A Literary Trip
A recent post on the introduced me to the book Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. I had heard of the book but hadn’t read it or any other works by this authoress. Intrigued by ‘Aunt Ada Doom’s glimpse of “something nasty in the woodshed” that left her traumatised and confined to her room for decades, utterly dependent upon the Starkadders’, I went in search of the book and came across a review by ‘Anna’ on things mean a lot – a reading journal
The farmhouse was a long, low building, two-storied in parts. Other parts of it were three-storied. Edward the Sixth had originally owned it in the form of a shed in which he housed his swineherds, but he had grown tired of it, and had had it rebuilt in Sussex clay. Then he pulled it down. Elizabeth had rebuilt it, with a good many chimneys in one way or another. The Charleses had let it alone; but William and Mary had pulled it down again, and George the first had rebuilt it. George the second, however, burned it down. George the third added another wing. George the fourth pulled it down again. (…) It was known locally as ‘The King’s Whim’.
If she intended to tidy up life at Cold Comfort Farm, she would find herself opposed at every turn by the influence of Aunt Ada. Flora was sure this would be so. Persons of Aunt Ada’s temperament were not fond of a tidy life. Storms were what they liked; plenty of rows, doors being slammed, and jaws sticking out, and faces white with fury, and faces brooding in corners, and faces making unnecessary fuss at breakfast, and plenty of opportunities for gorgeous emotional wallowings, and partings forever, and misunderstandings, and interferings, and spyings, and, above all, managing and intriguing. Oh, they did enjoy themselves! They were the sort that went trampling over your stamp collection, or whatever it was, and then spent the rest of their lives atoning for it. But you would rather have had your stamp collection.
For reasons – unfathomable to me – Aunt Ada reminded me of Pip’s sister in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Perhaps it was their severity, but severe actions by Pip’s sister were never followed by remorse. If aunt Ada’s actions were perversity followed by regret, Pip’s sister, Mrs Joe Gargery, found a resonance in the proverb ‘He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes’. As Pip recounted; ‘she had a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand’.
Great Expectations was compulsory reading at school and while I have many images regarding the book that films and television may have implanted in my mind, the enduring memory that I have from the book is that of Joe Gargery. Quite why I should feel an affinity to Joe, is again unfathomable. Perhaps it was because Joe who, even if he couldn’t save Pip from his sister’s wrath, shared in Pip’s misery..
`You know, Pip,’ said Joe, solemnly, with his last bite in his cheek, and speaking in a confidential voice, as if we two were quite alone, `you and me is always friends, and I’d be the last to tell upon you, any time. But such a –‘ he moved his chair and looked about the floor between us, and then again at me — `such a most oncommon Bolt as that!’
`Been bolting his food, has he?’ cried my sister.
`You know, old chap,’ said Joe, looking at me, and not at Mrs Joe, with his bite still in his cheek, `I Bolted, myself, when I was your age — frequent– and as a boy I’ve been among a many Bolters; but I never see your Bolting equal yet, Pip, and it’s a mercy you ain’t Bolted dead.’
My sister made a dive at me, and fished me up by the hair: saying nothing more than the awful words, `You come along and be dosed.’
Some medical beast had revived Tar-water in those days as a fine medicine, and Mrs Joe always kept a supply of it in the cup- board; having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of times, so much of this elixir was administered to me as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about, smelling like a new fence. On this particular evening the urgency of my case demanded a pint of this mixture, which was poured down my throat, for my greater comfort, while Mrs Joe held my head under her arm, as a boot would be held in a boot-jack. Joe got off with half a pint; but was made to swallow that (much to his disturbance, as he sat slowly munching and meditating before the fire), `because he had had a turn.’ Judging from myself, I should say he certainly had a turn afterwards, if he had had none before.
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