Welcome to the second post in this series. Last month’s post was about Daphne du Maurier. This month, I’m looking at another classic 20th century female author: Stella Gibbons.
You may have heard of Cold Comfort Farm. Published in 1932, this was her debut novel and is often to be found on lists of must-read books. In fact, some people think it’s one of the funniest books of all time. Obviously, humour is subjective and you might find it supremely unfunny… but there’s only one way to find out! The novel is a parody of the rural romance books which were popular when Gibbons was writing. It’s the story of Flora Poste, a confident city girl who, without money after her parents’ deaths, goes to live with her eccentric relatives, the Starkadders. They live on a farm where everything and everyone is gloomy, sexy, or weird. I’ve read it twice.
Stella Gibbons wrote many other novels, some of which are now published by Vintage. They are quite different from Cold Comfort Farm because there is more plot, less parody and a sense that they are proper stories. So if you really wanted to like CCF but didn’t, consider trying Westwood, The Bachelor and The Rich House. These are social comedies with a dash of romance, set during the Second World War or immediately after. I think the 40s produced her best work, not only because her books were uplifting in dark times, but because from today’s viewpoint they contain fascinating details about what ordinary life was like back then (and how people spoke, too – I should add a warning here, the language is of its time). Here Be Dragons does the same for the 50s. Bassett, Nightingale Wood, The Charmers, My American and Starlight are all worth a read if you’ve enjoyed other Gibbons books. However, Pure Juliet, a ‘lost’ novel written sometime in the 70s and published in 2016, was just too odd and badly plotted for me to like. I didn’t particularly enjoy her autobiographical novel Enbury Heath but it may be of interest if you want to learn more about the author’s youth.
Dean Street Press have recently published some of her lesser-known works, including A Pink Front Door, The Snow-Woman, The Swiss Summer, The Weather at Tregulla (which I really liked) and The Woods in Winter.
In conclusion, I think Stella Gibbons is an underrated author whose many novels deserve to be read. Do you want humour, charm, detail, awkward situations, romance? Then add her to your TBR!