When first published in 1932 many were convinced that this was actually written by Evelyn Waugh using a pseudonym, that it couldn’t possibly have been written by a woman. After all, a woman couldn’t possibly write a witty piece of literature such as this, a parody of the rural novel that also took a few jabs at the high-brow writers so popular at this time
The story opens shortly after the funeral of the parents of our 19 year old protagonist, Flora, when she discovers that the money her father was thought to have had all been used. Taking an inventory of what assets Flora had, a measly annual annuity of 100 pounds per year and an excellent academic education that left her unfit for any employment, she does what any unemployable female orphan does, she applies to all her relatives for a home.
Flora makes the observation to her friend, Mrs. Mary Smiley, “I am only nineteen, but I have already observed that, whereas 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.”
“If you ask me’, continued Flora, ‘I think I have much in common with Miss Austen. She liked everything to be tidy and pleasant and comfortable about her, and so do I. You see, Mary’ – and here Flora began to grow earnest and to wave one finger about – ‘unless everything is tidy and pleasant and comfortable all about one, people cannot even begin to enjoy life. I cannot endure messes’.”
Upon receipt of several positive responses, Flora decides to accept the least attractive home (Cold Comfort Farm owned by the Starkadders) as that is where she can likely be most successful in molding the relatives to make a home as she wishes it to be. About her inquiry for directions, “It was true that in novels dealing with agricultural life no one ever did anything as courteous as to meet a train, unless it was with the object of cutting in under the noses of the other members of the family with some sordid or passionate end in view; but that was no reason why the Starkadders, at least, should not begin to form civilized habits. So she wrote firmly: ‘Do let me know what trains there are to Howling, and which ones you will meet’, and sealed her letter with a feeling of satisfaction.”
‘Well, ‘, said Mrs Smiling, ‘it sounds an appalling place, but in a different way from all the others. I mean, it does sound interesting and appalling, while the others just sound appalling.’
It should be now evident that the Starkadders don’t stand a chance against Flora. The book is so clever and the situations so funny that I got more than one chuckle from it. I know that I’ll read this book again and again over the following years and will get the same enjoyment as the first reading provided. I highly recommend for anyone looking for a light-hearted and excellent book.