"Did I cowdle thee as a mommet for this?"

Throughout Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons makes up* new dialect words like cowdle, which she uses alongside genuine dialect words like mommet. The authentic dialect words are far out-numbered by the made-up ones, which include capsy, cletter, chuck-stubbard, middock, mirksy, mollocking, posty-toasty and wennet.

One of the most famous coined words is sukebind, which has now earned itself a place in the Oxford English Dictionary. Stella Gibbons's ear for language means that her created words always ring true and can generally be instinctively understood in their context, as suggested by the author when Flora says to Adam, “What does mollocking mean? ...No, you need not tell me. I can guess.”

It is possible that Stella Gibbons consulted dialect dictionaries or took advice from local Sussex people in making-up her ‘dialect’ words. Her creation Mockuncle Hill, for example, bears a striking resemblance to mock-beggar-hall, a genuine Sussex dialect word to denote a house whose inside does not live-up to its outside appearance.

Commemorative plaque at home of Sheila Kaye-Smith
Creative Commons AttributionCommemorative plaque at home of Sheila Kaye-Smith - Credit: Simon Harriyott

Creating a rural dialect for the Starkadders is linked to Gibbons's wish to parody the melodramatic rural novels of the 'loam and love-child' variety, a genre strongly associated with Thomas Hardy. However, she also parodied the work of D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) and two works by the novelist Mary Webb (1881-1927): The House in Dormer Forest (1920) and Precious Bane, which won the Fémina-Vie Heureuse Prize in 1924. In spite of winning this literary prize, Precious Bane  did not achieve broad, popular success until 1928 when it was highly praised by then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin at a dinner of the Royal Literary Fund. Yet another target for Gibbons's parody was the work of the prolific novelist Sheila Kaye-Smith whose novels include Sussex Gorse (1916) and Susan Spray (1931).

On occasions, Stella Gibbons draws attention to the fact that Cold Comfort Farm is parodying a specific genre by marking the pastiche passages with asterisks.

An excellent discussion of intertextuality (the influence of one text on another) in Cold Comfort Farm may be found in a paper by Faye Hammill entitled, 'Cold Comfort Farm, D.H. Lawrence and English Literary Culture Between the Wars' (Modern Fiction Studies 47:4. 831-54)

*see bookmark p.34

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