Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

This comic novel satirises English rural fiction. Written in the Hungry Thirties, it mocks the bold work of D.H. Lawrence, Mary Webb and Thomas Hardy. Nor does the author spare the Bloomsbury Group from her wit on the basis of their broader concerns. While the literary jabs sometimes fail to connect, the narrative raises questions about feminism and the politics of sympathy.

The main character brings an agricultural family to awareness of the modern age. Flora uses competence and capital to empower people. However, she does not seem to appreciate that suffering is no trivial matter. For her, providing empathy is less important than delivering practical solutions. Her uncritical appreciation of technology is epitomised by her love of aeroplanes.

Nevertheless, the agenda of the text is not a simplistic endorsement of progress. The matter of female emancipation is raised in a persuasive way. Unreconstructed males of a literary type receive deservedly savage treatment:

“‘Ha! A life of Branwell BrontĂ«,’ thought Flora.’I might have known it. There has been increasing discontent among the male intellectuals for some time at the thought that a woman wrote ‘Wuthering Heights.’ I thought one of them would produce something of this kind, sooner or later. Well, I must just avoid him, that’s all.'”

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