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Cold Comfort Farm : Penguin Classics - Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm

Penguin Classics


Published: 26th October 2006
For Ages: 18+ years old
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Published: 26th October 2006
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When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organize other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm (1932) is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

About the Author

Stella Dorothea Gibbons, novelist, poet and short-story writer, was born in London in 1902. Her first novel Cold Comfort Farm (1932) won the Femina Vie Heuruse Prize for 1933. Amongst her other novels are Miss Linsey and Pa (1936), Nightingale Wood (1938), Westwood (1946), Conference at Cold Comfort Farm (1959) and Beside the Pearly Water (1954). Stella Gibbons died in 1989.



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Cold Comfort Farm

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Laugh out loud delight


from Melbourne

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  • Engaging Characters


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    Comments about Cold Comfort Farm:

    This is a well written, funny and engaging book. The characters are really fantastic and the descriptiveness of the surrounds(although sometimes a little long) helps create a wonderful image of the town and the country. Warm up your funny bone and you'll really enjoy this truly humourous novel.

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    ? Quite simply one of the funniest satirical novels of the last century.? ?Nancy Pearl, NPR's "Morning Edition"? Delicious . . . "Cold Comfort Farm" has the sunniness of a P. G. Wodehouse and the comic aplomb of Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop".? ?"The Independent" (London)


    The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.

    Her father had always been spoken of as a wealthy man, but on his death his executors were disconcerted to find him a poor one. After death duties had been paid and the demands of creditors satisfied, his child was left with an income of one hundred pounds a year, and no property.

    Flora inherited, however, from her father a strong will and from her mother a slender ankle. The one had not been impaired by always having her own way nor the other by the violent athletic sports in which she had been compelled to take part, but she realized that neither was adequate as an equipment for earning her keep.

    She decided, therefore, to stay with a friend, a Mrs Smiling, at her house in Lambeth until she could decide where to bestow herself and her hundred pounds a year.

    The death of her parents did not cause Flora much grief, for she had barely known them. They were addicted to travel, and spent only a month or so of each year in England. Flora, from her tenth year, had passed her school holidays at the house of Mrs Smiling's mother; and when Mrs Smiling married, Flora spent them at her friend's house instead. It was therefore with the feelings of one who returns home that she entered the precincts of Lambeth upon a gloomy afternoon in February, a fortnight after her father's funeral.

    Mrs Smiling was fortunate in that she had inherited house property in Lambeth before the rents in that district soared to ludicrous heights, following the tide of fashion as it swung away from Mayfair to the other side of the river, and the stone parapets bordering the Thames became, as a consequence, the sauntering ground of Argentinian women and their bull ­terriers. Her husband (she was a widow) had owned three houses in Lambeth which he had bequeathed to her. One, in Mouse Place, was the pleasantest of the three, and faced with its shell fanlight the changing Thames; here Mrs Smiling lived, while of the other two, one had been pulled down and a garage perpetrated upon its site, and the third, which was too small and inconvenient for any other purpose, had been made into the Old Diplomacy Club.

    The white porcelain geraniums which hung in baskets from the little iron balconies of 1, Mouse Place, did much to cheer Flora's spirits as her taxi stopped before its door.

    Turning from the taxi to the house, she saw that the door had already been opened by Mrs Smiling's butler, Sneller, who was looking down upon her with dim approval. He was, she reflected, almost rudely like a tortoise; and she was glad her friend kept none as pets or they might have suspected mockery.

    Mrs Smiling was awaiting her in the drawing-room over­looking the river. She was a small Irishwoman of twenty-­six years, with a fair complexion, large grey eyes and a little crooked nose. She had two interests in life. One was the imposing of reason and moderation into the bosoms of some fifteen gentlemen of birth and fortune who were madly in love with her, and who had flown to such remote places as the Jhonsong La, Lake M'Luba-M'Luba and the Kwanhattons because of her refusal to marry them. She wrote to them all once a week, and they (as her friends knew to their cost, for she was for ever reading aloud long, boring bits from their letters) wrote to her.

    These gentlemen, because of the hard work they did in savage foreign parts and of their devotion to Mrs Smiling, were known collectively as 'Mary's Pioneers-O', a quotation from the spirited poem by Walt Whitman.

    Mrs Smiling's second interest was her collection of brassieres, and her search for a perfect one. She was reputed to have the largest and finest collection of these garments in the world. It was hoped that on her death it would be left to the nation.

    She was an authority on the cut, fit, colour, construction and proper functioning of brassieres; and her friends had learned that her interest, even in moments of extreme emotional or physical distress, could be aroused and her composure restored by the hasty utterance of the phrase:

    'I saw a brassiere today, Mary, that would have interested you . . . '

    Mrs Smiling's character was firm and her tastes civilized. Her method of dealing with wayward human nature when it insisted on obtruding its grossness upon her scheme of life was short and effective; she pretended things were not so: and usually, after a time, they were not. Christian Science is perhaps a larger organization, but seldom so successful.

    'Of course, if you encourage people to think they're messy, they will be messy,' was one of Mrs Smiling's favourite maxims. Another was, 'Nonsense, Flora. You imagine things.'

    Yet Mrs Smiling herself was not without the softer graces of imagination.

    'Well, darling,' said Mrs Smiling - and Flora, who was tall, bent and kissed her cheek - 'will you have tea, or a cocktail?'

    Flora said that she would have tea. She folded her gloves and put her coat over the back of a chair, and took the tea and a cinnamon wafer.

    'Was the funeral awful?' enquired Mrs Smiling. She knew that Mr Poste, that large man who had been serious about games and contemptuous of the arts, was not regretted by his child. Nor was Mrs Poste, who had wished people to live beautiful lives and yet be ladies and gentlemen.

    Flora replied that it had been horrid. She added that she was bound to say all the older relatives seemed to have enjoyed it no end.

    'Did any of them ask you to go and live with them? I meant to warn you about that. Relatives are always wanting you to go and live with them,' said Mrs Smiling.

    'No. Remember, Mary, I have only a hundred pounds a year now; and I cannot play Bridge.'

    'Bridge? What is that?' enquired Mrs Smiling, glancing vaguely out of the window at the river. 'What curious ways people have of passing their time, to be sure. I think you are very fortunate, darling, to have got through all those dreadful years at school and college, where you had to play all those games, without getting to like them yourself. How did you manage it?'

    Flora considered.

    'Well - first of all, I used to stand quite still and stare at the trees and not think about anything. There were usually some trees about, for most games, you know, are played at in the open air, and even in the winter the trees are still there. But I found that people would bump into me, so I had to give up standing still, and run, like the others. I always ran after the ball because, after all, Mary, the ball is important in a game, isn't it? until I found they didn't like me doing that, because I never got near it or hit it or did whatever you are supposed to do to it.

    'So then I ran away from it instead, but they didn't seem to like that either, because apparently people in the audience wondered what I was doing out on the edge of a field all by myself, and running away from the ball whenever I saw it coming near me.

    'And then a whole lot of them got at me one day after one of the games was over, and told me I was no good. And the Games Mistress seemed quite worried and asked me if I really didn't care about lacrosse (that was the name of the game), and I said no, I was afraid I didn't, really; and she said it was a pity, because my father was so 'keen', and what did I care about?

    'So I said, well, I was not quite sure, but on the whole I thought I liked having everything very tidy and calm all round me, and not being bothered to do things, and laughing at the kind of joke other people didn't think at all funny, and going for country walks, and not being asked to express opinions about things (like love, and isn't so-and-so peculiar?). So then she said, oh, well, didn't I think I could try to be a little less slack, because of Father, and I said no, I was afraid I couldn't; and after that she left me alone. But all the others still said I was no good.'

    Mrs Smiling nodded her approval, but she told Flora that she talked too much. She added;

    'Now about this going to live with someone. Of course, you can stay here as long as you like, darling; but I suppose you will want to take up some kind of work some time, won't you, and earn enough to have a flat of your own?'

    'What kind of work?' asked Flora, sitting upright and grace­ful in her chair.

    'Well- organizing work, like I used to do.' (For Mrs Smiling had been an organizer for the L.e.e. before she married 'Dia­mond' Tod Smiling, the racketeer.) 'Do not ask me what that is, exactly, for I've forgotten. It is so long since I did any. But I am sure you could do it. Or you might do journalism. Or book-keeping. Or bee-keeping.'

    Flora shook her head.

    'I'm afraid I couldn't do any of those things, Mary.'

    'Well . . . what, then, darling? Now, Flora, don't be feeble. You know perfectly well that you will be miserable if you haven't got a job, when all your friends have. Besides, a hundred pounds a year won't even keep you in stockings and fans. What will you live on?'

    'My relatives,' replied Flora.

    Mrs Smiling gave her a shocked glance of enquiry, for, though civilized in her tastes, she was a strong-minded and moral woman.

    'Yes, Mary,' repeated Flora firmly, 'I am only nineteen, but I have already observed that, whereas there still lingers some absurd prejudice against living on one's friends, no limits are set, either by society or by one's own conscience, to the amount one may impose upon one's relatives.

    'Now I am peculiarly (I think if you could see some of them you would agree that that is the word) rich in relatives, on both sides of the family. There is a bachelor cousin of Father's in Scotland. There is a sister of Mother's at Worthing (as though that were not enough, she breeds dogs). A female cousin of Mother's lives in Kensington. And there are also some dis­tant cousins, connections of Mother's, I believe, who live in Sussex. . .'

    'Sussex . . .' mused Mrs Smiling. 'I don't much like the sound of that. Do they live on a decaying farm?'

    'I am afraid they do,' confessed Flora, reluctantly. 'However, I need not try them unless everything else fails. I propose to send a letter to the relatives I have mentioned, explaining the situation and asking them if they are willing to give me a home in exchange for my beautiful eyes and a hundred pounds a year.'

    'Flora, how insane!' cried Mrs Smiling; 'you must be mad. Why, you would die after the first week. You know that neither of us have ever been able to abide relatives. You must stay here with me, and learn typing and shorthand, and then you can be somebody's secretary and have a nice little flat of your own, and we can have lovely parties . . .'

    'Mary, you know I hate parties. My idea of hell is a very large party in a cold room where everybody has to play hockey properly. But you put me off what I was going to say. When I have found a relative who is willing to have me, I shall take him or her in hand, and alter his or her character and mode of living to suit my own taste. Then, when it pleases me, I shall marry.'

    'Who, pray?' demanded Mrs Smiling, rudely; she was much perturbed.

    'Somebody whom I shall choose. I have definite ideas about marriage, as you know. I have always liked the sound of the phrase 'a marriage has been arranged'. And so it should be arranged! Is it not the most important step a mortal creature can take? I prefer the idea of arrangement to that other state­ment, that marriages are made in Heaven. My marriage, Mary, will be arranged into Heaven.'

    Mrs Smiling shuddered at the compelling, the almost Gallic, cynicism of Flora's speech. For Mrs Smiling believed that mar­riages should arise naturally from the union of two loving natures, and that they should take place in churches, with all the usual paraphernalia and hugaboo; and so had her own marriage arisen and been celebrated.

    'But what I wanted to ask you was this,' continued Flora. 'Do you think a circular letter to all these relatives would be a good idea? Would it impress them with my efficiency?'

    'No,' returned Mrs Smiling, coldly, 'I do not think it would. It would be too putting-off. You must write to them, of course (making it an entirely different letter each time, Flora) explain­ing the situation - that is, if you really are going to be so insane as to go on with the idea.'

    'Don't fuss, Mary. I will write the letters tomorrow, before lunch. I would write them tonight, only I think we ought to dine out - don't you? - to celebrate the inauguration of my career as a parasite. I have ten pounds and I will take you to the New River Club - angelic place!'

    'Don't be silly. You know perfectly well we must have some men.'

    'Then you can find them. Are any of the Pioneers-O home on leave?'

    Mrs Smiling's face assumed that brooding and maternal look which was associated in the minds of her friends with thoughts of the Pioneers-O.

    'Bikki is,' she said. (All the Pioneers-O had short, brusque nicknames rather like the cries of strange animals, but this was quite natural, for they all came from places full of strange animals. )

    'And your second cousin, Charles Fairford, is in town,' con­tinued Mrs Smiling. 'The tall, serious, dark one.'

    'He will do,' said Flora, with approval. 'He has such a funny little nose.'

    Accordingly, about twenty minutes to nine that night Mrs Smiling's car drove away from Mouse Place carrying herself and Flora in white dresses, with absurd little wreaths of flowers at the side of their heads; and opposite sat Bikki, and Charles, whom Flora had only met half a dozen times before.

    Bikki, who had a shocking stammer, talked a great deal, as people with stammers always love to do. He was plain and thirtyish, and home on leave from Kenya. He pleased them by corroborating all the awful rumours they had heard about the place. Charles, who looked well in tails, spoke hardly at all. Occasionally he gave a loud, deep, musical 'Ha! Ha!' when amused at anything. He was twenty-three, and was to be a parson. He stared out of the window most of the time, and hardly looked at Flora.

    'I don't think Sneller approves of this excursion,' observed Mrs Smiling, as they drove away. 'He looked all dim and concerned. Did you notice?'

    'He approves of me, because I look serious,' said Flora. 'A straight nose is a great help if one wishes to look serious.'

    'I do not wish to look serious,' said Mrs Smiling, coldly. 'There will be time enough to do that when I have to come and rescue you from some impossible relations living in some ungetatable place because you can't bear it any longer. Have you told Charles about it?'

    'Good heavens, no! Charles is a relation. He might think I wanted to go and live with him and Cousin Helen in Hertford­shire, and was angling for an invitation.'

    'Well, you could if you liked,' said Charles, turning from his study of the glittering streets gliding past the windows. 'There is a swing in the garden and tobacco flowers in the summer, and probably Mother and I would quite like it if you did.'

    'Don't be silly,' said Mrs Smiling. 'Look - here we are. Did you get a table near the river, Bikki?'

    Bikki had managed to do that; and when they were seated facing the flowers and lights on their table they could look down through the glass floor at the moving river, and watch it between their slippers, as they danced. Through the glass walls they could see the barges going past, bearing their romantic red and green lights. Outside it had begun to rain, and the glass roof was soon trickling with silver.

    In the course of supper Flora told Charles of her plan. He was silent at first; and she thought he was shocked. For though Charles had not a straight nose, it might have been written of him, as Shelley wrote of himself in the Preface to 'Julian and Maddalo', 'Julian is rather serious.'

    But at last he said, looking amused:

    'Well, if you get very sick of it, wherever you are, 'phone me and I will come and rescue you in my 'plane.'

    'Have you a 'plane, Charles? I don't think an embryo parson should have a 'plane. What breed is it?'

    'A Twin Belisha Bat. Its name is Speed Cop H.'

    'But really, Charles, do you think a parson ought to have a 'plane?' continued Flora, who was in a foolish mood.

    'What has that to do with it?' said Charles, calmly. 'Anyway, you let me know and I will come along.'

    Flora promised that she would, for she liked Charles, and then they danced together; and all four sat a long time over coffee; and then it was three o'clock and they thought it time to go home.

    Charles put Flora into her green coat, and Bikki put Mrs Smiling into her black one, and soon they were driving home through the rainy streets of Lambeth, where every house had windows alight with rose, orange or gold, behind which parties were going on, card or musical or merely frivolous; and the lit shop windows displayed a single frock or a Tang horse to the ram.

    'There's the Old Diplomacy,' said Mrs Smiling, interestedly, as they passed that ludicrous box, with baskets of metal flowers tipping off the .narrow sills of its windows, and music coming from its upper rooms. 'How glad I am that poor Tod left it to me. It does bring in such a lot of money.' For Mrs Smiling, like all people who have been disagreeably poor and have become deliciously rich, had never grown used to her money, and was always mentally turning it over in her hands and positively revelling in the thought of what a lot of it she had. And this delighted all her friends, who looked on with approval, just as they would have looked upon a nice child with a toy.

    Charles and Bikki said goodnight at the door because Mrs Smiling was too afraid of Sneller to ask them in for a last cocktail, and Flora muttered that it was absurd; but all the same she felt rather subdued as the two wandered to bed up the narrow, black-carpeted staircase.

    'Tomorrow I will write my letters,' said Flora, yawning, with one hand on the slender white baluster. 'Goodnight, Mary.'

    Mrs Smiling said 'Goodnight, darling.' She added that tomorrow Flora would have thought better of it.

    ISBN: 9780141441597
    ISBN-10: 0141441593
    Series: Penguin Classics
    Audience: General
    For Ages: 18+ years old
    Format: Paperback
    Language: English
    Number Of Pages: 256
    Published: 26th October 2006
    Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
    Country of Publication: GB
    Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 13.2  x 1.5
    Weight (kg): 0.19
    Edition Number: 1