Saturday, January 05, 2019

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm / Stella Gibbons; intro by Alexander McCall Smith
London: Vintage, 2011, c1940.
304 p.

I picked up this book of 16 short stories over the Christmas holidays, obviously drawn to it by the title and the season. However, only the first two stories are Christmas themed, one of them being a set piece at Cold Comfort Farm before the advent of Flora Poste to set things right. It was fairly thin, feeling like it was inserted just so the title of this collection could attract readers of said novel, Stella Gibbons' best known work by far. 

The other Christmas story was quite charming and enjoyable, featuring a spinster who decides to celebrate Christmas on her own in the countryside but encounters three children and then their father, a widower of course...

The rest of the stories are more general, stories that Gibbons published in varied magazines and papers of the day. As such they are of a certain type; created to appeal to the audience for these women's serials. They mostly deal with relationships -- with women and their marriages and love affairs, and very, very often with the contrast between the flighty modern 'smart set' of the 20s & 30s and the respectable, conventional lives of the rest of society. Gibbons comes down strongly on the side of the conventional, particularly regarding gender norms, and after fourteen stories about how dull and virtuous women and their strong and manly husbands prevail I must say I was getting a sense of Gibbons as a rather snobby and judgemental woman who I wasn't all that fond of. Perhaps it was reading them all in too rapid succession -- if I'd spaced them out a bit they may not have been so overwhelming in that regard. 

But as Alexander McCall Smith says in the introduction, they are stories from a certain period and they carry that flavour. Yes, they sure do. I enjoyed a few of them greatly, some mostly and one or two I didn't like much at all. 

But as a whole, if you do like Gibbons already, or enjoy popular writing from the 30s, this is a nice collection to explore. I decided after finishing this that I should tackle Cold Comfort Farm itself next, as I've never read it, just seen the delightful 1995 BBC film. More on that shortly...

This is pretty much exactly what I would want to say about this book, except the 'small-c conservatism' mentioned rankled me a little bit more after the third or fourth story about the sanctity of old-fashioned marriage in the face of modern frivolity.


  1. I had the same experience with Christmas at High Rising, their collection of Angela Thirkell's stories. I enjoyed it, but I felt it had been presented under a bit of false pretenses.

    1. Good to know! That was another one on my Xmas reading list, but I didn't get to it this year.

  2. I loved Cold Comfort Farm and the nastiness in the woodshed. If you've read Mary Webb's novels -- Precious Bane and Gone to Earth are my favourites... -- then it's an interesting study in contrasts!

    1. Those are my two faves as well, though I really do like A House in Dormer Forest too. Fun seeing the contrasts, for sure (just finished CCF)


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