A little context: back in the early 20th Century, there was a peculiar trend of highly-romanticised farming books that plagued English literature, referred to now as the “loam and lovechild” genre. You’d probably recognise its tropes, even if you haven’t read any of it. Think rolling hillocks under golden shafts of sunlight, think tanned lotharios toiling manfully in the fields, think torturously-serious power plays and social drama playing out in the local village hall. Very high in melodrama, yet low in self-awareness.
In 1932, novelist Stella Gibbons ended the trend at a stroke. Her book Cold Comfort Farm is such a perfect, icy satire of the loam and lovechild narrative that it pretty much killed it there and then with all the vicious efficiency of a velociraptor. In Cold Comfort Farm, our hero, Flora Poste, is a sharp-witted city girl who decides that she has no intention of earning an honest living in the wake of her parents’ deaths and moves to the country to mooch off the Starkadders, her distant relatives at Cold Comfort Farm, a little patch of miserable land on England’s South Downs.
Within moments of arriving, both you and Flora realise that the Starkadders are all completely detached from any sort of reality. Amos is a spittle-flecked preacher who couldn’t write a birthday card without damning the recipient to eternal hellfire. Seth is an eternally-horny farmboy, lascivious to the point of gross absurdity, seemingly always with another button on his shirt to twist open. Aunt Ada Doom, the elderly matriarch, is a twitchy, domineering old bag, permanently and determinedly traumatised by some unclear event in her childhood. Meanwhile, the farm itself is always on the edge of collapse, choked by sukebind weeds and with Starkadders dying so frequently that the family has to perform a yearly count just to work out who’s still around to work, and who fell into a well when nobody was looking.
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