Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm
Stella Gibbons
1932
Read by Anna Massey

Delightful. I was a little prejudiced about this book. I blame it on Kate Beckinsdale. The movie is made around the same time as Beckinsdale’s adaptation of Emma, and I was a little jealous of the parallels. Main character Flora enters a household of distant cousins and decides to fix everyone’s problems. When everyone is fixed, she has a sudden tiny romance of her own and then the movie ends. Sound familiar?

To be fair Emma didn’t nearly have as much success as Flora at fixing people. Kate makes a horrible Emma, and maybe I was just overly mad about that. For some reason Kate Beckinsdale seems really cold in a lot of her early movies. Maybe she can’t act? It works for her in Underworld, but not to my taste in Emma. To sum up, I think my anger was “I hate this movie because the similarity in plot structure to Emma made casting agent believe that Kate would make a great Emma, thereby ruining another adaptation for me forever.” AND ITS ALL YOUR FAULT, COLD COMFORT FARM.

Nevermind. The book itself is very enjoyable. Flora is a newly orphaned well bred city girl, looking for relatives to take her in. She stumbles upon the Starkadders, residents of Cold Comfort Farm. They are gloomy, almost gothic, ignorant folk that are all their own brand of crazy. Matriarch of the family is Aunt Ada who lives upstairs all year round and doesn’t let anyone leave the farm. When questioned on her no-leave policy, she wails “I saw something nasty in the woodshed!” and the debate is over. Other family members include the swarthy, rustic-aphrodisiac named Seth (played in the Kate movie by an actor I endearingly call Googly-eyed Man), a wild-haired, poem writing, moor-traipsing lovely girl named something weird (I think she went to Lewis and Clark), and some sad hoof-missing cows named Aimless, Feckless, Pointless, and some other names I don’t remember.

Flora decides to fix everyone’s problems. She does. Some by force and some by simple serendipity, all characters are relieved of their discontent by the end of the novel. Then Flora is dashed away in a plane by a charming fellow who has very straight teeth and looks great in dark blue tails.

This novel definitely deserves the category of Comedy. It is very witty, charming and lighthearted. There are many great little lines that come out of Flora and all characters. I am also glad that I listened to it instead of read it, because the Starkadders talk in a sort of hillybilly Yorkshire accent and I HATE reading dialect written phonetically. It takes so much longer for me to read it and it never sounds right in my head. Besides, a Queen’s English accent like the audiobook’s reader’s always gives whatever is said a little bit of irony, you know? I really enjoyed hearing “Robert Poste’s Child” and “the Cowkeeper’s Weekly Bulletin and Milk Producer’s Guide” read over and over again.

Favorite parts:
“She liked Victorian novels. They were the only kind you could read while eating an apple.”
WTF? It gives a pretty great mental picture anyway.

“THERE IS NO BUTTER IN HELL!”
Flora’s Uncle Amos is a preacher of his own sect of Christianity. A rudimentary kind of fire-and-brimstone church, he preaches The Word of the Lord by “lettin the Spirit take’im” and saying whatever pops into his head at the moment. My sister loves this line and used to say it a bunch, but I never really knew the context. The (almost) quote is:

“Do ye know when ye burn ye hand on the stove, and it stings and hurts until ye put some butter on ye burn. That is what Hell is like, but there is no butter in Hell!”
Hilarious!

There are many great similar moments, where something very serious is put next to something absolutely commonplace. Height of comedy, that. For instance, the climax of the book is full blown Gothic. Aunt Ada calls together the whole tribe in the ominous ceremony named the Counting. She sits next to the fireplace, the hearth strewn with mysterious flowers of a pungent smell, and hears from each family member, one after another, how they have betrayed her. How does she show her rage? By swatting at each betrayer with the “Milk Producer’s Weekly Bulletin and Cowkeeper’s Guide.” Fantastic.

My favoritest of favorite parts, though, is the introduction of a side character named Mybug. The internet has failed me in producing a full text version of Cold Comfort, otherwise I would post the whole scene, copywright laws be damned. I at least wanted to read it again. Curses, you, internet!

Get this: Mr. Mybug is a scholar, unrelated to Flora. He is pompous, overweight, obsessed with sex. He attempts to translate the world into sexual themes, saying that hills remind him of breasts. His opening liner to Flora at first meeting is “I say, Miss Poste, do you believe women have souls?” He then moves on to talk out his latest work: an essay proving the Branwell, the ne’er-do-well brother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, actually wrote the sisters’ famous novels. I think Mr. Mybug went to Reed.

The whole Bronte thing entertained me so much I wanted to put the whole thing up here. I will attempt to be satisfied by adding a great quote that I remember:

About the sisters:
“The were all drunkards, but Anne was the worst of the lot.”

*nerdy snicker at the reportedly kindest, gentlest, most religious Bronte being called a horrible drunkard.*

Ahhh yes.
Anyway, great fun.

**FINAL NOTE: I love the fad of Upperclass British jocks from this time period using the word “what” at the end of a sentence that is not a question. As in: “Finny Pickinbody’s a good chap, what?” They sound so inquisitive!

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