chic urbane invader or something like that.
Profile Image for Matthew Gatheringwater.
156 reviews1 follower
October 22, 2007
This may be one of the funniest books ever written and I pick it up whenever I feel inclined to have a whine and a moan. The protagonist, Flora Poste, is a bracing antidote for anyone inclined to be a sad sack. A student of the higher common sense, she understands that there are few troubles in life than cannot be set to rights or at least ameliorated by good hygiene, good manners, correct thoughts, and the proper foundation garments.

What I admire most about Flora is her unwillingness to give in to the artistic fashion of celebrating the misery of the human condition. Rather than getting ensnared in the sukebind of life, she believes we must wield our scrantlets. "Nature," she says, "is all very well in her place, but she must not be allowed to make things untidy."

This edition of the book has the added pleasure of an appreciation of Stella Gibbons in the form of an introduction by Lynn Truss (in which we are treated to hear what Virgina Woolf--a bit of a sad sack herself--had to say about Gibbons) and irreverant cover illustrations by Roz Chast, (whose style will be instantly recognizable to New Yorker readers. In fact, my one criticism of this edition is that it isn't illustrated throughout.

Beyond the benefits of humor, this book has been invaluable as my first introduction to the works of the Abbe Fausse-Maigre, which have provided guidance and inspiration throughout my life.
Profile Image for Sujoya (theoverbookedbibliophile).
428 reviews949 followers
November 7, 2022
Our protagonist, nineteen-year-old orphan Flora Poste, finds herself left with a meager annual income after her father’s death. Flora, “discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living”, chooses to approach her relations with a request to live with them in return for her annual income.

“When I have found a relative who is willing to have me, I shall take him or her in hand, and alter his or her character and mode of living to suit my own taste”.

Though quite a few of her relations respond to her request, she ultimately decides to live with her eccentric aunt and equally eccentric cousins and extended family, the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in rural Sussex. Her relations refuse to accept her money on account of a “wrong” that had been committed against her father years ago ( she is mostly addressed as Robert Poste's child instead of her given name). This is a matter of concern for her. (“For, if she lived at Cold Comfort as a guest, it would be unpardonable impertinence were she to interfere with the family’s mode of living; but if she were paying her way, she could interfere as much as she pleased.)

The head of the family, Flora’s seventy-nine-year-old Great Aunt Ada Doom rules the household despite not leaving her room except for a few days in the year, to hold a “counting” as Flora’s cousin Elfine explains, ‘’Tes the record of th’ family that Grandmother holds ivery year. See – we’m violent folk, we Starkadders. Some on us pushes others down wells. Some on us dies in childer-birth. There’s others as die o’ drink or goes mad. There’s a whole heap on us, too. ’Tes difficult to keep count on us. So once a year Grandmother she holds a gatherin’, called the Counting, and she counts us all, to see how many on us ’as died in th’ year.”

Fond of Victorian novels (“They were the only kind of novel you could read while you were eating an apple.”), Flora observes her relations as people whose situations can be improved and she relies on her “common sense” ( with her copy of "The Higher Common Sense" as reference) to proceed to exact change in the lives of her cousins to save them from a life of doom and gloom. Aunt Ada constantly refers to having witnessed something "nasty in the woodshed” when she was a child and insists on keeping tabs on her family, holding them to living on the farm (“there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort”). As the narrative progresses, we see what begins with Flora making small changes in the daily lives at the Farm slowly evolves into a full-scale overhaul of the way of life for those at Cold Comfort Farm.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, originally published in 1932, is a light-hearted, humorous and heartwarming novel that stands the test of time. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading the classics and wouldn’t mind a story that is crafted with elements from more serious novels, with characters and settings reminiscent of those from the works of authors such as Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy to name a few, but with a comic (read satirical) twist. This edition is a welcome addition to my personal collection. Roz Chast’s cover art is phenomenal and perfectly captures the characters in all their absurdity. I combined my reading with the exceptional audio narration by Pearl Mackie which made for a very entertaining experience. With an engaging narrative, a good dose of humor with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments and a cast of interesting (to say the least) characters, this book is a joy to read (and/or listen to).
Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews404 followers
June 3, 2017
Cold Comfort Farm is a stinging satire and outrageously funny parody of the literature about rural English farm life, especially by Sheila Kaye-Smith, Mary Webb, and to a lesser extent, D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. I haven't read much by the former mentioned authors to appreciate the full extent of Gibbons jabs, but it doesn't matter because the humor is obvious. Gibbons writing was very clever and her cast of characters would have made Dickens proud. Very funny and very entertaining. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,714 reviews1,242 followers
February 6, 2010
Nineteen year old Flora Poste, freshly orphaned and impossibly jaunty, decides to live with strange, barely civilized relatives in rural Sussex. The Starkadders are a mix of fire and brimstone religiosity, untrammeled sexual urges, pathological family ties, feigned mental illness, and general slovenliness. Cold Comfort Farm is a 1932 parody of Thomas Hardy, the Brontës, and D.H. Lawrence, with themes of Pygmalion and the meddling of Emma Woodhouse thrown in, and jabs at Eugene O'Neill, avant garde film, and Freud. It's kind of a hot mess, actually. The most flattering thing that can be said about it is that it's clever, for example, in this passage taking aim at Lawrence:

The reply came with clotted rage, but behind the rage were traces of some other and more obscure emotion; a bright-eyed grubbing in the lore of farmyard and bin, a hint of the casual lusts of chicken-house and duck-pond, a racy, yeasty, posty-toasty interest in the sordid drama of man's eternal blind attack and woman's inevitable yielding and loss.

I'm not sure who exactly is being mocked here, but I laughed at the absurd geometries of the farm:

Its stables and outhouses were built in the shape of a rough octangle surrounding the farmhouse itself, which was built in the shape of a rough triangle. The left point of the triangle abutted on the farthest point of the octangle, which was formed by the cowsheds, which lay parallel with the big barn....

Leaving the house by the back door, you came up sharply against a stone wall running right across the yard, and turning abruptly, at right angles, just before it reached the shed where the bull was housed, and running down to the gate leading out into the ragged garden where mallows, dog's-body and wild turnip were running riot. The bull's shed abutted upon the right corner of the dairy, which faced the cowsheds. The cowsheds faced the house, but the back door faced the bull's shed. From here a long-roofed barn extended the whole length of the octangle until it reached the house. Here it took a quick turn, and ended....The dairy overlooked the front door, in face of the extreme point of the triangle which formed the ancient buildings of the farmhouse.

From the dairy a wall extended which formed the right-hand boundary of the octangle, joining the bull's shed and the pigpens at the extreme end of the right point of the triangle. A staircase, put in to make it more difficult, ran parallel with the octangle, half-way round the yard, against the wall which led down to the garden gate.

But it's also overly knowing and twee - Gibbons actually indicates in the text "what I consider the finer passages with one, two, or three stars" in the manner of a Baedeker travel guide recommending a hotel. You can't escape the fact that you're constantly being winked at, which after 200 pages feels like being bludgeoned with cudgels.
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,938 reviews428 followers
January 21, 2022
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.

"For, if she lived at Cold Comfort as a guest, it would be unpardonable impertinence were she to interfere with the family's mode of living; but if she were paying her way, she could interfere as much as she pleased."

A wonderful novel, possibly the only modern classic I will ever fully enjoy. Not a comedy but a satire, but done with a love for pastoral classical writing that I think the author felt slightly embarrassed by. Think of Austen's Emma and you have the protagonist, Flora. Think of Bertha Mason of Thornfield Hall and you have Aunt Ada Doom, but each pulled and twisted to become extremes. There are smatterings of Heathcliffe, Bathsheba, and all the other archetypes of Classical Literature. Great writing, though often too short and blunt (though we can blame my love of lengthy Victorian prose for this).

Modern Classics are often written as an antithesis to the ridiculously long Classics, yet condensation is not always welcome. Gibbons does it very well here and with a humour that is both mild and forthcoming. It is a Modern Classic with no grudges except, perhaps, just a desire to be a little more to the point.

"...Flora seated herself upon the bed and read aloud from the Pensées... "Can we be sure that an elephant's real name is elephant? Only mankind presumes to name God's creature; God himself is silent upon the matter."
Profile Image for emma.
1,825 reviews48.3k followers
August 2, 2018

I mean seriously, oh my god! It's funny. Flora (our protagonist) is a feminist queen of getting sh*t done and not taking anything from any man ever in the history of time. All the characters are hilarious. The language and voice are unreal. I want to live inside this book!!!!!

Well, just kidding. All of my trying-to-move-in-and-permanently-inhabit-a-fictional-world energies are currently taken up by the film Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again (2018). I am really tryna become Lily James as a young Meryl Streep Donna. I am purely certain that I could handle the whole Sam situation much better and end up with him in the end but also still get with Harry and Bill in the interval.


But the book! I love the book, too.

Bottom line: Stella Gibbons you are a goddess among men and this book is DOPE AS HELL. Sorry it's the only thing you're remembered for in spite of a long and productive career as a novelist but also can you blame reading audiences the world over??? This is good sh*t.
Profile Image for Beverly.
806 reviews293 followers
September 26, 2017
Best satiric novel ever written, bar none. I loved the movie too.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,382 followers
December 18, 2015
Virginia Woolf is enraged,

she writes to Elizabeth Bowen in 1932, that the esteemed Prix Etranger award has gone to someone named Stella Gibbons. "Who is she?" she asks. "What is this book?"

The Starkadders were not like most families. Life burned in them with a fiercer edge.

And when Flora Poste is flung among them in their great crouching, rotting farm, she immediately commences meddling. She aspires to write Persuasion, but she's more of an Emma herself - Emma accidentally transported to Northanger Abbey to find the Earnshaws squatting there.

There'll be no butter in hell.

But Flora is a tidy person: "Unless everything is tidy and pleasant and comfortable all about one, people cannot even begin to enjoy life. I cannot endure messes." So she promptly sets about tidying things - tidying things for Hardyan rake Seth, Pygmalion-ready Elfine, brimstone-breathing Amos, and even for poor Aunt Ada Doom (name your cat that) who saw something nasty in the woodshed*, which does beg the question, has there ever been anything in a woodshed that was not nasty? Don't say wood. Leave wood in a woodshed for ten minutes and it's teeming with centipedes.

* yes I spent 20 minutes making that video, yes it was an excellent use of my time

This is a very funny book. I don't know how far funny takes us. Is funny alone enough to make a book great?

And does literature have any sort of obligation to give good advice? Because no one should actually be like Flora. Flora works only in a very tidy world. In the untidy real world, people like Flora don't get invited to parties.

Gibbons is a little too pleased with herself by the end, which goes on like the last scene in Star Wars. We still have questions. Did the goat live? Will anyone ever find Graceless's leg, which fell off and no one even noticed for half a day?

To answer Virginia Woolf's question: Stella Gibbons wrote 22 books but we remember only this one, which has survived all this time because everyone just likes it very much. It has, pound for pound, the best names this side of Dickens. It's very funny and very tidy. There are worse things to give the Prix Etranger to.
Profile Image for Chavelli Sulikowska.
226 reviews220 followers
June 8, 2020
All the rumours are true. This is probably one of if not the funniest, feel good and witty books written! I’ll admit I was sceptical, it sounded absurd. And it is!!! Ridiculously absurd, odd, quirky and just down right nutty. But…it is just so entertaining and enjoyable. All ridiculousness aside, it is actually very cleverly crafted and well written with sharp and catchy prose and a clan (quite literally) of memorable and unique characters (including the cows!)

At its heart, Stella Gibbons much loved classic is a parody of the melodrama and seriousness of the earlier bucolic Victorian novels. Set in rural Sussex, our plucky heroine, Flora, puts her mind and resources to turning the world of her newly discovered ‘country bumpkin’ rellies upside down and inside out – for the better of course! This is not without its upheavals, so set in their strange ways that they are, and dear Flora has to be extra crafty and cunning to achieve her plan to restore the ailing farm and its hotch-potch of dysfunctional inhabitants to some level of normalcy – If ever there was any!

I have conferred widely with my contemporaries and there is unanimous agreement – this is an everyone’s book. I can’t imagine there would be someone out there, regardless of taste in literature, who wouldn’t enjoy this novel. I have a friend who owns multiple well-thumbed copies and has lost count of her re-reads...I think she even keeps one in the glovebox of her car! I’ll finish with the infamous line, “I saw something nasty in the woodshed…” read it, and you will then know why this line will immediately illicit uncontrolled giggles from any Cold Comfort
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,548 reviews1,821 followers
August 23, 2022
For a long time I did not read Cold Comfort Farm because I thought it had been written by Nancy Mitford. I mention this because I lay awake in the cold light of dawn for some time trying to remember Nancy Mitford’s name, trying to work backwards from Oswald Mosley without success. Not that there was ever any reason not to read a book by Nancy Mitford, but I had co-incidently decided that Stella Gibbons and Nancy Mitford were one and the same person. I might think that this was slightly crazy but years ago I read a story in which a man was certain that Price Hal and Harry Hotspur in Henry IV Part one were the same person, this he debated furiously with two incredulous actors until they walked off leaving him alone with a journalist who having listened to his opinion that Shakespeare was simply manifesting two aspects of the same character on stage in the two parts asked if he could write a piece on Iago-Othello.

I however am now cured of my previous opinion and am prepared to admitted that Stella Gibbons and Nancy Mitford were two separate people.

Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm is a comedy, and she is at pains to tell us so, reading I snorted a good five times during the first few (possibly five) pages. It would have been an ideal book to read if I had had a blocked nose, but as luck would have I was unfortunately breathing clearly, so I can not in good faith testify to the medicinal value of this book.

As a comedy I read Mrs Smiling’s second interest was her collection of brassieres, and her search for the perfect one. She was was reputed to have the largest and finest collection of these garments in the world. It was hoped that on her death it would be left to the nation.
She was a authority on the on the cut, fit, colour, construction and proper functioning of brassieres
(pp12-13) Providing the foundation to a national collection of underwear in the century that went from the corset to the wonderbra by way of regular changes of desired silhouette, I thought would be a good idea, but then I have had my sense of humour surgically removed – it was only taking up space.

The novel is constructed of two elements the mash-up and topsey-turvey. The novel published in 1932 is set in a topsey-turvey near future – Lambeth has become the posh part of London (Oi!) while Mayfair has become the slums, the wealthy have private planes to zip about the country (not quite so fantastical) while the plot is broadly Jane Austen triumphs over Bronte sisters.
The setting is isolated rural misery and emotional intensity of a Bronte novel hilariously reimagined in Sussex, with emotionally intense – if not crippled – characters are briskly put in to their places by a Jane Austen heroine, perhaps this is the plot of Emma slightly restructured. It is light and diverting, but not I felt funny.

Notable are Gibbons' purple passages, deliberately purpler than a kettle full of murex snails. I like best her depiction of cousin Judith's smouldering incestuous passion mirrored by the heaving porridge, it was not bad, unlike the porridge which sounds pretty unappetising in Gibbons' prose.

How the heroine accomplishes the changes she makes is passed over rather lightly, suffice it to say that Vogue magazine circa 1932 provides the role model for her female cousins to conform too. There's some nice snobbery too to give the whole thing that genuine early 1930s feeling, and that 21st century feeling of relief that some things are moving into the past. For me this would have worked better as a short story, as it is, I found it over extended and the culture clash not really amusing, though carefully observed.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,427 reviews2,504 followers
February 4, 2019
Hilarious! Review to come tomorrow...
This book was chosen by a book group in response to the general gloominess of January/February - and I found myself giggling throughout. The set-up is that Flora Poste, clutching her well-thumbed copy of The Higher Common Sense, finds herself living at Cold Comfort Farm, a ramshackle place inhabited by the Starkadder family all of whom have been reading far too much rural melodrama...

Gibbons has enormous fun with sexy Seth, all panther-like grace and unbuttoned shirts; hellfire-preaching Amos, the family patriarch; put-upon Adam who washes up with a thorn twig while breaking his 80-year old heart over young Elfine; Elfine herself who roves the countryside, writing poems and acting suitably fey; and interloper Mr Mybug who can't help but see fecund sexuality in every leaf and bud.

It probably makes this book funnier if you've read some of the books like Gone to Earth, Precious Bane, and a generous helping of Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence - though I'm sure there are other authors who prompted Gibbons' send-up. She also name-checks Wuthering Heights, The Fall of the House of Usher, and I couldn't help thinking of Northanger Abbey and its satire on Gothic and 'sensation' novels. If only she's known Ted Hughes and his brooding nature poems, I feel sure he'd have ended up in here. All that said, I suspect this is funny on its own terms, even if the literary references don't stick.

Gibbons' elegant writing has more than a touch of Austen and Waugh about it, and she helpfully marks particularly purple passages with a 3-star rating in imitation of Michelin!

Light-hearted and fun while also commenting on literary trends (Gibbons was writing in the 1930s), this is bright and very funny.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,653 followers
December 26, 2015
Cold Comfort Farm is the perfect comfort read. It is a wonderful blend of British charm, comic characters, and a clever young woman at the heart of it all.

Flora Poste cannot abide a mess. After her parents died and left her with only 100 pounds a year, she decided to live off relatives for a while. She settles on some cousins, the Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex. When Flora arrives at the farm, she sets out to make some changes and tidy everything up, even if it means upsetting her strong-willed aunt, Ada Doom.

My favorite parts of the book are when Flora decides to give her wispy, poetry-loving cousin Elfine a makeover that improves her love life, and when Flora helps her cousin Seth become a movie star. Flora even comes up with the perfect way of dealing with her Aunt Ada, thanks to a well-timed Jane Austen quote.

This book is so delightful and has become such a favorite that I will never do it justice. I think this is the third time I've read it, and each time it makes me smile and laugh. (FYI, the 1995 movie version with Kate Beckinsale is also a delight.) I highly recommend Cold Comfort Farm the next time you want to lift your spirits.

Favorite Quotes
[Flora was asked what work she will do] "When I am fifty-three or so I would like to write a novel as good as Persuasion, but with a modern setting, of course. For the next thirty years or so I shall be collecting material for it. If anyone asks me what I work at, I shall say, 'Collecting material.' No one can object to that."

"I have a tidy mind, and untidy lives irritate me. Also, they are uncivilized."

"One of the disadvantages of almost universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired a familiarity with one's favourite writers. It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one's dressing-gown."
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,019 reviews458 followers
June 9, 2020
I do not know how I got wind of this book, but I am glad I did. If you need something to lighten up your days, READ THIS BOOK! It was quite humorous. It was first published in 1932, re-issued in 1977, and the edition I read was from 2006 with an introduction by Lynne Truss (author and newspaper columnist, and writer of a humorous but educational work, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, A New York Times nonfiction bestseller on the lost art of proper punctuation, 2004).

One of the pluses of this book was the dust jacket of the edition I had procured from my library. It was a series of caricatures drawn by Roz Chast, a well-known cartoonist whose oeuvre is displayed almost on a weekly basis at The New Yorker. I used to collect her cartoons (tore them out of The New Yorker) because some were so funny.

Through the dust jacket we are introduced to the protagonists of Cold Comfort Farm (in Sussex, England), and they are all hoots:
• Flora Poste: a 19 year old woman who lives in London and just graduated from college and doesn’t want to strike out in the world yet and work…in those days the types of jobs available to women were limited -so let’s say in today’s parlance she wanted to take a “gap year”….so she visited relatives at Old Comfort Farm.
• Amos Starkadder: patriarch of the family at the farm who was deeply religious and believed everybody was going to hell and it was his mission to preach this inside and outside the house. In his fire-and-brimstone rants, he described the flames of hell, and said that normally when you get a burn putting butter on it would help lessen the pain but “there’ll be no butter in hell!”
• Judith Starkadder: Amos’s wife whose main mission in life appeared to be moping around and being depressed. The phrase under her portrait on the front cover was “leave her to her misery”.
• Reuben: a son of Amos and Judith and “a sad sack”.
• Seth: another son, and “a prime specimen of manhood”.
• Elfine: 17-year-old daughter and socially backwards, but not a bad sort.
• Aunt Ada Doom: a central character in the novel who for a good part of it was not seen — she stayed in her room all day and was waited on hand and foot and ruled the family with an iron fist. She said that in her childhood “I saw something nasty in the woodshed!” Sounds creepy, huh? Maybe if you read the book you might learn what she saw in the woodshed! 😮
• Adam Lambsbreath: an old old farmhand who among other things washed dishes with a twig. You can imagine how clean the dishes were at the farm.
• There are assorted cousins and aunts and hired help on the farm too numerous to mention but they are all hoots too…thoroughly messed up in one way or another.
And so upon this menagerie of freaks, Flora Poste who is their blood relative arrives for a prolonged visit. Nothing seems to phase her, nothing gets her down, and we’ll see what magic she can work to get that farm and its inhabitants in better shape.

There were a number of times while reading that I laughed out loud. So so funny how those people living on the farm behaved and the interactions between them and Flora. I recommend this book for a light enjoyable read to get away from your cares of the world.

NOTE: There is an Introduction by Lynne Truss that is excellent, but should be read AFTER you read the novel. Truss gives away too much in the introduction so that even before you start the novel, you know certain things that are going to happen in the story. Had I read the introduction it would have dampened the enjoyment I derived from reading the book. But the Introduction is good, it gives a short biography of this remarkable author.

This book garnered the Femina Vie Heureuses Prize Prize in 1933. Virginia Woolf was apparently miffed that she won the prize — she wrote to Elizabeth Bowen (another well-known English novelist) on May 16, 1934: I was enraged to see they gave the 40 pounds to Gibbons; still now you and Rosamund Lehmann can join in blaming her. Who is she? What is this book? And so you can’t buy your carpet.”

This was Gibbons’ first novel. She went on to write 24 more novels plus collections of short stories and poetry. I will have to do further investigation of her… I was very impressed.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201... (has spoilers…you might want to wait on this review if you are thinking of reading the book)
from a blogger: https://thelitedit.com/cold-comfort-f...
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,737 reviews1,469 followers
November 29, 2020
Extremely funny--a parody of great English classics, by authors such as Thomas Hardy, Mary Webb, the Brontë sisters and D.H. Lawrence. Gothic novels with their romance enveloped in doom and suspense are harpooned by wit and humor. Intellectuals and the literary community are satirized too.

The heroine is the lovely, recently orphaned nineteen-year-old Flora Poste. She has a head on her shoulders, and she uses it. When a calamity arises, when a problem needs to be solved, she doesn’t swoon or moan. She rolls up her sleeves and gets to it. Her antidote is common sense.

“'If you ask me,' continued Flora, 'I think I have much in common with Miss Austen. She liked everything to be tidy and pleasant and comfortable around her, and so do I. You see Mary,' and here Flora began to grow earnest and to wave one finger about, 'unless everything is tidy and pleasant and comfortable all about one, people cannot even begin to enjoy life. I cannot endure messes. '”

“What a pleasant life could be had in this world by a handsome, sensible old lady of good fortune, blessed with a sound constitution and a firm will”

Methodically, Flora confronts the problems stacked up before her. One at a time, she tackles each.

With the death of her parents, she wasn’t upset--she scarcely knew them. They had chosen to devote their lives to travelling the world. She had been placed in schools.

“The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another….she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.”

Without property and a mere 100£ a year, she turns to her relatives. Pragmatic and sensible to the core, she lists them and sends to each a letter. Packing a valise, bidding goodbyes to her friends in London, it is off to her Starkadder relatives in rural Sussex she goes.

The setting is Lambeth, southern London along the Thames, and the fictional village Howling in rural Sussex. Do pay attention to the name! If you do not pay close attention to the author’s choice of words, you will miss a large portion of the humor. A rural milieu is an important element of Gothic novels, and so it is here:

“She (Flora) glanced upwards for a second at the soft blue vault of the midsummer night sky. Not a cloud misted its solemn depths. Tomorrow would be a beautiful day.”

Once in place, Flora sets out to tidy up the messes—which is to say, not only to clean up the Starkadder house but also the household within. The lives of all the family members must be organized, straightened up and set on the right path. Old problems must be resolved and an attractive future laid out before each.

This story is not realistic. I guessed right at the start how it would end, and I was right! It is not meant to be taken seriously. It is written to be funny. It is a spoof. Its humor lies in its paralleling of events in Gothic novels to that which happens here.

The narrator of the audiobook I chose is Pearl Mackie. She dramatizes. Usually I don’t like dramatization, but I like it here. I like it a lot. Her widely varied intonations match each character perfectly. She flips between American and London accents and the local argot with ease. She yawns, she giggles. She dramatizes hell-fire sermons with vigor. Her narration allows the humor in the text to come to the fore. Four stars for the narration.

I shouldn’t like this, but I do. It’s sweet and happy and totally unbelievable. Flora ! How the story plays out is so ridiculous that you know it is meant to be laughed at. And so, it does what it set out to do with panache. To fully appreciate what makes this novel special, it’s good if one quickly grasps the comparisons being drawn between that presented here and the style of writing and plot resolutions typical of Gothic classics.


Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen also satirizes Gothic novels.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
August 17, 2013
Frankly, I used to think that British humor was bland until while I was reading this book. This is so funny that even if I didn't probably get some of the nuances of the 30's small farm in Howling, Sussex because of the town folk's different dialects, the scenes are hilarious. Imagining them and converting those situations to our local barrio, makes me want to forget my dream of writing a memoir and instead write a similar short novel like this. Probably with my hometown, specifically the coconut plantation, as the setting.

Cold Comfort Farm tells the story of Flora Poste the most delightful character that I so far encountered in British literature. She is as funny as Anne (of the Green Gables), as fun-seeker as Madame Bovary, as loving as Elizabeth Bennett but as bosy and nosy as Emma yet as human as well. She is this London orphan girl (like Jane Eyre and many other orphans in British literature) who has to live with her relatives in the mysterious Cold Comfort Farm. She is not your toddler orphan though. She is already 19 and she has other prospects but the allure of the farm, as she loves animals, is so strong that she leaves the city to see how she fits into a life in a county. Armed with her determination to change things around her, she transforms each life of her relatives - the ignitable and extremely obstinate family - the Starkadeers. At some point, I was imagining the Addams family minus their paper thin bodies as the farm people of Cold Comfort should be stout and healthy with all the fresh milk, barney and honey that are easily available.

They say that this book is a parody of the works of Mary Webb but I shame on me, I had to google to find out who she was. They also say that this is a satire particularly of the social machinations of (Jane) Austen, the melodramatic doom of (Thomas) Hardy and the overblown romanticism of (D. H.) Lawrence. I read at least one book by those authors (3 by Austen, the highest) but I did not really get the connections, e.g., why they are saying this. I just focused on the story and the funny situations. For example, when Flora is about to leave the train at the beginning of the story, her London relatives are at the platform of the train station. Her parting words to her relatives: "Feed the parrot!" Her relatives say: "What parrot?" (because they don't have parrot at their London apartment). Flora says: "Any parrot!" Isn't that funny? It's like when a gay radio DJ joked one morning saying that he would bring roses at home to give to his wife and they he realized that he doesn't have a wife hehe. Simple lines yet funny to me. I dunno. I am going crazy, I guess.

Just read this one, will you?
August 23, 2022
I had made the decision to buy this book a year or so back, and I was reminded about it by it popping up on my feed. I thought this was the right time to read it, and, as I was promised humour, that just put the icing on the cake.

This was an interesting book from the outset, and I enjoyed the fact that the cows all had various names. Flora comes across as a sensible, headstrong individual, but she is also rather pretentious and a bit of a busybody. I did appreciate her interactions with other key characters though, as some of these proved to be rather amusing.

I realise that the point of this book is to be a farce of some sort, but unfortunately, overall this felt a little daft and slightly improbable for me. I mean, everything ends as it should, people get their happily ever afters, but despite that, something was missing.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,466 followers
May 17, 2010
Although I don't think this the comic masterpiece everyone else does, I was very struck by this passage on p93 - written in 1932, and seemingly predicting the 1960s. In London our heroine goes to a meeting of the Cinema Society :

"The audience had run to beards and magenta shirts and original ways of arranging its neckwear... it had sat through a film of Japanese life called 'Yes' made by a Norwegian film company in 1915 with Japanese actors, which lasted an hour and three-quarters and contained twelve close-ups of waterlilies lying perfectly still on a scummy pond and four suicides, all done extremely slowly."

Nice one, Stella. This still goes on by the way!
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,494 reviews962 followers
December 11, 2014

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.

Stella Gibbons turns her attention instead on having a good time and on romance, penning a rusticated novel of manners in which Flora Poste, a highly educated and sophisticated young lady from the London high society sets out to clear up the muddle of Cold Comfort Farm. The unprepared reader might be tempted to compare Gibbons with P G Wodehouse, and at least in one aspect, he/she will not be far off the mark : this is a laugh out loud comedy displaying wicked wit and sparkling turns of phrase. A more careful examination of the text reveals major differences in approach. While Wodehouse is escapist, focusing almost exclusively on clubhouse humour and wealthy young rascals pulling pranks while visiting sumptuous manors, Gibbons is launching barbed satirical arrows at the pomposity and pretentiousness of her literary peers, setting her sights on such big names as D H Lawrence, Emile Zola or Thomas Hardy. Some of these 'naturalist' school authors and critics felt outraged at the daring debut author lampooning of their favorite style, but I think modern readers will appreciate the liberating breath of fresh air through the dark and twisted avenues of atavistic passions they embraced (I believe I got the bug of flowery prose from Gibbons). In the foreword, the author explains:

I think, quite without meaning to, I presented a kind of weapon to people, against melodrama and the over-emphasising of disorder and disharmony, and especially the people who rather enjoy it. I think the book could teach other people not to take them seriously, and to avoid being hurt by them.

The novel then is built on the clash of two philosophies: Flora Poste versus the Starkadders. (no relation to the Blackadders other than as a source of top notch Brit humour). How did the two come together at Cold Comfort Farm?

The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.

versus : There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort.

Left impoverished by her careless parents, Flora must impose herself for sustenance and shelter on distant relatives. She accepts the invitation to Cold Comfort Farm, somewhere in the middle of the Downs, where the extended Starkadder clan pass the time harvesting the 'swedes', gathering the 'sukebind', milking cows that are prone to lose their limbs when you turn your head, and in general living close to the land and harboring dark secrets in their hearts.

Their dumbness said: 'Give up. There is no answer to the riddle; only that bodies return exhausted, hour by hour, minute by minute, to the all-forgiving and all-comprehending primaeval slime'

Flora Poste, despite her young age, is a lady who knows what she wants from life and how to get it : Unless everything is tidy and pleasant and comfortable all about one, people cannot even begin to enjoy life. I cannot endure messes. She is determinate and bossy, devious and imaginative. When she witnesses the muddle of repressed emotions and twisted relationships she has landed in, she sets out immediately putting everybody in their places. In one of the most memorable scenes in the novel, the metaphor is put into practice when she releases Big Business, the long suffering bull kept locked in a dark and damp shed out in the open meadows, under the sun and the wind. Then she starts on her relatives, giving advice on family planning to a servant girl that gets pregnant year after year, agricultural advice to the serious older son, religious pointers to the family father, fashion tips to the scatterbrained young lady of the farm, and so on ...

The Starkadders were simply ripe for rows and mischief. Only a person with a candid mind, who is usually bored by intrigues, can appreciate the full fun of an intrigue when they begin to manage one for the first time. If there are several intrigues and there is a certain danger of their getting mixed up and spoiling each other, the enjoyment is even keener.

Only one person seems immune to Flora's emancipation program : Aunt Ada Doom, the secretive matriarch of the Starkadders, the spider queen who lives the life of a recluse, locked in her own chambers at the farm since youth ( I saw something nasty in the woodshed! is her hilarious catchphrase), but pulling the strings of everyone else from that den, trying as hard to keep the Starkadders tied to the farm as Flora tries to liberate them.

Persons of Aunt Ada temperament were not fond of a tidy life. Storms were what they liked; pleanty of rows, and doors being slammed, and jaws sticking out, and faces white with fury, and faces brooding in corners, and faces making unnecessary fuss at breakfast, and plenty of opportunities for gorgeous emotional wallowings, and partings for ever, and misunderstandings, and interferings, and spyings, and, above all, managing and intriguing.

The screwball plot can be appreciated well enough without getting into academic research of the books and the characters lampooned by Gibbons, but these elements are integral to the text, and make the novel a good candidate for further inspection and for many re-readings. Some of the literary allusions are closer to the surface, my favorites being the encounters between Flora and the 'naturalistic' writer visiting the farm, Mr. Mybug, an annoying exponent of misogyny who cannot believe that Wuthering Heights could have been written by a woman. Flora deals succintly with his sillyness and with his attempts at seduction:

By now Flora was really cross. Surely she had endured enough for one evening without having to listen to intelligent conversation? Here was an occasion, she thought, for indulging in that deliberate rudeness which only persons with habitually good manners have the right to commit.

Regarding his literary theories, she is even more sharp:

One of the disadvantages of almost universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired a familiarity with one's favourite writers. It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one's dressing-gown.

The last quote stirs in me familiar feelings, such as finding one of my favorite five star novels here on Goodreads dismissed with a one star rating and sometimes even with a fierce rant about how much it sucks. And so it goes ...

Coming back to Gibbons' prose, the satire is even stronger in her manner of presentation. She devised a three star system for the benefit of critics, making it easier for them to identify the passages of high literary achievement, the ones so admired in her male counterparts. Here's just one example of what I'm talking about:

His huge body, rude as a windtortured thorn, was printed darkly against the thin mild flame of the declining winter sun that throbbed like a sallow lemon on the westering lip of Mockuncle Hill, and sent its pale, sharp rays into the kitchen through the open door. The brittle air, on which the fans of the trees were etched like ageing skeletons, seemed thronged by the bright, invisible ghosts of a million dead summers. The cold beat in glassy waves against the eyelids of anybody who happened to be out in it. High up, a few chalky clouds doubtfully wavered in the pale sky that curved over against the rim of the Downs like a vast inverted pot-de-chambre. Huddled in the hollow like an exhausted brute, the frosted roofs of Howling, crisp and purple as broccoli leaves, were like beasts about to spring.

I reached the end of the adventures of Flora Poste at Cold Comfort Farm much to soon, just as I wanted to spend more time in her company (useful hint : I hear there's a sequel !). Stella Gibbons is now for me much more than a screwball writer, she is a poster kid of both feminism and common sense. Dare I say she is better than Wodehouse? A case of apples and oranges here, why not enjoy both? I wish she were as prolific as the creator of Jeeves and Psmith, but her attacks on the literary establishment were not without consequences. Gibbons never reached the same succes with her next novels. Sometimes though, reputations can be built on one hit wonders.


I have a few quotes left over, I didn't find a way to insert into the text, but I will add them anyway, hoping you will enjoy them even out of context:

Mrs. Smiling's character was firm and her tastes civilized. Her method of dealing with wayward human nature when it insisted on obtruding its grossness upon her scheme of life was short and effective; she pretended that things were not so: and usually, after a time, they were not. Christian Science is perhaps a larger organization, but seldom so successful.


A straight nose is a great help if one wishes to look serious.


There they all were. Enjoying themselves. Having a nice time. And having it in an ordinary human manner. Not having it because they were raping somebody, or beating somebody, or having religious mania or being doomed to silence by a gloomy, earthy pride, or loving the soil with the fierce desire of a lecher, or anything of that sort.
Profile Image for Anne.
403 reviews73 followers
January 16, 2022
“Flora sighed. It was curious that persons who lived what the novelists called a rich emotional life always seemed to be a bit slow on the uptake.”

Cold Comfort Farm is a 1932 parody of cheerless gothic novels of its day. It is hard to miss the satire present in this story. Everything is ridiculed, the names, the mannerisms, the daily life. It comes off as witty and sarcastic humor with occasional eye-rolling.

Flora Poste (19) accepts an invitation to live at Cold Comfort Farm with her distant cousin Judith and her family in Sussex after Flora is orphaned with a meager income. Flore, city-raised, thinks it would be amusing to temporarily stay with her “dire relatives.” At least, until, she collects enough material for her future novel, as only provincial life could provide.

Strong natured Flora, sets off armed with knowledge gained from novels and a need to organize the untidy, meets the melodramatic Starkadders and decides to make them her project.

Through observations and probing questions, she determines the optimal arrangement for all connected to Cold Comfort. It will take a few months to complete the transformation, but the results will be marvelous.

My first experience with this story was watching the 1995 BBC film starring Kate Beckinsale as Flora Poste. I am glad I started with the film. The visual highlighted the satire, especially the farmhouse/yard which I didn’t came through well in the text. It also helped to put a face with a name so I could keep the characters straight. If you don’t feel compelled to read the novel, the film follows the story, and I think it is highly entertaining.

Next, I listened to an audio. I thought it was an audio of the book when I started it, but I quickly realized it was a BBC dramatization of the film. It was delightful if you are looking for something hilarious to listen to in the car. Performed with a full cast complete with animal noises!

Finally, I tracked down a paperback copy of the book, and it held up well to my expectations. The humor was as outrageous as I anticipated, but my only disappointment was when the point of view would shift to a character from the farm, I felt the edge was lost just a bit. Thankfully, most of the novel is from Flora’s viewpoint – her sharp humor and schemes kept me turning the pages.

Such a short book, that once read, it isn’t likely forgotten. Dramatic characters are the heart of this story. Recommend for anyone who enjoys British humor, rural life, and “happy every after” endings.

Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
559 reviews7,420 followers
October 26, 2014
Eh, it just wasn't for me. I really wanted to like this but it just felt too... saccharine. The sweetness of it turned sour in my mind. However, the writing is good and very simplistic, nobody would find any trouble with it. The cast of characters are very memorable and incredibly idiosyncratic. I did enjoy the parody of the novels of Hardy and the Brontës and such but it was very hit and miss for me. Oh well.
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,221 reviews2,161 followers
July 1, 2008
If, like me, you've seen the 1996 movie adaptation of Cold Comfort Farm, with Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and Rufus Sewell (mmmm yum!), you'll know that there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm and that Aunt Ada Doom saw something "narsty" in the woodshed when she was two. God I wish I had a memory like that! All the joys of the movie and more are in the book, a wonderful, clever, readable satire of the classic rural novel et al Thomas Hardy and the like. Having finally read Tess of the d'Urbevilles I finally get the subtleties of Cold Comfort Farm.

This book is an absolute joy to read. It was first published in 1932 but set "in the near future", allowing for some fun liberties taken with the 20s and 30s of last century, including some surprisingly modern speech and sensibilities. Like I said, this is one of the most readable classic novels I've ever read, and I can definitely see myself re-reading it many times over the course of my life, and finding more joy in it each time.

Flora Poste finds herself an almost penniless orphan at 19, and decides to live off her relatives. Her best friend, Mrs Smiling, doesn't think it's a good idea but Flora is determined. Of the four relatives she writes to, only cousin Judith of Cold Comfort Farm provides her with enough of an enticement: speaking of "righting the wrong" done her father, and being in general very mysterious. Better the uncertainties of Cold Comfort than the old lecherous uncle in Scotland.

Cold Comfort Farm has a long history, the farmhouse having been burnt down, rebuilt, added to, burnt down, rebuilt and added to time and again over the centuries. It's bleak, and the Starkadders believe there is a curse on the farm. The dairy cows have names like "Pointless" and "Aimless" and keep falling apart. Literally. Garrulous Aunt Ada Doom holds them all in thrall, and refuses to let any of them leave. Her daughter Judith is miserable and a bit obsessive about her younger son Seth, who spends his time bedding the girls in the area; while her older son Rueben is obsessive about the farm but his father Amos, one of those fire-and-brimstone preachers, thinks to leave it to old Adam, who falls asleep while milking the cows and washes the dishes with a twig. It's a nuthouse, alright, including Judith's daughter Elfine who floats about the moors in a cape and romantisizes the young upper class Dick who lives nearby.

Flora immediately wants to fix things, and sets about figuring each of them out and improving things at Cold Comfort. She's a matter-of-fact young woman, intelligent and firm and with a dry humour. A writer, Mr Mybug, who is working on a book about how the Brontë sisters stole their brother Bramwell's stories and passed them off as their own - because "no woman could possibly have written Wuthering Heights", is staying in the nearby village and becomes enamored of Flora, seeing breasts in every hill and penises in every - well, phallic-looking thing, on their walks together.

The stems reminded Mr Mybug of phallic symbols and the buds made Mr Mybug think of nipples and virgins. Mr Mybug pointed out to Flora that he and she were walking on seeds which were germinating in the womb of the earth. He said it made him feel as if he were trampling on the body of a great brown woman. He felt as if he were a partner in some mighty rite of gestation. (p.121)

This is such a delightful, tongue-in-cheek (and sometimes tongue-out-of-cheek) book, making gentle but merciless fun of rural life, for both the lower, working and upper classes. Everyone, in fact. Even Flora is not exempt from gentle ridicule. But it's not a mean-spirited book, nor a snobbish one. It's full of humorous details, eccentric characters and beautiful prose, and the pacing - yes, the all-important pacing - is swift but not fast, tightly plotted and structured and zipping. I'm very gushy with this book, I know, but I highly recommend it and it's a real shame that all Gibbons's other books are out of print, because I would love to read one.
Profile Image for Javier.
217 reviews128 followers
August 25, 2021
Ya sé que parece una novela. Uno toma el libro, lo hojea y parece una novela. Pero no hay que dejarse engañar por las apariencias, La hija de Robert Poste no es una novela; en realidad se trata de una broma. Una broma a costa de la frivolidad, la ignorancia, los prejuicios, la pedantería y la estupidez que Stella Gibbons veía en la sociedad inglesa de los años 30 (o sea, más o menos como aquí y ahora) y, en concreto, de los libros románticos tan populares por aquel entonces. Una simple broma, sí, pero una de esas que a pesar de su espontaneidad y su falta de pretensiones permanecen en la memoria y se repiten en cada reunión, aun cuando ya nadie recuerde a cuenta de qué nació el chiste. Porque la verdad es que hace ya tiempo que nadie recuerda a esos autores a los que Gibbons quiso ridiculizar con tanta ironía e inteligencia y, sin embargo, La hija de Robert Poste no ha dejado de venderse durante los 80 años que han pasado desde que fue escrita.
Una vez que Gibbons se pone manos a la obra, no se contenta con sacarle los colores a unos cuantos escritores de “libros para señoritas”; los literatos serios, los dramaturgos experimentales, los intelectuales de salón, las élites más cultivadas de Londres y los paletos más obtusos de la campiña, todos se van a llevar lo suyo.
Un talante no muy diferente del de Flora Poste, protagonista e hija del susodicho Robert que, poseedora de una educación “cara, deportiva y larga” decide, al morir sus padres que, ya que no tiene intención ni de ganarse la vida trabajando ni de casarse, deberá encontrar unos parientes suficientemente acomodados y bondadosos—o incautos—como para acogerla y mantenerla.
Así que, tras realizar el oportuno casting de parientes lejanos sin encontrar ninguno que satisfaga las condiciones requeridas, la sofisticada Flora Poste opta por la opción que espera al menos sea la menos aburrida y parte a vivir con unos primos remotos a una granja de Sussex con el firme propósito de civilizarlos.
Poco importa que el desarrollo de la historia sea bastante previsible. De hecho, la propia protagonista planifica desde el principio lo que va a suceder. La gracia de La hija de Robert Poste, como todo buen chiste, no está en el argumento sino en la forma de contarlo: Gibbons no desaprovecha ni una ocasión para dar rienda suelta a su ingenio (combinado en muchas ocasiones con algo de mala leche): cada diálogo tiene doble sentido; cada nombre propio, un significado jocoso; cada personaje es más extravagante que el anterior; cada situación, por convencional que parezca, es en realidad descabellada. La toponimia, la botánica, incluso el dialecto de los lugareños ha sido inventado con acidez por Gibbons, para diversión del lector y desesperación del traductor.
Una broma dentro de otra broma. No satisfecha con escribir una brillante e hilarante sátira que no deja títere con cabeza, la autora acompaña su libro con una carta de presentación, como si se tratase del manuscrito inédito de una escritora novel. La nota va dirigida a un autor serio y respetado, a cuya opinión somete humildemente el libro. Sabiendo que una gloria de la literatura encontrará en el manuscrito multitud de defectos, ella misma se encarga de justificarse achacándolos irónicamente a los años que ha dedicado a una actividad tan perniciosa para la creatividad y el talento como el periodismo. En el colmo del sarcasmo, Stella Gibbons decide facilitar la lectura del manuscrito marcando con asteriscos los párrafos más brillantes y elaborados desde el punto de vista literario… Creo que no podré volver a ver un asterisco en un texto sin que se me escape una carcajada.
De todos modos, aunque se ría de ellos y los ridiculice, Gibbons trata con ternura a sus personajes y, al final, uno termina por tomarles simpatía a todos ellos, por estrambóticos o zafios que le parezcan. Incluso a la descarada, entrometida y manipuladora Flora se le coge cariño. No es broma.
Profile Image for J.C..
Author 6 books85 followers
March 11, 2021
I’ve had another quick dally with Flora, which I do every few years. She amuses me; I chuckle my way through what Stella Gibbons describes as a book that was “meant to be . . . funny.” For me she succeeded completely in this; I remember what were for me the funniest bits of the book and apply them every now and again, such as occasionally looking lovingly at the dishes mop. Seeing ancient Adam ‘clettering’ the dishes with a thorn twig, Flora buys him a mop ‘with a loop of fine red string . . knotted round its little waist’, which he thinks is too pretty to wash the dishes with:

Adam cautiously put out his finger and poked at it.
’ ‘Tes mine?’
‘Aye – I mean, yes, it’s yours. Your very own. Do take it.’
He took it between his finger and thumb and stood gazing at it. His eyes had filmed over like sightless Atlantic pools before the flurry of the storm breath. His gnarled fingers folded round the handle.
‘Aye . . . ‘tes mine,’ he muttered. ‘Nor house, nor kine, and yet ‘tes mine . . . My little mop!’

Lovely rhyming speech! This is followed by several similar utterances from Adam in a dialect where Stella Gibbons seems to have had great fun making up words. In her preface she has this:

“. . . . I have in mind all those thousands of persons, not unlike myself, who work in the vulgar and meaningless bustle of offices, shops and homes, and who are not always sure of whether a sentence is Literature or whether it is just sheer flapdoodle . . .

Flapdoodle she does, with great gusto!
The reason for picking up “Cold Comfort Farm” at this particular moment, when the air-postman drops a bundle of new books for the TBR list every day in the great field next to the farm - oh no, sorry, I’ve slipped into Flora’s world again – is that my daughter confessed to reading this (with a slightly defensive note in her voice, as it was a book I used to recommend to her), and what she focused on was the slightly surreal concoction of air-postmen, jaunting-cars, aerial routes to Sussex with local landing-stages and a recent war between England and Nicaragua. I’d skimmed over this alluring creativity in favour of the stupendous exaggeration and the extravagant passages marked with one, two, or three stars, as in Baedeker, which Gibbons indulges in for the reason mentioned in the quotation above. But my daughter, a very Flora, persevered, to discover that the book was written in 1932, but the author has added a note that “the action of the story takes place in the very near future”.
Flora really belongs to the fashionable world of the well-to-do London of the ‘twenties and early ‘thirties. She goes to stay with her relations at Cold Comfort Farm, which is known locally as “The King’s Whim”, having been pulled down and rebuilt by an elastic number of Georges. What Flora finds is a sort of festival of drear; she has her work cut out in ‘tidying up’ the farm and its miserable inhabitants. The style is preposterous, and great fun. Here’s a wonderfully dreary ‘two-star’ passage, after the maid-of-all-work has produced her fourth infant conceived when the ‘sukebind’ was in bloom:

“**The cries from the little hut had stopped. An exhausted silence, brimmed with the enervating weakness which follows a stupendous effort, mounted from the stagnant air in the yard, like a miasma. All the surrounding surface of the countryside – the huddled Downs lost in rain, the wet fields fanged abruptly with flints, the leafless thorns thrust sideways by the eternal pawing of the wind, the lush breeding miles of meadow through which the lifeless river wandered – seemed to be folding inwards upon themselves. Their dumbness said: ‘Give up’. There is no answer to the riddle; only that bodies return exhausted, hour by hour, minute by minute, to the all-forgiving and all-comprehending primeval slime.

There is, however, a quite plain and reasonable answer, called Flora Poste, or, as they call her, “Robert Poste’s Child”. I love Flora’s honesty, plain speaking and common sense. This may be because in my own youth I was more like the dippy Elfine. One of the shining lights of the piece, for me, was the housekeeper, Mrs Beetle, married to one Agony Beetle. I’ll let you discover her amazing but quite matter-of-fact ambition, involving her daughter’s four illegitimate children.
Finally I ought to pay tribute to Stella Gibbons for handing us one of those phrases that have entered common parlance, of old Aunt Ada Doom, who once ‘saw something nasty in the woodshed” and uses it as a great excuse to hold tyrannical sway over everyone – except Flora.
But what was it she saw? Can even the indomitable Flora find this out?
Profile Image for Jennifer.
252 reviews41 followers
May 25, 2011
I began this book thinking: "Wow, very witty, very interesting, very much in the 4 star range..." To: "Umm...less interesting than I thought, but engagingly quirky and the English humor isn't bad...maybe 3 stars" And finally: "O.K. this is just stupid. The main character reminds me of Mary Poppins meets the setting of "Napoleon Dynamite" where he works on that creepy farm and the weathered farmhand offers him raw egg-juice...this is a slightly funny 2 stars and I hope I can get through the last four pages." Honestly, after reading this book, I can understand why it is considered a classic that isn't a classic. It is just a flat-out strange book. I can't fathom how it was printed in the first place. It's a parody? Well, that's fine, but sometimes that and some witty jargon just isn't enough. I closed this book with a roll of the eyes (especially at the last line) thinking: I guess I just had to be there. And on a side note, I don't know if the author was simply trying to demonstrate how well read she was, but all the literary allusions peppered in here and there became tiresome.
Profile Image for Melindam.
632 reviews274 followers
May 26, 2020
Wuthering Heaths gets a long overdue Jane Austen-makeover!

And the result is: something frivolous, cheeky, hilarious & very sensible.

This BBC Radio dramatisation does full credit to the novel and takes it even 1 level-up as does the the movie with Kate Beckinsale.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Roger Brunyate.
946 reviews637 followers
November 21, 2017
Rural Gothic

The humor of this glorious funny book resides mainly in Gibbons' masterly control of prose style; if you have only seen a filmed version, you know less than half of what the author has to offer. Yes, she creates a wonderful gallery of extraordinary characters, and the story clips along nicely if rather predictably, but it is the author's language that really gets you laughing out loud. Written in 1932, the book is a parody of a certain kind of rural melodrama popular at the time, but of the authors mentioned by the Oxford Companion to English Literature as models only D. H. Lawrence is still much read today. But no matter; there are strong echoes of Hardy and the Brontes as well, and anyway the language works just fine on its own. It ranges from gothic descriptions of a landscape primeval and stark, throbbing with the fecund sap of plant and beast, to gnomic sayings delivered in a rural dialect so thick as to be incomprehensible if one did not realize that half the words in it were probably made up by the author. And, as an added incentive, Gibbons has helpfully marked her most purple passages with two or three stars, "according to the method perfected by the late Herr Baedecker."

Flora Poste, twenty, fashionable, well educated, and recently orphaned, decides against working for a living so writes around to various distant relatives asking them to take her in. She decides to go to live with the Starkadders, some distant cousins whose alarming address is Cold Comfort Farm, Howling, Sussex. (This will seem less odd if you know English place-names, and throughout the book Gibbons' choice of names is both almost plausible and brilliantly absurd.) The farm is described in the first of the starred passages, beginning thus:
Dawn crept over the Downs like a sinister white animal, followed by the snarling cries of a wind eating its way between the black boughs of the thorns. The wind was the furious voice of this sluggish animal light that was baring the dormers and mullions and scullions of Cold Comfort Farm. The farm was crouched on a bleak hill-side, whence its fields, fanged with flints, dropped steeply to the village of Howling a mile away….
The extended family she meets there, all with short biblical names of Old Testament force, is equally dour, and the living conditions are primitive to say the least. The household is presided over by the matriarch, Great Aunt Ada Doom, who "saw something nasty in the woodshed" as a child and has barely emerged from her room since, but terrifies the others into submission for fear of completing her descent into total insanity. But Flora determines to take the farm and the family in hand, beginning with the youngest, the nature spirit Elfine, and working up to the old woman. The manner in which she does so forms the plot of the rest of the book.

The gothic style which the author handles so well depends upon the ability to evoke impending doom, and Gibbons virtually redefines the verb "impend." So the first half of the novel at least is superb. However, as light and warmth are brought into Cold Comfort Farm, the doom begins to dissipate. In nineteenth-century terms, Gibbons' influence changes from Bronte to Jane Austen, whom she can certainly match in witty observation, though at the loss of the gothic elemental power. The plot, too, lacks suspense; everything that Flora undertakes to do works out with few surprises; the main parody element at the end is the neatness with which it all does work out, even including the resolution of Flora's own romantic needs. But in exchange, as others on this site have mentioned, Stella Gibbons achieves a transformation of a different kind: the forbidding cast of caricatures to whom we are first introduced has become a family of real people, whom Flora finds herself caring about quite a lot. And the reader too. Skill of this sort takes Stella Gibbons beyond the ranks of a mere parodist and reveals her as a true novelist.

[I actually read the book in the older Penguin edition, which has a fine cover, quite relevant to the period, taken from a painting by Stanley Spencer. But it is rather sloppily printed. The Penguin de luxe edition (which I have seen but didn't buy) is much better produced, and has the added bonus of a cover by Roz Chast—a masterly match-up of two funny women working eighty years apart.]
Profile Image for Antoinette.
753 reviews38 followers
April 28, 2018
This book is a satire and an homage to famous British authors such as Jane Austen, the Bronte's and Thomas Hardy to name a few.
Flora Poste is a recently orphaned socialite of little means. She is nineteen years old. She can choose to work or to live with relatives. She chooses to live with her country relatives, the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm. For one so young, she is a smart, savvy woman who decides she must improve the conditions on the farm. It was a joy to watch her work her magic. Think of the rural countryside of Thomas Hardy, the madwoman of Jane Eyre, the matchmaking of Emma and you've got Cold Comfort Farm.
One of my favorite lines: Flora says," When I am 53 or so I would like to write a novel as good as "Persuasion", but with a modern setting, of course."
This was a fun, light hearted book that I thoroughly enjoyed!
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