This map plots the settings and references in Cold Comfort Farm
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Cold Comfort Farm is set primarily in Sussex. An English county on the South Coast, Sussex borders Surrey, Kent and Hampshire.
One of the most important physical features of Sussex is the area of chalkland known as the South Downs, extending from Hampshire in the West to Beachy Head in East Sussex. The Starkadders' farm is located on the "Downs".
The area was also home to artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and in the 1920s and 1930s their charmingly eccentric house, Charleston, became the country retreat for the Bloomsbury Group, including writers E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf.
The towns and villages within easy reach of Cold Comfort Farm, namely Howling, Beershorn, and Godmere, are fictional. But there are references to real places: Flora Poste worries that Elfine might go 'all arty-and-crafty' and 'keep a tea-room in Brighton' and Elfine herself declares that if she fails to marry Richard Hawk-Monitor, she could always 'get a job in an arts and crafts shop in Horsham'.
Brighton is a large coastal town situated close to the border between East and West Sussex; Horsham is a small town about 18 miles to the north-west of Brighton. Assuming these towns are relatively close to Cold Comfort Farm, we have some idea of its imagined location.
Before Flora Poste heads to Sussex to stay with the Starkadders, she spends some time with Mrs. Smiling at her house in Lambeth in London. There are references to them going to the cinema in Westminster, and to Mrs. Smiling going in search of a brassière in the 'slums of Mayfair'; the 'tide of fashion' (in residential living) is moving away from Mayfair to the 'other side of the river' (i.e. to Lambeth).
Stella Gibbons is having some fun with her futuristic London: in reality, Mayfair has always been a wealthy area beloved by embassies and exclusive members' clubs, while Lambeth, for much of its history, was an area of great deprivation.
LAMBETH lies south of the River Thames, and is home to Waterloo Station, the Oval cricket ground and the South Bank's Royal Festival Hall and National Theatre. Lambeth Palace is the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The borough is now considerably more prosperous than at the time of Gibbons' writing.
MAYFAIR lies north of the Thames, within the City of Westminster. It is one of the smartest and most expensive parts of London, home to many exclusive shops and up-market hotels, such as Claridge's and The Dorchester.
For many, Mayfair has been immortalised as the most expensive property in the board-game, Monopoly.
Fitzrovia had a reputation as a favourite haunt of bohemian types, whilst Bloomsbury was made famous by the 'Bloomsbury group', a set of intellectuals and artists whose members included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Vita Sackville-West, E.M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.
It is probably members of the Bloomsbury group whom Stella Gibbons has in mind here. Interestingly, the country retreat of the group was Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex (just over the hill perhaps from Cold Comfort Farm!).
'Lions' in this context means 'celebrities'.
Stella Gibbons satirises what she describes as 'Neo-Expressionist' drama.
Neo-expressionism currently exists as a term to describe a movement in the fields of painting and sculpture, but this only emerged in the 1970s. Gibbons was ahead of her time here, coining the futuristic term to represent a development of the Expressionist movement, an early 20th century cultural movement in poetry, art, music and drama.
Expressionism placed particular emphasis on expressing emotions and the concept of 'being alive', a feature of the movement which is suggested by the name of Gibbons's imaginary play. It was particularly popular in Berlin in the 1920s, which might account for the unlikely German name (Brandt Slurb) of the imaginary playwright.
Seven Dials is home to several theatres in London's West End. "Stench Street", unsurprisingly, does not exist.
The London Hippodrome is a real theatre, built in 1900. Stella Gibbons clearly didn't think much of its structural integrity, if a New Hippodrome was to come into being in 'the near future'.
Hippodrome (lit. "horse stadium) was a common name for theatres and music-halls throughout Britain.
Both Dan Langham and his show appear to be imaginary, but Stella Gibbons may be basing them on performers and productions of the time. She was well-informed about theatre, opera and musical shows, having written theatre reviews for the Lady magazine. Her husband, Allan Bourne Webb (who died in 1959), was an actor and singer, who often appeared on the London stage.
Stella Gibbons may have come up with the Anglo-Nicaraguan wars because Nicaragua (the largest nation in Central America) was going through a turbulent phase in its political history at the time Cold Comfort Farm was written: the country had been under American occupation since 1912, and would gain its independence in 1933.
Marshall & Snelgrove was a chain of department stores. Their first branch opened on Oxford Street, London, in 1851, and branches were later opened in fashionable resorts such as Harrogate and Scarborough.
The company was bought by Debenhams and Freebody (later Debenhams) in 1919, although the name Marshall and Snelgrove continued to be used. In 1974, the Oxford street premises were completely re-built, and their name changed to Debenhams.
A White Sale is a sale of household linen, such as sheets and towels.