Cold Comfort Farm

Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm
(London: Penguin Classics, 2006)
First published: 1932

‘Squalid or not,’ said the small, clear voice of Flora, fifty miles away (for she thought she would answer his letter by telephone, as she was in a hurry to get the affair arranged), ‘he is all we can find, unless we have that Mr Mybug I told you about. I would really rather we did not have him, Claud. You know how dreadful intelligent people are when you take them to dances.’

Claud twisted the television dial and amused himself by studying Flora’s fair, pensive face. Her eyes were lowered and her mouth compressed over the serious business of arranging Elfine’s future. He fancied she was tracing a pattern with the tip of her shoe. She could not look at him, because public telephones were not fitted with television dials.

In a prefatory note to her novel, Gibbons states: ‘The action of the story takes place in the near future.’ The point of this is to exaggerate the distance between the modern life of the metropolis and the supposedly backward existence of country communities, as represented in the rural fiction which Gibbons was parodying. The video telephone is one of the few technological manifestations of the futuristic setting; others relate to fashion (Lambeth is now the most expensive part of London, while Mayfair is a slum) and disease (there are annual epidemics of the ‘Spanish Plague’). When Flora Poste makes her occasional calls from the village post office, the voices of her interlocutors, in their homes in London, are ‘made tiny by distance’. Yet this distance between city and country is rapidly diminishing. At the end of the story, Flora rings up her cousin Charles, and he arrives to collect her by plane only three hours later. Cold Comfort Farm draws attention to the nostalgic orientation of popular rural fiction, demonstrating that farming communities are already permeated by modern forms of entertainment, such as the cinema, and modern communications and transport technologies.

By Faye Hammill