Cold Comfort Farm

by Kieran Healy on July 16, 2005

I gave up on _Cryptonomicon_ shortly after my “despairing post about it”: and decided I needed something a bit funnier. So I picked up “Cold Comfort Farm”: and “Scoop”: The latter was OK, but the former was terrific, right down to the helpful marking of “the finer passages with one, two or three stars.” An ancestor of “a well-known blogger”: shows up early on, too. This should really find its way into Dr. B’s sidebar:

bq. Mrs Smiling’s second interest was her collection of brassieres, and her search for a perfect one. She was reputed to have the largest and finest collection of these garments in the word. It was hoped that on her death it would be left to the nation. She was an authority on the cut, fit, colour, construction and proper functioning of brassieres; and her friends had learned that her interest, even in moments of extreme emotional or physical distress, could be aroused and her composure restored by the hasty utterance of the phrase: “I saw a brassiere to-day, Mary, that would have interested you…”

The urge to quote more is hard to resist. Here a particular religious psychology is accurately diagnosed:

bq. Flora was surprised to find him so astute, but reflected that religious maniacs derived considerable comfort from digging into their motives for their actions and discovering discreditable reasons which covered them with good, satisfying sinfulness in which they could wallow to their heart’s content.

And a persistent vice of academics:

bq. She knew intellectuals always made a great fuss about the titles of their books. The titles of biographies were especially important. Had not _Victorian Vista_, the scathing life of Thomas Carlyle, dropped stone cold last year from the presses because everyone thought it was a boring book of reminiscences, while _Odour of Sanctity_, a rather dull history of drainage reform from 1840 to 1873, had sold like hot cakes because everybody thought it was an attack on Victorian morality.

All this and Aunt Ada Doom (who “saw something narsty in the woodshed”), too.



bostoniangirl 07.16.05 at 8:54 pm

My favorite part about Scoop was the bit where they send all the reporters off to the place whose name translates as “There is no such place” or something like that.


Anita Hendersen 07.16.05 at 10:12 pm

Cold Comfort Farm is one of my favorites. Everyone should read it.


fjm 07.17.05 at 1:59 am

Hidden in there is an sf novel. Private ‘planes are mentioned buzzing around London. And Brassieres were the *cutting edge* of technology at the time: the equivalent of ipods.


Doug Muir 07.17.05 at 5:14 am

CCF is that rarity: a merciless satire that’s so brilliant that it still works even after the original object of the satire has been half forgotten. In this case, the object is the British social novel, rural subtype… a pest that infested British literature for half a century, and still pops up occasionally today.

CCF is a brilliant read by itself, but I imagine it would be even better if you read it after a course of the drearier works of Hardy or John Galsworthy. Though this would be a bit like saying “ice cream tastes even nicer after a week of eating raw oat husks and celery”.

Doug M.


Tad Brennan 07.17.05 at 6:39 am

I have always assumed that CCF’s main target was the imbecilic D.H. Lawrence view that sex is the salvation of mankind, and the rawer and less refined the more salvific. Seth and Ruben are embodiments of Lawrentian sex-drive, unhampered by mere Victorian morality. And CCF does a wonderful job of showing that there are no Deep Truths to be found in barnyard mounting. Quite the opposite–the attitude endorsed by our heroine and the novel at large is that they should get out of the muck, try a bit more refinement, learn some manners, and quit being so self-centered. A warm reaffirmation of civilizing influences and domestic sensibilities; a modified Victorianism–made more realistic by the War, and slightly more feminist-friendly by the author. It’s not that Victoria wins by novel’s end, but I certainly think Lawrence loses. He never did have any defense against a well-targeted laugh.


Doug Muir 07.17.05 at 7:02 am

That’s part of it, but Lawrence is far from the only target being skewered there. Look at all the faux-Gothic horror-of-rural-life stuff she goes after… /and/ the “Human Bondage” wonders-of-rural-life stuff too!

It’s really a little gem of a book.

Doug M.


ben wolfson 07.17.05 at 9:34 am

Utopia, bostoniangirl?


roger 07.17.05 at 10:48 am

I’m surprised that Scoop didn’t elicit equal enthusiasm. Surely the transpositions that project Boot from his rural paradise (where the servants are so old that they mainly stay in bed, and the main job of the family is to keep Boot’s funny uncle from London) are worth noting. And the Murdoch like newspaper proprietor whose statements, from nonsensical to outrageous, are greeted with “up to a point, Lord Copper,” by his assistant, is pretty funny. Plus the newspapers insistance that Boot report the “good news” about the war in Ismaelia, much like a certain ideological party today. Judith Miller’s great Iraq scoop of discovering the WMD, which all turned on an unnamed Iraqi scientist gravely pointed his finger at an undisclosed location in the middle distance and claiming that just out there was where evil Uncle Saddam had buried the WMD could easily have leaped from Scoop.

I, at least, am a big fan.


jim in austin 07.17.05 at 11:10 am

I have not read the book but definitely enjoyed the BBC film adaptation that has been playing recently on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) in the US…


Ginger Yellow 07.17.05 at 11:48 am

Scoop is far, far better than “OK”.


Jake 07.17.05 at 12:51 pm

One of my favorite methods of being outre is to refer to CCF as my favorite sci-fi novel. Along with the bits that fjm notes, there’s also the videophones and the reference to the Anglo-Nicaraguan war of 1946. I find that particularly melancholy–that in that world, the big war of the mid-century was between England and a Central American state.

I dearly love that book. I found the movie nowhere near as satisfying overall, although it’s worth seeing just for McKellen’s performance (and the church hymn): “There’ll be no butter in hell!!!”


Gummo Trotsky 07.17.05 at 1:54 pm

It’s obvious from your assessment of Scoop that you didn’t come to it an Evelyn Waugh virgin. I’d guess further that it was your second Waugh Novel. By the time you’re up to three, you’re up to the “I can see that this is supposed to be funny, but it isn’t doing anything for me” stage. Then you pass the book off to a friend and they come back and tell you it was hilarious.


paul lawson 07.18.05 at 8:25 am

Stella Gibbons, herself in the ‘trade’ at the time, and for some time after, also had this to say in ‘Cold Comfort Farm’.

“The life of a journalist is poor, nasty, brutish and short. So is his style.”

By all accounts, ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’ could apply to Evelyn, particularly in the ‘ear trumpet’ phase.

‘Scoop’ is a trifle. The ‘Sword of Honour’trilogy remains substantive, and is stylish. Auberon was rather more the journalist; but he also had a way with words.


bostoniangirl 07.18.05 at 12:05 pm

I really like Waugh a lot too. Brideshead Revisited may be his only serious novel, but I enjoy the others a lot too.

During one of my college interviews I mentioned that I had been reading Scoop, and the interviewer asked me what I thought of its misogynism. I didn’t see any particularly strong misogynism. Did any of you?


indy 07.19.05 at 1:33 pm

Cold Comfort Farm is one of my favorites. The bit where the patriarch comes home from a meeting of his “Quiverers” and talks about how some woman tried to preach, but she had a demon in her and he beat it out with his bible….

or demented old adam and his cute little scrub-brush.

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