In the novel Cold Comfort Farm (1932), British writer Stella Gibbons spins a tale of doom, dreams, families, and farmland. Not a morose tale, though. It’s irreverent and sometimes wacky — a parody of somber authors who have written grandiose tomes of bucolic life. (Think Thomas Hardy and Tess of the D’urbervilles or worse, Jude the Obscure.)
In the Foreward, Gibbons addresses a letter to a certain “Anthony Pookworthy,” supposedly an esteemed novelist who chronicles “spiritual struggles, staged in the wild setting of mere, berg, or fen.” Right. In the note, Gibbons reflects on her own writing career, making a hilarious jab at both journalistic and literary writing styles:
As you know, I have spent some ten years of my creative life in the meaningless and vulgar bustle of newspaper offices…The life of the journalist is poor, nasty, brutish, and short. So is his style. You, who are so adept at the lovely polishing of every grave and lucent phrase, will realize the magnitude of the task which confronted me when I found, after spending ten years as a journalist, learning to say exactly what I meant in short sentences, that I must learn, if I was to achieve literature and favourable reviews, to write as though I were not quite sure about what I meant but was jolly well going to say something all the same in sentences as long as possible.
The Guardian has pointed out that Gibbons was, in fact, “a sworn enemy of the flatulent, the pompous and the excessively sentimental,” and quick to record “literary crimes of others.”
The film version of Cold Comfort Farm was terrific, with an extraordinary appearance by Ian McKellen as hell-fire preacher Amos Starkadder. Here’s the trailer: