Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

  1932. Penguin. Paperback. 240 pages.

From: the public library

Recommendation from: Vintage Reads & things mean a lot

In a nutshell:

After the death of her parents, 20-year-old Flora Poste is left highly-educated but without any financial cushion to fall upon. Dismissing ideas of getting a job, she determines to mooch off relatives for the time being. When she receives a letter from her cousin Judith of the Starkadder family at Cold Comfort Farm, she is intrigued by hinted at secrets and the possibility for making over the gloomy Starkadder family. Her efforts are chronicled in this comic novel.


The comedy of Cold Comfort Farm derives mostly by the use of contrasting writing styles. Stella Gibbons was poking fun at novels where rural country life was over-dramatized and romanticized. The first description of Cold Comfort Farm is written in florid, melodramatic prose for example, and passages like that one continue to appear throughout the novel. Whenever Flora Poste is in charge of the narrative, however, the writing is breezy and light.

Although I may not be familiar with all the particular books that Gibbons was parodying with Cold Comfort Farm, I am familiar with the type of writing she is mimicking. I have definitely read books that take themselves too seriously, where a secret from the past is alluded to ad nauseum, or where girls run around in the landscapes with hooded capes for no reason except to be romantic figures. So to see Flora Poste’s irrepressible and practical nature cut through the unnecessary gloom of the Starkadders hit the right spot of amusement for me.

As the protagonist, Flora Poste is an agent for change without having a substantial change occur in herself. And I was okay with that. In fact, it can be refreshing to have a novel that’s just having fun and not trying to embed a lesson in its story. For the changes wrought in the Starkadders aren’t meant to be lessons either. Flora isn’t so much intent on making them better people, as much as freeing them from their miserable microcosm and the rule of Aunt Ada Doom. And for most of the Starkadder family, that means they leave Cold Comfort Farm for good.

I thought the time setting of Cold Comfort Farm was delightful in itself. Although the story definitely has a 1930’s feel to it, Gibbons was actually setting the novel into the future. There are references to inventions that didn’t exist in Gibbons’ time, and world conflicts that have never happened.

I saw the film adaptation of Cold Comfort Farm after reading the novel, and it stays pretty true to the book. It improved upon the book in one area and that was Flora’s confrontation of Aunt Ada Doom. The resolution to the problem of Ada Doom came too suddenly in the book, I thought, and the film plants more seeds to make the viewer ready for what happens in the end.

So if you’re looking for a fun classic novel to while away a summer day, this is a good choice.

Others’ reviews:

Fizzy Thoughts – “Sure, the end result was that most of the family was (apparently) happier, but good lord, could the woman be any more interfering and “I know what’s best for you even if you don’t?” It was annoying, even if it was meant to be funny.”

things mean a lot“Cold Comfort Farm is my favourite kind of parody: it’s incisive, but it never really belittles its target.”

Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover – “Flora arrives and decides that the entire family needs sorting out and marrying off and tackles the task with gusto.  She is very Emma like in her absolute certainty that she knows best and, in this case, there is no Mr Knightley  to rein her in . . .”


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5 responses to “Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

  1. Oh God, I love this film so much it’s ridiculous. Stephen Fry as Mr. Mybug? Comedy GOLD. I think about his scenes when I’m feeling depressed, and it never fails to cheer me. And I’m very fond of the book too — I love Aunt Ada Doom!

  2. Nice review, Christy! I liked the fact that the prose style in the book changes depending on the situation. Interesting to know that the book has been made into a movie. I will look for it.

  3. Jenny – I thought I recognized Mr. Mybug – he looked so familiar (as did a lot of the cast – lol @ Rufus Sewell as Seth.)

    Vishy – The contrast of the style really worked for me in this book. Well done, Ms. Gibbons!

  4. I love both this book and the movie! Hilarious! But not for everyone. I have reserved recommending them to people to don’t watch a lot of Masterpiece Theater, as I don’t think they’ll get the joke at all.

  5. Pingback: In Which I Fall Short of Words (1) | Iris on Books

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