January Book Club - Cold Comfort Farm

AndrasAndras Shipmate
The book chosen for reading and discussion this month is Stella Gibbons’ classic comedy Cold Comfort Farm.

This is one of those perennials that’s easy to pick up second-hand (thanks, Oxfam!) though there are plenty of new editions around, including from Penguin; it’s also available for download from Kindle if that’s your preference.

It’s not by any means the longest book around – certainly far shorter than last month’s book – so take your time over it and enjoy! And there’s a specially warm welcome to anyone who hasn’t joined in these little discussions before – there’s nothing too formal, there are no right or wrong answers, we just enjoy sharing our ideas.

I aim to start the discussion around the 21st, but please feel free to post your thoughts at any time.

And A Very Happy New Year to all our gallant readers!
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Comments

  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    I read it a long time ago, but will try to join in the discussion.
  • Back in my Young Farmers days a friend threw a big party themed as the Starkadder's ball at Cold Comfort Farm - the booby prize at the raffle was to go and see what was lurking in the woodshed!

    AG
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I'm about half way through, so will be joining in.
  • I'll get an audio copy straight away and listen again. I just loved it when I read it some years ago. I want to know, too, if the sentence, 'I'm not long for this world,' is actually there, or have I just imagined it, or heard it in another context. I've decided to go around saying this in suitably non-optimistic - but jolly - tones!!
  • FirenzeFirenze Purgatory Host, Host Emeritus
    I can’t say I remember the phrase in CCF particularly. But in my Ulster childhood there was a local comedian one of whose characters was a Belfast wifie with the catchphrase ‘Ach, Sadie, I’m not long for this world!’
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    wquote="SwsanDoris;c-100753"]I'll get an audio copy straight away and listen again. I just loved it when I read it some years ago. I want to know, too, if the sentence, 'I'm not long for this world,' is actually there, or have I just imagined it, or heard it in another context. I've decided to go around saying this in suitably non-optimistic - but jolly - tones!![/quote]

    Not as far as I recall, but if I come upon it I'll let you know.

    The phrase that everyone knows, of course, is Something nasty in the woodshed!
  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    I'm in for this month's book discussion. I read Cold Comfort Farm last year when I was leading Precious Bane and enjoyed the contrast. But it deserves a discussion of its own - off to find my copy.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    edited January 9
    I hope the local library's copy will be returned early and I can get it before the end of the month.

    edit: is the Christmas novel worth a read, too? The library has it.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Climacus wrote: »
    I hope the local library's copy will be returned early and I can get it before the end of the month.

    edit: is the Christmas novel worth a read, too? The library has it.

    Yes, I thought so. Quite a long read, though, but I enjoyed it as Comfort Reading at a time of long nights and short days.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    @Climacus I enjoyed the Christmas boo Winter Solstice, and as @Andras said a good comfort read. Maybe you need to keep it for June though, being in New Zealand!
    Don't worry if you don't get Cold Comfort Farm till nearer the end of the month. It is a fairly quick read and the discussion will be open for a good while.
  • CCF is one of the funniest books ever and one that I re-read from time-to-time.

    I'm particularly fond of Mr Mybug, Miss Gibbons' literary poseur who pricks so many balloons at once :grin:
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Thank you. Looking forward to it!
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    CCF is one of the funniest books ever and one that I re-read from time-to-time.

    I'm particularly fond of Mr Mybug, Miss Gibbons' literary poseur who pricks so many balloons at once :grin:

    Yes - whoever could have guessed that it was really Branwell Bronte who wrote all those novels?
  • Always one to find a shortcut I am currently listening to the BBC Radio Audiobook available on You Tube. Lovely start.
  • jedijudyjedijudy Heaven Host
    Quizmaster! It's so nice to see you here!
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Quizmaster wrote: »
    Always one to find a shortcut I am currently listening to the BBC Radio Audiobook available on You Tube. Lovely start.

    I'm curious about this. Is the whole of the original text read out in these audiobooks, or do they cut from time to time as might be done when a play is performed?

    As you can tell, I've never listened to one.
  • Will re-read. Always loved the idea of the water voles, myself. Wasn't there a Radio 4 adaptation many moons ago? I can still hear Amos preaching to the Quivering Brethren...
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Fredegund wrote: »
    Will re-read. Always loved the idea of the water voles, myself. Wasn't there a Radio 4 adaptation many moons ago? I can still hear Amos preaching to the Quivering Brethren...

    I think that may be the one Quizmaster mentioned he was listening to?
  • Radio 4 version- 4 part serialisation, broadcast 2008 and 2017, which looks as if it was originally produced in 2000, and is available from Amazon
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Radio 4 version- 4 part serialisation, broadcast 2008 and 2017, which looks as if it was originally produced in 2000, and is available from Amazon

    Many thanks for that!

    I'll stay with my nice illustrated Folio edition, but that link may be very useful for some.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    Finished it last night. Look forward to the discussion.
  • The NLB have let me down a bit - it still hasn't arrived, but should do so today.
  • Wednesday afternoon: It arrived this morning, so I am about half way through Chapter 2. I wondered how it would feel to read it for a second time, but so far I am delighted that I know who's who and what happens later so can appreciate the start of it all much more.
    I love the bit about the reply from the relative in London who hopes that Flora is not a sceptic as this might upset the spirits in the séances!!which take place in the room she would be occupying!
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Time to start the discussion, I think - but remember that not everyone here will have finished the book yet, so please be gentle with spoilers - either flag them up or, better, avoid them altogether if you can.

    Just to start things off (please ignore / post your own questions if you prefer - I usually do!)

    1 - Most important! Did you enjoy the book? Why - or Why not?

    2 - The author makes up a number of words and expressions, such as sukebind and mollocking. Why do you think she does this, and how effective is it?

    3 - The story has a number of set-pieces, including Brother Amos' Preaching and The Counting. Which is your favourite?

    4 - There are a number of unresolved ‘secrets’ at the end of the book. Did that affect your enjoyment of it?

    5 - To what extent are the characters stereotypes? If they are, does it matter?

    Have fun!
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited January 21
    1 I did enjoy the book but I didn’t find it very taxing, more like a cross between a comedic romp and a light hearted critique of novel writing. At times it felt like an essay on creative writing skills! It demonstrated that she is really a journalist, IMO.
    2 I enjoyed the mix of made up words and genuine old language - I do Tudor re-enactment and found her words very linguistically effective.
    3 Those set pieces don’t do anything for me, I like interaction between characters in normal conversation and Flora’s analysis. I was never one for weighty words and drama (I can very much relate to the author, I can’t stand rural descriptions and skipped pages of Hardy. Like her, I’m more in the Jane Austen vein).
    4 no, the secrets would be an anti-climax I think. The story is not about the secrets, it is about changing the style of story.
    5 The whole book is a play on stereotypes, including the end. That is the point of the novel. Flora herself echoes several Jane Austen characters, from Emma to Catherine, the first pages read like Jane Austen’s Juvenalia and she acknowledges her writing style.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    I haven't re-read this, but I do remember reading it a while ago.

    1. Yes it is enjoyable. A fun read, well written and easy to read through. It is not as challenging or disturbing as some material I read, which is good. For its type, it is good.

    3. The set pieces are, as I understand it, part of the parody that CCF is. The style expects it. For me, it works in context, but would be boring in a less gentle and fun book.

    4. Secrets. I like the secrets. the idea, as I see it, is that all families have secrets. These are never to be revealed. So it is good that they are not resolved - they do their job without resolution.

    5. All characters are stereotypes, to an extent. In a book of this type - observational humour, and poking fun at other types of literature - they have to be even more stereotypically portrayed.

    My thoughts at least.
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited January 21
    I did find Flora to be disturbingly like myself, her general approach to life and her thought processes were scarily familiar...
    I think I’d get on well with the author.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    I do wish Amazon could track down a copy of The Higher Common Sense - I could use it!
  • FirenzeFirenze Purgatory Host, Host Emeritus
    Very many years ago there was a television adaptation (Alistair Sim as Amos and Brian Blessed as Rueben AIR) in which a flashing icon would come on screen to indicate passages of particularly Fine Writing, thereby emphasising CCF as literary parody. Which, of course, it is - but does anyone read Mary Webb nowadays?

    It’s like the parodic verses in Alice in Wonderland - inherently enjoyable, but losing the enjoyment that comes with familiarity with the original.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Firenze wrote: »
    Very many years ago there was a television adaptation (Alistair Sim as Amos and Brian Blessed as Rueben AIR) in which a flashing icon would come on screen to indicate passages of particularly Fine Writing, thereby emphasising CCF as literary parody. Which, of course, it is - but does anyone read Mary Webb nowadays?

    It’s like the parodic verses in Alice in Wonderland - inherently enjoyable, but losing the enjoyment that comes with familiarity with the original.

    Precious Bane was the book of the month here some time last year; it's actually not bad. And the purple passages in Cold Comfort are wonderfully OTT, but aren't nearly so obtrusive in Webb's book.

    But I do agree with you about the Alice verses. How doth the little busy bee... and so on; if ever anything called for parody, that does. Isaac Watts could do so much better!
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    1 - Most important! Did you enjoy the book? Why - or Why not? I have a theory that there is a right time to read certain books. I've never got on with Winnie the Pooh as my parent's didn't read it to me. On the other hand both my husband and son love it as they heard it at the right age. I'm not sure what the right time to read Cold Comfort Farm is. I read it as a teenager and wasn't keen, and reading it now in my sixties, I'm still not keen. I can see it is supposed to be funny but it just didn't grab me. And unlike @Heavenlyannie, who I'm sure I would get on fine with in real life I didn't like Flora at all. I have an urge to send her down a coalmine or something. Just anywhere where she isn't so damned annoying, self-righteous and interfering.


    2 - The author makes up a number of words and expressions, such as sukebind and mollocking. Why do you think she does this, and how effective is it? It certainly added to the atmosphere of the book, but I have no strong opinions one way or another, though I like the word mollocking.


    3 - The story has a number of set-pieces, including Brother Amos' Preaching and The Counting. Which is your favourite? I quite enjoyed the wedding at the end.

    4 - There are a number of unresolved ‘secrets’ at the end of the book. Did that affect your enjoyment of it? Not really, I like open ended questions in books


    5 - To what extent are the characters stereotypes? If they are, does it matter? They were all stereotypes and that didn't matter in this book as that seemed to be the whole point of it.

    Sorry not to be more enthusiastic. I was assuming that the forty odd years between my first and second reading would have made me see what everyone else sees in this book. It didn't. The one thing I did think was slightly interesting was that she set it in the future, hence references to Cary Grant as an actor from twenty years ago and her assumption that everyone flies everywhere.
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited January 23
    I agree, @Sarasa , whilst I enjoyed the book as I liked the literary references, it didn’t particularly grab me as a novel and I did feel like I was reading an essay (and I read plenty of those in my day job).
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    edited January 23
    Deleted - I'd posted the wrong page I'd been drafting on. Sorry!
  • EirenistEirenist Shipmate
    You're all taking it too seriously. It's a light-hearted skit, for heaven's sake! I've used Amos's preaching (and his treatment of the Quiveing Sister who tried to preach) as a peg on which to hang a sermon.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Eirenist wrote: »
    You're all taking it too seriously. It's a light-hearted skit, for heaven's sake! I've used Amos's preaching (and his treatment of the Quiveing Sister who tried to preach) as a peg on which to hang a sermon.

    Exactly! Stella Gibbons was a journalist writing for The Lady - a very posh magazine - and in the book she let her hair down and had fun. I suspect that to some extent in the character of Flora she’s poking mild fun at the sort of people who would read that magazine.

    The Arrival of the Stranger (who is sometimes not really a stranger at all!) is one of those literary themes that's inspired a whole host of novels and stories from the Odyssey through to The Return of the Native and beyond. It often ends badly for someone - indeed, often the incomer him- or herself - but Gibbons turns that neatly on its head and makes the newcomer the agent of beneficent change.

    It's interesting just how often in fairly recent writing the incomer arrives and/or leaves by air. Think of Mary Poppins (who first appeared in print just two years after Cold Comfort Farm) and Peter Pan, who quite literally flies into the Darling household, and who first appears in literature at the beginning of the last century (though not in the play that bears his name).

    So of course Flora has to leave in a plane - it's what the genre expects!
  • Eirenist wrote: »
    You're all taking it too seriously. It's a light-hearted skit, for heaven's sake! I've used Amos's preaching (and his treatment of the Quiveing Sister who tried to preach) as a peg on which to hang a sermon.
    Since this is a book we have chosen to read and talk about, then a certain level of seriousness is inevitable isn't it? Having listened to it some years ago (same reader I think, so it must be the same DVD) I knew the pattern and what to expect, so enjoyed the fun and at the same time paid attention to the style etc.

  • Sarasa wrote: »
    1 - Most important! Did you enjoy the book? Why - or Why not?
    Most definitely, yes, I enjoyed it. The reader, Elizabeth Proud, was just right in my opinion and, while maintaining different voices for the characters, did not overdo it, so that it did not grate on the ears at all.
    Prior to being told by a friend that it was a book I must read after a lifetime of avoiding it, I first listened to it about 15 years ago, so knew what to expect. I had, however, forgotten all the details, so very much enjoyed listening again.
    I have a theory that there is a right time to read certain books.
    An interesting thought, and one I don’t think has crossed my mind more than slightly during my life!
    I've never got on with Winnie the Pooh as my parent's didn't read it to me. On the other hand both my husband and son love it as they heard it at the right age.
    I agree with you, but found that I so much enjoyed reading children’s literature when, as a mature student, I became and spent the next twenty years being a Primary School teacher.
    I'm not sure what the right time to read Cold Comfort Farm is. I read it as a teenager and wasn't keen, and reading it now in my sixties, I'm still not keen. I can see it is supposed to be funny but it just didn't grab me.
    I think I laughed more this second time but Chapter 11, when Ada is introduced I did not enjoy. It seemed to be a sort of wall between what came before and after. I wonder if that was deliberate?
    I found that I did not like or dislike any of them and I think it was because of the knowledge that they were stereotypes
    The made-up words I found slightly irritating but perhaps it was considered clever to do that sort of thing at the time she was writing?
    The story has a number of set-pieces, including Brother Amos' Preaching and The Counting. Which is your favourite?
    No favourite.
    There are a number of unresolved ‘secrets’ at the end of the book. Did that affect your enjoyment of it?
    No, I thought it was probably part of the imitation of style and, since it was a one-off with no intention of a sequel, they didn’t matter at all.

  • EirenistEirenist Shipmate
    There was a sequel, 'Conference at Cold Comfort Farm' - notin the same street at all.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Eirenist wrote: »
    There was a sequel, 'Conference at Cold Comfort Farm' - notin the same street at all.

    And a short story, Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm. Again, not in the same league at all sadly, though some of the other stories in the same book are rather good.
  • Jane RJane R Shipmate
    Answers to questions:

    1. I enjoyed it. I liked the idea of the Stranger coming into this very weird family situation and basically saying to them 'well, why are you behaving like this if it makes you feel unhappy? Go and do something different.' And it was poking fun at certain cliches of the romance genre too (such as the heroine always having to marry the handsome man she's been arguing with for most of the book), which is usually entertaining.
    2. I liked the invented words. Presumably she invented the sukebind as a plot device, and 'mollocking' was a way to refer to S-E-X without using any words that would be too blunt for her audience.
    3. My favourite set-piece was Brother Amos's preaching - "There'll be no butter in Hell!" (only margarine, one presumes). But the Counting comes a close second. Aunt Ada Doom is my favourite character.
    4. *Obviously* the secrets are not explained to the reader at the end of the book because it's much funnier that way. The only clue about the 'wrong' done to Flora's father is her question to Aunt Ada: 'And did the goat die?' Exactly what the wrong was, and why a goat was involved, is left to the reader's imagination.
    5. Well, I suppose they were all stereotypes until Flora got her hands on them. I particularly liked the way she dealt with Aunt Ada.
  • Jane R wrote: »
    Answers to questions:
    2. I liked the invented words. Presumably she invented the sukebind as a plot device, and 'mollocking' was a way to refer to S-E-X without using any words that would be too blunt for her audience.
    I presume the dialect was spelt as the reder pronounced, so I wonder how readers managed with it. Did it make the reading difficult?


    4.
  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    I read this last year when I led the discussion on Precious Bane, and have just re-read it. The most obvious parody if Webb et al is in the 'starred' descriptive passages, I think, rather than in the characters (Webb IMHO has much less stereotypical characters than Gibbons)

    So to the questions:

    1 - Most important! Did you enjoy the book? Why - or Why not?
    Yes, I enjoyed the romp, but also (on this my second reading) had time to relish the literary pretentions of Mr Mybug, and the ‘starred’ descriptive passages. But there are 'cringeworthy' moments too (I can't think of a better way of expressing it) when Flora is just too patronising - and they detract.

    2 - The author makes up a number of words and expressions, such as sukebind and mollocking. Why do you think she does this, and how effective is it?
    I think JaneR is right that ‘mollocking’ avoids the difficulties of the word SEX, but other inventions give an exotic, distancing feel, like mock medievalisms; this is a foreign world Flora has entered.

    3 - The story has a number of set-pieces, including Brother Amos' Preaching and The Counting. Which is your favourite?
    The Counting, with a its great descriptions of the sight, sound and smell of the Starkadders all together (and the flowering sukebind), and Flora’s gradual realisation that Aunt Ada is not mad but has been manipulating everyone. With the news of Elfine’s engagement, Amos’ departure, then Meriam and Urk, Ada visibly shrinks.

    4 - There are a number of unresolved ‘secrets’ at the end of the book. Did that affect your enjoyment of it?
    Not really – we never find out exactly how Flora persuaded Aunt Ada to come down (we have the broad outline), and don’t discover how Flora’s father was wronged, or what was in the woodshed – but it doesn’t matter.

    5 - To what extent are the characters stereotypes? If they are, does it matter?
    Well yes they are – and that’s the point. Except – this is a clever book – some characters, Reuben in particular, subvert the stereotypes as the story progresses.

    I found the transcript of the A[ustralian]BC book program a few years ago on Cold Comfort Farm in which one of the panellists comments: ‘Almost every character could have come straight out of Vicar Of Dibley. It was like a 1930s version of The Vicar Of Dibley’ Yes, I guess that’s about right! In places it has the same cringeworthiness as VofD – which may be why some people don’t find it so funny. Comparisons are also made with Mary Poppins and Emma.
    ABC book program here
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    I suspect we can guess what Aunt Ada saw in the woodshed, at least in outline!

    The dialect is an odd mixture of genuine Sussex and what one of my English lecturers used to refer to as ‘Mummerset’ - a sort of all-in-one ‘rustic’ dialect that signifies 'yokel' without being too precise about geography. But Mollocking and Sukebind - and some others - are invented words, and rather good ones, I think - the first of them in particular.

    Mr Mybug’s falling for poor flat-chested Rennet is a nice touch; this was written, after all, at a time when the ‘boyish’ figures of the Charleston era were just out of fashion, so poor Mr Mybug has ‘got it wrong’ again.

    And do remember - there’ll be no butter in Hell!
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited January 26
    Rennet is a fabulous name, its use might suggest that novelists write about things they do not know, that their knowledge of the countryside is really superficial and they misunderstand basics. Rennet is, as any cheese maker like myself knows, the enzyme of an animal’s stomach used in cheesemaking. It is a highly unlikely name for a woman but sounds plausible enough.
    Alternatively it might just suggest the ruralness of a milk maid but I prefer my initial impression.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    edited January 26
    Borrowed this from the library after it was returned. 80 or so pages in and am enjoying it. I've skipped over the comments above for now but will return to them.

    Just a question on the typesetting... Does anyone else's version (mine is Penguin) have asterisks in certain places, e.g. *** before, or within, a paragraph? What does this signify?
  • FirenzeFirenze Purgatory Host, Host Emeritus
    These are an authorial intervention to indicate passages of particularly Fine Writing (aka parodic send ups of overly lush bucolic rhapsodies).
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Thank you.
  • Wonkypedia describes the authors that GIbbons was particularly taking the rise out of, but the 1930s were positively knee deep in bucolic rural writings, most of which are utterly forgotten today. I can't imagine anyone much reads Adrian Bell these days (though he is considerably less sentimental and more factual than some).

    AG
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    I think Gibbons would be delighted that her book has lasted and the ones she parodied haven't.

    And yes, we don't have a clue about some of her influences. But we recognise the styles. And that is funny.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    edited January 27
    Prior to listening all the way through the Wikipedia page on Stella Gibbons, which I have just done, I realise I knew just about nothing about her! I remember being told that 'Cold comfort farm' was her only novel ... well, that was totally wrong it appears!
    I am sorry I have not read anything else by her, and I don't thinkI'm going to start now, but thank goodness for the internet and the fact that one can look up anything at the touch of a key.

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