Stella Gibbons

Return to Cold Comfort Farm 1993 Stella Gibbons was born in 1902, the daughter of Telford Gibbons, a widely respected doctor in the Camden and Kentish Town area of London.

 

 

Despite many admirable qualities Dr Gibbons's drinking, womanising and appetite for emotional scenes - a characteristic of the Gibbons family - made Stella's childhood a difficult one. She went to the London Collegiate school where she was a contemporary of the poet and novelist Stevie Smith.

After leaving school, and knowing that her spendthrift father would give her nothing to live on, she attended a journalism course at University College, London from 1921 to 1923. In 1924 she obtained a job with a news agency, the British United Press from she was sacked in 1926 for a miscalculation in the exchange rate which caused a temporary shiver in the financial markets.

The same year she was employed by the London Evening Standard where she flourished. It was there that she was set the task of doing a synopsis of a novel called The Golden Arrow by Mary Webb which was being serialised in the newspaper. She thought the book absurd, and it was to inspire her parody of the rural novel in Cold Comfort Farm some years later. In 1930 she was sacked from the Standard and went to work as editorial assistant on the Lady magazine where she wrote her first novel Cold Comfort Farm on trains going to and from the offices of the Lady and in spare moments during working hours.

By this time she had already published an acclaimed volume of poetry The Mountain Beast (Virginia Woolf was one of her admirers) and met her future husband, the actor and opera singer Allan Bourne Webb whom she married in 1933. They had one daughter, Laura. The success of Cold Comfort Farm (which won the prestigious Prix Femina Vie Heureuse) prompted her to leave the Lady and devote herself full time to writing and a quiet domestic existence.

Her life thereafter was comparatively uneventful though not unmarked by tragedy. She was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1951, and in 1959 her husband Allan died. She published her last novel in 1970, but continued to write for her own pleasure, and bequeathed her unpublished writings, which included two more novels, to her two grandsons, Daniel and Benjamin. Up until two years before her death she would have "open house" on the first Saturday of every month at which you could meet a wide variety of people, literary and unliterary, who were drawn by her engaging personality, kindly and wise but not without the acerbic wit which characterised her famous first novel.