Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cold Comfort Farm

So, we're looking at Stella Gibbon's masterpiece in terms of its satirical aspect. My lectures are based on an itemised list of the attributes of Gibbon's satire: we ended on "Self-Referential" today, and will finish that item on Thursday. The interesting point about the self-referentiality, to me, is what it implies. Gibbons uses the character Flora Poste as the axis around which her satiric energy is polarised. But Gibbons then inverts the field of energy and presents Poste herself as an object of satire.

This is breathtakingly deft, and only literary genius could do this without the artistic whole becoming a mushy muddle, without losing any sense of ground or stability to support the satire, or without turning into the sneering, denunciatory, censorious fulminator so effectively characterised in Amos Starkadder.

But returning to what is implied by this self-reference; for the satire to work -- for it to have been worth bothering about -- the type of confident, modern, self-assured, accomplished and superior woman must have been notable in the literature in and before the year Cold Comfort Farm was published: 1932. I offered C. Bronte's Jane Eyre, several of Marie Corelli's leading characters, Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett, several Agatha Christie heroines (notably Prudence Cowley); and among male novelists, Gissing's Rhoda Nunn (one of several) and (probably Gibbons' direct model) the great P.G. Wodehouse's Bobbie Wickham.

Update: how could I forget the perfect exemplar that I gave in lecture? Pamela Lyndon Travers' Mary Poppins.
PS: Here is a contemporary satire of the type: the "Scary Mary" viral.

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