Page 26. " It was true that in novels dealing with agricultural life no one ever did anything so courteous as to meet a train "
French Philosopher, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) whose thinking had a major influence on the development of all Postmodern art forms
Creative Commons AttributionFrench Philosopher, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) whose thinking had a major influence on the development of all Postmodern art forms - Credit: Pablosecca, Wikimedia Commons

It can be fairly said that Cold Comfort Farm is not an easily classifiable book and that it was, to a certain extent, ‘ahead of its time’.  Some aspects fit into the Modernist tradition, as exemplified by the work of other modernist writers such as T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence.  Various other aspects fit more easily into the Postmodernist tradition, which is characteristic of those novelists writing from the 1970s onwards, including Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Salman Rushdie and Will Self. One postmodern aspect of Stella Gibbons’ writing in Cold Comfort Farm is her tendency to incorporate metafictional observations into the text which draw attention to the fact that the novel is a work of fiction and, as such, an artifice. The quotation above could, therefore, be viewed as a metafictional observation, as could this remark later on in the novel: ‘Mrs Starkadder was the Dominant Grand-mother Theme which was found in all typical novels of agricultural life'.

Page 29. " I expect Seth will meet you in a jaunting car "
1901 postcard showing a jaunting car
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike1901 postcard showing a jaunting car - Credit: Derzsi Elekes Andor: Metapolisz DVD line

A jaunting car is a light two-wheeled carriage drawn by a single horse. Typically, it carries between two and four people, who are seated back to back.

Jaunting cars are mainly associated with Ireland, particularly 19th century Dublin.

Page 33. " to tilt the scranlet of his plough "
English Wooden Plough
GNU Free Documentation LicenseEnglish Wooden Plough - Credit: 100yen, Wikimedia Commons

Stella Gibbons enjoyed making-up* her own words, particularly ‘dialect’ words.  Scranlet is one of many words she created to describe various aspects of rural life.  She also liked combining real words to create new, imaginary concepts such as ford-piece, hoot-piece, midden-rail, pruning snoot, rennet-post.


*Words have been considered ‘made-up’ when they do not appear in either the Oxford English Dictionary (O.E.D.) or  the Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect & Collection of Provincialisms in the Country of Sussex (1875) by the Rev. W.D. Parish.  They may conceivably be noted in other dialect dictionaries, or have been part of an oral tradition.     

Page 40. " then, like praying mantises, they would retreat "

Mantis religiosa - the praying mantis
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMantis religiosa - the praying mantis - Credit: Katya
Praying mantises are insects belonging to the order Mantodea. They are so-named because their folded forelimbs resemble the kneeling posture of prayer.

One of the most well-known attributes of the order is that the female insect sometimes eats the male just after mating, or even during mating.

In Europe, the term praying mantis is generally reserved for the species Mantis religiosa. One of this species' claims to fame is that it is the official state insect of Connecticut!

Page 40. " stealthily looking at a packet of Parisian art pictures under the table "

The ‘Parisian art pictures’ would probably have been a relatively mild form of erotica compared to modern-day pornographic images. Such images were often produced in France where attitudes towards sexually explicit representations tended to be more liberal.



Page 41. " Aye, dog's-fennel or beard's-crow, by their fruits they shall be betrayed "

Eupatorium capillofolium - Dog fennel
Public DomainEupatorium capillofolium - Dog fennel - Credit: Larry Allain @ USDA-NRCS Plants Database
Beard’s-crow is one of several made-up* names for plants and flowers in Cold Comfort Farm (see also, apple-blooth, dog’s-body, pussy’s dinner). Like so many words created by Stella Gibbons, these names appear humorous within their context, and have the quality of sounding as if they should exist. In the case of her made-up plants names, they are made to sound more realistic because they bear some resemblance to actual plant names.  They are also given credibility, as in the example above, when they are used in the same sentence as genuine names; in this case, with dog's fennel which is the common name for Anthemis cotula (also known as stinking chamomile). Dog fennel (rather than dog'fennel) is also the common name for Eupatorium capillofolium and plants in the genus Chamaemelum.

 *see asterisked note on bookmark p.34


Anthemis cotula - Dog's fennel
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAnthemis cotula - Dog's fennel - Credit: Banfield



Page 42. " wild as a marsh-tigget in May "

An example of Stella Gibbons making up the name of a bird or insect (other examples in the text are eft-flies, finch-fly and lin-tit). As with her made-up names of flowers and so on, she manages to choose names which sound like the common names of birds and insects in use in English. For example, there is a real bird called the marsh tit.

Marsh tit - not to be confused with the 'marsh-tigget'!
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Marsh tit - not to be confused with the 'marsh-tigget'! - Credit: Dave Hamster, Wikimedia Commons
Page 45. " 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

Tess of the D'Urbervilles on Book Drum



Page 47. " her dearly loved copy of the Pensées of the Abbé Fausse-Maigre "

The Pensées of the Abbé Fausse-Maigre appear to be a product of Stella Gibbons' fertile imagination, but she may have had in mind the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, the French 17th century philosopher. 'Fausse' translates as 'false', and  'Maigre' as 'thin', so Fausse-Maigre could be translated as 'falsely thin', a euphemism for 'fat', perhaps!

The Abbé's other (and more complex) work is The Higher Common Sense. There appears to be a novel by Arthur Henry, an American Writer of the late 19th and early 20th century, entitled  The Higher Common Sense: The Unwritten Law, but it is not clear whether this is in any way related to Gibbons' choice of title.