After another minute Reuben brought forth the following sentence,
‘I ha’ scranleted two hundred furrows come five o’clock down i’ the bute.’
It was a difficult remark, Flora felt, to which to reply. Was it a complaint? If so one might say, ‘My dear, how too sickening for you!’ But then it might be a boast, in which case the correct reply would be ‘Attaboy!’ or more simply, ‘Come, that’s capital.’ Weakly she fell back on the comparatively safe remark, ‘Did you?’ in a bright, interested voice.
She saw at once that she had said the wrong thing…
This is my second time reading Cold Comfort Farm. The first was way, way back in 2003, shortly after I’d decided to read all the books on the BBC’s Big Read top 100 (it didn’t happen, in case you were wondering; I got to about 80 and gave up). It’s a shortish book so I thought it’d be a quick read and then I could cross it off the list and move on to the next one, which is exactly what I did – so quickly, in fact, that I now remember almost nothing about it (except, of course, that something nasty happened in the woodshed). I don’t remember being all that smitten by it but that could be because I was in such a hurry to get it out of the way. I probably didn’t take any of it in.
At the start of the novel young Flora Poste, recently orphaned, decides to cast herself on the mercy of her distant cousins, the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex. She finds the farm to be a gloomy sort of place and the Starkadders a brooding and emotional bunch, much prone to violent outbursts and hurling themselves down wells at the slightest provocation. They have names like Elfine, Urk and Harkaway and say things like:
Women are all alike – ay fussin’ over their fal-lals and bedazin’ a man’s eyes, when all they really want is a man’s blood and his heart out of his body and his soul and his pride…
Flora, in contrast, is a neat and rather modern young lady and, as you might expect, they all struggle to find some common ground. Thankfully she isn’t fazed by any of this. She views it all as an adventure, an opportunity to neaten up the Farm and bring those pesky Starkadders into line.
It’s actually a very silly novel but quite funny, funnier than I remember in fact. I read somewhere that it’s a parody of all those idealised rural romances made popular by the Victorians; I can see that there’s something deliberately Hardyish in those made up colloquialisms, the descriptions of the sunlight on the wet grass and in all that Starkadder sin and misery. It’s not supposed to be particularly subtle – the characters are pretty one-dimensional and some of the more dramatic scenes are deliberately ham-fisted – but it’s not supposed to be taken too seriously either. In fact, Gibbons kindly draws your attention to the more impressive examples with some neat asterisks. It’s a bit like she’s watching you read and doing that annoying nudge-nudge-wink-wink thing, just to check that you’re in on the joke. It would wear thin in a longer novel but Cold Comfort Farm is short enough for it to be funny, I think.
I enjoyed it much more this time round so I’m glad I took the time to read it properly. I imagine it’d be the sort of light hearted book you’d fancy at the end of a long, hard day, one that you’d return to again and again. It’s full of so many witticisms and prim common sense that it was difficult to choose the best quotes for this post (hence it being unusually quote heavy). Is it the comic masterpiece everyone says it is? I’m not sure but it’s funny and kind of charming and I love the Starkadders.