Stella Dorothea Gibbons grew up in a poor district of London, where her father was a physician. She was the eldest of three children and her family life was so unhappy that she began telling stories to help herself and her two younger brothers escape the unpleasantness of their situation. Because of her father’s ideas about education, she was taught at home by governesses until she was thirteen; then she attended the North London Collegiate School for Girls. In 1921 she entered University College, London, where she spent two years studying journalism. During the decade 1923-1933, she worked in London as a practicing journalist for British United Press, the London Evening Standard, and The Lady. She also worked seriously on poetry and fiction. In 1933 she married the British actor and singer Allan Bourne Webb, with whom she had a daughter. During the 1930’s in particular, Gibbons’s poems were widely anthologized, and her work appeared in the 1930, 1931, 1933, and 1935 editions of Best Poems, as well as in The Mercury Book of Verse (1931), Younger Poets of Today (1932), and Neo-Georgian Poetry (1937).
Gibbons’s first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, remains her best-known work, both with critics and the reading public. It was awarded the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize in 1933, and became the basis of a 1996 film directed by John Schlesinger. The novel is a burlesque of novels about rural life, in which the novelist parodied the styles of such writers as D. H. Lawrence and T. F. Powys. Critics have noted that the writing in all of her work is workmanlike, but that the later fiction seems to be no more than merely entertaining. She was nevertheless elected a member of the Royal Society of Literature in 1950. Of herself, the author once declared that she took every opportunity to go to the places where ordinary people go, to gather material for her stories and novels.