Posted by: Lizzie Ross | May 12, 2010

Not Seth AND Reuben!

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons (1932), The Folio Society, 203 pp.

This is a book for people who love setting things right. Flora Poste (another orphan!) must choose a relative with whom to live, and accepts the dolorous offer from her cousin, Judith Starkadder, at Cold Comfort Farm. She arrives to find the place and people foundering under a curse (Judith wallows in despair, Seth moons over Hollywood stars, Reuben worries about the farm, and Aunt Ada Doom never leaves her upstairs room except to count heads to find out who’s fallen down the well), and Flora manages in just a few months to brighten everyone and everything up. It ends with a wedding (as all comedies should), the heroine proud of a job well-done.

The novel parodies many gothic country-side romances (cf. the Brontes), and Gibbons is excellent at making up words and over-doing the English country accent. Here’s Adam, the man-of-all-work at the farm, thrilled at the dish-washing implement Flora has just given him:

‘Nay . . . nay,’ protested Adam. ”Tes too pretty to cletter those great old dishes wi’. I mun do that with the thorn twigs; they’ll serve. I’ll keep my liddle mop in the shed, along wi’ our Pointless and our Feckless.’

And Reuben, worried that Flora wishes to take the farm away from him:

‘Let? A mirksy, capsy word to use to a man as has nursed a farm like a sick mommet–and a man as knows every inch of soil and patch o’ sukebind i’ the place.’

To an American ear, the dialect sounds very old-county English. Gibbons makes up words (mommet, capsy, cletter) that sound so right, they ought to be in common use.

The 1995 film captures the flavor and character of the novel, with Ian McKellan as a preacher at the Church of the Quivering Brethren (and his parishioners really do quiver, when he starts shouting his fire and brimstone sermon). Most memorable line not in the book: Mr. Meyerburg (played by Stephen Fry) shouting to Flora as he’s being bounced from a party, “I am engorgingly in love with you!”

Book or movie first? Doesn’t matter. They’re both wonderful.

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