Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cold Comfort Farm (copy)

January is typically a time to organize, de-clutter and start anew in one’s life. Why? I have a sneaky suspicion it’s all those Christmas gifts.

My theory, after Christmas we organize just to make room for these new toys. Our recent gifts sit around the home in places of honor while older stuff is moved to the closet, which is shuffled to the garage, which is relegated to the shed, which is demoted to the lean-to, which is tossed to the curb.

At first I picked up Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons because my holiday guests praised it so. Imagine my surprise as this parody on the dreary lives of ignorant country folk points out a basic human condition; we organize in order to be more civilized.

Author Gibbons wrote this funny little book in 1932 because she was tired of authors like Mary Webb portraying country folk as suffering from inner demons caused by ignorance. What if someone like herself, young smart and full of manners, visited the farm and began to tidy it up? Would they become more civilized and in turn more successful?

Young Flora, the heroine of Cold Comfort Farm, is actually Stella Gibbons herself. We first meet Flora, living with a friend, Mrs. Smiling, and worrying about her future. Flora’s parents have died and left her with a meager 100 lbs a year. Although Flora has received her education from the finest of British schools she lacks basic job skills. When Mrs. Smiling mentions she could learn secretarial skills, Flora remains unimpressed

Flora’s solution is to live off distant relatives. This passage from Flora’s mouth is priceless, “there still lingers some absurd prejudice against living on one's friends, no limits are set, either by society or by one's own conscience, to the amount one may impose upon one's relatives."

I do love Flora and her quest to tidy the country folk of Cold Comfort Farm. She has her work cut out. For example, 60 year old Adam is more at home with the cows than people. Elfin, wispy and young, spends her days amongst the fields and woods dreaming of romance. Aunt Ada Doom is confined by a self-imposed exile all because she witnessed something “nasty in the woodshed” as a child.

Flora, through a selfish need to be more comfortable, changes twelve characters lives by the end of the book. Not only that, she secures better living conditions for the cows, Pointless, Aimless, Feckless and Graceless. One has to wonder as they read this tickling tale, is she tidying or taking over?

No comments: