When the unwavering urbanite Flora Poste finds herself to be a destitute orphan, she has no choice but to live with her distant cousins, the Starkadders, on Cold Comfort Farm. However, in stark contrast to Flora’s calm, collected, and straight-forward world-view, the Starkadders are each variously embroiled in their own histrionic miseries, religious fervours, and simulated madnesses. Flora is Emma-like in her efforts to ‘improve’ the lives of her family, but to what avail…?
Cold Comfort Farm is a comic masterpiece, its plot rip-roaring and hilarious, its observations wry and on-the-mark. The exaggerated wretchedness of the Starkadders provides a blistering satire of rural melodrama; think D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, or the Brontës. Crucially however, this satire only works if the reader is already familiar with those writers, a fact which, I believe, betrays the strong affection for such works which lies at the novel’s heart. What Cold Comfort Farm ultimately provides, then, is not an undercutting of other authors’ work, but rather a reminder that great literature is not untouchable; it is not severe and sacred, to be studied in sober reverence, but is ours to enjoy, to explore, to poke fun at, as we wish. If you enjoy the wit and social commentary of Jane Austen, if you can see the funny side of D. H. Lawrence, or if you’re just generally game for a laugh, this novel comes highly recommended.