Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Stella Gibbons

The Hoofer and the Lady

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

I continued my love of Stella Gibbons and her book covers with this collection of short stories (the title of this post is my favourite titled story). I don’t read many short stories because after a couple I normally feel a bit cheated… I want to get really stuck into a story that doesn’t end so quickly. This book didn’t necessarily read like a collection of stories; rather a chapter on a small part of a bigger picture.

Stella Gibbons’ writing is unrelentingly brilliant. The tone and appeal of each story is pretty much the same as anything else I have read by her. She really is an author who, if you like one piece of writing, you will like all of her writing. That isn’t to say she writes the same story over and over. On the contrary, each story takes a different turn but makes up a very coherent picture of 1930s England.

My only criticism of this book is what has to be the most lacklustre Introduction I have ever read. It is by Alexander McCall Smith, who has since managed to convince me never to read one of his books. I’m not convinced he feels even remotely as strongly as I do about Stella Gibbons… at least, he seemed to think that the Introduction to her writing wasn’t the right place to be enthusiastic about her.

The title is a little bit of a sticking point. The actual story Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm is very short, and initially just seems included in order to get readers to pick the book up – Cold Comfort Farm being Gibbons’ only novel in print until recently. There are a couple of Christmas themed stories but they aren’t the majority. However, I am happy to have the book linked to Christmas because it does feel like a good time of year to read this: It is nostalgic and a real pleasure to indulge. But that shouldn’t stop you reading it any other time of year, of course.

Christmas Books

Merry Christmas!

A Return to Stella Gibbons


Starlight by Stella Gibbons

Two elderly sisters live in a surprisingly quaint but completely impoverished cottage in London. Their quietly eccentric lives are disturbed when a ‘rackman’ buys the house for his wife, whose mysterious illness is diagnosed as an evil spirit.

I love Vintage for reissuing Stella Gibbons’ classics beyond Cold Comfort Farm. Firstly for her fantastic writing and secondly for the beautiful covers. I also really like the look of Westwood and – because tis the season – Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm.

Most of the action takes place in one house. I loved the way Gibbons uses this house to represent all the classes in society. I know the Georgians had the idea that the further up in the house you lived, the lower class you were: I suppose there are lots of servants in attics throughout literature (and history!) and that is definitely the case with Starlight. The well to do wife lives on the ground floor, the sisters are in the middle, and the ancient sometimes starving but not quite begging possibly a war veteran lives alone in the attic. Gibbons has a great ear for dialogue and accents and really does justice to all the different characters she creates. I can see everyone so clearly but not once do I remember Gibbons ever directly writing what somebody is like. As soon as I read the first paragraph I was completely immersed, it was literally like opening the door to someone’s living room.

Starlight was published in 1967, and the story seems to be set roughly during the early sixties. It is quite timeless at first, taking a while to announce the period it is set. For example the war and its consequences seem very much in the foreground. The buildings still seem bombed and it wouldn’t have felt out of place for any of the characters to suddenly start talking about rationing. There is, however, some tension between this old world and the new values coming from the changing times. A lot of this seems generational; the relationships of some younger characters seem quite modern. Overall there is a real sense of not quite knowing what to do with yourself that I suppose was very characteristic of England at that time.

This book surprised me because of its dealings with evil spirits. It is much more literal than I had expected – there is even an exorcism towards the end of the book. I thought this was quite unusual for Gibbons because (based on Cold Comfort Farm) she is so grounded. What she writes is very true to life, particularly the people in her stories. I’m not convinced we are supposed to believe in the evil spirits, but it is a part of the book that I haven’t quite worked out yet.

I would definitely recommend Starlight for its atmosphere, characters and place in history. Plus it is a fantastic opportunity to better acquaint yourself with Stella Gibbons.

A Trip to Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

This book seems to have a bit of a weird reputation: people who have read it always give such glowing reviews of it; a lot of people have heard of it; but I don’t think many people want to read it. I think it might be the name – Cold comfort sounds a bit grim, and the farm part probably puts some people off too. Until very recently all of Stella Gibbons’ other books were out of print (in the UK at least) but Vintage have just re-jacketed some others.

Cold Comfort Farm is the funniest book I’ve read in ages, and the humour isn’t dated despite it being first published in 1949. It mocks a lot of the modernist taking to the country type books (take that D. H. Lawrence). Definitely a very ‘English’ book. Stella Gibbons has created such a fantastic set of characters and named them perfectly: who else calls her matriarch Ada Doom?!

A very good start to my penguin classics reading project: funny, clever, literary.

Cold Comforting Humour

‘I think it’s degrading of you, Flora,’ cried Mrs Smiling at breakfast. ‘Do you truly mean that you don’t ever want to work at anything?’
Her friend replied after some thought:
‘Well, when I am fifty-three or so I would like to write a novel as good as “persuasion”, but with a modern setting, of course. For the next thirty years or so I shall be collecting material for it. If anyone asks me what I work at, I shall say, “Collecting material.” No one can object to that. Besides, so I shall be.’
Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm