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The Original Cold Comfort Farm

Have you read Cold Comfort Farm? It's the hilarious book that the movie Cold Comfort Farm was based on, written by Stella Gibbons lo these many moons ago, parodying a genre of romanticized English ruralness that had become popular in the 1920s. There is much overripe descriptions of landscape, people talk in excessively rural dialects, and if they are haunted by some spectre of the past, they don't shut up about it--"I saw something nasty in the woodshed!" one character announces with great regularity.

So I was walking through the library stacks at UBC the other day (I walk through the stacks with great regularity, trying to get my Fitbit step count up--I've lost 35 pounds now in 2 1/2 months, so it's working--and stumbled across a largish section with books by Mary Webb. And I'd never heard of her. And I've heard of almost everybody, so this was unusual. A treasure trove of novels by an antique author, ripe for the plunder! They had several copies of Precious Bane, so that was probably a good 'un, so I checked it out.

It may well be wonderful, but my first thought when reading it was "Gosh, this seems awfully similar to the kind of thing Stella Gibbons was making fun of."

Here are some passages from the first chapter alone:

"Sullen as a Sarn" they say about these parts. And they say there's been something queer in the family ever since Timothy Sarn was struck by forkit lightning in the time of the religious wars."

"There was frittening about the place, too, and what with folk being afraid to come there after dusk, and the quiet noise of the fish jumping far out in the water, and Gideon's boat knocking on the steps with little knocks like somebody tapping at the door, and the causeway that ran down into the mere as far as you could see, from just outside our garden gate, being lost in the water, it was a very lonesome old place."

And of course, the mother is fond of saying:

"But could I help it if the hare crossed my path? Could I help it?"

Which naturally reminded me of the nasty sight in the woodshed, after she repeated it for the fourth time in 20 pages. So I googled "Precious Bane" and "Cold Comfort Farm" and sure enough, I had chanced upon the inspiration for the parody. And now I can't read it seriously ... so it's on to another book.

And if you haven't read Cold Comfort Farm yet, you must! It's hysterical, even if you're not familiar with its targets.

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