Cold Comfort Farm: Chapters 17 to 23

Hi, Bookies:

Does Cold Comfort Farm have a happy ending? Of course. But the message behind Flora Poste’s good works at the farm is more important: People really can change for the better, can break away from their self-imposed limitations and create a brighter future. Flora is clever enough to point the way, and she somehow finds the perfect solution for every problem she encounters. She’s not deterred by melodramatic displays or seemingly intractable behavior; she simply focuses on what would make her Starkadder relatives feel happier with their lives. But Flora is no prim do-gooder, fortunately, and her sarcastic asides about nearly everyone are one of the great pleasures of this novel.

Flora doesn’t take long to devise a plan for her cousin Seth, a restless womanizer who is grudgingly tethered to the farm yet is clearly yearning for something more. It seems that Seth, who’s been breaking hearts all over the Sussex countryside, is hiding a secret love: not for a woman, but for the glamorous world of “the talkies.” When he confesses to Flora that he’s collected dozens of signed photographs of his favorite film stars, she knows what to do. When the time is right, she invites her friend Mr. Earl P. Neck, who happens to be a big Hollywood producer, to visit the farm. As she casually introduces him to Seth, what follows is a Hollywood ending: Mr. Neck is awestruck by his good fortune in discovering exactly the sort of leading man he’s been searching for, the “next Clark Gable,” Seth Starkadder.

While Seth has no qualms about leaving Cold Comfort Farm behind for the bright lights of Hollywood, his mother, Judith, is inconsolable. She has been inconsolable, however, throughout the book—deeply depressed, brooding, and often weeping. Judith is a tough case, so Flora outsources this one: She contacts the eminent psychoanalyst Dr. Adolf Mudel, whom she knows socially, and tells him that she has an “interesting case” for him. When Dr. Mudel meets Judith, he decides that he will send her abroad on a tour of Europe and transfer her unhealthy obsession with her son Seth to a safer obsession, old churches. (It’s a bit of an understatement that Judith has been focusing too much on Seth: She has all of 200 photographs of him in her bedroom—each now veiled with a homemade black curtain because he’s left home for Hollywood.) Judith’s behavior is played for laughs, but there’s a serious intent here: finding a remedy for misery and grief by seeking a new purpose.

Aunt Ada Doom may be the toughest case of all, and even the intrepid Flora finds her confidence wavering when she considers how to manage her relative. Her solution again involves a recent issue of Vogue, this time teamed with some travel brochures and society photos. It’s a bit mysterious how Flora manages to convince her aunt, during a marathon private conversation in Ada’s bedroom, that it is high time for her to find the happiness in life that has eluded her since her girlhood. Seeing “something nasty in the woodshed” has lost its hold: Ada miraculously decides to fly off to Paris on the evening of Elfine’s wedding reception, and Flora’s transformation of the Starkadder household is complete.

Everyone in the family has found a happy ending, but what about Flora? In the closing chapters of the novel, Flora has her chance to be blissfully happy too, when her anxious phone call to her distant cousin Charles brings him (literally) flying into her arms. With her own perfect wedding in the very near future, Flora has it just right in the novel’s last line: “Tomorrow would be a beautiful day.”

—Terri

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