This is why, when asked to describe myself by one of those ridiculous faceache personality tests I once said ‘Judith Starkadder, but trying to be more like Flora Poste every day’. This tiny joke fell flat, of course, because no one had read the bloody book. If you have, then you’ll hopefully be tittering right now, but if you haven’t, then I strongly suggest you do.
It is, of course, the excellent Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. First published in the 1920s, this is a comic novel that was written as a reaction to the flowery ‘loam and lovechild’ books of Hardy, Mary Webb and, to a certain extent, DH Lawrence (there are multiple long winded passages describing the milk blood of the setting sun over the sukebind), following the tale of the imminently sensible Flora Poste.
Flora is amazing. Flora’s parents both die at the beginning of the book leading to her looking for alternative living arrangements and ending up with the dire, but interesting, Starkadders in their decrepit farm. Hating the jolly hockey sticks world of school, Flora lives her life trying to be sensible, wise to the ways of the world and intelligent without being too much. She hates stuffiness, but even more so being too free spirited (especially the sort that makes pots, and crochets, and grows little herbs in plants) seeing it as vulgar and unnecessary. She is likes things to be pleasant, not twee, enjoys the finer things in life (including soft water and good teeth) and is full of schemes to improve the lives of her relatives.
Although not written in first person, Flora’s slightly idealistic and naive twenty-one-year-old’s wit pervades the writing; we see the action of the story through her oh-so-sensible eyes. Each of the members of the farm has their own particular traits that Flora rips apart with logic and common sense, and in the end everything (of course) turns out for the best.
I love Flora because I desperately want to be her, but know I never can be. She is neat to my sloppy, consistent to my all over the place, vintage elegance to my nineties hippy. Unlike other literary heroines who I aspire to learn from, and see myself in on occasion when the size of my head permits, I recognise that I shall never be Flora Poste, and if we met in real life she would probably hate me for the floating mass of wool that I am. But I appreciate her, her wit and her charm. I shall just stick to looking around Old Churches in the future.*
*Now go read the book! You can get it from Amazon for £4.99.