18 January 2011

Cold Comfort Farm: Discussion

My December read for The Classics Book Club was Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Although it was a thoroughly enjoyable book, it seems the only solid time I had to read was when I was working and what with the holidays and my new found love of Skype, even then there was precious few minutes to devote to this classic.

Firstly many have said, complained really, that CCF is not a classic at all. It is just an old book. Published in the 1930s, some would even claim that CCF is not old enough to be a classic. I think yes, it is quite true when some book or movie comes out and the tagline is "destined to become a classic" that rings my "doubt meter." So whether or not the reader want to consider CCF a classic is fine by me.

Incidentally I pulled these titles off a list that was compiled by really smart book people, so CCF is a classic to me.

The basic storyline is a young woman is left with a small monthly inheritance after her parents die.  The amount of money is too small to live on in London, so her friends advise her to get a job. She doesn't want a job and schemes to live with distant relatives in exchange for the monthly allotment. So she sets out to write to five separate aunts or cousins and waits to hear a reply. She wants to pick the most unusual situation, so she can write about her experiences in a memoir when she hits her middle years.

Guess where she moves to? Book title.

This is really a character study, and I mean character, and I find my favorite fiction is often heavy with character study, so CCF get full bars and all the stars.

Highly descriptive with turning phrases, it was funny. And I really liked the main character, Flora. I think that is important. I have to care about somebody in a fictional work. Anybody will do. It does not have to be the main character. It doesn't even really have to be a human. So I should say I have to care about somebody or something in a fictional work.

Oh yes I finally figured out "the wink" in Voltaire's Candide. He must have cried laughing at all the people touching the hems of greatness. A must read from now till the end of time.

Back to CCF - I found it interesting that at the same time I was reading CCF, I was watching the first season of Dexter. Not at the exact same time, but time frame. At any rate, they both had this "something nasty happened in the woodshed" arc, which is a clever little plot device. I mean the viewer wants to know "what happened?" Right?

Of course, I'm not going to tell you.

And they both sightly nod to the audience like you see what I'm doing because I have to do what I'm doing, you see.

It's wonderful when the various passions in life overlap. Almost spooky.


  1. !!! Can't respond yet (and didn't read this because I want to experience it all new-like), but at least now I have the book in mu possession! Will finish her up, hopefully soon, and meet you back here!

  2. I think there's a couple of reasons why this isn't considered a classic. For one, I read that Gibbons didn't circulate with the Bloomsbury literary circle, and even in the book, she rather sends them up for their absurdity. Which isn't to say that these writers and artists didn't create great work, because of course they did, but as I said in my post, anything, or person, that takes itself/themselves too seriously, deserves a lampooning. Even the Brontes and Austen, who Gibbons, IMO, seems to admire, get a little ribbing in CCF.

    Also, in general, I tend to believe it's much more difficult for any work created by a woman to get recognizes as substantial, "important," beautiful, meaningful, whathaveyou. I mean, brilliantly, CCF is totally meta in this respect - her Mr. Mybug is, afterall, writing a book about how Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre couldn't possibly be written by a woman. It's as if there was a certain segment of the population that was horrified to have been tricked into admiring novels they later discovered were written women. Perhaps we know about the Brontes today, because they originally published under a male name. Sure, there are exceptions of women publishing throughout the years, but there is a lot to say for having a connection. Virginia Woolf's husband was a writer himself, and a publisher, as you probably know. Shame on her for disdaining Gibbons (I read), an author of whom Woolf knew not! Woolf, of all people, thinker and seer of inequality and the struggle of a woman's voice to be heard!

    There's also the idea that a comedy can't be a serious work. And that all classics have to be serious. And that women can't create comedy. All this stuff going on, I think.

    When I think about what makes a classic, or even, what makes good art, I think, "Does say something important and real about life? Does it trascend previously held opinions and feelings? Does it speak to the era in which it was created?"

    So yes, CCF for me, is a classic. I think that comedy can say something important about life. I mean - Flora to me, is an idol - something who can skillfully cut through the bullshit of other people, and improve their lives. Er, well, the ending is a little too tidy, but that's the point. And anyway, the ending for Mansfield Park is a little too tidy as well. So, fitting!

    The idea that is being transcended in Gibbons' work, that makes CCF worthy of being considered a classic, is for me, her ability to point out the absurdity of works of her time that were considered sacred, works that were revered. Her cynicism and her sense of irony are indicative of the irreverence of many of the postmodern works of the day.

    Also, I like that the novel is quite a Feminist story. :) I didn't talk about that very much in my post, because I would like to trick non-Feminists into reading it.


Thanks for sharing!