Monday, 13 May 2013

A Stella Gibbons Selection

Along with many people, the only Stella Gibbons book I had read was Cold Comfort Farm.  When I recently discovered the beautiful new Vintage Classics reprints of several others of her stories, with such appealing cover art, I could not resist buying some of them.   The first one I picked was Conference At Cold Comfort Farm, which I had high hopes of liking.  Unfortunately I did not like it very much and found it tedious to wade through; with so many characters being as irritating and outlandish as possible and the scenarios around most of the original characters so unlikely that it was just weird (and we know good old Cold Comfort Farm is weird, but in a more fun way).

Stella Gibbons obviously had a dislike of artistic or craftsy women, as she (unfairly) tends to make fun of them whenever she can. In 'Cold Comfort Farm', Flora tells wild dryad-like Elfine to "avoid orange linen jumpers and hand-wrought jewellery" and is quite sniffy over her liking poetry and wanting to work in an arts and crafts shop.  She also is withering over certain artistic shades of green.

An amusing passage in' Conference' is where Flora is rather disturbed over the immaculate and new "olde world" change in decor that has come over the inside of the previously grubby farmhouse:

"Her first hours there had been so fully occupied that she had not been able to receive more than a general impression of snowy walls where once rude words had leered out from sooty surfaces, and gleaming floors that were formally dull and scored by hobnailed boots, and that everything was labelled in wrought iron Greate or Lytel;  the Greate Scullerie, the Lytel Rush-dippe Roome, the Greate Staircasee, the Lytel Stille-Roome, the Greate Bedderoome, the Lytel Closete, and so on.  But now, observing at her leisure, she hardly recognized some of the shocking old cupboards and filthy cobwebbed alcoves, fitted up as they were with window-seats and oak chests.  There were typical farmhouse grandfather clocks ticking all over the place, and where there could have been an expanse of bare wall, it was filled up with a Welsh dresser all over peasant pottery.  In the Lytel Scullerie there were fifteen scythes arranged in a half-moon over the sink; there were horse-brasses all around the Greate Inglenooke and all round the Lytel Fireplaces, and Toby jugs and spotted dogs all over the windowsills.  The air in the rooms smelt faintly of warm, damp grass:  otherwise it was exactly like being locked in the Victoria and Albert Museum after closing time."
It sounds rather sweet and nice, like an old-fashioned tea room, yet profusely overdone, like a museum where one cannot touch the exhibits.  The quaintly-spelled, unauthentic labels are really funny.  Apart from the joyous turn of events at the end, it does seem a shame that it looks set to be the nasty, mucky old farm it once was.
Overall, this book seemed highly chaotic and had too many unlikeable and obnoxious characters, but I will be keeping it because of that lovely cover art!

The next one chosen was the collection of short stories entitled 'Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm'.  This was an excellent book that was hard to put down.  The stories were varied, interesting, well-written and sometimes rather poignant.  I highly recommend this one.

The last one read was 'The Matchmaker',  which involves a young wife and her three little daughters leaving war-damaged London and moving into an old cottage in rural Sussex.  Other characters include a landgirl and two Italian prisoners of war working at the local farm, a bachelor neighbour and various other characters.  This was a good book, if perhaps a bit long; by the end I was glad to be done with the emotional turmoils of some of the characters and had changed my opinions on some of them as they had developed over the novel, and actually couldn't bear the landgirl Sylvia at all and was glad to see the back of her!

I have grown to like Stella Gibbons' books rather well (some more than others), she is interesting and often thought-provoking, possessing a sharp wit and common sense. The next one I intend to read, as it looks extremely intriguing, is The Charmers.


  1. I've heard generally bad things about the CCF sequels, but I'm glad at least one of them worked for you! I have The Matchmaker on my shelf, but in an old edition. So far, nothing has quite rivalled CCF for me, but Westwood and Bassett were both brilliant nonetheless.

  2. I may have to try your recommendations then. Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm only contains one small story relating to CCF, the rest are very different, but I suppose it was called that to catch people's attention!