Cold Comfort Farm

by Stella Gibbons

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Flora Poste’s parents die when she is nineteen, leaving her an income of one hundred pounds a year. They provided her with an expensive education that did not prepare her to earn her living. She visits a friend near London to decide what to do and develops a warm relationship with her cousin, Charles Fairford. She writes to various relatives to ask if she might stay with them and chooses the Starkadders, an aunt and cousins who live at Cold Comfort Farm in Howling, Sussex. Charles promises to rescue Flora in his plane whenever living on the farm becomes too much for her.

Adam Lambsbreath, the ninety-year-old farmhand, meets Flora at the station. He tells Flora that a curse on Cold Comfort Farm prevents it from flourishing and any of the family from leaving. Flora suspects, however, that Mrs. Ada Doom Starkadder, her deceased mother’s sister, is the real curse. Aunt Ada Doom stays in her room and rules the family with a will of iron. She has not left the farm in twenty years. Appalled by the condition of the farm and by the many violent and brooding Starkadders, Flora determines to tidy up life at Cold Comfort Farm.

Flora glimpses her seventeen-year-old cousin, Elfine, who never attended school and spends most of her time wandering about the moors writing poetry. Flora hears Meriam, the hired girl, groaning while delivering her fourth illegitimate child by Seth. Conferring with Cousin Judith, Flora learns that Judith’s husband, Amos, did a great, secret wrong to Flora’s deceased father. Coarse and filled with lust for the land, Reuben is the only true farmer among the Starkadders. He suspects that Flora wants to take over the farm, but when she assures him that the farm is the last thing she wants, she wins him over. Seth makes suggestive advances to her, but Flora discovers that his great love in life is not women, as she has assumed, but “the talkies.” Though exhausted by her interaction with these family members, Flora decides she must become acquainted with the other Starkadders.

Flora drops hints, but she is not invited to meet Aunt Ada Doom. Flora decides to work on Cousin Amos, a huge, rude, religious fanatic. She accompanies him to his sermon at the Church of the Quivering Brethren and twice proposes that he can do even more good by preaching throughout the country. Opposite the Majestic Cinema, Flora is reminded of Mr. Neck, a Hollywood producer she knows who will be flying to England in the spring to look for film actors.

Flora begins to worry about Elfine, who is apparently in love with Richard Hawk-Monitor, the scion of country gentry who live nearby. There is soon to be a ball in honor of Richard’s twenty-first birthday, and Flora arranges an invitation for Elfine, with herself as chaperon. The Starkadders expect Elfine to marry Urk, a farm cousin. Flora secretly grooms the girl and gives her private instruction in good taste and deportment. Elfine makes a grand entrance at the ball. Before the night is over, Richard announces their engagement.

Satisfied with her night’s work, Flora returns to Cold Comfort Farm with Elfine. They find the entire family, including Aunt Ada Doom, assembled downstairs for the annual counting, when the matriarch counts the Starkadders to see if anyone died. Flora announces Elfine’s engagement, which causes Urk to fall into the sandwiches. Judith introduces Flora to Aunt Ada Doom, but the old woman only raves and thrashes. Amos announces to his mother that he broke her chain and will leave that night to spread the Lord’s...

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word abroad. Aunt Ada Doom grows wilder. Soon Urk drags Meriam out the door, bellowing that since he lost Elfine he will take Meriam.

The next afternoon, Flora discovers that Mr. Neck, her friend from Hollywood, has arrived. Flora introduces Seth, whom Mr. Neck recognizes as the sexually successful local bounder, a type of film actor who tends to be a big hit with women. Seth packs and leaves with the producer, accompanied by wild screams from Aunt Ada Doom. Letters arrive from Amos, who is off to America to preach and who leaves the farm to Reuben.

When Richard’s mother decides to have the wedding reception at Cold Comfort Farm, Flora is dismayed. She installs the men’s wives at the farm to prepare while she attends to Judith and Aunt Ada Doom. A luncheon for Judith with a Viennese psychoanalyst is arranged, and Judith drives off with Dr. Mudel for six months of treatment, looking quite content. Back in Howling, Flora brings her aunt’s lunch upstairs and confers with her until late.

The day of the wedding dawns bright and beautiful. The remaining Starkadders watch the church ceremony with pleasure. At the farm, resplendent with garlands, lush gardens, and striped awnings, Aunt Ada Doom astonishes everyone by greeting guests in a black leather flying suit. Flora tries to discover the secret wrong done to her father, but Aunt Ada Doom does not have a chance to answer before the plane arrives to whisk her off to Paris. The honeymoon couple are next to fly off. Flora goes to the village to call Charles, who lands his plane at the farm three hours later. He and Flora fall into each other’s arms, declare their love, and fly off to London together.