Samantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine has certainly opened up doors for me when it comes to 1930s and 40s English literature. The literature of the twentieth century has always eluded me before now, mostly because I was convinced that it would be, based on my limited experience with it, either a) depressing, or b) mad, confusing, and experimental. Or possibly both.
But one thing I’ve found, reading Cold Comfort Farm and re-reading I Capture The Castle, is how contemporary these texts can feel. And they’re so easy to read, flowing like Victorian novels – only with telephones and cars thrown in. The same can be said of South Riding, another of the books that Ellis discusses in How To Be A Heroine.
South Riding is set in the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire, and its main character is a forty-year old spinster called Sarah Burton, who comes up from London to become the headmistress of the girls’ high school. She brings with her boundless energy and a desire for reform. She’s a character who believes that “The proper technique of headmistress-ship was to break all rules of decorum and justify the breach” (Book I, Chapter V).
The Nineties seem to have been a bit of a golden decade for book-to-film adaptations. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Shakespeare all got the star treatment in this decade. Perhaps a little less known, but nonetheless well-loved, is the 1995 adaptation of Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, which I read a little while ago. It stars Kate Beckinsdale as Flora Poste, the nosy, recently orphaned young woman who goes to live with her strange family at Cold Comfort Farm, and turn their lives upside down.
Interestingly enough, Beckinsdale went on to play Austen’s Emma in the 1996 adaptation, one year after Cold Comfort Farm was released. Whether she got this role based on her role as Flora Poste, the twentieth century’s Emma Woodhouse, or whether she was filming both films simultaneously (or one after the other?), it’s an interesting crossover. And her character in this movie is indeed similar to Emma Woodhouse, although Beckinsdale plays Emma with a bit more of a twinkle, a lightness which is not present in her portrayal of Flora, which is a little more understated. Continue reading
Frankly, I wasn’t sure whether to write a review of Cold Comfort Farm. It piqued my interest because I’d read about it in Samantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine, and thought it sounded fantastic. Considering it has been dubbed “Probably the funniest book ever written”, and emerged in the period of inestimable comic talents like P.G. Wodehouse, I decided I’d give it a go.
The reason I didn’t know whether to write a review or not was probably because I didn’t know what to make of the book itself. Lest I show my ignorance (or my poor sense of humour, often inclined to the banana-peel school of comedy, if I’m honest, despite my best efforts to cultivate it), I put off writing anything about it.
But Cold Comfort Farm is a strange book, and I hope that writing a little bit about it will allow me to puzzle it through. If not – well, hopefully one of my lovely readers will help me out. Continue reading