Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 23, 2015

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm I finally got round to reading this book, which has been on my wishlist for ages and my TBR ever since it was released in Australia as a Popular Penguin.  This was a book that I seem to have known about forever, one whose memorable phrases bled into the vocabulary of our family because my parents had read it when they were young.  It is a delicious satire of the British rural novel, lampooning Jane Austen’s marriage machinations; the doom-laden stories of Thomas Hardy; and the daft sexuality of D H Lawrence.  The fact that these are three of my favourite authors makes the comedy all the more enjoyable.  (Though I have to confess to having ‘grown out of’ Lawrence.  I read and loved everything of his when I was a young woman, but like Tchaikovsky who is great when you want to wallow in your own adolescent misery, Lawrence is a taste best savoured in youth, IMO.  It is too hard not to laugh in the wrong places once you reach ‘a certain age’.)

Anyway, Gibbons’ spoof is brilliant.  Flora Poste, a socialite with no apparent means of support other than £100 per year,  is a parasitic orphan who descends on her only living relations, the Starkadders, at the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm because she does not care to get a job.  Flora is forever fending off suitors who are in love with her, including Mr Mybug, who she identifies with a shudder as an author straight away. Mybug, who has come to the peace and quiet of the rural lifestyle to write, is working on a book about how the Brontë sisters passed off their brother Branwell’s stories as their own – because no woman could possibly have written Wuthering Heights.

Flora’s central amusement is to interfere in situations which take her interest.  There is nothing worse, for Flora, than things being boring.

The Starkadders – since they are eccentric bunch of characters – are not boring at all.  They include:

  • Aunt Ada Doom who keeps to her room, long bemoaning that she saw something narsty in the woodshed and bullying the rest of the family into staying right where they are because there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort;
  • Old Adam, a part-time fire-and-brimstone preacher, who has named his cows Pointless, Graceless, Aimless and Feckless;
  • Seth – think smouldering sexuality
  • Judith, who is obsessed by her son Seth, and curtains the innumerable photos she has of him with black cloth when he goes away to be a movie star (oops, sorry, spoiler);
  • Elfine, who is, yes, an Elfin child given to swanning about in the fields and has an affinity with all God’s creatures; and
  • Reuben, whose ambition to run the farm is stymied by tradition and inertia.

There are also some wives, but they are not allowed to live at the farm, by order of Aunt Ada Doom.

Clearly this lot are a challenge, but Flora is up for it, and in no time at all there is an Austenesque Happy Ending, culminating in Flora finding her Own True Love as well.

Somewhere on the shelves I think I have Here Be Dragons as well, but a preliminary browse has been inconclusive.  Perhaps it will turn up as I continue to work on the G shelf (which has burst its banks thanks to some new (old) titles by Patricia Grace)…

PS The introduction by Lynne Truss is inane.

Author: Stella Gibbons
Title: Cold Comfort Farm
Publisher: Penguin, Popular Penguins series, 2006
ISBN: 9780141045481
Source: Personal library, purchased at Readings, $12.95


Fishpond: Cold Comfort Farm (Popular Penguins)


  1. I read this with the Guardian online Reading Group a year or so ago. Fun because we had read Lawrence earlier that year. But I borrowed a film version from the library and was disappointed, only because the characters in my own mind were much more colourful and eccentric.


    • Yes, I noticed at GoodReads that they’d made a film of it. I’m in two minds about that as well.


  2. Long time since I read it. “Seeing something nasty in the woodshed” seems very familiar


    • Yes, it’s come to mean all kinds of things, I suspect!


  3. This sounds like a lot of fun. It’s a book I’ve been aware of forever but never read. I might have to remedy that…Aunt Ada Doom, great name!


    • There, you see, you have it in your memory banks too. It seems to be a book that made its way into English popular culture and was passed down through generations, even though we younger ones hadn’t read it.
      I am waiting to see if one of my US readers was aware of this book too, or if it never made it across the Atlantic…


  4. I have this in my pile along with a host of other titles by the author, including Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, which the publisher kindly sent me many years ago when it reprinted them in the Vintage livery. Must dig this one out — it sounds like a riot.


  5. Oh I’m so glad to see others who enjoyed the book – it just warmed my heart and had me giggling. Your review was great and brought back some nice memories.


  6. This has been on my TBR (virtual, anyhow) for a long time too. One day. It sounds like it would be a delightful interlude between other books.


    • Interesting, isn’t it, how books lurk in the background of the mind? Some, I know how they got there, but others are books that I just know of, want to read, but can’t remember how I came to know about them.


      • Yes, same here … I wish I always could remember the origin, particularly if someone recommended it and I finally read and liked it!


  7. I love this book so much. I read it alongside ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ because I’d long confused the two and needed to straighten things out. And that was how I discovered two of the funniest books ever.


    • Ah, Love in a Cold Climate is on my wishlist, I do love British satire. If there is any other country that does it so well, I have yet to find it.


  8. We had quite a family mania with “something nasty in the woodshed” and this was a favourite with all of us, one that doesn’t disappoint on second reading, as so often happens with childhood favourites. At the same time we came across a book called “Search your soul, Eustace” which is about the Victorian religious novel, but I’ve always associated the two for their lush and lurid prose.


    • Eustace! Now there’s a name that should never have been allowed to fall from favour. Perhaps if I ever have a grandchild…


      • There wouldn’t be too many of them around…at least for a while. I’m still waiting for Alf, Bert, Aggie and Beryl to make a comeback.
        I always thought that if I had twins I’d call them Xenophon and Xenobia. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I never did. So feel free to suggest them if you ever do have a grandchild.


        • LOL My father is a fan of Aldous Huxley … but he had three daughters…


  9. Such a familiar title and another not read, well done for getting to it!


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