Since I wrote about comfort reading a couple of weeks ago I’ve been thinking about my favourite books. Elaine’s lovely post on the justification for having two, three or more copies of favourite books also made me think about my own duplicates & triplicates. All of them are comfort reads, so I thought I’d write the occasional post about my favourites.
The Sweat & the Furrow was Silas Weekley being earthy & spade-conscious all over seven hundred pages. The situation, to judge from the first paragraph, had not materially changed since Silas’s last book: mother lying-in with her eleventh upstairs, father laid out after his ninth downstairs, eldest son lying to the Government in the cow shed, eldest daughter lying with her lover in the hay loft, everyone else lying low in the barn. The rain dripped from the thatch, and the manure steamed in the midden. Silas never omitted the manure. It was not Silas’s fault that its steam provided the only up-rising element in the picture.
But the humour of Cold Comfort Farm doesn’t rely on knowing the sources of the parody. The characters & situations are funny, no context is necessary. If you’ve read Jane Austen’s Emma, then you recognize Flora Poste as another Emma Woodhouse. Sure of herself & determined to sort out these backward rural relations. Flora knows what’s best for the Starkadders & she’s going to make sure they get it. Flora is left homeless after the death of her parents &, after writing to all her relations asking for a home, her cousin Judith replies to “Robert Poste’s child” inviting her to stay at Cold Comfort Farm. Flora is intrigued by this letter & determined to visit, even though her sophisticated London friends are worried about her fate in the wilds of Sussex.
Flora has a lot to work on here. She also meets Mr Mybug, a literary critic who sees phallic symbols everywhere & is convinced that Branwell Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights. Flora breezes in with her modern attitudes to cleanliness, cooking & contraception & transforms their lives. One by one the Starkadders are dragged out of their ruts & their lives are changed forever. Cold Comfort Farm is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Adam’s clettering the dishes with his thorn twig until Flora buys him a little mop with a handle. Meriam resigned to having a child a year until Flora explains about contraception. Flora taking Elfine up to London for a complete makeover so that she can go to the ball & captivate Dick Hawk-Monitor.
Vintage Classics are going to be reprinting several more of her novels next year, including the two sequels to Cold Comfort Farm, Conference at Cold Comfort Farm & Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm. Starlight & Westwood (which I know nothing about) are the other titles & they will also have more Gibbons available as Print on Demand. I’m looking forward to reading more Stella Gibbons although I can’t imagine another novel that will delight me as much as Cold Comfort Farm has whenever I’ve been in the mood for a little comfort reading.