Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm. Starkadder family farm to which Flora Poste moves. Taking its name from a line in William Shakespeare’s play King John (1596-1597), the farm is located outside the village of Howling, near Beershorn in southern England’s Sussex region. One of the characters believes the farm is cursed, as seeds do not grow and the cows do not reproduce. However, this opinion is negated by the fecundity of the maid and the hearty growth of the sensual sukebind (a fictional plant), just as the austerity of the farm’s name is undercut by the primal passions seething beneath the characters’ forbidding personalities.

The farm is described in long, adjective-filled phrases reminiscent of the lush description in regional novels of the period. These descriptions include anthropomorphized animals, plants, and buildings that serve as symbols of the human passions. The farm is symbolic of a sentimentality toward the rural and old-fashioned, a place where a dishwashing “mop” is considered innovative and even a newspaper is disconcerting. The heavy regional style is made comic, for example, by Gibbons’s use of modern and fanciful names for the farm animals, such as bull named “Big Business,” the misconceived metaphors and similes (the sun “throbbed like a sallow lemon”), and the casual approach to calamity (the hired hand fails to notice when a cow loses a leg). The farm is populated by stereotypical rural types, from the domineering matriarch to the hell-fire-and-brimstone preacher to the loyal family retainer.

Dark and dirty, the farmhouse is a maze with nooks, crannies, hidden doors, and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Dangerfield, George. “Brilliant Satire: Cold Comfort Farm.” Saturday Review of Literature 9 (April 1, 1933): 513. This is a rave review of the novel. Dangerfield appreciates the broad satire, which he finds necessary, and calls Cold Comfort Farm a “masterpiece.”

Moorman, Charles. “Five Views of a Dragon.” The Southern Quarterly 16 (1978): 139-150. Moorman compares and contrasts five authors, including Stella Gibbons, who write about Wales. Gibbons, the only one of the five who is not Welsh, sees the humor in Welsh extravagances.

Paterson, Isabel. “Cold Comfort Farm.” Books (March 12, 1933): 9. Paterson finds the novel a joy and recognizes that Gibbons is a novelist to watch in the future.

Vickers, Jackie. “Cold Comfort for Ethan Frome.” Notes and Queries 40, no. 4 (December, 1993). A careful and balanced comparison of Cold Comfort Farm and Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome (1911). Traces some of the influences Ethan Frome may have had on Gibbons’ work. Vickers also discusses the animal imagery in Cold Comfort Farm.