I have a confession to make – I love Cold Comfort Farm so much that I/we named my firstborn after two of the principal characters. I figured this would at least give him a great conversation opener when he finally gets interested in girls.
CCF is in my top three works of fiction of all time. On my desert island it would share a shelf with the Collected Works of Shakespeare, and, oh, probably the Gormenghast trilogy (if I could get away with having a trilogy).
The clichés about CCF are all, sadly, true. Stella Gibbons never wrote another word coming close to its genius, and the introductions to her recently reissued novels by Vintage acknowledge as much. That’s not to say her other work isn’t worth reading, (and I will write separately about Conference at Cold Comfort Farm, and Christmas at CCF) but you can never for a second forget that they are written by the same person who wrote Cold Comfort Farm. The contrast can be painful.
(this cover illustration is wrong is so many different ways, but is from the first edition I owned)
Anatomising why the novel is such a delight is in some respects pointless – it doesn’t bear too much analysis and inspection. The plot is flimsy, the minor characters deliberately (and joyfully) muddled up, the purple prose is flagged for the reader’s ease of appreciation. But some observations can’t be resisted. The romance between Flora and Charles, drawn with an economy that Austen would be proud of, is a particular delight. At the end of the novel (spoiler alert) they fall into one another’s arms, and are virtually speechless with genuine delight. Another joy is the use of names – Urk and his water voles, Richard Hawk-Monitor the local gentry from Haut-Couture (“Howchicker”) hall, Adam Lambsbreath (Adam has strong echoes of Joseph, the irascible and largely incoherent rustic who haunts Wuthering Heights) and of course, Aunt Ada Doom, matriach of the Starkadders.
The cliche that one could not love someone who did not love (insert cultural artifact of choice) is over-used, but I am so glad that the person I chose to spend my life with loves Cold Comfort as much as I do.